Side II – Interactions/interviews

A. Reuben Jackson interview

Radio host, acclaimed poet, and longtime Duke Ellington curator Reuben Jackson is another among many wonderful friends acquired through Facebook. That is how I found out about his fantastic show “Friday Night Jazz,” which as we said earlier is now sadly in its final weeks. But through April you can hear it every Friday night from 7-10 p.m. CST (8-11 EST) online on Vermont Public Radio. We recently had this wonderful exchange via e-mail.

(1) What first got you interested in music and specifically jazz?
“I have probably said this too much, but music grabbed me around the time I was two years old. I just knew I was terribly smitten with music of all types. My father was a huge jazz lover, and I was the stereotypical boy who followed his father everywhere, even as far as music was concerned. I knew the names of players in grade school, even though most of my peers weren’t exactly into, oh, Art Blakey.”

(2) Do you also play an instrument?
“I play fairly decent, middle-aged man guitar.”

(3) There have been a long line of poets with ties to or interest in jazz. Did your interest in poetry come before you became a jazz fan, and do the two seem to flow together for you?
“I loved (and still love)the sound and power of language, and the sound and power of music around the same time. I didn’t try to write any poetry until high school, but I loved repeating certain words and phrases -swishing them around like good Chablis.”

(4) What led to your involvement with the Duke Ellington archives, and do you consider Ellington’s jazz’s finest composer?
“A friend in DC knew of my love for jazz, my work as a  librarian and jazz critic, and sent the job announcement via snail mail. I knew it would be the job of a lifetime, but I didn’t think I had the slightest chance of even being interviewed. But lo and behold,

I was…and I got the job….  Ellington is, in my opinion, the greatest American composer, period.”

(5) How did you get to Vermont from Washington D.C., and what led to your becoming host of Friday Night Jazz?
“I came to Vermont in order to teach high school in the state’s largest city, Burlington. I attended Goddard College in the 70s, and toward the end of my time at the Smithsonian, I was looking to shift professional gears, and find what I hoped would be a slower pace.  The radio job was offered to me after a program director heard me on George Thomas’ ( the previous host) show, and asked if I would be interested in coming in for an interview /audition.”

(6) One thing that has distinguished your program is that you’re unafraid to include such artists as Marvin Gaye, Jimi Hendrix, Earth, Wind & Fire and many others that wouldn’t necessarily be deemed “jazz” into the mix. What has been audience reaction overall to that decision?
“When I play the aforementioned artists, I try and contextualize their presence on the show as best I can. Having said that, there have been some who were turned off by those decisions. I think most people know that even if I baffle them sometimes, I always bring them back home.”

(7) Who would you consider your favorite jazz musicians?
“Charles Mingus, Wayne Shorter, Ben Webster, Charlie Haden, Carla Bley, Archie Shepp.”

(8) What would you consider your favorite jazz albums?
“Oh goodness…”Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus.” “Kind Of Blue,”  Weather Report’s “Mysterious Traveller,”  “Carmen (McRae) Sings Monk. I better stop here. Hahaha”

(9) What type of jazz scene, if any, exists in Vermont?
“There is a small but vibrant scene here. Very good players. Although as you can imagine, work is not exactly easy to come by”.

(10) What would be some of the things that might surprise people about the audience for “Friday Night Jazz?”
“I think the stylistic range might surprise folks. Lately people have noticed a greater. Presence of more traditional American Popular Songs.. But for me, going from Sonny Sharrock to Bobby Hackett isn’t a huge deal. That which is considered is so stylistically vast.”

(11) How do you feel about the issue of substituting such terms as “Black classical music” or “Great Black Music” for jazz?
“I don’t mind it at all. Honestly, I am not sure what the word jazz truly means, or tells anyone, in 2017.”

(12) Who would you consider important or informative jazz critics and writers?
“You, John Murph, Howard Mandel, James Hale.”

(13) How important do  you feel criticism, reviews, commentary, etc. is these days in terms of music awareness and appreciation?
“Although there seem to be fewer outlets for criticism, the need to have informed writers getting the word out remains crucial. Maybe more crucial than ever before.”

(14) There remains a lot of controversy over whether the Black presence in jazz is being deliberately minimized or even slowly extinguished. I’m sure you’ve seen the recent online petition about “taking back our music.” Do you think that there is a danger of the Black presence ever totally disappearing from jazz?
“This is a dang good question. It has always been lonely for critics of color..I don’t think the black presence will ever disappear from the music itself, but there is a danger in what I see as a, let’s say, minimizing of black contributions in the literature.”

(15) Are you also a blues and gospel fan, though I pretty much already know the answer to this one
“Oh goodness yes!”

(16) Who are some emerging artists deserving of more attention?
“Cory Henry, Matana Roberts, Ben Williams, Cecile McLorin Salvant.”

(17) As you look back at your time on VPR, what are the things that you’ll remember most?
“The absolute joy of sharing this glorious, life affirming music every week.”

(18) Do you still feel it is important for there to be jazz on traditional broadcast outlets?
“Oh yes. This music can do so much, and is still so marginalized and misunderstood.”

(19) Would you want to do another extensive show like “Friday Night Jazz?”
“I would if the conditions were right. Music is a huge part of my personality. I truly am, as I often say on the airwaves, “Pierce and Mary Jackson’s musically consumed son.”

(20) What other things have you not done professionally would you like to do?
“The one thing that comes to mind is compiling a collection of reviews and essays.. Maybe jam with the Tedeski- Trucks Band.”


B. Allen Lowe interview

Allen Lowe is a gifted musician, outspoken and knowledgeable historian, critic and author, and someone I’ve known dating back to the ’80s, when he appeared on my WPKN radio show in Bridgeport, Ct. His Facebook page is always a site to seek out for informed criticism, pithy discussion, sometimes heated debates, and contributions from some top musicians and writers who also happen to be his friends. I am grateful to be considered among that bunch. He responded to my questions via e-mail.

(1). What got you initially interested in jazz?
“My mother was a classical pianist and had various records around the house, one of which happened to feature Charlie Parker. I started listening and I was hooked. When I was 14 I then went to a music camp;   I had been playing primarily  oboe, and I met some guys at the camp who were very interested in jazz and could play very well;. This cemented my interest and I switched to the saxophone. At that time (late 1960s) jazz was in a serious commercial decline; the good news was that records were easily available for $1.99, and I soon had a serious collection.”

(2) How did you decide on what instruments you wanted to play, and did you also always an equal interest in composition and arranging?
“Well, I was an oboist from age 10 or so, so switching to the saxophone, which has the same key set up, was pretty easy. But basically I was fascinated by certain saxophonists – Bird, Booker Ervin, Sonnny Rollins, Cannonball Adderley, Ornette, Coleman, and Eric Dolphy. Initially, I was not composing, but we had a piano at home, and the more time I spent at the keyboard the more I became interested in harmony and it’s relationship to intervals and melody. I was, and remain, fascinated by the relationship of tones to harmony.”

(3) When did you become interested in also doing music criticism and historical study?
“That’s hard to say exactly, but there was an interim period, maybe almost 10 years,  from the time I graduated high school until the time I started to play professionally. I drifted a bit in my interests, was interested in theater and in writing for the theater (attended the Yale School of Drama in Playwriting, 1979-80), and I did a lot of listening, at this point, particularly to jazz  (through high school I had a very intense interest in 1960s rock ‘n’ roll, folk,  blues). So I guess the critical and historian part of it grew from those 10 years of intense listening and reading about the music, also getting to know certain key musicians like Curley Russell,   Dave Schildkraut, Al Haig, Bill Triglia, Bob Neloms, Dick Katz, Percy France – though my most intense time of studying and writing about American music history did not begin until I was in my late 40s.”

(4) In your view, should only playing musicians be critics or reviewers?
“No, as a matter of fact, the best critics that I have read have been primarily non musicians.”

(5) Who do you consider critics and/or historians that music fans should recognize as authorities in their fields?
“In jazz Larry Kart is a towering figure; also the late Larry Gushee, Francis Davis, Max Harrison, Martin Williams – in vernacular music Dick Spottswood, Tony Russell, Ellen Willis, Greil Marcus, John Szwed, David Hajdu, Ed Ward.”

(6) Who would you consider influences?
“Sonny Rollins, Eric Dolphy, Bud Powell, Mingus; as a writer Richard Gilman. ”

(7) Who are your favorite musicians, either currently or all-time?
“Jelly Roll Morton; Charles Mingus; Charlie Parker; Dave Schildkraut; Pete Brown; Son House, Julius Hemphill.”

(8) What are your favorite albums?
“Worktime” (Sonny Rollins), “Blues and Roots.” (Charles Mingus); “Mingus Plays Mingus” (Candid); “The Genius of Bud Powell” (2 vols); “(Various Artists) Memphis Gospel,” (Document); “Elvis Sun Sessions”; “Harmonica Frank” on Sun Records; “Utah Smith” (biography with CD); any Son House; “Fiddlin’ John Carson Vol, 1”: “Julius Hemphill Big Ban.”

(9) You periodically address on your Facebook page thorny issues of race, class, and gender as they apply to music. Why do you feel online can be a good place for substantive discussion?
“I love the give and take, the instant gratification of public discussion. People’s guards tend to be down and they are often very honest. It’s like thinking on your feet, and I like that. Also, there are so many people with so much varied experience that there is a lot of wisdom there. Really.”

(10) You are currently working on a history of country music, and have previously written extensively about many other idioms. What do you consider to be the biggest widely held myth regarding country music?
“Tough one; maybe that it is all-white; while it has been predominantly white, there are significant early black country musicians. Another myth is of the dumb-ass white cracker. These men and women were often brilliantly creative.”

(11) How do you assess the current position of jazz in the society generally? Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future?
“I honestly do not think of it in those terms. It is too personal a form for me to worry about sales and demographics. It is the only choice I have for expression and has basically saved my life in assorted ways.”

(12) The New York Times recently became the latest publication to do away with concert and record reviews. Do you think this is a good policy, or is there still value for fans in these things?
“I love reviews, but truthfully there are fewer writers worth reading in all sides of the field, from blogs to newspapers. There is just not deep enough knowledge; I want to learn something by reading a review, and I almost never do.”

(13) Do  you listen very much to either Internet or satellite radio, and do you consider radio still an important entity in terms of jazz?
“I really have no idea; musically I tend to listen to the CDs and LPs I own. I actually feel like I need to listen much more to internet radio, in order to keep up with new recordings and to get some sense of where the industry is at.”

(14) Would you ever be personally interested in either hosting a radio program or a podcast?
“Would absolutely love to, yes.”

(15) Besides the ongoing country music history, what other projects are you working on now?
“Possible reissue of several older books on jazz history 1900-1950, rock history 1950-1970, and blues history 1900-1960; publishing a book on 1950s jazz.”


C. Brauninger McDaniel interview

Louisiana native Brauninger McDaniel is quickly building an audience and developed a fan base in Nashville through a create blend of multiple musical influences. She is at home with jazz, blues, pop or country, and you can clearly hear elements of each style interspersed through her current single “But You Do,” which is now available on iTunes and Spotify among other places. She’s done a number of area gigs, particularly at Shugga Hi Bakery & Café, as she tackles the tough task of surviving as an independent artist. Have met and interviewed her a couple of times and she clearly has the determination and resolve needed for the task ahead. We did this interview a few weeks ago via e-mail.

(1) When did you decide you wanted to be a singer?
“My parents were musicians and also sang together as well. As the baby of the family, my brother and older sister were also gifted with music and voice, so around the age of nine, I started to play around on the piano and sing. Music has always played an important part in my life growing up.”

(2) What made you include jazz in your options for styles to perform?
“Being from New Orleans the natural fill of blues and jazz music was integrated into my blood. The atmosphere and feeling seems to fit the stories I like to write.”

(3) Who would you consider influences?
“Some of my influences that come to mind are the greats like Etta James, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Billie Holliday, and even Carole King. Their voices and style really captured the type of feeling I want in my music.”

(4) Do you also write songs and/or play an instrument?
“Over the last five years I have written probably over 40 songs.  Writing is my passion. Having the ability to play piano helps develop the melodies for all my songs.”

(5) What attracts you to a composition in terms of deciding to perform or record it?
“One of the advantages of performing out is the fact that you can test songs with the crowd and see what songs seem to be capturing the attention of the crowd. Although if I had my choice I would record a lot of them. I know I have written some that I know will touch someone.”

(6) Do you listen to a lot of contemporary performers?
“I love listening to contemporary Jazz, Blues, R & B, Gospel, and even Country.”

(7) Who are some of  your all-time favorite singers?
“I have so many favorite singers and performers. But to list just a few I love Etta James, Bonnie Raitt, Keb Mo, Ray Charles,  Frank Sinatra, and so many more.”

(8) What are some of your favorite albums?
“Etta James  “At Last,”,  Keb Mo “BluesAmericana,”  Bonnie Raitt “Luck of the Draw,”, Norah Jones  “ Come away with me”,  & I love Corrine Bailey Rae “Special Edition.”

(9) Labels can be a very tricky thing. How would you characterize your sound, especially since you cover a wide range of idioms.
“You are right,  labels can be deceiving. I like to think I am a cross between contemporary easy listening with a touch of  Jazz, Blues, Pop,  gospel and country.”

(10) What made you come to Nashville?
“I moved to Nashville some years ago and have enjoyed living here.  Living in Nashville has its advantages when it comes to Songwriting. So many people move here to make it in the music business ,so you can imagine the talent that you can run across and team up to make great music. Not only do I love Jazz and Blues, but I love country music.  Nashville just has a great knack for music of any genre.”

(11) How different has it (Nashville) been from the image or impression you had of it before coming and playing here?
“I don’t  think my image of Nashville as changed much for me as it may be for others.  I still see how the country music industry has molded this town.  But many do not realize how other genres of music have had success here as well.”

(12) Are there other areas in terms of performing that you want to explore in the future?
“I love playing the Keyboards and singing, but I would love to learn the guitar.  My brother and other family members play the guitar and I would love to learn too. I think it would strengthen my skills as a songwriter and give me more diversity.

(13) Is being on a major label something that you want to pursue or hope happens?
“At this point in my career it would be a great honor, but only if it is the right fit.  I enjoy songwriting and performing. Touring and making appearances seems quite exciting though..  I would love an opportunity if the chance was given.”

14. Where does the inspiration for songs come for you?
“I feel that GOD has given me this great ability to sing and write music so that I can  share those  life experiences and the experiences of others, through my music.”

Finally, Do you plan to make Nashville your home?
“Yes.  Nashville is my home and has been for a while now. I really enjoy the music atmosphere and ambience that Nashville as to offer. I can truly see how Nashville gets its name “Music City”.