[Belated] Happy Birthday to Louis Armstrong

This post is overdue by a few weeks (it’s July 22nd, even though I’m dating it the 4th) but it’s something I wanted to make sure I remembered and could share with anyone interested.

It’s said that Jazz was born in America and is enjoyed worldwide, so it was very befitting that the father of jazz, Louis Armstrong, happened to be born on this day – or so that’s what most people believe. From a child, Louis Armstrong had been told by his mother that his birthday was the same day as the country he had been born in. It’s the date associated with his social security number as well as his draft card and other government-issues documents. It wasn’t until scholars found his baptismal papers that it was confirmed that Louis Armstrong was in fact born on August 4, 1901.

That didn’t stop the Louis Armstrong House Museum  (LAHM) from celebrating his birthday in full force on July 4, 2013, however. The LAHM is an organization run by Queens College, CUNY, built to preserve the legacy of Louis Armstrong and the home he shared with his wife Lucille in Corona, Queens, where he spent the last 30 years of his life  up until his death on July 6, 1971 just a month shy of his (real) 71st birthday.

The celebration started with a private complimentary luncheon for members and then followed with a concert from the band Bria’s Hot Five which was open to everyone who purchased a ticket. Being a member of the LAHM, but never having visited the house, I was able get access to the backyard (you need to sign up for a tour to see the inside of house) before most were – though it turns out almost everyone who attended has been to the house before. The backyard, which is an entire lot onto itself, had what could be described as a parasol of intertwined branches and leaves. The high trees gave an abundance of shade, which made it more comfortable on such a hot day, though there was unshaded area where you could sit on benches or admire the small pond. There was also a nice outdoor bar, where they served members some southern fixins like collard greens, mac & cheese, rice & beans and corn bread. Not to mention the delicious birthday cake that everyone got a piece of after the show. It was certainly a great day and a great way to celebrate The 4th of July.

PS: If you bring your mouthpiece to the LAHM archives at Queens College, you’ll get the opportunity to play one of Louis’ actual trumpets.

louis armstrong house museum - welcome desk on July 4, 2013 event
Welcome desk at Louis Armstrong’s House located at 34-56 107th Street
Corona, NY 11368

louis armstrong house museum - luncheon welcome

louis armstrong house museum - inside first floor

louis armstrong house museum - armstrong coronet

louis armstrong house museum - backyard (looking out to 107th street)

louis armstrong house museum - backyard

louis armstrong house museum - backyard

louis armstrong house museum - backyard

bria and the hot five

bria and the hot five. bria playing trumpet.

My VOTE goes to Idris for Otis

The polls may be long closed, but I’ve got a new candidate I’m endorsing – Idris Elba. The position – as Otis Redding.

Before I even get into my whole reasoning for that or what that even means, I have to talk about the man himself, Otis Redding. To me, and most others, Otis Redding is the best male soul singer to have ever lived. If you combined the smoothness of Al Green and the soul of Wilson Pickett, you still wouldn’t be able to fill his shoes. No one sang a love song like Redding. I’ve watched videos of his live performances and have listened to him countless times on the radio, iTunes and Pandora. If hearing this man sing “I’ve Been Loving You” or “These Arms of Mine” doesn’t evoke some sort of emotion inside, then you were born without a heart. When I listen to Otis Redding, I feel like I’m reading a page from his diary. I don’t know where all of his songs came from or what inspired them, but if Otis sang it you can bet you’re gonna believe every word he said.

Growing up, Otis Redding was simply known to me as the guy who sang “(Sittin On) The Dock of  the Bay.” Whenever I was in the car with my father the only music that played was oldies. And “(Sittin On) The Dock of  the Bay” was one of the more popular songs that got a lot of air time. But back then, Redding was just a singer to me. He was one of the many played on 101.1 CBSFM. I didn’t differentiate him from other Motown (by Motown I mean the more-commonly-referred-to music genre not the label) artists like Smokey Robinson, Al Green or Sam Cooke. I couldn’t. At that age (before my teens), I hadn’t yet grown an appreciation for the artists themselves. I liked the songs a lot, but didn’t have the ability to listen to them and identify the person singing just within the first few lyrics.

As I grew, however, and started to actually appreciate and even follow my father’s taste in music my ears fine tuned. I started to really enjoy listening to Motown, Golden Oldies, Doowop and Soul. As a teenager I remember anxiously awaiting a song to come on the radio, so I could simultaneously press the record button on my tape deck with the start of the song. But it wasn’t until the last 5-7 years that I really began to seek out specific artists and tracks. With the introduction of iTunes, the iPod, Pandora and Grooveshark, I could summon any song by any artist whenever I wanted. And that’s where my music collection began. My playlist is not huge by any means and I won’t pretend like I have every Otis Redding song ever recorded. But when I realized that I could purchase his songs and listen to them over and over, I started and never stopped doing just that.

Most of the Redding songs I downloaded were hits, though many of them I had heard only once or never at all. But then a funny thing started happening. The more I listened to these same songs, the more cognizant I became that I had heard them somewhere else — not on the radio, but in movies.

Pretty in Pink was the first ‘aha’ moment I had. I was watching the movie one day, when, in the book store scene with Annie Potts and Jon Cryer, “Try a Little Tenderness” starts playing. I can almost recall the little pang of excitement and satisfaction I got knowing that my aural intuition had proven right. That ‘momentous’ event happened a few years back, but just within the last year or so I made another discovery. “Love Man” was featured in Dirty Dancing. It’s in the part where Jennifer Grey is getting her first taste of the gritty dancing moves with Patrick Swayze. And I think the context in which the song was used, a sexually charged scene, kind of changed my perception of Otis Redding. Though long gone, I started to view him more as a sex symbol or better, a sexy, soulful music icon. And now, when I watch his live performances, I really do see what a heartthrob he was. His voice can almost be described as entrancing. When he sang he oozed sultriness, smoothness and confidence.

Which, evidently, provides the perfect segue into Idris Elba (born Idrissa Akuna “Idris” Elba). Have you ever looked at him, really studied his features and mannerisms when he’s acting? Maybe not if you’re a man. And chances are the things I’m referring about are more perceived by women. Yet, if you’re reading this and you are struck by curiosity of what I’m referring to, Google his name and look at the photos. Does he not have a resemblance to a famous soul singer with the initials O.R.?

You may not recognize his name (possibly b/c he’s an English actor) but I’m pretty sure you’ll know his face (see below for those of you who didn’t Google him). What prompted me to even start writing this entry was that I had just recently watched the movie Daddy’s Little Girls. Not an A caliber movie, but I was really impressed with his acting. I honestly thought he was quite believable as a grief-stricken father separated from his 3 daughters against his will. I had seen him in Rock n Rolla, which I thought he was great in. And I tried my best to watch him in the Beyonce/Ali Larter movie Obsessed (he was actually the only reason to watch it). Not only does he look like Otis Redding, but he exudes the the same sex appeal just like the late singer. Both being strong men who still have a soft side to them and are not afraid to show it.

comparison of idris elba to otis redding

So what does this all mean? Well, you have a good actor established in his own right but not yet a household name (though he’s in the soon-to-be released film Prometheus directed by Ridley Scott, and has been speculated to possibly be the next James Bond) that, in my opinion, strongly resembles one of the greatest soul singers of our time whose life was tragically cut short in a plane crash. This to me sounds like a movie with box office hit written all over it. But don’t just take my word for it. Let’s look at some past biographical movies of famous musicians, male and female. Though before I even list them I can tell you that every single one of these movies received critical acclaim. It either catapulted the lead actor into stardom or cemented their status; or was nominated for Oscars, Golden Globes or Cannes. In many cases, both. And in some cases, they even won.

listed in order of release

(1968) Funny Girl: Barbra Streisand as Fannie Brice

(1978) The Buddy Holly Story: Gary Busey as Buddy Holly

(1980) Coal Miner’s Daughter: Sissy Spacek as Loretta Lynn

(1984) Amadeus: Tom Hulce as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (and F. Murray Abraham as Antonio Salieri)

(1987) La Bamba: Lou Diamond Phillips as Ritchie Valens

(1988) Bird: Forest Whitaker as Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker

(1991) The Doors: Val Kilmer as Jim Morrison

(1993) What’s Love Got to Do with It: Angela Bassett as Tina Turner

(1997) Selena: Jennifer Lopez as Selena Quintanilla-Pérez

(1999) Introducing Dorothy Dandridge: Halle Berry as Dorothy Dandridge

(2002) The Pianist: Adrien Brody as Wladyslaw Szpilman

(2004) Ray: Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles

(2005) Walk the Line: Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash

(2007) La vie en rose: Marion Cotillard as Édith Pilaf

On a film, makeup artists and costume designers have their job cut out for them when the protagonist is or was an actual person. And much credit is due to the star for giving such a convincing portrayal. Yet it goes without saying that the physical appearance of the actor has much to do with casting selection. Take for example Val Kilmer as Jim Morrison, Jennifer Lopez as Selena and Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles.

Jaime Foxx as Ray Charles, Jennifer Lopez as Selena, Val Kilmer as Jim Morrison

All of these actors possessed similar physical traits of the musicians they portrayed, which help solidify them in their role. Bringing me back to my comparison of Idris Elba to Otis Redding.

Both men sing. Even though I can’t really say how successful Elba will be in his singing career, it does help that he’s not completely tone deaf. Both are tall, Elba at approx 6’3″ and Redding at 6’1″, and have big, gregarious smiles. Although Otis Redding died young at 26 and Idris Elba is already 39, Elba could certainly pass for that age. And both, coincidentally, have a tie to Jay-Z. Elba co-produced and performed on the intro to Jay-Z’s 2007 album American Gangster. And Jay-Z, along with Kanye West, pays tribute to Otis Redding in their new song aptly entitled “Otis” with a mashup of sampling from Redding’s hit “Try a Little Tenderness.” Of course that last bit has no bearing on why Elba would make a great Otis Redding, but I thought it was a fun piece of trivia.

As far as I know, there is no Otis Redding film being pitched at this time, nor have I even heard rumors about it. But if by chance Columbia, 20th Century Fox, Paramount or TriStar are looking for new movie ideas – there’s mine.

Chick Corea

In belated honor of fellow jazz great, Dizzy Gillepsie’s birthday, I thought I’d post a pic from a Chick Corea show a few weeks back at the Highline Ballroom. (I didn’t check my camera before I went to realize that it wasn’t working so I was only able to get a shot with my phone from the back).

Chick Corea and wife Gayle at the Highline Ballroom in NYC

The Chick Corea trio consisted of himself, Christian McBride on bass and Brian Blade on drums. I’ll be honest in saying that I don’t really follow Chick Corea. I know he’s been on albums with Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis, but as a pianist I’m not too familiar with his newer music.  I might even be one of those people who say they like the ‘old Chick,’ the same way others say they like the ‘old Miles’, before fusion and funk. Either way, I am smart enough to know that he is one of the last living jazz legends and worth seeing if you have the chance. He’s had such a successful career that it’s like witnessing history when you see him perform, even if the players have changed.

The band played mostly new music, which I hadn’t heard before, but really enjoyed. He saved the best for last when his wife Gayle came on stage to sing “You’re Everything.” At the time she walked on I didn’t know she was a singer, but it was obvious she was when she opened her mouth. She has a very light voice that that seemed to float on top of the instruments. It was a really good ending.

Jazz. Born in America. Enjoyed Worldwide.

My boyfriend is a big jazz fan. He started getting into it a few years ago when he took up the trumpet. Even though I played the trumpet 3 years in junior high school and was in Jazz Band, I was convinced that I never really knew much about the music and had never been overly interested in it. It wasn’t hard getting exposure to it, since he listened, played and read about all the time. And it wasn’t long until I realized the importance and popularity of the songs I played in Jazz Band. I finally learned what Mack the Knife was about and that ‘What a Wonderful World’ isn’t what made Louis Armstrong famous. I learned about musicians and singers, watched movies and documentaries, and bought books that helped catch me up to speed on what I had been ignorant about for so long.
So that started my love of jazz and, I guess you could say, a great history lesson into music. Apple pie and baseball may be American pastimes, but nothing else can claim to be born in America and enjoyed worldwide.

A Great Day in Harlem photo. Taken by Art Kane in 1958 .

This photo, entitled A Great Day in Harlem, was shot by Art Kane in 1958. The idea was to create a group portrait of living legendary jazz musicians (57 are featured) on a Harlem street. It turned out to be one of the most iconic portraits in music, if not photography. The one question I have, though, is why people like Louis Armstrong and Miles Davis, to name a few, aren’t there. I simply think that some of these musicians weren’t from NY, or in NY at the time of this shoot, and they just couldn’t make it.

Not all of the faces are clear enough to identify by name, if you even know all of them. But fortunately, Art Kane’s site (click the ‘harlem’ link at the top to see this photo) enables visitors to roll over each person and see their name in the lower right hand corner.

Keyboard jam session

If the internet existed in the 80s like it does today, this would top on my list of fave sites (not really). From the rainbow keyboard to the stock sound effects like you find on synthesizers, this is totally retro. It’s also mindless and fun (like the 80s).

:: keyboard jam session ::