Black History Month: John and Alice Coltrane

This month in my blog, I’m paying tribute to a few of the major African-American influences in our culture’s music. There aren’t enough days to include all of them, but if I can help raise awareness of some of the world’s greatest Black musical talents, then we’ll all be a bit richer. Please follow me on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, where I’m sharing short snippets of even more of my favorite African-American artists and their work.

The influence of John and Alice Coltrane

Few people have stretched the boundaries of improvisation further than the legendary saxophonist John Coltrane. His recording of “My Favorite Things” inspired countless jazz musicians to push their own frontiers. Much of his history is readily available on the internet, but I’d like to focus on how he challenged other musicians of his active period (late 1940s – 1960s).

Giant Steps

If we look at his song “Giant Steps,” the circle of fifths takes on a life of its own. The song, recorded in 1960, put pianist Tommy Flannagan in a tough spot as he tried to improvise around the circle in three different keys (B, Eb, G). When Coltrane takes over, the song flies. Today, it has become a rite of passage for jazz musicians. Numerous artists have recorded their versions of the song, with Pat Metheny’s being one of my favorites. Coltrane played with many of the great jazz masters including Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis.

Alice Coltrane

Although John is widely known, many people are surprised to learn that his wife, Alice, was equally talented. She was a pianist and harpist who eventually replaced McCoy Tyner on piano in John’s band. John adopted her daughter, and the couple had three other children together, all of whom became musicians. John and Alice studied spirituality, recording this period of their lives in the album A Love Supreme. After John’s death in 1967, she continued exploring jazz and spiritual practices. These influences merged in her albums Universal Consciousness and World Galaxy. She changed her name to Turiyasangitananda or Turiya Alice Coltrane, established an ashram, and went on to record music that left from her jazz roots and focused on promoting spirituality. Many of her later works including Turiya Sings, are now regarded as ashram classics. Alice passed on in 2007.

The originality, skill, and mastery of both of these musicians are indisputable. I have spent untold hours listening to their work. As for a favorite song from either of them, it’s impossible to choose. However, it’s hard not to love “My Favorite Things.”

Black History Month: Influence of African-American musicians is undeniable

Hazel Scott was an accomplished classical and jazz pianist who stood up for racial justice.

Working as a composer and pianist, I draw inspiration from so many who have come before me. My early training was primarily classical. I studied the famous composers like Beethoven, Ravel and Mozart, whose work most people recognize. But, it was one thing to learn what my teachers gave me, and another thing to hear the popular music that was all around me. I learned quickly that the structure of much classical music was constantly being redefined and enhanced by musicians who pushed rhythm, form and melody in new directions. Many of these innovators were and are our Black brothers and sisters.

It’s February, Black History Month, and although we can’t contain the energy and beauty of their work in a mere month, we can pay homage to some of the greats. As a Colombian, I am fortunate to have been exposed to many diverse artists and have witnessed the fusion of many styles.

This month in my blog and on social media, I will be sharing the voices and works of some of my favorite African-American influences. Of course, you can expect familiar names like Count Bassie, Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Art Tatum, Eroll Garner, and Etta James. But, I hope to share with you some lesser-known giants as well. In fact, I kicked off the month on my social media sites with a tribute to Ms. Hazel Scott, a talented lady who not only played across genres with style, she also stood up for social justice. Later, I’ll share the work of the late Joe Arroyo, whose salsa music carries a Caribbean tone that blends elements of jazz and rock. And, it’s this kind of slipstream music that I find exciting.

Today, it’s impossible to appreciate music without recognizing the influence of numerous cultures. My Colombian heritage and interaction with people in various communities has allowed me to interact with talent across the spectrum. I dedicate this month to all the African-American musicians – known and unknown – who have added to the musical pool. When I compose pieces like Ensamble Barlovento, I know that I’m drawing upon my appreciation of the work of people like Erroll Garner, Art Tatum, Duke Ellington, Fats Waller and Jimi Hendrix.

Ultimately, we are all humans on the same planet. Black, white, whatever … We are all connected. We need to appreciate all the diversity around us. By focusing on the best that connects us, we can enjoy all the facets of a rich, varied experience. I am deeply thankful for the work of so many Black musicians who have carved the musical landscape of my life.

I leave you with one of the most uplifting tunes by anyone of any race: “Love Train” by the O’Jays.

Ray Charles’ music has inspired me for decades.

Latitud 01 de Febrero de 2015

Latitud 01 de Febrero de 2015

El cóndor de los Andes

http://revistas.elheraldo.co/sites/default/files/2015/01/31/articulo/orquesta_correcta.jpg

Bajo la batuta de Germán Gutiérrez, la Filarmónica Joven de Colombia se presentó el 21 de enero en el Colegio Alemán de la ciudad de Barranquilla.

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Redacción

Una interpretación audaz en cuanto a repertorio hizo en su reciente presentación la Filarmónica Joven de Colombia, en el Colegio Alemán de Barranquilla.

De Nueva York a los Andes peruano y colombiano, luego Kiev, y Argentina, con la majestad de un cóndor, visión de un águila y el ritmo incesante de jóvenes en cabalgata en coordinada búsqueda de excelencia comenzó el programa de la Filarmónica Joven de Colombia, proyecto de la Fundación Bolívar Davivienda.

El programa despegó con excelente despliegue de percusionistas y cobres deslumbrando en rapsódicas sincopas caribes, también típicas de los blues de los años veinte y treinta. Con el sentimiento de un danzón rápido, cuerdas luchando por la atención (característica de la pieza en sí), un correteo entre familias instrumentales cada vez tanteando terreno más alto y más ‘forte’ a un final —exuberante, tal como el temperamento de su compositor Leonard Bernstein— empezó un Fantastischen Abend (Vesper Fantástico), el 21 de enero de 2015 en el auditorio del Colegio Alemán de Barranquilla.

Ensamble de colores sonoros, cálidos y hondos: intensos, vibratos expresivos, proyección profunda –es decir un sonido guiado a la tradición europea central, vienesa, o hasta berlinesa, en las cuerdas– distinción sutil especial.

Luego, la audazmente orquestada pieza Lord of the air, López, joven compositor peruano, con la sensación de vuelo de un ave, jóvenes cuerdistas con la guía del director Germán Gutiérrez, mezclaron sutilmente con el sonido ‘francés’ del chelista Castro-Balbi, sensible solista. Al aterrizar, un último aleteo, el Bourree de suite de cello en do, de Bach –quasi religiosamente interpretado– y continuando ruta vecina (más cerca de Barranquilla con relación al Perú, porque Atehortúa es de Antioquia). Fugas, tal vez algo de dodecafonía, mezclado con toques y cánones andinos e inclinaciones de jazz cubano, al pausar en casa Atehortúa interesantes anomalías musicales –lo clásico y autóctono– en erudición.

Largo y extenso viaje a Kiev desde los Andes, con gnomos, castillos embrujados, jardines, marchas y mercados bávaros, hasta conversaciones sepulcros y gallinas al baile, un Disney sonoro sensacional, y tour de forcé para el público, los jóvenes y el conductor establecieron las virtudes de la excelente disciplina guiando el cinemático programa de Mussorgsky Cuadros en una exhibición. Y nuevamente hacia el Caribe, un merengue de López. Y, a propósito de Texas, como suelen decir los de allí, el petróleo, las joyas y las excelentes o buenas mujeres se asemejan –siempre–, se encuentran inadvertidamente: el ensamble hizo sonar un arreglo del tango La cumparsita pasando por multitonalidades y tempos….

Pasos, miradas atenuantes, cortejo íntimo, sensual –el ritmo de la búsqueda del alma gemela– expresión que me dio ganas de danzar. Solos sobre las profundas sonoras cuerdas (sol y re principales) del violín con expresivo vibrato y lánguidas sonoridades sensuales.

Un joven violinista rindió tres solos fortuitos que  fue la cús
pide de la velada. ¡Qué gusto!…

La capacidad de conectar con la audiencia y hacer sentir la humanidad de nuestras emociones y pasiones con inteligencia y rigor es la existencia de la música. En este ámbito el ensamble cumple con su meta, el público se deleita felizmente y los jóvenes se transforman.