Friday, July 6, 2018

New Orleans Artist Mykia Jovan Shines at Essencefest

                                                                       Mykia Jovan

By Shelah Moody
Photo by Douglass Washington

Mykia Jovan performs at 8 p.m., Friday, July 6, Good Vibes Superlounge, 2018, Essence Festival, Mercedes Benz Superdome, New Orleans, LA.
She’s a bit Erykah Badu, a bit Ledisi, a bit Teena Marie and a bit Nina Simone. She’s a bit R&B and a bit jazz, she says, but most importantly, Mykia Jovan is a storyteller.
Jovan, one of the hottest young stars to emerge from New Orleans, performs for the first time at the 2018 Essence Festival at the Mercedes Benz Superdome on July 6.
For Jovan, who maintains a regular Sunday night gig at the Blue Nile on Frenchman Street in New Orleans, performing at Essencefest  on the bill with the likes of Janet Jackson, Mary J. Blige, Fantasia and Ledisi is a dream come true.
“I have so much in my back pocket that I’m going to take some chances on for this performance,” Jovan said. “It’s only 45 minutes, so I’m gonna go big!”
Born and raised in New Orleans, Jovan studied theater at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts. She ventured into music because she was trying to avoid auditioning through the theater process, she said.
“Music has definitely helped me build my confidence,” said Jovan. “I’ve been privileged to work at the Blue Nile and cut my teeth on the stage and take my time and figure out my craft.”
In April of this year, Jovan performed at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, affectionately known to locals as Jazzfest, for the for the first time as a solo act with her own band.
“I’ve done Jazziest a few times with Kermit Ruffins and the Barbecue Swingers, but this was my first time being able to present myself and my original music,” said Jovan. “It was very exciting and I had a great time.”
Sunday nights at the Blue Nile, Jovan and her band perform songs from her debut album, “Elliyahu,” independently produced and recorded in New Orleans. Once you hear tracks from “Elliyahu,” such as “Creep,” “Feast on the Flower,” “Idle Mind”  and “16 Shots,” which addresses the long running obsession with race, class and skin color in the south, you will be hooked. Here’s a clip of her Blue Nile performance:
“Blend in, and stay out the sun, because the darker you are, the shorter the run,” Jovan sings in soaring soprano.
“The title means ‘highest, most exhausted one,’  but I added an ‘L’ to the name to kind of take away the idea of me speaking about God and more about idolatry—how we find God in people and how interpersonal relationships affect personal growth and development as individuals,” said Jovan.
“The whole album is centered around times in my life where I felt that I was looking outside of myself for something that was already the inside. That’s what you heard tonight—a bunch of love songs reaching for someone, and then eventually, I figure out how to reach within myself.”

Follow her @

Thursday, August 10, 2017

From OPC to SFJAZZ: Rhiannon Giving Brings Soulful Folk Music to the Bay Area

By Shelah Moody
Rhiannon Giddens’ upcoming SFJAZZ performance at the Herbst Theatre on Oct. 28 sold out fast, but you can still catch Grammy winning folk artist Rhiannon Giddens on tour this summer and fall.  Giddens’ high profile dates include appearances at the renowned Newport Jazz Festival (Rhode Island) and the Edmonton Folk Music Festival in Canada. (
Prior to the announcement of Giddens’  2016 Grammy nominations for best Folk Album and Best American Roots Performance (“Factory Girl,” Nonesuch Records), the visionary singer, composer violinist and banjoist  made a rare appearance at the Oakland Public Conservatory of Music on November 19, 2016.
Giddens conducted a vocal workshop at OPC during the afternoon performed with two acclaimed young American roots artists in their own right, banjoist Hubby Jenkins and tap dancer Robyn Watson in the evening.
 In her OPC vocal workshop, Giddens had the chance to interact up close and in person with members of the Bay Area diverse community, including youth, musicians, students, poets and visual artists.
“Another man done gone/Gone from the county farm/I didn’t know his name/ I don’t know where he’s gone/He had a long chain on/He killed another man/I’m going to walk your load down by the waterfall…”

                  Rhiannon Giddens led a vocal workshop at Oakland Public Conservatory of Music.

Such is the story of a man who has escaped from prison, slavery or some unbearable situation circumstance.  Giddens drew her students into the heart of the folk and blues ballad, using only her foot as accompaniment, guiding us through the song verse by verse. Giddens was quick to emphasize the joy of making music and incorporating it into daily life. Giddens found that people are often afraid to sing in public and in groups because of lack of formal training.
“We’ve gotten so divorced from that, people think, well, I can’t sing, because I’m not going to be on stage,” said Giddens, a native of Greensboro North Carolina who currently lives in Ireland with he husband and two children.
“Well, you can sing. Everybody can sing. We used to sing all the time. It’s what keeps you going. I went to the Oberlin Conservatory and I studied opera, I studied it for years and I got all in it. I loved Verdi, loved Puccini. I still love that music, and I’ve been able to take that training and use it in every aspect of what I do.”
In 2011, Giddens received a Grammy award for Best Traditional Folk Album, Performing a cappella, Giddens said, also puts you in touch with your own voice. “Genuine Negro Jig.”
“Something that you don’t hear anymore is the idea of not having a microphone,” said Giddens. “You see the youth today, and the microphone’s got to be right here (close to the mouth). “I had to learn how to use a mic, and it was torturous. The thing about learning how to sing without a microphone is that you have to learn how to breathe. I had to re-learn how to breathe. We all breathe with (the shoulders) and we become tense in that area. To breathe like an opera singer, you have to breathe from (the diaphragm). “

                                                                      Hubby Jenkins

Then, Giddens urged her students to sit up straight, relax their shoulders, and take a deep belly breath before singing. Ahhh!
After a pre-Thanksgiving community feast of chicken coconut stew, homemade cornbread, black-eyed peas and rice, yams, collard greens with caramelized ginger and sweet tea from Mamacita’s kitchen in the OPC building, the Oakland audience was treated to one of the finest acoustic performances  this writer has ever seen.  Giddens, Jenkins and Watson explored the black roots of American music from square dance to the blues idiom through banjo, fiddle, voice and dance.
For more information on OPC’s up close and personal workshops and performances, go to:

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Sly 5th Ave

Out 2nd June, new signing Sly5thAve’s drops his debut EP “Composite” on Tru Thoughts. The culmination of six orchestral versions of influential pop, hip-hop and R&B tracks from the last decade, Sly5thAve arranges the music of Rihanna, Drake, Frank Ocean, Lil Wayne and Gabriel Garzón-Montano, performed with the Brooklyn-based ClubCassa Chamber Orchestra.

Sly5thAve is the project of multi-instrumentalist, composer, arranger and producer Sylvester Uzoma Onyejiaka II, whose sophisticated compositions are shaped by his faith in hip-hop, and deep understanding of soul and jazz. Sly5thAve’s projects and accomplishments over the last few years include; the inception of the first orchestral concert dedicated to Dr. Dre, playing saxophone with Prince, leading the ClubCassa Chamber Orchestra, and his revered co-reworking of Herbie Hancock’s classic ‘Headhunters’ LP with Jesse Fischer which was debuted on Tru Thoughts in 2015.

“Composite” ties together 6 tracks from Sly5thAve’s early experimental phase on one release for the first time. “It’s a milestone” Sly5thAve explains, “It shows the journey towards calling myself an arranger today”. Four years in the making, “Composite” was initially recorded by Sly5thAve and two members of the ClubCassa Chamber Orchestra’s thirty musicians: Jay Jennings and Joey Rayfield, in the basement of the ClubCassa Chamber Club House – a Victorian mansion a stone’s throw from Ditmas Park. On “Composite”, Sly5thAve arranges popular R&B, pop and hip-hop tracks and repurposes them with music and musicianship at the fore by replacing synthesised sounds and samples with live musicians and organic textures.

“Super Rich Kids” opens the EP with an expansive drumbeat and jazz flute, substituting Frank Ocean’s vocals for bright piano notes - akin to those used by legendary composer, arranger and producer David Axelrod whom many of hip-hop’s greats (Dr. Dre, Wu-Tang Clan, A Tribe Called Quest) sampled. The warm buzz of reverb underneath the soulful ooh’s take the hook, before the flutes and horn section carry the bridge and reconstruct the iconic tension of the original. “I was really into ‘Channel Orange’ when it came out it. I really liked that kind of R&B sound that wasn’t so neo-soul, it wasn’t so pop. The chord progression really stuck out to me.” Sly5thAve explains. The brilliant “Everything Is Everything” fills out the cool syncopation of Gabriel Garzón-Montano’s original into a tight jam, retaining the head-nodding drum patterns and breaks, and swapping in a sound that oozes with New York’s contemporary jazz vibrations, before dropping into a spacious drum breakdown that harks back to rhythms on his first solo album ‘Akuma’ inspired by his Nigerian descent.

On unmistakable trap number “Love Me”, Sly5thAve softens the high-energy beat by replacing it with beautiful horns, and omits Drake’s feature for dramatic flute bars. “I grew up listening to Lil Wayne” Sly5thAve explains “When he was 16 he came out on Cash Money Records and in the southern United States that whole contemporary trap sound had been going on for 20 years before it hit anywhere else”. On Rihanna’s monumental “Pour It Up”, the triumphant flugelhorns take control before launching into a powerful crescendo of trumpet, trombone and bass clarinet notes. On love groove “Stay”, staccato strings and woodwind impart a new agency and transform Rihanna’s anathema of showing the vulnerability of true love into a beautiful and empowering arrangement. Closing the EP, Sly5thAve’s take of “Hold On, We’re Going Home” focusses on the famous 1-6-2-5 jazz turnaround and replaces the jacked beat with intensifying string swells to create an unmistakably honest composition that stands tall next Drake’s notorious pop classic.


released June 2, 2017

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

"Alexander’s blend of jazz and reggae makes for an outrageously good time" 
— The Wall Street Journal

Monty Alexander
Harlem-Kingston Express

THU, JUN 8 · 8PM

During this year's 35th Annual San Francisco Jazz Festival, Jamaica-born jazz great Monty Alexander, who has garnered acclaim for bridging American jazz and the music of his native Jamaica. Over six-decades, pianist Alexander has created a unique blend of reggae and jazz, and has been described by The Wall Street Journal as “the first—and certainly the most successful—musician to combine Jamaican music with North American jazz.”

The pianist’s 2011 GRAMMY-nominated Motéma Records release Harlem-Kingston Express stands as the ultimate expression of Alexander’s unique perspective on jazz, featuring his trio (including SFJAZZ Collective drummer Obed Calvaire) as well as a Jamaican rhythm section, embracing reggae, dub, bebop, and Afro-Cuban approaches.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Masego – 2016 San Jose Summer Jazz Festival Report by: Carol Ealey

When my husband, Michael asked me which artists I wanted to see at the 2016 San Jose Jazz Summer Festival, I had no idea except for Bobby Caldwell and Goapele two of the headline artist, so I searched the line-up to see who I could fit into our busy event schedule.

The artist that I selected was Masego (real name Micah Davis) after listening to his song “Girls That Dance on YouTube. As we headed over to the Post Street Stage one of the many stages at the San Jose Jazz Fest you could hear that thump of trap, hip hop and jazz mix of music that made you want to dance. I loved it.

Masego is a 22-year-old multi-instrumentalist – he plays the saxophone, piano, drums guitar, cello and many other instruments and he’s a singer. On stage he showed his talents by playing several instruments much like a one man band and he showed his comedic style as well as an impromptu rap about two cute girls in the audience. Masego has real talent and I love his style of music which he calls TrapHouseJazz. It merges traditional jazz sounds – saxophone, scatting with the thump of trap music and house.
Masego was born in Kingston, Jamaica, to an American mother and Jamaican father. His father is a pastor in the military so they moved around a lot when Masego was little settling in Newport News, Virginia. His mother is also a pastor, specifically the minister of music at their church. Church was a strong presence in Masego’s life, as was playing in the church band; music came naturally to him. As he said in a recent article that he listened to a lot of gospel (Jmoss, William Murphy, Fred Hammond, Kirk Franklin) since that’s all he was allowed to play in the house. But Cab Calloway influenced his style and his love of jazz swing and the dances that go with it. This blend of styles is clearly evident in his music.
Masego has talent and his energetic show at the 2016 SJ Jazz Summer Festival was one of the highlights this year. If you want to hear this new style of Trap House Jazz I would encourage you to check out a sample of his music at You won’t be disappointed.


San Jose Summer Jazz Fest 2016 Report: DENISE DONATELLI

Finally at the end of my day; Denise Donatelli. I made my way over to Cafe Stritch and was greeted by an impatient, hungry line of over 70 people clamoring to see this 4 time Grammy nominee vocalist. Hey, with a line like this, how am I going to get into this place? But wait. Mike gave me a Streetwise press pass. With a sticker. I walked right up to the door and flashed the pass.
"OK," she said, "and uhh...oh yeah, you got that sticker."
I went into an empty room with the stage lights set up just right and the band was doing their mic checks. I snapped off a few shots to get my exposures down and after I burned enough frames I notice a cat tuning the piano. I was floored. I've never seen that before. I mean they always tune of for Yuja Wang and Daniel Barinboim but I've never seen a tuner for jazz or pop music. So when he was done I go over and talk this spritely Japanese dude dressed in ninja black.
"So you tune before every gig?"
"Naaa", he says, "I just hang out here cus' I love the jazz. I tune because I really want them to sound good. But a lot of guys don't appreciate it...and some guys; even really good musicians, can't even tell the difference,".
"I know man, it's sick !".
"But I just tune cus' I love it", he said, "and I want to give something back to them. So if they can't enjoy it to hell with them man." We laughed our guts out like long lost brothers.
Then I said, "So you tune ... that means you play."
"Yeah, I play", he said, "but I'm a really bad player."
"We're on the same page", I said, "It takes me two years to learn something that my 16 year old son can learn in two weeks. So if you still want to listen to me, to hell with you!!" Our laughter was broken by a KCSM dj putting in a big plug for the station and introducing, let's say it right here, the amazing Denise Donetelli.

Then Denise comes on stage and immediately has the audience in her back pocket. She's like that smooth cocktail you reward yourself with at the end of a hard day's work. The clarity of voice, the effortless sustains, the inviting warm embrace of this wonderful singer. She uses her insturment to bring new life to standards such as Green Dolphin Street and fresh interpretations of comtemporary tunes like Soul Shadows , No Better, and A Promise. I especially enjoy her rendition of the bossa nova style tune Ange where she combines latin rythms with minor discordant harmonies, not unlike the great jazz vocalist Kurt Elling, all with comfortably pure tonality and an effortlessly clear voice.
According to Wikipedia, Denise Donatelli started as a classical pianist at the age of three and studied for 15 years. For three consecutive years she won first place in competitions held by the National Federation of Music Clubs. After college, she married and had sons. To remain with her family, she did not begin to sing professionally until the boys reached their teenage years.
She has recorded studio spots for episodes of The Simpsons and television promos for Frasier, Card Sharks and Turner Classic Movies as well as national and international commercials for CNN, Hyundai, Lexus, Mercedes-Benz and many more.
She has performed with Bill Mays, Roger Kellaway, Tamir Hendelmen, Bob Sheppard, Joe LaBarbara, the Stan Kenton Alumni Band. She tours extensively, performing at jazz festivals; like the San Jose Jazz Festival, jazz clubs, performing art centers, and with university jazz bands where she conducts master clinics.

Her next gig is in La Jolla, CA with Geoffrey Keezer and Friends who she records with. Donatelli has released five albums; three have been nominated for Grammy's. Although this singer's voice is truly a reward in itself, no one will be surprised if Denise Donatelli's next album finally wins the recognition this fine singer deserves.

Tom Wing Wo