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

San Jose Summer Jazz Fest 2016 Report: LEGALLY BLUE ByTom Wing Wo

After Kenny Washington at the Jade Leaf Lounge I had three hours to kill before singer Denise Donatelli. I headed over to the Gordon Biersch stage cus' it was only a block and a half away.

                        Legally Blue was the surprise of the Jazz Festival for me.

                                       Joanne Wegener is backed 
                      by four excellent blues musicians

John Keating on keyboards, Mike West on drums.

                                               Chris Wilder on bass.

       And the rock solid, articulate and inventive Aart de Gon                                               guitars.

All the cats in Legally Blue are excellent muscians and they'll have their first CD release party this Saturday, August 20 in Sunnyvale. Singer Joanne is dramatic and expressive with a mellow and gut wrenching interpretations of blues standards and orginal blues tunes written by each of the intermentalist in this goup. She has an inviting, relaxed rapport with her audience that makes you feel like you're at home with your family and a part of the band. She's so comfortable on stage that at one point she turned her back to the audience to shoot a selfie with the crowd in the background. The audience totally cracked up and band the blew the roof off the top of this outdoor stage.

Back in the 70's I played drums and sang vocals in a garage band called Karma Co. in Sacramento. It was founded by two brothers from Georgia who wrote blues and rock tunes. I played my share of blues but I've almost forgotten it. That all changed when I heard Legally Blue today.

Legally Blue has gotten me back into the Blues and I can't wait to hear them again.

Tom Wing Wo


San Jose JazzFest 2016 Report:Legends and Emerging Artists Triumph By Shelah Moody

Closing day of the 27th Annual San Jose Jazz Summer Fest, Sunday Aug. 14 was a celebration of world music and a joyous weekend for Streetwise Radio.
The streets of downtown San Jose, as well hotels, cafes and restaurants hosted legendary musicians and emerging artists, attracting thousands of fans to the largest city in the Bay Area.

Our first stop on a warm south bay afternoon was the Jade Leaf Lounge, where Cuban pianist Harold Lopez Nussa, joined by Ruy Adrián López-Nussa, (drums/percussion) and Alune Wade (bass/vocals) were creating elegant, tropical soundscapes.

                         Harold Lopez Nussa
While children in swim suits danced through the fountains at Cezar Chavez Plaza in the heart of downtown San Jose, 

2015 Grammy nominee--saxophonist Miguel Zenon, and his band --Alex Brown (piano), Hans Glawischnig (bass) and Henry Cole (drums)-- showcased rhythms and melodies inspired by Zenon’s native Puerto Rico. The quartet played original compositions and arrangements from Zenon’s albums, “Esta Plena” and “Alma Adentro: The Puerto Rican Songbook.”

It feels great to be here,” said Zenon, who was nominated for a 2015 Grammy in the Best Latin Jazz Album category for “Identities Are Changeable.”
This is our second time here. The first time was maybe, five years ago. Last time, we played in a theater, so it’s nice to play outside; it’s so pretty here and people are enjoying themselves. “It’s a really nice vibe.”

                    Saxophonist Miguel Zenon
Zenon comes from a fine tradition of Puerto Rican jazz greats including trombonist/composer Juan Tizol, who played with Duke Ellington’s orchestra. Incidentally, as a member of the SFJAZZ Collective, Zenon cop-produced and arranged the album “The Music of Michael Jackson & Original Compositions,” recorded live at SFJAZZ Center in 2015.

                             Rick & Russ Show

The World Famous Rick & Russ Show spun classic R&B on the main stage as Grammy winning vocalist Cecile McLorin Salvant, currently one of the hottest performers on the touring circuit, prepared for her set the main stage. Accompanied by pianist Aaron Diehl, bassist Paul Sikivie and drummer Lawrence Leathers, the bespectacled jazz goddess opened with her original ballad, “Fog.”

                         Cecile McLorin Salvant
In February, I watched Salvant accept her Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Album, “For One to Love” at the Premiere Ceremony at the Microsoft Theatre in Los Angeles. Salvant is a pure, articulate singer whose voice can emulate everything from an elegant violin refrain to the sassy wa-wa of a trombone. Salvant delighted the audience with a string of jazz standards and Broadway show tunes including “The Trolly Song,” made popular by Judy Garland, “Wives and Lovers,” by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, “Something’s Coming” by Leonard Bernstein, “What a Little Moonlight Can Do,” made popular by Billie Holiday and the whimsical “Sam Jones Blues” by Bessie Smith.
I was lucky to have been raised in a household where music was a very important part of our upbringing,” said Salvant, in an interview after the show. “We listened to music from all over the world including, but not only jazz. We listened to folk music from South America, from Africa, from Europe and all kinds of American popular music and folk music from Appalachian to funk and R&B to disco and classical music. When I moved to France and met my jazz teacher, I started perusing jazz as an option for a career. I never really thought I would do it professionally.”
Salvant said she has not read her extensive Wikipedia page and said she hates to google herself. The artistically inclined singer wore a colorful patterned Issey Miyake dress that fluttered in the wind and complemented the San Jose Jazz Summer Fest mural on the main stage. Miyake is Salvant’s favorite designer; she loves his vivid colors and his clothes are light weight and are easy to travel with, she said.
I don’t like to look at myself or watch myself or be in that spirit, because I don’t think it is very enriching as a musician,” said Salvant. “It’s not very enriching to be constantly scrutinizing yourself in that way or looking at what other people think of you. Something people may not know about me is that I really love visual art and I draw a lot. I’m actually preparing a show in New York at a gallery in November. Mostly water colors and ink drawings. It’s really a fun thing to do when I’m on tour. We have a lot of moments where we wait. You know, people come to the shows and they see us perform and they think that’s what it is. But a lot of it is traveling to the performance and waiting for the plane or the train or being in a car for a long time. There are a lot of hours like that where we can’t really work on music. I can read, I guess, but I feel like drawing is a wonderful activity that’s also creative. I started doing it about five years ago and it’s been enriching to me. I’ve done a few of my album covers.”
I asked Salvant how it felt to perform at the San Jose Jazz Summer Fest.
“It feels great,” said Salvant. “The audience was warm and wonderful. I’m having a wonderful time, and I’m actually seeing a line form at the CD table.
As Salvant graciously signed CDs for fans, a New Orleans style parade made its way around the main stage, warming up the for the evening’s headliner, Sergio Mendes and Brasil 2016.

Shelah Moody, Sergio Mendes and Radio host Safi Wa Narobi of KPFA FM 

The 75-year-old, Grammy-winning Bossa Nova singer/songwriter/composer and his multicultural band performed “A Celebration of 50 Years of Brasil ’66.”
My father was a jazz pianist who was heavily influence by Samba and Bossa Nova. As a child, Mendes’ iconic “Herb Alpert Presents Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66” and other albums were constantly played in our home, and songs such as “Fool On the Hill,” “One Note Samba” and “Look of Love” became the soundtrack of my life.
Oakland rapper H20 led the intro to Mendes’ signature tune, “Mas, que Nada,” and oh, how we danced and sang along to the “O, o-o-o-oh ari-ah, rayoh...Obah, obah, obah!” chorus!

                                Greg Bridges of KCSM FM  and Albert “Tootie” Heath
In a late Sunday night set at downtown San Jose’s Café Stritch, radio host Greg Bridges of KCSM FM San Francisco introduced the legendary drummer Albert “Tootie” Heath, joined by Richard Sears on piano and Martin Nevin on bass

                                   Albert “Tootie” Heath

“This cat has been a big part of my life through listening for many, many years,” said Bridges said of Heath. “I learned rhythm from him and cats like him. So many musicians have learned from him; he is a part of the foundation of this music that we call jazz.”
Hailing from one of the first families of jazz, Heath and his musical siblings—Jimmy Heath (saxophone), and the late Percy Heath (bass) formed the Heath Brothers in Philadelphia, PA in 1975 and produced modern jazz recordings such as “Marchin’ On,” “Brothers and Others” and “In Motion. At 81, the gracious Heath packed Café Stritch, and captivated the audience with his stamina and his polyrhythmic drumming technique.
For info on the 2017 San Jose Jazz Winter Fest, go to