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Paying tribute to a legend and celebrating the Season with music

27th November 2017   ·   0 Comments

By Geraldine Wyckoff
Contributing Writer

Growing up in Houston, Texas, pianist Jesse McBride didn’t know anything about James Black as a drummer or composer. In fact, outside of New Orleans and except for a select number of musicians – primarily drummers – few were hip to Black’s huge talents.

“I was made aware of James Black around 1998 or 1999 when I came to the University of New Orleans,” says McBride who will lead the Ellis Marsalis Center Jazz Orchestra at two performances in tribute to Black this week. The first is on Tuesday, November 28, being held at the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music. The second of the events, dubbed the “Silverbook Sessions,” takes place at McBride’s regular spot at the Prime Example on Wednesday, November 29.



“Harold (saxophonist/educator producer Harold Battiste) started introducing me to James Black’s compositions through his ‘Silverbook,’ McBride continues referring to Battiste’s compilation of sheet music, biographies and discographies of this city’s modern jazz musicians that he’d published. “Clyde Kerr kept telling me about James Black, Alvin (Batiste) kept telling me about him, Kidd Jordan… They all had a love for James.”

Leading the orchestra, McBride, a protege of Battiste and a keeper of the flame of his Next Generation concept which focuses on “the second 50 years” and continuum of jazz in New Orleans, will primarily showcase Black as a brilliant composer. The 15-piece ensemble will perform tunes such as Black’s “Magnolia Triangle,” “Monkey Puzzle” and “Dee Wee,” which are all heard on the exceptional album, The Classic Ellis Marsalis, on Battiste’s AFO (All For One) label. These and other of Black’s compositions are kept alive on bandstands across town at gigs led by Marsalis, McBride, pianist David Torkanowsky and others. Though Black tragically passed away in 1988 at the young age of 48, his works in these loving hands have remained fresh through the decades.

“He broadened my horizons in understanding how a musician is a musician,” McBride explains of experiencing Black’s dual role as a drummer and composer. “Sometimes when you’re young, you may not expect a drummer to be equally as melodically expressive as they are rhythmically expressive. I learned to be very open to and be aware of great composers no matter their instruments.”

“It was an experience to hear someone who could just play that incredibly complexly on the drums and also write incredibly simple, beautiful melodic tunes. I also learned how to play in different time signatures. Many of James Black’s tunes are not just in 4/4 or stay in one specific meter – they have mixed-meters.

The tribute to Black is the third in the orchestra’s “Silverbook Sessions.” The first was performed in honor of the Center’s namesake, pianist Ellis Marsalis and the second, paid tribute to Harold Battiste whose vision in perpetuating and promoting modern jazz music continues to be realized today. “Ellis and Harold were both strongly influenced by James Black,” McBride notes.



Battiste, says McBride, was motivated to create the “Silverbook” as a way to gain further recognition for this city’s modern jazz musicians. “Harold saw that New Orleans’ traditional music – everything before 1950 – was getting a lot of respect in the city, getting a lot of play,” McBride explains. “People counted it as something important. He felt like the music that he and Ellis, James, Blackwell (drummer Ed Blackwell), Alvin (clarinetist Alvin Batiste), (vocalist) Tami Lynn and (saxophonist) Red Tyler was just as beautiful and just as creative and just as representative of New Orleans as traditional music.”

Battiste’s All For One label and concept, putting forth the Next Generation of musicians and his Silverbook project continue under the jazz-wise ears and caring attention of Jesse McBride. The “Silverbook Sessions” stand as his dedication to keeping the lineage and music alive.

“I try to play as many sides of James Black as possible because he was so multi-faceted,” says McBride, adding that he’s performed some of the drummer’s funkier material like “Hook and Sling” recorded by pianist/vocalist Eddie BO. (Take a listen to Black on drums behind Lee Dorsey too on the vocalist’s “Riverboat.”)

McBride remembers having a conversation with piano/composer/producer great Allen Toussaint. “He said James could do whatever needed to be done – whatever music needed to be played.”

Showtime at the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music, is 6:30 pm, cover charge $3. Showtimes at the Prime Example, 1909 N. Broad St., are 8 pm and 10 pm.

Christmas New Orleans Style

The holidays and music naturally go together. Whether Christmas spiritual classics like “Silent Night” or swinging Yuletide tunes like “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” are your style, there’s probably an artist or group performing during the upcoming concerts at St. Louis Cathedral and St. Augustine Catholic Church that will fit your groove. The free series kicks off with Robin Barnes “New Orleans Songbird” offering some funky jazz and soul at 4 p.m. at St. Augustine Catholic Church on December 2. The Saturday afternoon, the one-hour concert series continues with the gospel of Betty Winn and One A-Chord on December 9 and guitarist/banjoist/vocalist Don Vappie Presents a Very Vappie Christmas.

On Monday, December 4, pianist Ellis Marsalis begins the musical presentations at the St. Louis Cathedral that are held at 6 p.m. on various days and present an array of musical styles through the month of December. The free series concludes on Sunday, December 17, with the St. Louis Basilica Annual Christmas Concert.

This article originally published in the November 27, 2017 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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