Valentine’s Day—the day when we ensure the sustainability of chocolate manufacturers. The day when men trade their lunch hour to stand in line and have a custom-designed bouquet crafted at the Whole Foods floral counter (seriously, this should be a tourist attraction). The day when we make a point of saying “I love you” with a slight uptilt on the word “love” and a slight extension of the word “you”, indicating that what we reallywant to hear is those words comin’ back at ‘cha.
Okay, so I’m no relationship expert. I haven’t even found my person yet. And—as you can clearly discern–I have a healthy amount of skepticism around any holiday that amplifies something that we claim to value as part of the fabric of everyday life. Nevertheless, underneath my jaded exterior beats the heart of Love’s Head Cheerleader, wildly shaking my pom poms and rooting for any and all of you who choose to dive into the deep end of lifelong, committed affection. As a trained, keen observer of the human condition, the owner of Alpharetta’s Best Date Night, and the neighbor to The World’s Largest Brazilian Wax Salon, I am declaring myself to be properly credentialed to share my observations on what we do for love, especially as we head into the sweetest of holidays.
So here we go—
(#5–Sunday) Be willing to make yourself vulnerable. In some ways, it’s a jungle out there. I know. Real, grown up life is full of negotiations and trade deals, cases and chases, each of which is an illustration of who we choose to be in the world. We all have a character—an Avatar, of sorts—that gets us through the game, advances our agenda and protects us from harm. Of course, your Valentine likes and admires your avatar, but your Valentine is not in love with your Avatar. S(he) is in love with you. Yes, YOU, silly. The gooey, tender, imperfect you. The you who is willing to exchange your Tom Cruise action movie for a romantic comedy on Netflix (or vice versa). The you who speaks the truth about your feelings, even when it involves fear and uncertainty. The you who can laugh and not take yourself so seriously. The you who is willing to sing in public, off-key. The you who is willing to ask for help and say thank you. Let the vulnerable you come out to play this week. Start early. Start today. You will be surprised by what can happen when you insert something as simple as an unexpected and heartfelt “thank you” into the mix.
Coming Monday: Woo who?
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Imagine attending a fabulous party where you’re engaged in good-humored conversation with one of the guests – a complete stranger before that moment. The laughs are hearty about Atlanta life back-in-the-day. And then, this new down-to-earth friend excuses herself for a moment. But, before she returns, the host introduces the guest performer and suddenly, you realize the person that you exchanged laughs and memories with is actress and singer Chandra Currelley.
Chandra’s adaptability in settings from small gatherings to international theater audiences has made her a multifaceted and widely admired entertainer. She takes The Velvet Note stage, Oct. 18-19, with Tyrone Jackson on piano, Joel Powell on bass, and Brian Andrews on drums.
“I have a pretty versatile show,” Chandra says. “I do this music that I call “urspijaz.” It’s urban, spiritual jazz. It’s urban in a sense of the feel and grooves that I sing on; food for the spirit, and jazz improvisation, which is part of who I am. All of those things are blended in what I do.”
Chandra was lead singer for R&B’s former S.O.S. Band and has performed in numerous musical theater productions by Tyler Perry, Debbie Allen and Kenny Leon. On film, she’s appeared in at least eight Perry films, as well as his series “For Better or Worse,” which ran on the OWN Network from 2011-2016.
The longtime Atlantan was born in Jacksonville, Fla. “This feels like home,” she says. “We moved here when I was 11. My mother had visited…and she liked it. I’m so glad she did.”
Chandra has often credited LaTonya Richardson and Samuel Jackson for guiding her in the right direction professionally long before the married couple became Hollywood heavyweights. Richardson was Chandra’s drama teacher at Booker T. Washington High School.
One day when the teenager was to act out a scene, Richardson became annoyed at her student’s joking around.
“It was a monologue from ‘Ain’t I a Woman,’” Chandra says. “I was clowning but I liked her a lot. She was my buddy and it was just part of me being a ham.
“I got up there playing and she said, ‘Get off the stage. When you get ready to do it, just let me know.’
“I went back there [and did the scene again]. Something happened. I was just channeled and I forgot where I was. I just remember her being quiet and she started to laugh. She said, ‘Um hmm, I thought you had something.’”
It was Samuel Jackson that advised Chandra to spread her wings beyond one form of entertainment, considering she had a powerful singing voice. “He said, ‘Sing. Get some voice lessons and you will work more because people love musicals,’” Chandra recalls. “And that’s what I did. He paid for my theater workshop. And she [LaTonya] paid for my male friend’s workshop.”
Samuel Jackson’s advice proved to be true after the S.O.S. Band’s record label A&M records was sold to PolyGram in 1989. As subsequent mergers took place music groups disbanded including S.O.S.
Chandra turned to musical theater. It was while performing in the Duke Ellington music showcase “Sophisticated Ladies” at 14th Street Playhouse that the singer was sought out by Tyler Perry.
“He said, ‘I would like you to read my play,’” she says. “It was a different kind of theater. I was seeing characters that I recognized but never [before] saw on stage. [Tyler] said, ‘I want to uplift people.’ And I said, ‘I’m going to do it.’”
Chandra is reluctant to choose a favorite music experience, as they are all different. Among the most treasured, she admits, was about eight years ago when she performed composer Ray Leslee’s “MAYA Songs: The Poems of Maya Angelou” with The Riverside Chamber Players of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.
The songs compositions were based on the late poet’s poems on the theme of time.
“It was classical. It was beautiful,” Chandra says as she turns to reflect on her entire career. “And I realized, I’ve been singing a long time.”
Come and see Chandra up close at The Velvet Note, this weekend, Oct. 18-19. Get your tickets at http://thevelvetnote.com/chandra-currelley or by calling 855.5.VELVET.
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Guitarist Grant Green has kept listeners hip and nostalgic through his Masters of Groove music group projects and traditional jazz works. And although his new album on “The Burt Bacharach Songbook” is still a work in progress, the jazz guitarist will include a preview of the future release in his performance at The Velvet Note on Oct. 20.
“He is one of my favorite American composers,” Grant says. “His sense of melody in a song like ‘Alfie’ is beautiful and timeless.”
Grant, 64, says his love for all types of music made him the multidimensional musician that he is today. The self-proclaimed Led Zeppelin fan recalls how one-time pop songs such as “Days of Wine and Roses,” “Misty,” and “Stella by Starlight” later became jazz standards.
“Basically that’s what I’m doing with the Burt Bacharach stuff, he says. “It’s great material that you want to put your own spin on.”
While Bacharach is an artist that Grant looks to, there are many others. He’s named after his father, the late guitarist Grant Green. As a child, Grant Jr. spent part of his childhood in Detroit living near Motown greats, and New York City where he had a bird’s eye view of the jazz scene.
In Detroit, Stevie Wonder’s parents were neighbors. Outside Marvin Gaye’s home only a few blocks away, Grant and his buddies would perfectly time playing football on the big island in the middle of the street to when the singer would arrive home.
“He would come out and play football with us,” Grant says. “Detroit was very musical back in those days. I learned more of my pop, R&B and rock in Detroit. Stevie was a huge influence on me. Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s Going On’ kind of changed my life.”
The musicianship of Grant’s father, however, has had the greatest sway over him. “He highly influenced me,” Grant says. “He’s why I play the guitar.”
The elder Grant, who inspired the likes of Carlos Santana and George Benson, was not interested in his son following in his footsteps. He preferred that young Grant become a doctor or a lawyer. But, from adolescence the son had studied his father playing the guitar, and at age 17 Grant gained his musical respect.
“I used to go to all of his shows as a kid and I would go home and mimic them,” Grant says. “That’s how I actually learned. When he finally took me serious as a musician, it was because I got to the point where I used his material and I could rehearse with the band.”
Grant wrote a song as teenager that his father was unaware of until one day when it caught Grant Sr.’s attention as the band’s keyboardist played it during downtime from rehearsal.
“My father thought the keyboardist wrote it but he said, ‘No that’s your son,” Grant recalls. “He said to me, ‘Show me the melody.’ That’s when he took me seriously as a musician. ”
Grant titled the tune, “My Father’s Song.”
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*** Dionne Farris performs this Friday, September 20th at The Velvet Note ***
There’s something about Dionne. In a day and age whenmost artists appeal to certain demographics, Dionne Farriscan rest assured that her music attracts fans of nearly every ilk, from jazz to hip hop to pop and rock.
Along with her natural born vocal gifts, the key to Dionne’sartistry might be her very Zen approach to music.
“Creating and creativity is the catalyst for the jewel that comes from [within],” Dionne says. “You can’t do this for the money or fame. You have to do it for the creativity. We are creators, here to create. If you start from that space, everything you desire will come.”
The former Grammy nominee performs at The Velvet Note on September 20th with a quartet that includes Russell Gunn on trumpet, Nick Rosen on piano, Sean Michael Ray onbass and Lil John Robert’s on drums.
Dionne’s creativity has extended far and wide since the release of her debut album, “Wild Seed-Wild Flower” on Columbia Records in 1994. That release featured a Top 40 Single in “I Know.” Another tune “Stop to Think,” is a cautionary tale on drug life that sampled Lenny Kravitz’s “Freedom Train.’
One of Dionne’s collaborations with Russell Gunn (who also serves as her manager) is “Dionne Get Your Gunn,” an album recorded live at Atlanta’s former Churchill Grounds.
“He took my songs and reimagined them from a jazz perspective,” Dionne says. “Like the song, ‘I Know,’ he changed it and it still has the same energy.”
Dionne describes her melodic runs as “the vocal instrument” on the jazz trumpeter’s just released album “Pyramids.”
“It’s the expansion of the ability to use the voice,” she explains. “It’s Russell’s magnum opus inspired by his trip to Egypt. He came back with all of this great information and music inside of him and put that together.”
Dionne, who is a native of New Jersey and named after Dionne Warwick, has placed her imprint on the film and theater world. Her song “Hopeless,” was made popular in the 1997 film “Love Jones,” a classic etched in African American culture. The passionate “So Blind” from Dionne’s 2007 album “for truth, if not love” inspired playwright Shenise McRoberts to give her production the same moniker, and cast Dionne.
“I played a preacher’s wife in distress,” Dionne recalls.
The singer also left lasting impressions with the late Tupac Shakur and Prince. The former said her music helped him through difficult times. And the latter, well, shortly after they met he wrote a song about her.
The playful tune by an adoring Prince, then known as “The Artist,” is simply titled, “Dionne.” The song is featured on his acoustic album, “The Truth,” and included in the Crystal Ball box set that was made available in 2018.
The song is also a front-page highlight on Dionne’s website, dionnefarris.com.
Prince and Dionne met through their mutual agent in 1995 following her set at The Roxy in Los Angeles.
“My booking agent came up and said The Artist is downstairs and he would like to meet you,” Dionne says. “I was like ‘Are you kidding me!?’”
Over the years, she has developed an increased understanding of the late music genius.
“Like everyone else, I was inspired by Prince growing up. He was the catalyst to why I was able to do a project like “Wild-Seed, Wild Flower,” she says. “When you have someone like Prince write a song about you and for you, and sing your name; he really kind of opens your third eye. He communicated the way he felt that he wanted to communicate with me – through music.”
For Dionne, the power of creativity and connection is undeniable; and that’s the essence of what she continues to feel towards Prince, although ultimately they did not have an opportunity to work together.
“It’s uncanny. If [that experience has] never happened to you, you wouldn’t understand,” she says. “And no one on this planet can say whether [the connection is] true or not;because I know that it is.”
While Prince had The Revolution, in many ways Dionne is in the midst of an evolution that speaks to the diversity of her entire music catalog.
In the past, music executives would steer the songstressinto a certain lane and categorize her in a particular way, she says. But that’s contrary to the very nature of a person who experiences inspiration in a variety of different ways, and resulted in Dionne leaving Columbia Records to start her own music label.
“You can’t create what you want and market it in a structure that is traditional,” she says. “Music is for healing but you have to be careful of the agenda that it’s being used for; if you even know.”
So while, Dionne decided years ago that she would notcompromise her creativity, she continues to stand alongside more well-known peers.
“I’m in the same space as everyone else,” she remarks. “I’m out here too. I may not have as many things as everyone else, but I’m doing the same thing. We all get to the same place but from different directions. It gives me the opportunity to come up with my own strokes in my own painting.”
And Dionne has come to a new awareness in her music.
“I don’t want to be in the world to say nothing. I like to speak to people,” she says. “That’s my approach to writing. I initially felt that I was speaking to myself. Now, I feel that I’m not alone in my expression. I let the gift be given. I let it resonate with who it will resonate with. I’ve been in a cocoon long enough. It’s time to be the butterfly.
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Yes, that’s right. I went on a real, honest-to-goodness, Saturday night, margaritas and nachos first date. It began with the standard oral presentation of our resumes, where we’re from, what we do, what we like to do when we’re not doing the thing we spend most of our time doing…you know the drill. He went first: Harvard educated engineer, skipped three grades in school, loves playing guitar, self-described ferocious workaholic (“I want to love my work so much that it feels like sex.”) Ahem.
Then came my turn: Retired business consultant, impassioned entrepreneur, founder of an FDIC-insured bank, equestrian, loves collecting both fine realist art and cheap costume jewelry, and of course, the owner of The Velvet Note.
“You own that place?” he sounded stunned.
“I thought you knew that.”
“I know that’s where we met, dahling, but I thought you were just a customer sitting outside talking to friends.”
“Sometimes I do that too. Please don’t tell my boss or she might think I’m a slacker.”
A long silence followed. He couldn’t possibly still be thinking about that joke. My eyebrow shot up quizzically. “What?” I asked.
“Wow!” he exclaimed. “You’re a mutant!”
Wha…wait a minute, mutant…meeeeuuuuuwwww-tant… Could this be some form of modern street venacular that I’d missed while burrowing in the suburbs? I quickly paged through my mind’s dictionary but the only thing that I could come up with was a visual of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Based on that, I was pretty sure that this was not a compliment.
Just as I was about to work up a head of steam, our server stopped by. “Would you all like another round?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said. “Yes, I would definitely like another margarita.” The words were enunciated with paced precision, and as they exited my mouth, my mutant eyes bore a hole through the server’s skull where I implanted the following secret message: Help me…..need…..additional…alcohol…..now……..Run……..do…….not……walk.
As I broke eye contact, I quickly summarized how the date was going. Twenty minutes prior, I had been told that my voice sounded like warm honey. Ten minutes ago, I had flawless skin. Now, I was a mutant.
“So…you were saying that I’m a mutant? Dare I ask, what do you mean by that?”
“Well, I mean that you’re not just one thing,” he asserted. “I mean, you are, but you’ve got all of these disparate elements baked in, and they’re so different from each other that you would expect them to cause a disruption, but instead, the synthesized whole makes you completely different from normal people. If you knew more about me, you’d know that I’m a mutant, too! It’s a surprise…a really good surprise. The bottom line is, I’m not bored.”
“Oh. Okay. Has anyone ever told you what a smooth-talking romantic you are?”
And then, we laughed.
Later that night, my thoughts shifted to The Velvet Note. The music industry insists on categorizing artists, usually by genre and subgenre. Jazz..Soul…Folk…Smooth Jazz…we are constantly asking, “What is he/she?” It’s as if the sum and substance of an individual’s entire musical career can be boiled down to one word. All of the artists we feature this week have proudly and intentionally defied that norm. Their variations are baked in, and it makes them different, special and rare. Isn’t it great when you don’t need to pin someone into a box, but instead, you simply allow them be the mutant they are and appreciate their uniqueness? Come out and hang with the mutants this week, and we hope to see you soon!
The musicians of AMP Trio have a global reach similar to that of The Velvet Note: Friends around the world with a love and appreciation for jazz artistry. In fact, the title of AMP Trio’s upcoming album, “Go-Naïve”is inspired by a friend who invited them to perform in Japan back in 2012.
AMP Trio, featuring vocalist Tahira Clayton, takes The Velvet Note stage on Saturday, September 7, performing tunes from four albums, as well as their soon-to-be-released fifth record.
“We are going to be coming pretty hot,” drummer Matt Young says. “We will all be in Atlanta and with our new music.”
Matt Young, Perrin Grace and Addison Frei met about seven years ago while attending the University of Texas and discovered they have a few important things in common. They’re fans of acoustic bands, and similarly influenced by the likes of Phineas Newborn Jr., Blue Mitchell and Oscar Peterson.
“We were probably sophomores in college and had been playing in a fusion band that was pretty much opposite of what we do in this band,” Matt says. “It was a loud, crazy intense energy and we missed playing acoustic music.”
So the drummer, pianist and bassist formed AMP Trio. Matt lives in Atlanta and the other band members reside in the New York City area. Before coming together each had received international acclaim.
First prize in the 2017 Parmigiani Montreau Jazz Piano Solo Competition is one of Addison’s numerous honors.
Germany, South Korea and The Netherlands are only a few countries where Perrin has performed.
And in addition to Matt’s globe travels, in 2015 he took part in the Betty Carter Jazz Ahead program, a two-week international residency project at The Kennedy Center in Washington D.C.,
AMP Trio’s many collaborations with Tahira – whose rich harmonic voice captivates audiences – include top honors at the 2017 DCJazzPrix international band competition in Washington D. C.
“We push each other and share the same music morals,” Matt says. “We know that we can rely on each other, and represent each other in a way that we trust.”
The Velvet Note sets a high bar that the trio takes pride in reaching, Matt adds. For the upcoming show, the crowd can expect the band’s new music to be a little more groove driven than their previous albums, he says. “Perry’s [compositions] are definitely darker songs, tonally and texturally.”
Not too long after AMP Trio came together, the band received their first invitation to Ofunato, Japan, a port city shattered by the tsunami of 2011.
“We go back to Japan every summer,” Matt says. “Eiko Konno, the host, brought us over one time after finding us on the Internet and listening to our music. She’s a big classical music buff, and an incredible classical pianist.”
Eiko’s invitation was on behalf of a cultural program and government grant that would introduce AMP Trio’s jazz music to citizens of Ofunato.
“They had a newly built performance hall,” Matt recalls. “The tsunami was tough on them. It’s crazy because you go there now and everything is brand spanking new, ‘[with the exception of some structures] and artifacts that were on higher ground.”
It’s Eiko, who is the muse behind AMP Trio’s new album title.
“She and Perry had become pen pals, and when we visited she asked, ‘What did you think of me when I emailed you out of nowhere,’” Matt explained. “Perry said, ‘If that’s what it takes to come to Japan, let’s go naïve.’”
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You know that line at the end of the film, Casablanca?Humphrey Bogart says to Claude Rains, “Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
That’s The Ray Howard Band and The Velvet Note. A beautiful friendship born out of an occasion when the R&B band performed Earth Wind and Fire classics on short notice and became a resounding hit with the audience.
Ray Howard and his band return for the fourth year to perform to a sold out house, August 30th– September 1st.
Close your eyes for a few moments and you can probably envision the band singing your favorite Earth, Wind and Fire jam – and no doubt you’re starting to groove in your seat.
“This is the fourth or fifth year that I’ve done the show at The Velvet Note,” Ray Howard says. “For the first show, vocally, we knew five of those songs. At the time, I said, ‘I can only do what we do and add to the instrumental.’”
Despite the limitations of not knowing the material, the first year was a big success. “Ray has had more sold out shows than anyone we’ve ever featured onstage. And he works like crazy make sure his band is on point in every conceivable way. To say that I’m proud of him would be an enormous understatement,” Tamara says.
Before The Velvet Note, Ray Howard’s band performed Motown and other classic R&B songs. After year one, the band spent the next year learning the songbook of one of the most well-known music groups of all time, and became a popular draw at The Velvet Note.
“It’s so ironic that Tamara calls it the “acoustic living room,” Rays says. “It feels like I’m performing in my living room and I have family there. It makes you feel like the people are part of the show.”
As Ray sings his heart out on stage, lyrics such as “Every man has a place, in his heart there’s a space, and the world can’t erase his fantasies,” ring true in a very profound way for him.
In the early 1980s, the singer, who had discovered his talent while in high school, became homeless for two years. “It was a struggle and humbling to not have a place to lay my head,” Ray recalls.
One day, a man walking in downtown Atlanta gave him $20. Ray says he felt inspired to use the money to purchase an inexpensive shirt, a $5 pair of khakis and some toiletries. He cleaned himself up in a McDonald’s bathroom and decided to return to the clothing store to ask for a job.
“My life changed after that,” the Chicago native recalls. “Leaving that day, the [supervisor] said, ‘Can I give you a lift home?’”
Ray acknowledged that he was homeless. His boss then invited him to live at under his roof until Ray could afford to move into a place of his own.
“Homelessness showed me that where I was, was not my ending at all,” Ray says. “Because a lot of people that become homeless, they end up staying there. I’m just glad that I didn’t let it beat me. It gave me a passion. My passion now is to help homeless people.”
For years, during that time and beyond, Ray lost his singing voice. When it returned, he started singing solo wherever he could. About 2011, he formed a trio with BJ Johnson and Tricia Spicer, now performers of the 11-member Ray Howard Band.
Ray says many fans have flocked to the Earth Wind and Fire tribute show after seeing the band’s music sets streamed through The Velvet’s Note’s Facebook live feed.
“Oh man,” Ray says. “I’ve had people come up to me and say, ‘I saw Earth, Wind and Fire a year ago and I’ve never seen anybody do them justice like you do.”
The band prides themselves on their polished vocals and musicianship.
“Our whole point of doing the music is to pay alms to Earth, Wind and Fire, but do it in a very professional way, and a very good way,” Ray says. “When people leave, I want them to feel like they’ve been to an actual Earth, Wind and Fire show.”
As usual, the Earth Wind and Fire shows at The Velvet Note are completely sold out for 2019. Fans can begin purchasing 2020 seats on September 1st.
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Trumpeter Melvin Jones will lead a celebrated musical send-off for Marlon Patton during Jones’s return to The Velvet Note on Sunday, Aug. 25. Patton, a highly regarded drummer across many genres, departs soon for new residential digs in New York City.
To mark the occasion, guest musicians are set to come jam and improvise with Jones, Patton and the entire quintet that also includes Mace Hibbard on sax, Kevin Bales on piano and Billy Thornton on Bass.
Improvisation can be a thrill for Jones, a Morehouse College graduate and trumpet professor. “With jazz improvisation, the composition is at lightning speed from your mind to the listener’s ear,” he says. “[If it’s your own composition] with other musicians it’s beautiful to see how it comes out.”
He adds, “It’s going to be fun. [Patton] enjoys playing new music, and we will play a lot of my new music.”
Jones, a man of many dimensions in his artistry, will premiere songs from an upcoming album. In his latest music, the Memphis, Tenn. native blends his original jazz compositions with old spiritual songs and hymns, modernizing them to inspire every listening ear. Each song such as “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child” and “Wade in the Water” could very well become Jones’s favorite of all the music he has released to date.
“It’s funny because my favorite has been an arrangement of Richard Smallwood’s song “Angels,”’ he says. The song on Jones’s 2011 album, “Pivot,” shows how beautifully jazz and gospel come together.
“I’m a preacher’s kid,” he explains. “The church, when I was growing up, it didn’t smile on you playing jazz.”
Interestingly, jazz saxophonist Kirk Whalum attended the same church as Jones and was an early mentor. “He gave me my first music theory lessons from the pulpit of the church,” Jones recalls.
Jones has shared the stage with a myriad of musicians including Quincy Jones – who is one of his greatest influences, Stevie Wonder, Erykah Badu, Jennifer Lopez, Brian McKnight and more.
In addition to college students, Jones teaches music fundamentals and theory of jazz to middle and high schoolers in workshops and master classes in St. Thomas, St. John and St, Croix, Virgin Islands. He’s part of an artist-in-residence program titled, “Mentoring Through the Music Arts.” The U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Education and United Jazz Foundation co-sponsor the program.
Jones encourages the young music protégés to live a life worth writing about. His own former teacher, the late William “Prof” Fielder, imparted a similar message while Jones studied for his Master’s Degree in Music at the Mason Gross School of the Arts in New Jersey.
“He [would say be] ‘gratified but never satisfied,’” Jones remembers. “So even though what you accomplished may be great, you can always be better.”
Fielder taught the likes of Wynton Marsalis, David Sanchez, Kenny Garrett and Terence Blanchard.
“That man changed the course of my life. His teaching method automatically creates other teachers,” Jones says.” It was expected that you would be able to show him what you know… That prepared me to teach.”
Jones demonstrates to crowds what he knows on stages from Atlanta to Qatar, where he has performed at the Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Club in Doha.
Of his new music and upcoming sets at The Velvet Note, he says, “I’m excited to see how it’s received.”
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The Kenny Garrett Quintet performs this weekend at The Velvet Note, June 29-30, 2019, at 7:30pm and 9:30pm showtimes. Vernell Brown on piano, Corcoran Holt on bass, Samuel Laviso on drums and Rudy Bird on percussion.
When Kenny Garrett performed at The Velvet Note for the first time a couple of years ago. I must confess, I didn’t much like him. I mean…I liked his music, but I didn’t like the fact that the second night of his shows didn’t sell out. For a small club like ours, having empty seats for a superstar artist is rough for everyone involved. To make matters worse, he and his quintet needed to park themselves in our city for a couple of days before moving on to the next stop on their tour, so we were making our club available to them for rehearsals. Empty seats and extra rehearsals too? Ugh.
Kenny had called me on a Tuesday morning, hours before his scheduled 2:00pm band rehearsal time. He had a special request: he wanted to get into the club early. Not the whole band, just him. Now this was just getting ridiculous. I rolled my eyes in silent persecution, took a deep breath, and then assured him that I would open up that morning just for him.
If you’ve ever met Kenny Garrett, you know that his personality is…well…somewhat dry. And quiet. So, upon approach, there was no hug, no special sentiments of appreciation, barely a smile. Not what I would do in that situation, but oh, well. I had brought some work to do while sitting in the back of the room, waiting for this to be over. He had his saxophone with him, as well as a large notebook. He would play a few bars and then scribble in the notebook. A few more, and then some more writing. This went on for about an hour, at which time he asked, “Could you make some copies for me please?”
That moment was when the screaming in my head began. I was tired, I was hungry, I was supposed to have a day off and hadn’t. We didn’t have a copier at the time, so making five sets of collated copies required that I drive over to FedEx/Kinkos. “Dude”, I thought. “My parents didn’t send me to a top-ten school in order to make copies for you! I am the owner of this club, not your Girl Friday!” I alternated between pinching my lips together and clamping down on my tongue. I felt my head about to begin its roll-around on my neck. Thankfully, no sound came out from between my lips. “Certainly, Mr. Garrett,” I said. “I will be right back.”
Down the street at Kinkos, I opened the notebook. Inside were hand-written pages of a composition he had just written, or at least started. I made the collated sets and then returned to the club. And then, the most unexpected happened.
Kenny Garrett placed a copy of his sheet music at the piano and then proceeded to play the piano part as beautifully as any pianist I’ve ever heard. As he played, he scrawled some notes on the piano copy of composition.
Then he got up and placed a copy on a stand in front of the upright bass. He embraced the instrument that towered above him and proceeded to play it as beautifully as any bassist I’ve heard. As he played, he scrawled some notes on the bass copy of the composition.
And then he did the same with the drums. And then he went back to his saxophone.
I sat in the back of the room, shaking, my eyes welling with tears. I began scolding myself. “You are an arrogant fool, Tamara. Most people in this world—including you–can barely master one thing. This man in front of you has mastered every instrument on his stage, a fact that most people are completely unaware of, since they think of him only as a saxophonist. He is so modest that he allows them to think just that. He has given you the greatest, most inspiring gift—allowing you to see a part of him that almost no one knows about. You have just had the privilege of witnessing him compose a piece of music that has—in part– been written from the perspective of every instrument that will perform it. He has allowed you to witness the fact that he is as good at playing the instruments in his band as his band members are. He trusted you with his hand written notes of an original composition. You should be thanking him for the intimacy of this experience, not barking about you will and will not do.”
I got up and walked to the front of the room where he sat with his saxophone. “Mr. Garrett, I am going next door to get some lunch. May I get you something?”
“No, I’m fine, thank you.”
As a sat in the sandwich shop and continued to beat myself up, members of his quintet arrived for rehearsal, one by one. I thought about how true greatness and intrinsic power can enable us to be tender and quiet and vulnerable all at once. By the time I returned to the club, the band sounded like a jazz symphony, coming together to play the song that Kenny had freshly composed.
This weekend, The Kenny Garrett Quintet will perform again at The Velvet Note. If you’re one of the lucky few with tickets, we welcome you to our little club. You are in for an extraordinary musical experience. And I look forward to meeting you personally. I will be the woman carrying Kenny’s water bottle, with a look of profound inspiration and joy on my face that reaches from ear to ear.
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Just One of Those Things is a weekly blog and column about jazz, life and love,
although not necessarily in that order.
AN OPEN LETTER TO THE STAFF OF THE VELVET NOTE
As summer 2017 races to a close, I realize that as a manager, I don’t always communicate as much as I should, especially when things are going well (smile). We’ve all worked very hard to put together the best team in the business, so I wanted to take a moment, catch my breath and remind you of a few of the “behind-the-scenes” encounters from the last several months that you probably didn’t see, but that underscore how much I appreciate what you do.
Saturday, June 3rd. One of my favorite customers is Deion Washington, and he came in to celebrate our Fifth Anniversary. As an overworked, underpaid civil servant, Corporal Washington doesn’t come into our establishment nearly enough, but when he does, I am always happy to see him. Earlier in his career, he was on the SWAT team, and even walked the homicide beat. He’s a true hero. Today, he is the Public Information Officer for the Gwinnett County Police Department. Consider the most heinous crimes you can think of that happen in our community. He’s the guy who courageously stands in front of the firing squad of television cameras and flash bulbs and reporters and microphones and questions and cynicism and tries to help us make sense of it all.
Anyway, after our celebration, he called to let me know that he was eagerly looking forward to coming back, hopefully as soon as our friend, multi-GRAMMY—winning Robert Glasper makes his return visit. “Sometimes I just need a mental escape and break. The Velvet Note is where I come to get it. You have no idea of the impact you have on people.” We are honored to provide a place that takes care of those who take care of…well…everyone else.
Saturday, July 1st. A guy walked into the club after insisting on meeting me in person. “You look nervous,” I said. “Should I be concerned?” “No, although I am really nervous. I have been with my girlfriend for twelve years and I’m finally going to propose to her, here at The Velvet Note. “ “Twelve years? Um….sir….what in the world have you been waiting for?!?” “I know, it sounds crazy. You see, I wasn’t the man then that I am now. I didn’t deserve her. But I’ve grown and learned and become a better person, and much of it is due to her. I am finally ready to pop the question, ”he beamed.
By show time, we had all worked hard to nail down every conceivable detail, and the groom-to-be had ME sweating bullets. He had bought out almost every seat in the house, and a stretch limousine delivered the love of his life to our doorstep, just before the music started. “Lawd”, I thought. “I hope she says ‘yes’.” And, as you recall, she did!
Saturday, August 4th. A gentleman came in with his family. He had called me a few nights before to make a reservation. He said that he had finally lost his decade-long battle with cancer, and he would be leaving in a week to live out the rest of his one-month life expectancy in a hospice back in his hometown. He had flown his children and his brothers in from different parts of the country to do the one thing he wanted to experience with them before he died— he wanted them to join him for one night at The Velvet Note. After the show, and without fanfare, he ushered his family out to the parking lot and the car. Then, he turned and stood in front of me and just looked into my eyes, his eyes filled with tears. It was all I could muster to just stay with him, moment by moment. The entire front of house stopped and you guys quietly gave him the space to say what he needed. The moments stretched into minutes. Finally, I whispered, “Did you do what you came here to do?” He knew that I wasn’t just referring to the show. He nodded his head and closed his eyes. “I love you,” he said. “Keep doing what you’re doing. It’s a truly great thing.” And then he turned around and walked into the night.
You are my staff. You are my team. You are my tribe. These encounters remind me of how much it means for us to work together. You are smart and productive and hard-working. Each of you has a job during the day that demands a great deal of you, and then you come here and give your very best work, long into the night. You are entrepreneurs and customer service experts and students and moms and dads. You are creative and articulate and committed to excellence. I know I’m not an easy boss to work for, and I know that I demand more than would typically be expected.
After conducting tons of research we think we know why people come here— for their weekly or monthly “date night”, or to celebrate a birthday, or an anniversary, or a wedding engagement. But the fact is, we don’t really know why they’re here. Sometimes it’s happy, sometimes it’s sad. Sometimes it’s something so unfathomable, we cannot possibly guess and they will never say. It is our job to be open to all of their life possibilities. It is our job to give them the dignity and space to let the music flow over them and lift them up and carry them away. Everything we do has the potential to impact every customer at the most meaningful time of their lives, in the most profound way. I want you to take pride and pleasure in knowing that you provide a place where people come for the most important times of their lives.
When Corporal Washington called me, he shared a Robert Glasper tune that he loves, and I have come to love it too. I often play it on the way to work. To listen, click HERE. The music is beautiful and the lyrics speak to our mission—to show our love through thoughtful service. Tonight, as with every night, we will strive to do no thoughtless thing. We are all connected, to each other, to our customers, to life.
“It’s one, big, small thing… like pollen in the spring. It’s all matter…it’s all matter…matter…matter…”
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