Pure Jazz Magazine is a semi annual magazine featuring in depth Jazz stories, interviews plus other information you may find interesting. Based in Brooklyn, USA for the world.
JAZZ in the MUSIC of GIL SCOTT- HERON By Patricia A. Kelly Gil Scott Heron “LIVE” with the band Jazz defined as, “American music characterized by improvisation, syncopated rhythms, and contrapuntal ensemble playing” in Black homes during the 50’s, 60’s, and beyond are some of the earliest sounds recorded in our memory. Innovators like Miles Davis, Wes Montgomery, and the great Ray Charles being among them. Born in Chicago, reared in Tennessee, moving to New York City as a teen, Gil Scott-Heron was a poet/songwriter pianist who gave “The Word” his prophetic edge. His biting lyrics as a 19 year old set him apart as a novelist, and wordsmith. The Artist left us an exhaustive catalog of songs, and albums critics then, and now found difficult to label. However, in reviewing his body of work, one thing is certain—the influence of the jazz idiom is here, in the music. His first recording, “Small Talk on 125 th and Lenox”, portrayed him as a “Black troubadour” spilling the beans on the hypocrisy, and ills in society, Republican presidents in particular. He was called, “The most dangerous musician in America” only because of what he said, not because he carried a GUN. We’d like to also name the musicians who worked to create the sound from Gil’s vision. When he joined the ancestors on May 21, 2011, he left numerous albums, and songs behind. In fact, too many to comment on here, but we’ll focus on how one genre, particular albums, songs, or ‘offerings’ stands out, and it’s jazz. A pivotal point in that development came when Gil asked Ade Knowles; a percussionist/ drummer who’d transferred to Lincoln (and was an older student), to join his group. Ade was 21, Gil, 18 when he agreed to play percussion as Gil read his poetry. Due to his 6 foot, 4 inches in height, big Afro, and charismatic presence, Professor Knowles said he couldn’t ignore this brother-- “He was lanky, highly vocal, and I liked that about him.” Their conversations ignited an affinity, and Ade not only became his mentor, but someone, who influenced his composition of “Pieces of a Man,” an unforgettably poignant Jazz Ballard. Shortly afterwards, Gil, David Barnes, Victor Brown, sister Jackie Brown, Brian Jackson (due to his young age was nicknamed, “Baby McCoy”), Ade Knowles, a trap drummer they can’t remember, Danny Bowens, and Bob Adams (also from Lincoln), became the nucleus of his first group, Black and Blue. “I have no idea how many times I’ve been asked what I call my music. Or how many jokes I have thought up to substitute for a serious answer: I call it collect, I might say, ‘I call it mine’ was another. Collectively, at various times, we have what we did MIDNIGHT MUSIC, THIRD WORLD MU- SIC, and BLUESOLOGY, BLACK MUSIC, OR BLACK AMERICAN MUSIC…but what do you call reggae, blues, African vibration, jazz, salsa, chants, and poetry? In truth I call what I have been granted the opportunity to share, ‘gifts.’ “ –Liner notes, Spirits, 1994 Page 44 - Pure Jazz Magazine
At Lincoln University, before SMALL TALK AT 125 TH & LENOX was released, Gil sought out talented musicians, beginning with this brilliant percussionist/activist, Ade, and others who became the foundation of his vocal sound. That’s how it began. His words blended African rhythms and improvisations of his ideas with talented musicians. This is how the transition was created, from spoken word poet/writer, to singer/songwriter. Gil shared where the idea came from- included Ade Eddie Knowles, and Charlie Saunders/percussion and African rhythms. “Shot in the head, but he can’t be buried…come on, come on, come on, this can’t be real….” This tune, with accompanying piano, and drum beats, reminds us of the death of Emmitt Till, and brings full circle meaning of this genre. It continued with FREE WILL (1972), WINTER IN AMERICA (1974), FIRST MINITUE “That the music was an orchestrated, vocalized, hummed, chanted, blown, beaten, scatted corollary confirmation of the history…. That the music was explaining the history as the history was explaining the music.”-Amiri Baraka The album, FIRST MINUTE OF A NEW DAY (1975), is another portrait of socially conscious, outstanding jazz compositions such as the beloved OF- FERING, THE LIBERATION SONG, “Well, I knew ‘The Vulture” was coming out, and that meant I’d be getting some radio play. But I figured I’d rather play some music (rather) than just talk about writing. I thought of Bob Thiele because I read in a Philadelphia newspaper that Lois Wyse had recorded some of her poetry for him…so I went to see Thiele, and he was responsive. In the first album (“Small Talk…”), I do some of my poetry, and a couple of songs. In the second, I’ll be singing some of my own songs, and some that Brian Jackson, and I wrote together. “ “People,” he said, “were more into listening to music, than reading.”---- Beginning with “Small Talk….” in 1970, which is 95% spoken word poetry, the Jazz inspired collaborations began with the second recording, PIECES OF A MAN (1971). In fact, the haunting lyrics to DID YOU HEAR WHAT THEY SAID? were the beginning of things to come… The instruments carrying the word here are: Gil on piano and vocals; Brian on vocals, electric, and acoustic piano; “ Pretty” Purdy on drums; Hubert Laws, flute, and piccolo; and Gerry Jermmott, bass. David Spinozza, and Horace Oti were arranger/conductor. All of the remaining compositions Gil Scott Heron OF A NEW DAY (1975), FROM SOUTH AFRICA TO SOUTH CAR- OLINA (1976), BRIDGES (1977), MUST BE SOMETHING WE CAN DO (always a warm response from live listeners.) AIN’T NO SUCH THING AS SECRETS (1978), REFLECTIONS SUPERMAN (definitely an upbeat Jazz (1981), featuring “Grandma’s Hands”, tune), and ALL/US/WE, it’s all Jazz! and the light soul Jazz arrangements of Inner City Blues (Poem: The Siege of New Orleans), from BRIDGES, and continued with SPIRITS (1994). The music on these albums is the clearest examples of the power of ancestral Jazz spirits upon Gil, and his bands. The groups always consisted of a least twokeyboardists/piano VICTOR BROWN, a Boston native, and fellow Lincoln classmate, immortalized, A TOAST TO THE PEOPLE. “A Toast to all Black mothers…a toast to all Black fathers who shouldered this life in pain.” At clubs in America, and later, internationally, Gil’s jazzy tunes players, two bass once considered “underground” --now guitars, electric guitar, flute, horns, and without a doubt, some drums and percussion. viewed as progressive Jazz because it captured the history of struggle in The original Midnight Band America, and worldwide. According had nine members, similar to Earth, Wind, and Fire. to Gil, his music was inspired by several ‘heavyweights.’ Primary on his list was the late El Hajj Malik El Shabazz, Pure Jazz Magazine - Page 45