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On Friday, we decided to squeeze in the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis before the late morning rehearsal and early afternoon gig. Great call. The museum visit was sobering. Most of it centered on Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination and all that went on around it. The exhibits took us through the events of the days, weeks, and months before and after April 4, 1968 and provided details on why Dr. King was in Memphis, the possible motives behind his murder, the evidence for conviction of James Earl Ray, and alternative theories about the assassination. There were also exhibits on other civil rights leaders, past and present, and presentations on the civil rights progress that the city has made over the years. It was a bit eerie to view Dr. King’s hotel room from the window where James Earl Ray fired his fatal shot and to also stand on the balcony in front of that same hotel room, 306, where Dr. King had been standing when he was assassinated. The van ride to the gig was quieter than usual.

We drove to the Metropolitan Baptiste Church in Memphis to perform for members of the Stax Music Academy and a few other schools. One school came all the way from Fayetteville Arkansas. The crowd was the smallest of the week, maybe a couple hundred students at most, and the band may have been a little tired from the combination of the great gig at BB King’s the night before and the heaviness of the visit to the civil rights museum that morning, but it was still a great show. Another learning opportunity presented itself when well over half the audience got up in the middle of Lisa Henry’s Every Day I Got The Blues and left the church. I’m sure the administrators of those schools thought that they were doing the right thing by making sure the kids returned back to school on time, but everything else they learned by being allowed to disrupt the show like they did will probably not bode them well in the future. The band had to maintain its energy and keep the music going during the commotion. Lisa made the best of the situation by incorporating their exit into her lyrics and saying goodbye to the kids, but it was an extremely awkward moment.

After the show, we took a short ride to the Stax Music Academy (SMA) to conduct the workshop. The mission at SMA is “to nurture and present the next generation of great soul communicators  and they showed their skills in this area with their rendition of the 1966 hit, Knock on Wood. The majority of the workshop was spent working on a big band chart led by Ingrid Jensen with the LACHSA students sitting in their respective sections providing tips and advice while playing next to their peers. Towards the end of the workshop, the head of jazz studies at the University of Memphis took the bass and the father of the SMA band director sat at the keyboard and together they led a small blues jam session with Ingrid and various LACHSA and SMA kids taking solos. Another spontaneous and entertaining moment coming out of one of these workshops.

The work shop ended in time for us to walk next door to visit the Stax Museum to learn the history the Stax recording studio and the soul music movement from the late fifties into the mid seventies. This music was a more raw and intense sound than what was going on in Detroit with Motown. Otis Redding, The Staple Singers, and Isaac Hayes were just a few of musicians who were Stax artists during that time. The visit brought back memories and took me to places I hadn’t been in a long time. Some I was wearing silk shirts and platform shoes, but we won’t get into that.

Wow! Two museums — and museum gift shops — in one day. Can’t remember the last time I did that. We returned back to the hotel a little after 6 PM. Another full day in the books. I was invited to dinner by Lisa and Ingrid. We talked about the week and they both had plenty of positive things to say about the kids, both as musicians and how they are when not on the bandstand. It was a nice end to the day.

What a week it’s been. Amazing in so many ways: the music, the kids, the new friendships, the education, and the fried catfish. We packed in so much and it seems so long ago that we were in Monterey, but at the same time, the week flew by and now it’s already time to return home. It was my pleasure to work and hang with your children.

Enjoy the pictures! I made some contacts while in Memphis and we agreed to share photos at some point. As I receive them I will pass them along to you.

Looking up at the hotel room where Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated.
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Set up, sound check, and show time at the Metropolitan Baptiste Church.
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The workshop with Stax Music Academy.
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Day five…I think. The days are all starting to run together, but in a good way. Thursday was jam packed even before the band played two sets at BB Kings Blues Club on famous Beale street. We traveled to Douglass High School in Memphis. The school just reopened in 2008 after being closed since the 1940s. The woman behind the movement to reopen the school is now the school’s principal. They have nice facilities, but are still attempting to build the music program.

The show went pretty much the same way as in prior days. One notable exception was the return of Lisa Henry. Even though she was still feeling the effects of her cold, she drank some hot tea with honey and nailed her part of the show. The LACHSA kids and Ingrid are really clicking. They’ve sounded fantastic all week, but Dr. Dyas said early in the week that I’d be able to see the kids’ growth throughout the week and he was right. They were really on today.

Aaron finally coerced someone to come to the stage to rap to the LACHSA groove. The student danced more than he rapped, but it was cool nonetheless. Lisa Henry picked a teacher, Ms. Griffith, out of the crowd to sing with her, and man could she sing. We would hear more from her later. This audience was fewer in numbers but not in energy and enthusiasm for the band. The teachers and principal were also involved, taking time to talk to each LACHSA student at length before and after the show. The local CBS news affiliate was also in attendance and shot some footage for the evening news.

Due to the BB King performance that evening, there was no time for the workshop with the school’s band so we headed back to the hotel and then it was off to BB Kings for a 4:30 PM set up. The club is only two blocks from the hotel so we almost felt guilty taking the van, but we did have gear to load and unload so that made it OK.

The first set was at 6 PM and the club was not yet half full. Those in attendance liked what they heard. The band played some of the tunes from their school performance sets, including inviting Ms. Griffith from Douglass HS, who had performed earlier in the day, to the stage to sing Every Day I Got the Blues with Lisa. The band added a few more songs that were on the bluesier (whew, that passed spell check) side in order to fit the vibe of the club. Some of the LACHSA kids were given the opportunity to lead the group in a quartet or trio setting. Aaron’s quartet and Heather’s trio played in the first set. It ended at 7:30 and that gave the band 30 minutes to chill, eat, and sign autographs…yes, a few people asked the band members to sign programs. Did I mention that BB King’s is also a tourist spot?

The second set kicked off at 8 pm and the club was just short of capacity, but would eventually reach so during the set. The band repeated a couple tunes from the first set, Kalia and Luca each played a number in a quartet setting, and Lisa, Ingrid, and the band played some blues. The cheering and flashing of cameras told me that the crowd loved what they heard. Turns out the BB’s club folks seconded that sentiment to Dr. Dyas.

It was a long, but successful, day topped off by warm cookies presented to us when we entered the lobby of the hotel just after 10 PM.

Enjoy the links, pictures, and videos

Kevin.

CBS Evening News Link. Notice the mention of “smooth jazz”. We all had a chuckle over that.


Sound check.


CBS News interviewing Kalia.


Waiting to go back on stage. Yes, that is a “Dad, stop with the camera already” look from Kalia.


Doing their thing.

Eh Train — an arrangement by Ingrid Jensen

Ms. Griffith from Douglass HS sings the blues.

BB King’s on Beale Street.

The band at BB King’s.


Wednesday’s tour date brought us back to Mississippi, to Oxford HS. The set was forced to change again due to Lisa Henry coming down with a cold and laryngitis. The band not only missed her on stage, but we all missed her warm presence throughout the day. In place of her tune, the LACHSA Sextet opened the concert with Hey It’s Me You’re Talking To. Ingrid then joined the band and the show went on as in prior days. That is until the end when, given our location, the band played Bright Mississippi as they did that first night with Herbie.

Before the last number, Dr. Dyas solicited questions from the audience. The first question was “Why are y’all so awesome?” Dr. Dyas then invited each LACHSA student to answer how he or she had reached this point with the music. Once again, the students told their respective stories. They spoke well and were humble in their answers. Aaron’s answer became particularly memorable when he took the mike, walked confidentially to the front of the stage, and boomed “HELLOOOO MEMPHIS!”… The problem was, we were not in Memphis. We were in Oxford Mississippi. Oops. The crowd, the rest of the band, and Aaron himself caught the blunder right away. Laughter erupted. Aaron apologized, improvised like a seasoned jazz musician, and smoothly went on speaking. The concert went well and the audience was engaged and appreciated the music.

We returned to the hotel around 6 PM. The kids freshened up a bit before joining Ingrid to rehearse for Thursday night’s show at BB Kings. She also showed them some simple, but effective, yoga stretches and back exercises to help with the aches and pains the kids are experiencing from life on the road. These kids are learning so much more than just the music, but that said, they are working extremely hard between performances on nailing the charts and really understanding what Ingrid and Dr. Dyas expect of them on stage. They’ve memorized all the music and deal well with the changes and improvements suggested after each concert. While they’re in the middle of it, they probably can’t realize how valuable this week is on so many fronts. They’re learning, giving back, and growing as musicians and young adults…at least most of the time.

Enjoy the pictures! I even captured some brief video. Also, check out this link on Monday’s show. Please ignore the first story.

Kevin.


Ya never know who you’ll run into in this town.


Filing in before the show.


Back stage before the gig.


Dr. Dyas about to introduce the band.


LACHSA and Ingrid performing the workshop with the school band.


Evening rehearsal with Ingrid.


On Tuesday, day three, we visited Overton High School in Memphis, TN for a performance to the student body of over 1000. Overton is a public high school, but within it there is the school of creative and performing arts (CAPA) consisting of drama, music, theater, dance, creative writing, broadcasting, visual arts, and photography. Like LACHSA, there is an audition process to get into the CAPA program as well as grade and conduct requirements. The performance hall was packed at noon as the show began.

The set list was similar to the prior day in Cleveland except that instead of Herbie Hancock, the LACHSA sextet performed Ingrid Jensen’s beautiful arrangement of Autumn Leaves and to close out the show, and to illustrate that almost any song can become a jazz tune, the group swung to The Flintstones. The blues medley, Every Day I Got the Blues (complete with Lisa selecting another unsuspecting student from the audience), and Dr. Dyas’ presentation on jazz and improvisation rounded out the set. Just before the last number, Dr. Dyas asked for questions from the audience. One student asked how long each member of the band practices per day. Each LACHSA student answered the question and spoke a little about him or herself, but it was Aaron who brought down the house. Up until this point, other than when Lisa sang with a student from Overton, the audience was not nearly as attentive as the audience had been in Cleveland, MS. Aaron changed all that. He talked about practice and having a passion for something. He then asked the audience how many liked hip hop music and how many “dropped their own beats”. Over half the audience enthusiastically raised their hands. Aaron then asked if anyone wanted to come up on stage to demonstrate. At that point, the audience was cheering and prompting others to head to the stage. The LACSHA rhythm section played a funky groove and that energized the crowd even more. This went on for a moment, or so, and when no one came to the stage, the band stopped the groove and order was restored. What a moment! It was so spontaneous and happened so fast that I failed to capture it on video. I was just as caught up in the moment as everyone else.

The LACHSA kids were a little disappointed after the show because most of the students in the audience seemed disinterested and even a bit disruptive. There were many who enjoyed it, but after the incredible scene from the day before in Cleveland, this audience was a bit of a letdown for the kids. Definitely a learning experience as they will have crowds like that in the future, maybe again on this trip, and they will need to learn how to keep their energy level up even when the crowd is not feeding them.

After the show, the LACHSA kids and Ingrid Jensen joined the Overton HS Big Band for their jazz band rehearsal. The LACHSA kids sat amongst the band in their respective sections and Ingrid took over temporarily as band leader.

I will not be able to accurately describe what happened next. You simply had to be there to appreciate the next 30 to 45 minutes, but I will give it to you as I experienced it. Ingrid listened to band and offered her suggestions then she asked the LACHSA students for tips and suggestions. Kalia and Aaron were first to offer tips for the band, but specifically to their respective horn sections. They were encouraging and informative with their remarks and the Overton students took it all in. Soon, the rest of the LACHSA students were trading tips and working within each of their sections. The Overton kids always attentive and enjoying the moment and the LACHSA kids appreciative and nodding encouragement at each Overton solo. The Overton band leader then asked for the band to repeat the tune, but asked that the LACHSA kids take the solos this time. Aaron was first up, and much like he did earlier at the concert, he once again brought down the house. His solo was smokin and by the end of it, Overton students were jumping out of their chairs and fanning themselves with sheet music. One of the piano players even took out his wallet and was about to throw money at Aaron. It was a cool scene…and that was only the first solo from LACHSA. Although no other LACHSA student had money thrown his or her way, each solo was met with much of the same enthusiasm as Aaron’s. The last to solo was Ingrid Jensen and she traded fours (short solos) with Overton’s lead trumpet player. This trading turned into a bit of a cutting contest with Ingrid challenging the Overton student a little more each time. By now, many of the band members were standing and had turned to face the trumpet section, clapping and cheering after each short solo. Suddenly, all the disappointment from earlier in the day had been washed away.

The Overton band played two more songs with the LACHSA students and showed their ability to swing and play the blues. That was followed by the Overton kids asking questions to LACHSA about inspiration, how each practiced, and plans post high school.

After the rehearsal, the rhythm section stayed at the school to rehearse with Lisa Henry for Thursday evening’s concert. Kalia, Aaron, and Ingrid went to The University of Memphis to be interviewed by the host of a local jazz station. The interview was originally scheduled to be with Ingrid, but she invited Kalia and Aaron to join her. It was a recorded interview and I am not yet sure when it will play.

We all returned to the hotel around 6 PM to eat and rest. It was another amazing day! Enjoy the photos.

Kevin.

Warm up and sound check

Principal Jennings talking to the students after the concert.

Members of the Overton Jazz Band joining LACHSA back stage after the concert.

LACHSA Sextet joins Overton’s Big Band.

The studio on U of Memphis campus where Ingrid, Kalia, and Aaron were interviewed.

Ribs!

Hello Mom and Dad!


Hello from Cleveland Mississippi! Our first performance of the week (the kids, not me. Man talk about the blues…having me perform. Not even Mississippi is ready for that). Dr. Dyas explained to me on the drive from Memphis how this particular concert came to be. The short version (not because the long isn’t worth it, but because I have less chance to mess up the short one) is that It turns out that Cleveland is not far from the birthplace of the blues, a plantation called Dockery Farms. The co-chair of The Dockery Farms Foundation Board of Directors, Carolyn Powers, worked with Dr. Dyas and the Monk Institute to bring jazz education and music (which is steeped in the blues) to the birthplace of the blues and share it with the young people of the area. Current board members of Dockery Farms, Herbie Hancock and T.S. Monk, (son of Thelonious Monk) were joined by vocalist Lisa Henry, trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, and the LACHSA peer-to-peer kids to speak and perform to a packed house at The Bologna Performing Arts Center. Kids from the surrounding schools were shuttled in to fill this beautiful 1100 seat hall…and what a loud and appreciative crowd it was. The LACHSA kids noted and commented on it after the show.

The show started by Dr. Dyas introducing the kids from LACHSA and Ingrid Jensen. They begin by playing a blues medley, demonstrating some of their improvisation chops. Lisa Henry then joined the band on stage and really got the crowd going with Every Day I Got The Blues. She had most of the audience singing along and noticed one particularly energetic woman from the fifth row so she asked her if she wanted to come up on stage. The young lady was all over that. She came up and sang with Lisa and had a beautiful voice. The audience went nuts.

Not many could follow up and match the energy that was in the hall at that time, but Dr. Dyas did his best by providing a ten minute introduction to jazz presentation using the LACHSA rhythm section to aid in the process. He broke things down very simply while capturing the concepts of jazz and improvisation. OK, his presentaton, although excellent, probably didn’t match the energy of the Lisa and the student singing on stage, but that was a tough act to follow.

Herbie Hancock then joined the LACHSA cats, Ingrid, and Lisa and performed two of his oldest originals, Watermelon Man and Driftin. After the show, Herbie would tell the kids and J.B. that he hadn’t played Driftin since he recorded it in the studio for the album over 50 years ago. So, in essence, LACHSA was a part of the world release of the live version of Driftin.

The kids each took a turn to talk to the audience to tell them a little about themselves. They all did really well and each showed his or her unique personality. Lisa and Ingrid then joined the band on stage and invited Herbie back out to perform Bright Mississippi as the closing number. Judging by the crowd reaction throughout the show and from what I heard with my admittedly biased, but somewhat discerning ear, the show was a smashing success.

After the gig, we were invited to visit Dockery Farms, which is only a few miles from the performance hall where we were allowed to walk around and take some pictures before being presented a brief history of the plantation from one of the board members. Then, it was back to town to join other plantation board members, Monk Institute folks, Herbie, Lisa, and Ingrid for lunch at The Warehouse.

Lunch was great, but one of the most memorable moments for me, and I certainly hope the LACHSA students, was when T.S. Monk came over to the kids’ table and talked to them for a few minutes about their performance, where they are with their education and growth, and what potentially lies ahead for them if they continue with the music. He was positive and uplifting and his closing comment, even though it might not exactly be true, was “Man, Herbie and I couldn’t have played with you cats when we were in high school.”

With that, we hopped into the van and made the 2.5 hour trek back to Memphis. It was a rewarding and fulfilling day…oh, and the concert was fantastic, too. Enjoy some of the photos I took throughout the day. I didn’t add the pics of each student giving his/her respective speech because they didn’t come out too well. They will do it again this week and I will try to capture some photos and maybe even some sound.

Tune in next time.

Kevin.

Ready to go! The Sextet waits outside the backstage entrance of the performing hall.

The calm before the storm. Sarah, Heather, and Adrian warm up before sound check.

J.B. Dyas giving some final tips and direction for the show.

Herbie holding court and telling stories before the show. He was fantastic with the kids. He spent quite a long time with them, before and after the performance.

The LACHSA Sextet with Ingrid Jensen.

Lisa with the band.

Herbie thanking the crowd and explaining the inspiration for the two songs, “Watermelon Man” and “Driftin”, that the band is about to play

The hall was packed, even the balcolny. This shot was taken about 30 minutes after the show.

After lunch, we were invited to visit Dockery Farms, which is considered the birthplace of the blues and was only a few miles away from the performance hall.

This piano still stands and dates back to the early…OK, not really, it was set up for a benefit concert Sunday night with Herbie Hancock.

Hallowed ground.

A little history on the plantation from one of the Foundation Board members.

After our visit to Dockery Farms, we headed back into town for lunch with some folks from the Monk Institute and Dockery Farms. Lisa, Ingrid, Herbie, and T.S. Monk (son of Thelonious) joined us, too.