Saturday, October 31, 2009

John Handy Beacon Life Time Achievement Awardee 2009

“John Handy is one of the unsung greats of modern jazz -- as saxophonist, composer/arranger and group leader -- especially for the series of four albums he recorded for Columbia between 1965 and 1968. This Mosaic Select is devoted to the three albums he made for the label that featured violin in the instrumentation -- Recorded Live At The Monterey Jazz Festival, The 2nd John Handy Album and Projections, plus a live Carnegie Hall performance.

“Handy's playing, on alto sax in particular, is a wonder with a beautiful "legit" sound, perfect intonation and articulation, and an extraordinary control of the upper register which he uses quite often in building excitement and intensity in his solos. He utilizes all of these extraordinary attributes in frequent lengthy and compelling acappella solos. His unending flow of fresh ideas seemingly devoid of licks is another striking characteristic of his work” (

On the eve of the SFJAZZ Beacon Award, I had the opportunity to speak to my friend, John Handy. I remember when I first saw him in concert—it was at a gig in MLK Jr. Park in Berkeley. He’d just come off stage where he’d performed with Class and I remember Jon Jang also on the bill. It was at the height of the antiapartheid movement and we were winning. Some friends of mine from Vukani Mawethu Choir invited me to the concert where I met John and Jon. Jon Jang was a friend of the late Fundi whom was the choir director.

I think I knew John was the composer of the hit, Hard Work, a song my dad played a lot around the house, a song I remember humming to like I recall learning the lyrics to Alan Toussaint’s Hit the Road Jack when I was a little girl. But I digress.

John Handy doesn’t consider himself a rock star but he was to me, and over the years he really impressed me with his kindness and encouragement. Even before I was writing about music, he’d always tell me that I should go to concerts because black people were generally the minority in the jazz concert audiences and it was good when young black people—John got a plus when he called me young. I guess I was in my thirties back then (smile).

But I was always so amazed that he always remembered me when I’d run into him at concerts, not all his gigs—such a fine and cultured and famous man. He’d invite me and my friends to sit with him at the club and buy us a drink—he reminded me of James Baldwin, how Baldwin was accessible to his audiences. John even invited us over to his museum/house on Baker Street for tea and conversation one evening after a show where he shared some of his history which is of course the history of this classic American music or jazz.

I was so pleased and happy for him when he called me earlier this week to tell me he was the 2009 SFJAZZ Beacon Award winner. The honor is really on the organization—SFJAZZ, which is finally recognizing this wonderful man, a gem among us, so brilliant we need optical shades (smile), not him.

Sunday’s concert, like many of John’s rare appearances is going to be historic just for the personnel SFJAZZ has assembled for this tribute. I thought at one’s tribute the honoree is serenaded, but in this case John is working—there are four bands, the first three will perform first and the second set will be with a newer ensemble. This afternoon when I called I caught him at a good time, but then John is a talker and his memory is phenomenal, so our hour jaunt along the banks of his memory lane ended up being a stroll down his discography as John shared both old and new stories of the past 61 years of his professional career playing Indian music with the great sarodist/composer Ali Akbar Khan and others, along with his sojourn with the great bassist/composer Charles Mingus and Randy Weston, whom he called one of his favorite bosses.

I open the program with a piece: Three in One on the Columbia label.Visit

Also visit to read the SF Supervisors’ Proclamation August 28, 1999 John Handy Day in the City and County of San Francisco.

Here is a great interview of John:

With the SFJAZZ Beacon Award for lifetime achievement, we honor a member of our community who has played a vital role in preserving jazz traditions and fostering the growth of jazz in the Bay Area. Past recipients include such luminaries as drummer Eddie Marshall, critic Philip Elwood, vocalist Mary Stallings, percussionist Pete Escovedo and pianist Rebecca Mauleón.

More than an apt and deserving recipient of the SFJAZZ Beacon Award, alto saxophone legend John Handy embodies all of the best attributes of the honor. One of the most innovative and visionary altoists in the post-bop era, he has become a magnet for fellow artists looking to explore new creative ground. From his galvanizing work with Charles Mingus in the late ‘50s and his star-making triumph at the 1965 Monterey Jazz Festival, through his pioneering world music collaborations with the Indian sarod master Ali Akbar Khan and his hit 1976 R&B album Hard Work, Handy has blazed a brilliant trail as an improviser, composer, bandleader and educator. Offering a potent reminder of his enduring influence, just this year the prestigious label Mosaic released a box set of the altoist’s classic quintet recordings. Many of Handy’s past musical partners, from the Bay Area and beyond, will perform in this fitting tribute concert" (

Artist Personnel
John Handy, tenor saxophone, Vikash Maharaj, sarod; Prabhash Maharaj, tabla; Michelle Colucci, tanpurra

John Handy, tenor saxophone; Don Thompson, bass, piano, vibraphone; Terry Clarke drums; Rob Thomas, violin, bass

John Handy, tenor saxophone; Tarika Lewis, violin; Robbie Kwock, trumpet; Don Thompson, piano; Terry Clarke; Jeff Chambers

John Handy, tenor saxophone; Kenny Washington, vocals; Carlos Reyes, violin; Dave Matthews, piano; Jeff Chambers, bass; Dezon Claiborne, drums

Photo credit: Copywright 2009, Wanda Sabir
Healdsburg Jazz Festival 2009

Friday, October 30, 2009

Hassani Campbell Fundraiser

Precious, The Film

Last night in San Francisco at the Metreon, a group out of LA and Atlanta called Liquid Soul Media hosted a screening of Lee Daniels's film,"Precious." I hosted the panel which consisted of Paige Harris, community advocate, Dr.Su Y.Park, psychologist, Francis Moore, Alameda County Network for Mental Health Clients, and Andrea Broxton, Girls Incorporated for Alameda County. The theatre was full and after the film about a third of the audience stayed for the discussion. We began the evening with a call to the ancestors.

I'd invited Lauren Whitehead, Youth Speaks Program Director, poet, singer, teacher, to share work with us that evening which would promote healing. She's performed at the John F. Kennedy Center in D.C. and at Sundance where Precious debuted. I saw her recently in Afro Solo 16 performing Written in Blues, a piece which explores the themes of sexuality, violence in relationships, and music.

Yes, the sister was as we say, qualified to change the energy that evening from despair into hope--like "Precious" did on the screen.

Precious is the kind of film that makes one seek comfort in someone else's's the kind of experience, like all Lee Daniels's films that make one uncomfortable and uneasy. His films are intentionally disturbing. Nothing I've ever seen of his has left me feeling comfortable or unmoved. I haven't wanted to own any of his films or watch them twice, but I have never forgotten any of them, Shadow Boxer and The Woodsman two of the most disturbing. I'd never been in the head of characters like the ones I meet there and I wasn't sure I liked the experience. But then I don't know if Daniels wants his audience to like themselves after his films or leave the way they came. He seems intent on taking us on a journey, one where we explore areas outside our comfort zones.

I remember when Shadow Boxing came out on DVD and the director and I spoke about his raising kids, one a relative, and his audience. He also spoke about the power of film, his passion for storytelling, especially those stories which are not told, the stories of people he has met or know of. I am not certain if any of these stories he has told so far are removed from some reality, however distant...but then it has been more than a few years since we spoke.

I think Liquid Soul's intentions were good, however, I hope Oprah and Tyler and the other producers have plans to invite community based organizations to table after screenings and leave brochures like the one's connected to the website for the movie. The film brings up emotions victims and perpetrators might not be comfortable with and it would be a shame if someone was hurt or hurt someone after seeing Precious. Visit

Lee Daniels’s “Precious”

A Review

Love has everything to do with it, and Precious shows us that where there is love, there is no intent to harm or cause pain. Precious's life was the antithesis of love, how many children and adults confuse pain for love until they learn better?

Based on Sapphire’s novelPUSH, Lee Daniels’s film “Precious,” opens in Bay Area theatres, Nov. 6. At a community screening Thursday, October 29, 2009, emotions raced as patrons tried to reconcile their emotions and intellect swiftly in order to respond to questions concerning this character, "Claireece Precious Jones," portrayed well by newcomer to the screen, actress, Gabourey Sidibe. What was really amazing about the film was how well the creative team, key among them: writer Geoffrey Fletcher and director of photography Andrew Dunn, BSC, with executive producers Oprah Winfrey, Tyler Perry, Lisa Cortés, and Tom Heller, were able to tell this story in a way that made one member of the audience in a discussion following the film remark: “I think society failed the mother too.” Mo’Nique as “Precious’s mother “Mary,” was cast in a role which was not only not funny, it was absolutely despicable. The actress never broke character, if anything she grew worse, yet, portrayed Mary in such a way that one does feel sorry for her even as one rooted for Precious to stay away from her.

Precious, besides being a film about the brutality of enslavement visited on many children in inner-city homes and the power of love to heal the most terminal of pain, the film is also about the power of forgiveness and how the first step in the healing is facing the fire and entering it with one’s eyes open—Sankofa.

The emotions running through the theatre Thursday evening ranged from disgust to disbelief—how bad can it get for this 16 year old child, pregnant with her second child by her father—Answer: a lot worse. The physical, emotional and psychological violence visited on this “precious child” who lived in a dream state—reality a bit too much to handle, was unbelievably vicious. Yet, Precious was not the only child neglected in her community–the film shows other children facing similar pain—another little girl, younger than Precious is not sent to school regularly, nor is her hair combed. Later on in the film we see her with two black eyes.

Both mothers, Precious’s and her neighbor’s mother, seem to keep the children around for the Welfare checks. Precious’s mother tells her daughter repeatedly to drop out of school and go down to Welfare and get a check and the Welfare department wants her to stop going to school once she has her GED and get a job, even if the job averages $2 an hour. Though set in Harlem in 1987, the literal distance is shortened when one thinks about No Child Left Behind and all the children like Precious who can't seem to keep up 22 years later.

At the alternative school Precious’s life changes for the better. One teacher, Ms. Blue Rain, actress Paula Patton, opens up the world to her students through literacy—reading and writing. She has her students tell their stories –to write, even when life is most painful…to write through the pain and it is this action that Precious learns to value herself and lift her voice.

"Precious" is a familar character in black literary history—characters like "Celie" in The Color Purple, "Pecola" in The Bluest Eye, and "Antoine" in Antoine Fisher, reflect a legacy closely tied to the antebellum baggage black people carry as they race to freedom without a notion of how one evades the slave catchers who lie in wait.

Opal Palmer Adisa says in one of her poems, “I Name Me Name,” each of us has the power to decide what we will respond to, a choice which in Precious’s case involves renaming herself—claiming her life. When she is encouraged to put her second child, a son, up for adoption, she chooses to keep him—it is a choice that saves her life. Now that she has her son to live for, she makes other choices she was afraid to consider in the past.

Filled with close tight shots, indicative of the stylistic choices Lee Daniels’s makes in his films which are character driven, whether that is actor Cuba Gooding as a hired assassin in Shadow Boxing or Halle Berry as lover of the man who killed her husband in Monster’s Ball, or even the pedophile in The Woodsman, one wonders how does Lee Daniels make his audience care about a pedophile or a murderer or a child molester or a brut, which Precious’s mother, Mary is? Daniels humanizes these people and makes—I say makes, because I am not a willing participant in this group therapy session, nonetheless I stay. Why is that? Why do I care what happens to Mary? I am also curious about Mary's back story which Sapphire doesn't go into either in the novel. Why is Mary's mother afraid of her? What happened to her to make her so mean?

"Precious" doesn't say much. In abusive households one wishes for invisibility--there is safety in silence and space, so what Daniels does is let the audience into his character's head. We see her thoughts which are tangible-- colorful, sometimes scary, but often funny. It is in these moments that the costume designer, Marina Draghici shines, as Sidibi shows a sophistication in her role the sullen sober "Precious" seems incapable of. Though striking, it is here that the hope lies--even when being raped or forced to eat when not hungry. It is these journeys "Precious" invites us along on which make the film even slightly bareable. Lee Daniels makes his audience do the hard work which begins after the film is over...for the rest of our lives. His Precious extracts a commitment without having us sign on any dotted lines.

"Precious" makes friends in her new school, meets a man, Nurse John, actor Lenny Kravitz, who respects his little friend and treats her well. In this way, Precious learns that not all black men treat black girls badly. There is magic in "Precious," the child, and I think it's magic that keeps Precious moving forward and getting up from the sordid bed her mother has assigned her and life's circumstances keep her tied to...but like all things in life, there comes a time when she is able to cut the cord and move on. Somewhat like the animals who stay cowered until they realize that the cage is in their minds and that they are actually stronger than their perceived masters, Precious realizes this also over time and makes her escape.

If nothing else "Precious" knows the truth, she knows it and at some point she stops covering up her mother’s falsehoods to those who intrude into their lives, invited and uninvited--it's hard to live in a city on public assistance, your kid in public school and remain anonymous. So, despite the consequences—which as already stated are brutal, "Precious" tells, she tells about her mother Mary, who stays at home all day and watches television, masturbates and eats,she tells on her father who rapes her again and again, she tells about Mongo short for Mongoloid, her daughter who lives with Precious's grandmother.

I am not impressed by Mariah Cary's Ms.Weiss. I don't understand her character's, a therapist, attitude. Ms. Weiss seems to be just collecting a check; the tears at the end of the film come a bit late. Is she crying for Precious or her mother or both? Whatever it is, Precious states there is nothing more Ms.Weiss can do for her. The mother hardly ever leaves the house, it’s just her and the cats. "Precious" cooks and shops. Mary is stuck in the apartment with the shades drawn, but "Precious" is not.

That education can save someone’s life is not a cliché; it's not just the knowledge, but the teacher who takes an interest in a child and goes that extra step, like the principal who visited Precious’s home and told her via the intercom--Precious's mom refused to let the principal come up to the apartment, about the alternative school, Each One/Teach One. It doesn’t take a lot and just one moment can change the direction of a child’s life in ways one can’t even imagine.

Why is the dred locked teacher in PUSH cast as a light-complexioned lesbian in Precious? The teacher in the novel is a black woman Precious can identify with; she is the color of Precious, who up to that point sees herself as black and monstrous. Daniels' "Precious" reminds me of Marguerite in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings who wants a light-complexioned boyfriend, so that she can have a pretty son--pretty meaning not dark-skinned and nappy haired like his mother. There are no heroines or heroes who look like Precious in the film, but Sidibe plays it off looking fly in her stylist fashion statements: hair always together, clothes and jewelry reflecting a certain confidence visibly absent elsewhere.

Set in an America where precious children living in certain zip codes don’t receive the kind of guidance or attract the kind of concern reserved for children in other zip codes and economic price brackets, Precious-the film, is a wake-up call for those of us in positions where we touch the lives of vulnerable populations to pay closer attention, to listen to their stories, to not ignore the signs.

This is not a film for little children (13 and younger)--language, violence, sex, nor is it a film one wants to see alone; however, it is certainly a film does not want to miss. Precious is a Middle Passage tale, it is a Maafa Commemoration because the child lives to tell the tale and one has hopes for a continued healing, but there are so many more on board the ship about to get tossed into the cold water. It for these children and their parents that we must watch and figure out how to get life jackets on them and bring them to shore where we can pump soup into their stomachs and love into their hearts.

Photo Credit: Copyright 2009, Sara Marie Prada

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Women of the Black Panther Party

What I liked at the BPP Reunion on Saturday, October 24, was Robert King's introduction of Marion Brown to talk about the New Orleans chapter of the BPP which the Angola Prison Chapter grew out of.

So often, when role call is taken, the one's answering are the men when often both men and women were on the front lines. BJ's program a week earlier, Women in the Black Panther Party and Beyond, is a program he always holds so the contributions of BPP women are not lost or ignored. At the event besides the women who shared their experiences, women like Majedah Rahman and Madeline Gayle "Asali" Dickson, along with CeC Levinson, NCCF, Alicia Jrapko, of the International Committee to Free the Cuban 5, Dr. Tolbert Small shared both testimony and poetry in honor of the spirit of the Panther Women. BJ then spoke about the art on display that evening at the Oakland Public Library, West Auditorium.

It was a great event and the cake with the Black Panther tasted as good as it looked according to all reports and Emory Douglass and Asali's granddaughter, Anelisa.

Proceed and Be Bold

Director Laura Zinger to Amos Paul Kennedy Jr.'s right, and to his left is not Stacey Simcik (Editor / Main Camera Operator) who was at the screening, so I will have to get back to you on this detail.