Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Post Modern Pomos; James Carter Trio; Homeless in the Bay

Yesterday when I left the library walking up Grove to Larkin, I saw a form in the middle of the sidewalk and almost walked right into it...before it moved and I looked down into the eyes of a man sleeping dead center in the middle of the sidewalk. I'd never seen anyone sleeping right in the middle where one walks. I kept turning around and would catch his eyes watching me. What kind of society is this where people would rather sleep on the sidewalk than behind closed doors even if we had enough facilities?

I can still see him now. His cream colored blanket almost a camouflage for the sidewalk. Hum, human chameleons.

I am just happy I didn't accidentally kick him or step on him by mistake. As I walked back up Larkin trying to locate my car...I cut across the plaza where there is a satellite dish which broadcasts the soccer game during the day beginning at 11:00 AM. That's really cool. The sign said the broadcasts will continue through July 11. Visit

I found my car up the street a bit on Van Ness.

Fierce Love
Brian Freeman with Thandiwe Thomas DeShazor and Dazié Grego were great in the dramatic reading of one of the classic Pomo Afro Homos (Post Modern African-American Homosexuals) work “Fierce Love,” published in an anthology edited by Dr. Harry Elam, chair of the drama department at Stanford University. (I saw Harry at Quentin’s celebration Monday as well).

Pomo Afro Homos (1990-1995) was an African-American gay theater troupe founded in San Francisco by choreographer-dancer Djola Bernard Branner, actor Brian Freeman, and singer, dancer, and actor Eric Gupton. Later, Marvin K. White joined the group. They presented the black gay male experience. Their pieces include: Fierce Love: Stories From Black Gay Life and Dark Fruit” (

At “Fierce Love 2010” at the San Francisco Main Library, it was nice seeing people there whom I'd just seen the evening before at Quentin Easter's Celebration of Life. As one friend put it, this was a happier occasion. The stories of coming out, class distinctions in the gay community, finding love in risky places, dying with secrets and celebrating queer difference, while written twenty years ago, many of the structural references closed, if not forgotten, the pieces still resonated for the cast, especially the younger members who said, this extremely popular black gay theatre ensemble put black gay life in the main stream. “These men were my heroes.” Thandiwe stated.

The first performance of Pomo Afro Homos was at Josie's Juice Joint, Cornelius Moore told me, and he was there. After the performance at the library during the Q&A there were PAH fans and relatives in the audience who shared their recollections of the stir the trio made in places like Anchorage Alaska at a time when the closet was where gay men lived--blankets and pillows already ordered and in place. PAH brought the black community together, gay and straight. They were a cause to celebrate, an opportunity for black people to forget all the petty divisions for a higher good: respect.

I saw yet another friend, Margo Hall, who directed Sonny’s Blues at a Lorraine Hansberry Theatre/Word for Word collaboration. She was present at co-founder Quentin Easter's final gig Monday evening as well. The San Francisco Bay Area is close knit like that, so I wasn’t surprised to see Margo at the end of the Carter Organ Trio set. I recalled our conversation about her dad’s band and how the young cats spent time nurturing and developing their talent with her father’s group. A Detroit native, she said she always tries to get by when they are in town.

James Carter Organ Trio
Carter was in stellar shape at Yoshi’s San Francisco opening night...his horn at times playing itself...James's breath not completely spent. Talk about echoes of the ancestors. Carter so often surpasses even himself.

The repertoire was stellar and included history lessons. What a great teacher he proved as he told the story of yet another artist who found American less than palatable: tenor saxophonist Don Byas who left for Europe in 1946, not returning until 1970 with Thad Jones @the Village Vanguard. It sounded like Carter would have loved to have been in the audience if he'd been a bit older. If he’d been born (smile). There are these tapes of the concerts on Carter said. As Carter spoke of Byas's musical breath from the Japanese koto to a Fado singer, one could see the same elasticity or range in his playing as he shifted between flute and soprano to his more well known tenor saxophone.

When I looked up Byas, I found he'd switched to tenor sax from the alto when he moved from Oklahoma to California, before moving on to New York in 1937 to work with the Eddie Mallory band where he accompanied Mallory's wife, Ethel Waters on tour at the Cotton Club. "He recorded his first solo in May 1939: "Is This to Be My Souvenir" with Timme Rosenkrantz and his Barrelhouse Barons for Victor. He played with the bands of such leaders as Lucky Millinder, Andy Kirk, Edgar Hayes and Benny Carter. He spent about a year in Andy Kirk’s band, recording with him between March 1939 and January 1940, including a beautiful short solo on "You Set Me on Fire". In September 1940, he had an 8 bar solo on "Practice Makes Perfect" recorded by Billie Holiday. He participated in sessions with the pianist Pete Johnson, trumpeter Hot Lips Page, and singer Big Joe Turner. In 1941 at Minton's Playhouse he played with Charlie Christian, Thelonious Monk and Kenny Clarke in after hours sessions" (

Eyes closed, Carter played energetically, occasionally leaning back so far I wondered if he'd tipped gravity just to confuse me. There were a few children in the audience, on his closing "JC on the Set" while we clapped, he played to a young patron seated on her mother's lap. His horn an extension of his voice, the conversation was "just the two of them," the child laughing as she clapped and responded in kind.

Carter's "Misterio" with the keyboardist playing "Take Six" samples...the voices tied to key strokes, I couldn't tell if he was singing or not. Not, he told me later after the show.

I was feeling left out because I am not going to Detroit for the World Social Forum next week; the James Carter Trio remedied this regret last night--Detroit was certainly in the house, on the set and I was happy to be present as well.

Carter usually announces his set early in the performance, which I appreciate as I forget it (smile), last night was no different. Opening with "Rouge" then moving into "Quiet Dawn"...a good choice considering the intensely combustive opening number which had Carter--elegant in his tailored gray pin stripe three-piece suit, blasting off as he made the journey swing as only Carter can. The journey would have looked even more effortless if he hadn't paused to wipe his brow (smile), but I think I was perspiring more and I was just watching, and then the club AC went up a notch and well Carter and I wiped our brows less frequently.

Remarkable is not even the half of it.

"Quiet" eased into "Nuages" (French for "Clouds"), one of the best-known compositions by Django Reinhardt. "Misterio," "Gloria" and "JC on the Set" showcased the tight ensemble. Each musician had an opportunity to strut his stuff --at times Leonard King stood and played his floor tom like a djun djun, while Gerald Gibbs shifted between a synthesizer, organ and electric keyboard.

The story behind Fuga y misterio, the tango (from operetta, María de Buenos Aires) Composed by Astor Piazzolla, was funny. Carter said he was getting a massage and the song was playing quietly creating a soothing ambiance, but it had the opposite effect on Carter--

"It was in the key of F, temperate. It was track 5 and I couldn't relax." The musician was inspired. We could see him on the table twisting and turning and at the end of the session walking out with the CD.

His version of the piece, what he calls, "New Misterio," was really rocking! He opens with the flute...Gibbs on electric keyboard, King lightly playing the cymbals before Carter picks up the soprano sax, Gibbs slides over to the organ and the piece gets "funky" Detroit roots music. It's a journey across several landscapes and then we're back home...Carter closes just the way he ends as he begins, solo, gently, a bird alighting on a petal.

I think some folks stood up on that one. There were many moments like this for Carter opening night, first set. James Carter, didn’t come out between sets, he’d been having issues with his reed on the tenor, so I expected he was back stage fixing it

It was a marvelous night of music. The James Carter Organ Trio will be at Yoshi's in San Francisco through June 17. Carter has two sets: 8 and 10 PM.

Soweto Uprising
I forgot the anniversary of the Soweto Uprising was also today. Usually there is something happening to commemorate this huge occasion, where many students gave their lives for South African independence. Back before Mandela was released and most expatriots returned home, one way of another--alive or dead as in the case of my friend Zulu Spear founding member and leader, Sechaba Mokeoena-Lead singer, composer, dancer, there was a big event: party and teach-in usually at Ashkanez Music and Dance Center where Zulu Spear first performed locally. As with the Post Modern African-American Homosexuals or Pomo Afro Homos, there were not many venues in the now progressive San Francisco Bay Area for African artists to perform.

Pan African was not always hot! This is why venues like the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre, the Black Repertory Group, the former Oakland Ensemble Theatre, Ashkenaz Music and Dance Center, La Peña Cultural Center, the Justice League, Josie's Juice Joint, and other smaller venues, were so important 30-40 years ago when black was not hip, especially black non-commercial, non-mainstream. Such artists were not even on the invite list.... We've come a long long way baby and have even further to go.... (Visit for bios.)

Visit Subject: Black Consciousness Movement commemoration of Soweto Uprising


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