The Angela Bofill Experience @ the RRazz Room
This evening, Sunday evening was one of those lovely moments one is so happy not to have missed. Running late, as usual, I knew I would get to the club about half an hour into the show; however, I wasn't late as RRazz Room management was busy trying to accommodate the patrons on the wait list who wanted to pay tribute to the lovely Ms. Angela Bofill, Brooklyn born, now Northern California transplant.
When Ms. Bofill walked into the intimate setting, hands on a cane and the arm of her escort the room rose to its feet as the applause and best wishes sprinkled her path until she reached the stage and took her seat.
Dave Valentine, flautist, opened the set with wit and wisdom sharing stories about his good friend and musical partner, whom he'd known since the two were youth, 17. The New Yorker, whose looks often confused producers who couldn't figure out his ancestry...photos of a younger Valentine projected on the walls by the stage behind the artist illustrate his long and illustrious career and some of his many hits as he played a wooden flute then shifted to the Western classical one. His stories about playing for first one label then another and finally the opportunity where he could bring his friend Angie Bofill on board.
When Maysa came on stage singing "She's an Angel of the night..." with background vocalist Lambert Moss kicking the energy up an octave as the lovely woman's warm full voice gave us a teaser of what was to come. Maysa then shifted easily into a rumba as the pianist and drummer, Moe Collins and Greg Phillips, strutted their collective stuff. A child of the 70s Maysa said as she reflected in song on I Try and Baby I Need Your Love and in her role as lead singer for the English band, "Incognito," she dreamed of being discovered by Norman Connors.
"I need your love, like a flower needs rain." She sang and yes, I had to take off my jacket, it was that toasty.
When Angela Bofill sat down, the audience was hers--guests at the table in front of Maysa's music stand kept the sheets that fell off the stand for her. When the bassist's music fell, someone from the audience retrieved it so he wouldn't miss a beat. When Angela's cane fell, someone grabbed it for her and there was one patron, whom Angela kept a running dialogue as she shared stories about her family, background on a song or a joke about life after stroke, diabetes, menopause.
Next to me RRazz Room publicist, Lisa Bautista, wiped away tears that evening as Bofill's ease was reflected in her smiles, banter and jokes about her inability at times to be as articulate as she'd like --words the right words illusive. Maysa talked about listening to Angela Bofill records and thinking one day... never believing that she'd be on stage singing Angela Bofill songs to the artist herself, Bofill smiling encouragement and sometimes singing (lip-syncing) along.
Dave Valentin's first album, "Legends" on GRP sold hundreds of thousands of units he told us. He then told his producers Larry and Dave, "I've got someone for you...his friend Angela, who when signed her first hit, "Angie" (1978) selling 250,000 units. Both Puerto Rican (and Cuban--Angela's father) and proud, it's funny how these early Afro-Latin R&B artists are seldom heralded for the doors they opened for today's popular artists and the long overdue awards for indicated in events like the Latin Grammys.
As Bofill too spoke about those years, 1978 was also noted as a special year for the birth of her nephew: Pablo Angel Santiego, who was killed in a freak accident June 13, 2009. She wrote "Rainbow Child" for him and as the song played Bofill talked about her nephew who was a "'player,' seven girls showed up at the memorial" as photos of him in his football jersy from his Sonoma High School days, photos of the family at Angela's daughter's graduation from college, and other family photos with dad holding his grandson, Pablo as a baby.
Footage of Bofill singing (muted) with Maysa on stage performing the same song, especially the clip of Soul Train, was uncanny, especially when Maysa and the filmed artist were clearly singing the same parts (Maysa's back to the screen).
Bofill, dressed in a two piece knit pant suit with a sweater-like jacket and tunic top, looked great--her cute Pixie face, Betty Boo lips, and short bob relieved any fans who were uncertain what to expect. Not many people survive one stroke, let alone two within two years--Bofill's presence was trutly a miracle.
The artist kept a bit of humor in her pocketbook which she pulled out on multiple ocassions closing night.
Midway through the show, the ensemble under the direction of Greg Phillips, producer, writer, drummer, segues into a special part of the show which is not just a concert, rather a story with music signposts marking the Bofill collective experience...because it isn't just Bofill's story, well it is and it isn't. What it is more so is a story with characters like Dave Valentine and Norman Connors ... and earlier that week Phill Perry, whose notations in the script that is Bofill's life expand and deepen a story --one where family and friends (from Bofill's comments and the photos projected on the two theatre walls) are central to Angela Bofill's life and recovery.
As Connors makes his way to the stage, he's wearing a tropical style hat with shirt suitable for the weather in New York: trees with flowers...and an imagined breeze. For those who have never been to the RRazz Room at Hotel Nikko, there is no back stage and on a packed closing night in a sold out run, the artists walk in and off the stage through the audience, which means, yes, intimate contact...there is no them and us; it's all we.
Buddah, Arista, GRP...
Norman Connors, thge famous Philly born drummer/composer, talks about labels he has been affiliated with along his impressive trajectory when he meets Angela. "She'd been coming to my concerts for years," he said as he spoke of how he then he invited her to sing with him. Both he and Angela spoke about how people would mix the two artists up--Phyllis Hyman and Angela Bofill with a insider laugh.
Connors said he hadn't seen Angela since her stroke, so seeing her seated on stage chatting with the audience brought tears to the artist's eyes as he spoke of he and Bofill's work together. Known as Mr. Smooth Jazz himself, Connors talked about his song Maysa was going to sing next, "You Are My Starship" a song sampled by an impressive list of artists: Snoop Dogg, LL Cool J, Rick James, all of them men until Maysa.
As he spoke, Ms. Bofill added her recollections especially regarding Phyllis Linda Hyman (July 6, 1949 — June 30, 1995) who people often confused her with, which was okay, Bofill laughed, "because she was beautiful, but I don't think she liked the confused identification." This confusion led to someone calling Bofill's mother when Hyman died to offer his or her condolences as Bofill sat in her mother's kitchen wondering what the person was talking about: "I'm so sorry about your daughter...."
There was a silent toast to the lovely artist who died all too soon, as Bofill once again emphasized the importance of smelling the flowers now and appreciating life now, because this moment is all we are given.
Maysa then sang "You Are My Starship," Valentin adding lovely instrumental lines to the chorus, as the singer smiled and made room for more. Well-rehearsed the band knew when to take it down a notch so we could hear the subtle nuances of the singer's/flutist's voices.
Bofill was grooving as the familiar songs were performed...her smile and joy contagious. Though I was sorry to miss my dear friend Avotcja's 69th birthday party at La Pena and Keb'Mo at Stanford Jazz concert as well, I was happy to have as I said, been in the house to participate in The Angela Bofill Experience featuring: Angela Bofill, Maysa Leak, the singing voice of Angela Bofill; Dave Valentin, flute
Norman Connors, speciail guest; Mo Collins, piano; Greg Phillips, drums; Kevin Walker, bass; Lambert Moss, background vocals.
Afterward, fans lined up to chat with Bofill, as she signed autographs on CDs, posters and tee-shirts. I had a great interview with Ms. Bofill, as I found out this evening, as she was at her stylists (smile). It aired on Wanda's Picks Radio www.blogtalkradio.com/wandas-picks July 21 and again July 23.
I spotted several friends in the audience that evening, my good friend Alison Gates and Barbara Williams "Akosua" and her husband. My friend, Shelah Moody, a fantastic writer/journalist was conducting impromptu interviews with artists, which I hope to air in the coming week in a guest spot on Wanda's Picks either Wednesday or Friday morning, so look for it. Shows will air 7 AM-9 AM PST from August 3-18 on www.blogtalkradio.com/wandas-picks(347) 237-4610, while I am on vacation.
(Check back for the names of those pictured and a complete list of the marvelous Angela Bofill Experience band.)