Friday, July 27, 2012

Wanda's Picks Friday, July 27, 2012 Summer Nights at OMCA

This weekend there are a multiplicity of events in Oakland and the Greater Bay Area. I mention several on the air this morning, one of them sponsored by the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, in its second year is a day of community service, Oakland Style called appropriately: Throw Down for the Town! Visit

In Orinda, Cal Shakes with Starchild Traci Bartlow are having a wonderful time with Zora Neale Hurston's SPUNK! set to the sound track of the blues and jazz. Traci is hosting dance lessons following the show Friday nights and this is the final Friday, as the show closes Sunday evening, July 29. Visit

Sunday, July 29, Avotcja celebrates her 71st birthday at La Pena Cultural Center in Berkeley, 7 p.m. Avotcja's friends always drop by for a wonderful concert that ends with a blues party. Visit

Telling Secrets: Mary Bowser, Black Civil War Spy with Lois Leveen
The Museum of the African Diaspora is highlighting the career of a black woman who went behind antebellum walls to spy for the Union Army during the Civil War. Imagine intentionally allowing oneself to be enslaved. Visit

This morning we speak to Cynthia Taylor, Assistant Dir. of Public Programming at the Oakland Museum of California, about Summer Nights, tonight, Fri., July 27, 2012, 5 - 9 p.m. yes, extended hours at half price! Visit We wax at length about tonight's programming which besides a book signing with Oakland cartoon artist, Dan Clowes with Chris Ware. There will be a special bus out front for folks to get on and explore 1968 memories while Amoeba Records is spinning all the hits of that era or season. Funny Girl screens outside, the Blue Cafe popping hot corn treats for patrons to eat. Taylor and I also spoke about a special ceremony tomorrow, 1-3 p.m. the Ohlone basket weaving ceremony, which is free admission and next week's annual Celebration of the Summer Reading Program with the Oakland Public Library.

We are then joined by Thomas Simpson, AfroSolo founder whose program is in its 19th year. The AfroSolo season kicks off Mon., July 30, at the Common Wealth Club with a panel discussion on Race with Joyce Gordon, Sherri Young, Marcus Shelby and Sean San Jose. Visit

We close with a rebroadcast of Safi wa Nairobi's interview with Watts Prophets co-founders Richard. DeDeaux and Father Amde Hamilton and Oakland drummer Ajayi Jackson who will join them.

Music featured comes from Donald Bailey Blueprints of Jazz Vol.3. Again Mr. Bailey is honored this weekend at the "Nat'l Treasures Concert" at the Oakland Public Conservatory of Music at 1616 Franklin @ 17th Street. Visit

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Wanda's Picks July 25, 2012

Today we'll be speaking to Robin Damelin, subj. of One Day After Peace, screening at the SFJFF 7/31 & 8/1. Visit The film is directed by the brother/sister team Erez Laufer and Miri Laufer. Visit and

When I saw this film a few weeks ago I was rivited riveted by the staunch passion Robi Damelin exhibits as she travels between sorrow and forgiveness in a journey undertaken to bring closure,or perhaps more importantly understanding to bear on her personal circumstances following the tragic death of her son, David. She finds it important in her healing process to know the person who shoots her son, and that process leads to the film which chronicles this journey, one she shares with Palestinian mothers and South African mothers who have all lost beloved sons.

War by its very nature leaves casualties, the youth who shoots Robi's son, would given other circumstances much he and the Israeli youth could agree on. War prevents such camaraderie, whether the wall is tangible or philosophical. Only tragedy or a cessation of violence allows the darkness to dissipate ever slightly so veils can lift so a little light can shine into crannies marked by prejudice, propaganda and harmful policies. Seldom do we take time to investigate often too busy reacting to or preparing for the inevitable offense to one's humanity or dignity--war takes everyone prisoner and in One Day After Peace, Robi learns that the conversation she opens with a letter to the man who took her son, opens her to his story as well, so the film is about the other side of the line--what happened in the Palestinian youth's life that made him target an enemy combatant? What makes this story work so well is its balance of opposing viewpoints in Israel and Palestine then in South Africa where the film moves to look at the way South Africa led by Bishop Desmond Tutu addresses in a unique way the healing of individuals via a national healing protocol called The Truth and Reconciliation Commission

South Africa, a country ripped asunder by apartheid similar to Rwanda after the events of April 1994, reflect individual soul work. In the film, One Day After Peace, former officials and combatants speak about the release they feel when the family or loved ones of those they have harmed reach out to them and forgive them. It is a way of reclamation of one's humanity. Often these attempts at redemption are not enough, and in the case where one is not capable of undoing the harm, this is where forgiveness lies--in the space where revenge or retribution is justified sometimes expected and the wronged person says "no."

There are many mothers in the San Francisco Bay Area walking this walk as well. I have met many of them, one is my sister Octavia Edwards, another is my other sister Joyce Gant. One killing is unsolved, the other is unresolved, as happens when the killer is a government employee. The irony is priceless, yet the cost is the same, two black youth are gone.

I got the news yesterday that my cousin's grandson, Alixi Johnson (17) was killed in Chicago Monday, in the 9600 block of South Merrill Avenue. He was standing in a park and someone took out a gun and started shooting randomly. He was the only one killed in a shooting rampage throughout the city that left 13 wounded.

One Day After Peace humanizes the conflict adults start, yet children pay for with their lives. The film is screening twice more, July 31 in Berkeley at the Roda and in San Jose at Cinearts, Aug. 1.

We also speak to David McCauley, Dir., Ailey Camp at UC Berkeley. In its 11th year, Ailey Camp concludes August 2, 2012, 7 PM at Zellerbach Hall. Tickets for the free performance are available through the UC Berkeley box office. Visit

I dropped by AileyCamp Monday afternoon. I barely slipped in before the youth finished their day. They were on stage with , Derrick Minter,
Modern Dance teacher, rehearsing one of the pieces they will perform on August 2 at the community performance at Zellerbach Hall. The 52 youth dressed in black leotards and dance shoes were on their Ps and Qs as the modern dance instructor took the kids through their literal paces as a large group and then in smaller segments.

David W. McCauley, Camp Director, stood watching occasionally offering suggestions or comments as group leaders assisted where needed. The performance, certainly felt like a family affair up to the surprise cake for Mr. McCauley which included a group hug--yes, it was a sweet moment (smile).

Joe, with Cal Performances filled me in on the background of the camp and Cal Performances partnership with AileyCamp over the past 11 years--for some reason I heard 12 years, but when I spoke to David, he corrected my mistake (smile). It as great seeing choreographers and company directors I've known for many years, like Mama Naomi Johnson Diouf. I know her as Artistic Director of Diamano Coura, West African Dance Company and as faculty member at Berkeley High School whom I have seen many times on and off stage as my younger daughter had her at Berkeley High School, I have studied with her and when I taught her younger son, Stefon at the College of Alameda. (Stefon just graduated with his BA from Cal State East Bay).

Zari Le'on, Jazz Dance teacher and LaTeisha, Congolese Dance, were a a couple of other names and faces I recognized. I was really impressed by the seriousness the youthful group leaders imparted through their carriage, especially, Dominique Fluker (2006 alum) and Spencer Pulu (2005 alum).

Mr. McCauley stated that the alumni return often, some yearly, as volunteers. Such is the case with Dominique, who studied ballet, prior to AileyCamp which she joined to expand her dance palate. Spencer, on the other hand, hadn't been dancing seriously, but took the opportunity offered by Oakland/Berkeley AileyCamp to put behind him a negative situation. Six years later, Spencer is at City College of San Francisco studying dance and dancing professionally with multiple companies like Culture Clash. Dominique is finishing up her second year at Sarah Lawrence. Though, college is not stressed per se, the deliberate integration of the camp into the fabric of the University of California via scavenger hunts and other activities puts the idea of higher education on the radar of children who might have parents who didn't complete high school. AileyCamp true to the mission of Alvin Ailey Dance Company's founder's philosophy that dance is not for the elite, dance is for every body, chooses campers who might not have dance backgrounds but like to dance.

Dance is the hook. What kid doesn't like to groove to good music? Then after they are at the camp, the kids get exposed to professionals in all aspects of performance whether that is choreography, lighting or set design. The camp has a values based curriculum where the whole child is nourished and nurtured. After the daily affirmations where children are inspired to think without limitations, the respect each other and to believe in their infinite and perhaps untapped potential. See Each day children have two meals, the first breakfast, personal development class, creative communication, along with the various dance classes. In the personal development children learn about sexually transmitted diseases like HIV/AIDS. There is transportation to and from the camp on buses from Oakland and Berkeley.

All this and more is free per student--this means Cal Performances which has raised funds for AileyCamp yearly since the camp's inception 11 years ago is seriously committed to East Bay families and youth. A quarter of a million dollars is nothing to sneeze at, especially in a shrinking economy, one where programming for youth and children is often cut. I am sure the AileyCamp experience for many children is their first exposure to performance and other creative art explored daily over the six weeks such as--writing, filmmaking, costume design and other art practice that varies from year to year.

Cal Performances in its 106th season didn't have to take this on, but despite a UC board of trustees which has made it more difficult over the past 20 years for students of color to matriculate on its campuses statewide, programs like AileyCamp are a portal into these hallowed halls, space many of these children or their families would never have thought were theirs to claim. As tax payers, as citizens, AileyCamp says, claim it, claim everything you want, for it is yours.

How can a child think otherwise if daily they are filled with a font of optimism carried in the affirmations which form the basis of the AileyCamp foundation: I am a winner. I am in control. I think before I act. I will pay attention with my mind, body and spirit. I will not use the word "can't" to define my possibilities (5 of 10).
There are so many great stories one could share, yet, all the space goes to tragedies and despair. Don't forget to call for your free tickets: (510) 642-9988.

Mr. McCauley is followed by special guest host We close with a special guest host, Safi wa Nairobi who interviews the Watts Prophets who perform at Ashkenaz Music and Dance Center in Berkeley, Sat., July 28.

There are many great programs for youth in the San Francisco Bay Area, among them, AileyCamp at Cal Performances, Destiny Arts, Oaktown Jazz Workshop, Dimensions Extensions, and Oakland Public Conservatory of Music founded by Angela Wellman.

Considering how much is going on at this place on a quiet corner in Oakland, I am just shocked that the buzz has not gotten out about this community treasure. Last week, I had so much fun watching the children prepare for the final session at the camp, which culminates tomorrow evening at 5:30 in a performance. Each instructor introduced him or herself and then performed, which meant the dance teacher had the kids up dancing salsa or rumba to the Cuban instructor's jam.

This Saturday, July 28, OPC honors in one of its Treasures Concerts, Donald Bailey, premiere drummer, best known for his work with Jimmy Smith. This concert will also be a passing of the baton from one Frederick Douglas Youth Ensemble member to another as older youth prepare to leave this fall for college or university opening multiple chairs: drum, trumpet others (smile).

Angela and I always have a great time conversing. Since she has been away at the University of Wisconsin, these conversations have not happened nearly enough, so this show was an opportunity to catch up (smile). I was happy to hear that financially things had gotten a bit easier for the conservatory at least around the lease itself, which in the past was hard to manage what with offering instruction to school children free of charge. Now, classes during the school year are about $10 a class, about $600 for the year. Angela mentioned fundraising and grants the board will look to secure, however in the meantime, this small yet dedicated institution can certainly use financial support.

My conversation with Angela Wellman, founding director, Oakland Public Conservatory wraps up a wonderful conversation this afternoon about peace and reconciliation and forgiveness, reciprocity and patience: MAAT. She performs this evening at Freight and Savage in Berkeley. The OPC Summer Music Academy concert is, Thursday, July 26 at 5:30 PM with the children at 1616 Franklin at 17th in Oakland. Visit The concert is free (smile).

The taped conversation with David McClauley and Safi's wonderful interview with poet activists Richard DeDeaux and Father Amde Hamilton rounded out a really wonderful afternoon of programming. I haven't decided how I am going to navigate the spaces opened July 28: Watts Prophets in Berkeley, National Treasures and Awards Concert in Oakland and Amiri Baraka and Reggie Workman, 8 p.m. also in Oakland at EastSide Arts. The men will be in conversation, Sunday at 6 p.m. "The State of Black Jazz." The final Friday's Film at EastSide Cultural Center, 2277 International Blvd. also looks good, "Triumph of the Underdog" a classic film about Charles Mingus. Again, I was in Watts this weekend, and thought about Charles Mingus, who lived in this community.

I think I will go to Donald Bailey's Treasures Concert and then go over to Berkeley to catch the end of The Watts Prophets (smile). Friday, Zulu Spear performs at Ashkenaz in Berkeley.


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Wanda's Picks July 18, 2012

Today's show was special. It's is not everyday that one has an opportunity to publicly acknowledge an old friend who is still keeping the social justice via arts torch lit. Everyday should be Paradise, not just October 7 in Oakland (smile). Visit

Richard Moore a.k.a. Paradise joins us to talk about the Oakland World Fair kick-off Sunday, July 22, 2012, in Berkeley at 1701 University Avenue at 3 p.m. It is also the 40 year San Francisco Bay Area Poetry Family Reunion. Artists are encouraged to drop by and meet old friends. A prelude to this certainly was the reading at the Lakeview Library where poet laureates like Alameda luminary Mary Rudge and Berkeley luminary, Adam David Miller not to mention Nina Serrano whom I'd just seen at the Luggage Store Gallery in a celebration of Third World Writers, presses, and publications (smile).

Randy Weston was marvelous this past weekend--two days of grace. I saw Ruthie Foster one night and Weston Friday and Saturday. I missed Roy Haynes at Stanford Jazz Festival that Sunday night, as well as the Tunisian pianist at Yoshi's San Francisco. I missed Nitin Sawhney and Meshell Ndegeocello last Sunday afternoon at Stern Grove too. Yep, missed Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo, but they are in Southern California this weekend. At Stern Grove, don't miss the E-Family. I will (boo hoo hoo).

ABPsi, the Black Psychology Conference is this week and I will be there for the final four days, otherwise I would be at the opening ceremonies for the 10th Annual International Black Women's Film Festival, Friday-Saturday, July 20-21. All the screenings are free. I don't know how Adrienne Anderson does it, but she is literally surpassing last season's festival which in itself was phenomenal. Visit

Academy Award Winning actress, Octavia Spencer, The Help, is special guest opening night, 5:30 pm to 9:00 pm at the Kaiser Center Theater & Foyer 300 Lakeside Drive (2nd floor at the top of escalators) Oakland, CA 94612.

The following morning, the Festival moves to San Francisco's Main Library where from 11:00 am to 4:00 pm guests can feast on a variety of films in both Koret Auditorium & Latino/Hispanic Room (Lower level) 100 Larkin Street San Francisco, CA 94102.

I was honored to speak to four witty, wonderful black directors, actors and producers this afternoon: Alfred Robbins who is a cinema savvy veteran--his films have made it to bootleg (smile), while maverick playwright Tamu Favorite, whose 10 Steps Backwards formally known as 'The N Word,' is now making the rounds as a treatment short, Harriet Returns--Favorite, cast as Harriet Tubman (smile). Stay tuned for the feature which received the Reel Sisters Spirit Award 2011. Favorite said the creative team's goal is to submit their film in a festival a month. The list is at 14 to date, August 2011 to now. They have surpassed their goal.

Keisha Ansley couldn't make it, but her Executive Producer, Tiffany Black could and did all the way from her native Florida. Black's first film, Call for Back Up! stretched her in many differently ways, none a strain like writing the film score:

Chasing the next opportunity, Black mentioned living bi-coastally, with plans for Atlanta, on the horizon. The two directors Black and Robbins started networking on the air (smile).

Too bad most, if not all, the directors I spoke to are going to be in town this weekend. Thank goodness such wit transcends space and time. As one listens to these artisans converse about their work one is inspired and more determined to get out this weekend if at all possible to see the work.

Alessandra Pinkston decides to try her hand on the other side of the creative process, that is, the writing and directing aspect of performance. Her first film is a thriller, starring her. I don't remember why Pinkston cast herself; perhaps it is like one's first book project--it comes out looking like its author. No one asks, is this your child (smile):

Robbins said he cast himself, because he was reliable and cheap, but to hear him talk about his other film projects with all-star line-ups, first call actors who show up with Equity House cards covered (as in disguised), I am sure he was being modest or vain (smile): &

We close with an excerpt of an interview with James T. Lane, who is wonderful in his role as Ozie Powell in ACT-SF's current production of Scottsboro Boys. Lane and I have a frank talk about many of the whirling issues connected, not to the story, which all agree needs to be told, but in connection to the artistic choices the creative team takes in its minstrel framing of perhaps the worst judicial travesty in American history post-slavery. We connect Scottsboro to Trayvon Martin and to San Francisco Bayview's Kenneth Harding, a young man (19) gunned down a year ago on a MUNI bus over a $2 fare. See

Lane and I talk about his career and tenure on Broadway, especially his work with symphony orchestras. We conclude with ways ACT-SF can mobilize its audience in civic work connected to the criminal system, especially with regard to California youth.

I open with Napoleon Revels-Bey, who talks about being a percussionist and his gig Friday, July 27, 7-11 p.m at Floyd Pellom's 57th Street Gallery, 5701 Telegraph Avenue, Berkley (510) 654-6874. I met Revels-Bey at Randy Weston's first night in Oakland. As the long hand approached the bewitching hour, Professor Weston was holding court in his dressing room counseling youth, affirming those a bit older as he tried to eat his sorbet. Visit

Music: Revels-Bey's "Up U Mighty (Nation, You Can Accomplish What You Will--Hon. Marcus Garvey)."

Friday, July 13, 2012

Summer of Peace; Scottsboro Boys at ACT-SF

The architects of the Peace and Justice Movement or the Human Rights Movement are African Americans without question. If one looks at African Liberation Movements sustained by the formerly enslaved as resistance from bondage-physical shackles and then legislative ones, this continues to be our fight whether that is Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Marcus Garvey, Martin King, Malcolm X, Rosa Parks or Shirley Chisholm.

The question of human rights continues to be an issue when one’s humanity, not to mention citizenship is up for interpretation, never a given in the land of one’s birth and to a certain degree ancestry. If one’s humanity is questioned continuously what does that do to the psyche of the interrogator and the maligned victim? Does the denial of one’s existence make one question such presence oneself? One sees this come into play when once charges are brought against the nine youth, collectively known as the Scottsboro Boys in March 1931—alone in the cell, in ACT’s production, the men start fighting.

Accusations fly as the larger and more imposing men try to get one of the other men, all or most strangers to one another prior to the arrest, to confess to the crime of rape. The white judicial system in Alabama sees all black men and in this case, black boys, as guilty—convicted or not, captured or not, in custody or not. The boys soon learn over the course of 30 years that they were condemned at birth and that they have no rights.

The evening I attended the play—it was the third activity in a long list on my to do list, beginning with a film screening at the Variety Club, Searching for Sugar Man, followed by another film screening, The House I Live In, dir. Eugene Jarecki, at Legal Services for Prisoners with Children—

Dressed in my white, I walked up Market from 4th Street and at about Powell I saw an Ifa friend of mine—we chatted for a bit and I continued my half hour walk to Van Ness Avenue where the offices are located. The Jarecki's film which Dorsey Nunn invited me to see along with other organizers, looks at the costs of the “war on drugs” on American society: who benefits and who loses. So as the clock inched its way toward 6:00 and then 6:30 p.m. I had to excuse myself and start walking to Geary and Mason, or at least that was my intention after I stopped at Walgreens for dinner on the run: Odwalla Green Protein and 8 Rabbits protein bar. It was there I realized I’d never make it on time and started looking for a taxi.

With no time to spare, I picked up my tickets at Will Call and then as I stood in the lobby the cast gathered to go in—It was perfect. Mr. Bones told me that they wouldn't hold the show for me. The men did their "Minstrel March" into the audience from the back and onto the stage for their opening song "Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey!" which I watched from the back, before being escorted to perhaps one of the best seats in the house I have ever sat in.

While the lyrical content is thought provoking, the story is a hard one to wrap one’s mind around, let alone watch—nine youth tried again and again, found guilty and sentences to die in the electric chair again and again, despite proof that the accusers were lying about the rape charges again and again.

Later in a conversation, called On the Couch, hosted by the chief of Psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco, many patrons said they were disturbed that ACT would produce such a play—cast such a serious topic as a vaudeville musical. Some patrons said that had they known the content, they would have not attended and that they never would attend such work in the future.

I’d been reading the memoir, Our Southern Home by Waights Taylor Jr. for the past month almost, so I knew quite a bit about the story and I was curious to see how the writers and choreographers pulled off such a daring feat—why should a tragedy make people feel good? Why should such an innocuous form, one that was used to demean and disappear the black population be revived or unearthed to tell this story?

Some history needs to stay in the crypt.

With the killing of black youth in the headlines over the past several years beginning with Oscar Grant, then Trayvon Martin and the execution of Troy Anthony Davis, is this theatrical run a way to soften the rumbling discontent? Who after all is the audience?

The cast is all black with the exception of a white overseer type character—the Interlocutor, who played all the officials in charge of the boys’ fates. Look at the symbolism here—and there was more, little more favorable, and that was the appearance of the silent black woman—a flip side Madonna. She doesn’t speak much, but when she does that is where the play should end. It wouldn’t justify the caricature at work for the balance of the play, but it would redeem it a little. If it wasn't the black cast, and the dollars generated by such a run, I'd say, skip the play.

John Kander & Fred Ebb’s The Scottsboro Boys currently on stage at American Conservatory Theatre. in San Francisco is a retelling of an important travesty of justice the case of nine African American youth in 1931, a case which had nine or ten trials and in all told, when the men were finally released the eldest was in his mid-thirties. Most die much too early, their lives permanently stained by the false accusations of two white women who cry rape to avoid the public stigma of prostitution.

This does not fit the type of story one might see on Broadway, right? Broadway known for its musicals and nostalgia for what we think when American values come to mind—fictional values, when faced with the application of justice and who gets picked with the American Dream Lottery ticket number gets pulled—a musical. Yet on many levels it works as a progenitor of white skin privilege’s notions of justice. With book by David Thompson, choreography and direction by Susan Stroman, we see singing and dancing black men, dressed in opening and closing scenes in black face one imagined, the other real.

What is the message here?

The men when finally acquitted are damaged for life, especially those who do not disappear into anonymity. Innocence is not something black men can anticipate even after acquitted. There is something wrong with a country that lynches nine youth for breakfast and provides a soundtrack for purchase later on.

The play closed early in New York. It was a bit too real, perhaps cut too close to home, especially during an annual holiday season where Americans, read white Americans and their bleached friends, want to spend themselves into oblivion. So Scottsboro Boys closed and came to San Francisco, where it is not only well received it has been extended--wiping away any economic losses.

There is something to be said about the black experience couched in this American story, one where founding fathers and mothers, would try to recast the truth as something tasteful when the venom has just gotten sharper and more lethal over time. When ACT mounted David Feldshuh's Ms. Evers' Boys, a hard play to sit through, the work was so riveting one had to peel herself out of the seat afterward. A bitter pill.

Now here we are in Alabama again. Both plays look at black male sexuality. In the Tuskegee Experiment, the men were not treated for syphilis and died horrific deaths, not to mention infected their lovers and children with disease related maladies later. No one was charged and no reparations were given to the effected families. In the case of the Scottsboro Boys, the men nor their heirs have received reparations from the State of Alabama, to date, for the intentional miscarriage of justice.

This would be a useful goal for the presenters of this work. Reparations for the Scottsboro descendents. In New York, one of the actors, James T. Lane, told me museum staff was at an audience discussion.

Another action would be to invite organizations like LSPC and Prison Focus, Families with a Future, Critical Resistance, California Coalition for Women Children and the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights to address audiences at ACT-SF and give people a way to get organized and get involved.

David Mamet's play RACE at ACT-SF was a part of the theatre's last season. In both works a sexual violation is contested. In Mamet's play it is a black woman who accuses a rich powerful white man, who says it was consensual. The rookie partner, Susan, a black woman, says the woman is telling the truth and their potential client is lying. Audiences found this play hilarious and it was not a musical or comedy--so go figure.

When a black woman is the victim it is funny, and when a white woman is the victim it is tragic. One of the boys, Haywood sings about his regret that his lying was reason for a white man to enter his house and violate his mom, this is why he tells the truth and will not plea guilty. Blame the child for the rape, rather than a society that does not respect black women, a social structure that sees black women as commodities even in 2012 (Mamet's play).

Prepare to be angry. Prepare to answer a lot of questions if you take children. Prepare for nightmares, echoing nightmares that don't get any better as the days and weeks pass.

Finally, think about a better or more valuable use of one's time, a none renewable resource and then decide if for the time spent, is the damage to one's spirit worth it.

Wanda's Picks July 13, 2012

We open with a conversation with Wesley Watkins IV, Ph.D., creator of the The Jazz & Democracy Project® which manifests a hypothesis that Dr. Wes has been investigating since he was an undergraduate: a music-centered curriculum with genuine links to the other subject areas can increase student identification with school, impact academic engagement, and have a subsequent effect on overall academic success among students who have an affinity for music.

Raffle tickets for J&D's bi-annual fundraiser are available through July 28. Visit

I met Dr. Wes at the 28th Annual San Francisco Fillmore Jazz Festival, July 7-8, 2012. It was chilly; however, at least on Saturday one could walk on the side of the street where the sun was shining. By the time we'd moseyed down Fillmore to Eddy to see Sister Monica bring "it home" so to speak the next day, Sunday, at 6 p.m., the warmth, what little there was to tempt Venissa Santi, to take off her denim jacket earlier that day at 11:45 a.m. to 12:30, was a sweet memory (smile).

We'd seen Dr. Wes seated in front of the Fillmore Jazz Heritage Center Sunday or maybe it was Saturday, I forget. I just think it was funny that my younger niece, Wilda, had been talking about this great program, Jazz and Democracy at Rosa Parks Elementary School and then I meet the creator, this handsome cool brother selling raffle tickets (smile). After hearing about the prizes he is offering and the testimony of children and teachers he has worked with, I am tempted to toss my nickles into the ring for the good cause --winning a prize has nothing to do with it, of course (smile). I can just see myself with a ring side seat at the Monterey Jazz Festival.


Jews in hip hop are not new news, but a brother out of New York with the passion for his faith that Yitzach Jordan, "Yitz" for short, illustrates through the medium of hip hop or freestyle rap, is remarkable. Caleb Heller, director, editor, cinematographer & Pilar Hailé-Damato, producer capture much of this passion in their film about Yitz or Y-Love, in their recent film by its same title which is having it world premiere at the 32nd San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.

Y-Love is a film about faith; it's a film about following one's heart or passion with compassion. It is a film about choices and honesty.

If Y-Love is a question; it is also a challenge.

The directors traverse the continent with Yitz as he performs and eventually comes to terms with an aspect of his person that flips the film on its head, not quite a second or third take, rather a double take, which was so unexpected.

is the perpetual outsider. A child of mixed cultural heritage, Ethiopian and Puerto Rican, Yitz grows up in a dysfunctional home--father unknown and absent, mother more often than not inebriated or high, so the youngster reinvents family and adopts Judaism at seven and baptizes its adherents as his family--am I mixing religious metaphors (smile)?

East African roots calling him, Yitz ends up almost forsaken when he has to face himself and deal with the truth he'd been hiding. Yes, I am intentionally mysterious. Wait to see the film, surprise is good.

True to form, Yitz or
Y-Love, does not show up for the radio interview this morning. It's kind of early, eight in the morning, crazy inhuman hours for an artist, so I understand. Director, producer, Caleb and Pilar calling in from New York, represent well the man they have come to both know and respect for his artistry and his life. Though touted as the “premier Orthodox Jewish entity in hip hop, this documentary paints a poignant portrait of a perennial outsider: a Black, Jewish, gay orphan searching for a home.

I was assured that Yitz, located in Los Angeles now, will be attending the screening July 24,
11:40 AM --still kind of early, at the Castro Theatre in SF. The party the following night will feature Yitz as Y-Love with other guests. Visit

Listen to the fascinating interview (smile).

a.k.a. doc pomus

Peter Miller, dir. of a.k.a. doc pomus joins us to talk about the SFJFF closing night film at the Castro, July 26, 8:15 PM. The festival continues at other venues through Aug. 6, with screenings of a.k.a doc several more times: 7/28 at Cinearts, 8/4 at the Roda, and 8/5 at the Rafael. Visit

What attracted me to the film was the list of luminaries who sang songs pinned by a crippled Jewish man whom I'd never heard of--Doc Pomus a.k.a Jerome Solon Felder (June 27, 1925 - March 14, 1991).

Though I'd never heard of the protagonist, I did know many of 1000s of songs credited to him and the artists he'd made famous one hit at a time like Big Joe Turner, B.B. King, Ray Charles, Elvis Presley, Jimmy Witherspoon, Irma Thomas, The Pointer Sisters, Booker T and the MGs, Led Zepplin, Patti LaBelle and so on (smile).

We don't need to mention those titles Doc lost to other writer's whose names appeared in the credits, that are also hits, but the film essays into the industry tales with back stories of how studio executives controlled and shaped the market, its artists and to a certain extend its creative team. Doc who started out at 17 wanting to sing the blues and he did for ten years, was invited into the arena when record companies recognized his genius and invited him to write for their artists. This is an invitation that directed and shaped a career which continued until Doc died.

a.k.a is a hero's journey.

Imagine this country before ADA or Americans with Disabilities Act. Imagine America before accessible thinking. We still have a long way to go as a nation re: those we allow into the popular discourse and those we exclude or just forget to provide ramps for.

tells the story of what happens when despite inaccessibly one persists on knocking at and down doors.

We see Doc fitting in so well, so well in fact that people forget he can't walk. a.k.a shows us how passion for the music leads the youth to scale steep subway stairs on crutches, then when he is confined to a wheelchair after an accident later in life, the pain Doc suffers being upright and luxuries like access to a toilet many of us take for granted, he is denied.

Okay, this is not an ADA film, but a good film has multiple messages and as a disabled man, Doc's story is encouraging and cautionary. As a nation we have done much to grant access, but we can do more like provide better access to treatment for poorer disabled persons who do not have the loving support and/or privilege Doc was surrounded by all his life.

Doc's life, his dedication to his craft and willingness to stay the course when as Tina Turner sings, love was not enough or has anything to do with irreconcilable differences before the money runs out and the world seemed to crash into tiny pieces. Can you imagine a songwriter turned host of a gambling den?

Doc loves his children and his wife, then ex-wife as she loves him, if on film tears are any indication of her feelings as she speaks about the song he write for her: "Save the Last Dance for Me."

The man lives the life of an artist even if that means sacrificing one's comfort for the greater good. Scene after scene shows Doc surrounded by youth ears sharp, notebooks out as he shares trade secrets, hosts classes and lets serious aspiring artists in on the science of the craft. The writer seemed most productive when in the company of kindred spirits. Doc loved the arts and artists, and he stayed submerged and only came up for air to let go.

His body of work speaks for itself. Look at the breath of these songs, many performed in the film by the original artists: Alley Alley Alley, A World I Never Made, A World Of Broken Hearts, Blinded By Love, Blues Train, Body And Fender Man, Born Again Human, Can't Get Used To Losing You, Dance The Night Away With You, Double Trouble, From The Heart, Girl Happy, Go Jimmy Go, Heartlessly (Marie's The Name), His Latest Flame, Hound Dog Man, Hushabye, I Count The Tears, I Dig Girls, Imitation Of Love, I'm A Man, I Need A Girl, I Thought I Heard New Orleans Say, I Underestimated You, Just To Walk That Little Girl Home, King Cry Baby, Kiss Me Quick, Life Ain't Nothing But A Party, Little Sister, Lonely Avenue, Lonely Winds Long Lonely Highway, (A) Mess Of Blues, My Baby's Quit Me, Nobody But Me, No One, (There Is Always) One More Time, Pictures And Paintings, Plain Jane, Pot Luck, Prisoner Of Love, Room Full Of Tears, Save The Last Dance For Me, Seven Day Weekend, She's Everything To Me She's Not You, Slow Rolling Mama, Somebody New Dancing With You, Spanish Lace, Still In Love, Surrender, Suspicion, Sweets For My Sweet, (A) Teenager In Love, There Must Be A Better World Somewhere, This Magic Moment, To Hell With Love, Too Much Boogie True Love True Love, Turn Me Loose, The Victim, Viva Las Vegas, Wrong For Each Other, You Never Talked To Me That Way, Youngblood, Young Boy Blues, Your Other Love ( What's cool about this site is the author's personal stories and links to artists singing some of the songs listed here.

To listen to director Peter Miller talk about his primary experiences with Doc's journals and other personal effects, not to mention how fortuitous he was to have Doc's daughter Sharyn Felder, who is credited with conceiving the story, as a part of the production team, is to marvel at the gift it must be to have opportunity to do this work--that is, make films.

The scenes where the narrator, Doc's good friend, Lou Reed shares Doc's journals, are poignant. I wonder about the decision to share one's personal writing once one is gone. Is his spirit happy with his heir's decision to put his feelings and private thoughts on blast?

A professionally trained fine arts photographer, not only is Felder intimately connected to the story, as I mentioned to Peter this morning, she seems to have collected all the elements a director would need to tell the story of a man whose music is an important part of the American cultural fabric. Now, his story is too.

Though historic, one doesn't feel like a.k.a. doc pomus is a history text, unless one compares the film to Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States and Voices of a People's History. Doc's story is one of those voices, recorded many years ago, dusty, yet in pristine condition- a.k.a doc pomus, directed by Peter Miller puts the record back on the turnstile--a sure hit (smile). The screening at the Castro Thursday, July 26, is going to feature locals artists doing a live medley of Doc Pomus hits.

Etta James Tribute

We close with one of our favorite guests, Kim Nalley, who is having another residency at the Rrazz Room at Hotel Nikko, through July 22. July 18, is a special tribute to Etta James with special guests: Sugar Pie DeSanto, Ms. James's contemporary, Lady Mem'fis, Denise Perrier, and Mike Olmos, trumpeter for Ms. James. Visit

Music: Selections from Kim Nalley's Nina Simone tribute album and Etta James's "At Last."

A new mother, returning to the stage after a medical sabbatical where the singer had to stay off her feet for six months, instead of spending time just with her baby girl, Lydia Susan, Nalley takes time to spend with her other babies, her fans who have been waiting patiently for her return.

If her two days at the Fillmore Jazz Festival are a gauge of what fans can expect, two weeks beginning July 11, will pass too quickly as Nalley chills with her quartet, treating audiences to her songbook and incredible eclectic taste and range. July 18 is an opportunity for audiences to catch a bit of Kim, the thespian, with a cast of women who will evoke the presence of Sister Etta James, a woman whose name could have been Miss Reinvention or perhaps Sister Etta just kept the ball moving to keep life interesting.