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 http://www.jazzanddemocracy.com
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.
Y-Love 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 www.sfjff.org
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 http://akadocpomus.com/
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.
a.k.a 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 (http://www.felderpomus.com/docpomus1.html 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 www.therrazzroom.com
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.