Tenor Saxophonist Javon Jackson Joins Forces With Nikki Giovanni On New Album

New York, NY (Top40 Charts) Why would one of poetry’s most revered voices want to curate a jazz saxophonist’s album of gospel hymns and spirituals? “These songs are so important,” says Nikki Giovanni, one of Oprah Winfrey’s 25 “Living Legends” and a Maya Angelou Lifetime Achievement Award winner for 2017. “They comforted people through times of slavery, and during recent years we needed them to comfort us again. But a lot of the students today do not know about the history of these songs, and they should. So I’m out here putting water on the flowers, because they need a drink.”

Giovanni’s historic collaboration with saxophonist-composer and former Jazz Messenger Javon Jackson has yielded The Gospel According to Nikki Giovanni, available February 18, 2022 on his Solid Jackson label. “The spirituals have been around so long,” says the renowned poet, activist and educator, who came to prominence in the 1960s and ’70s as a foundational member of the Black Arts movement following the publication of such early works as 1968’s book of poetry Black Feeling, Black Talk/Black Judgment and 1970’s Re:Creation. “Some spirituals have been updated and stayed around and some have been lost over time,” Giovanni notes “So for me, it’s just helping to keep something going. And I do it because there’s a need.”

Jackson brings his bold-toned, Trane-inspired tenor lines to bear on a series of hymns, spirituals and gospel numbers hand-picked by Giovanni, who was also the first person to receive the Rosa L. Parks Women of Courage Award. And the 78-year-old poet makes a rare vocal appearance on the tender ballad “Night Song,” singing a song identified with her close friend, the late civil rights activist and High Priestess of Soul, Nina Simone. “Nina was a friend of mine, and I knew that one of her favorite songs was ‘Night Song’,” she explains. “And even though I’m not a singer, I told Javon I wanted to sing it because I just wanted Nina to be remembered.” Jackson, who flew to Nikki’s home in Roanoke, Virginia, to record her vocal track on the existing instrumental tracks, says, “I sat beside her when she sang it and by the time she finished that chorus, I was deeply moved. I just love the fragile nature of the way she treated it. It was very emotional.”

Joined by an outstanding crew comprised of pianist Jeremy Manasia, bassist David Williams and drummer McClenty Hunter – the same lineup that appeared on Jackson’s 2018 album For You and his 2020 follow-up, Deja Vu – Jackson interprets gospel staples like “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” “Wade in the Water,” “Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel” and “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” with authoritative tenor tones, deep walking bass lines and an organic sense of group swing. “It’s the first time I worked in a collaborative manner,” Jackson says. “The project is personal for me. I come from a lineage of devout Christians, and that has afforded me the chance to connect with that ancestral stream.”

The Gospel According to Nikki Giovanni came about through a serendipitous meeting between the two principals when Jackson, a faculty member of The Hartt School at the University of Hartford and director of its Jackie McLean Institute of Jazz, invited Giovanni to speak to his students there. As he recalls, “Ever since I’ve been at the University of Hartford, I felt that the school would be well-served to bring great scholars of color and scholars who were freedom fighters and activists, if you will. So I brought in Dr. Cornel West, Sonia Sanchez, Angela Davis and Michael Eric Dyson. Then in February of 2020, I brought Nikki Giovanni.”

The renowned poet’s appearance at the University coincided with her receiving an honorary doctorate there. And as Jackson recalls, “After Nikki spoke to the students, she noticed that the Hank Jones and Charlie Haden CD of hymns and spirituals (1994’s Steal Away) was playing in the auditorium. She said she loved it and wanted to hear more, and just then I was hit with the idea. Two days later, after she returned to her home in Roanoke, I contacted her and said, ‘Would you be willing to pick 10 hymns? And that’ll be my next recording.’ She got back to me in a few days and gave me the 10 selections.”

The collection opens with the driving shuffle “Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel,” a spiritual recorded by Paul Robeson in 1937. Jackson delivers the melody in straightforward fashion with golden tenor tones before Manasia “goes to church” on his piano solo. The minor-key “Wade in the Water” is lifted by a mid-tempo swing feel, paced by Williams’ deep walking basslines and Hunter’s steady, syncopated ride-cymbal pulse. After Jackson delivers a robust tenor solo and Manasia follows suit with an earthy piano solo, Christina Greer enters, dropping some wisdom from Giovanni’s poem “A Very Simple Wish.” As Jackson explains, “For this, I reached out to Markeysha Davis, an assistant professor of Africana studies and literature at the University of Hartford. She is really a fan and knows Nikki’s work far better than I do. Nikki’s got 50 years’ worth of poetry, so I didn’t know where to begin. But I sent Markeysha John Coltrane’s ‘Spiritual’ to give her an idea of what we were trying to do, and she came back with that poem.”

The quartet’s rendition of the dirge-like “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child” carries the somber feeling of Coltrane’s “Equinox,” while their interpretation of “Mary Had a Baby, Yes Lord” recalls Trane’s powerful civil-rights era requiem, “Alabama.” “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms,” one of Giovanni’s favorites from her own Baptist church upbringing, is rendered at a loping beat, conveying a distinctive Southern gospel feel. “A lot of times when I’ve heard this song in church, it’s a little faster, a little more upbeat,” Jackson says. “I wanted to make it slower, where I could really expose the melody a lot more and lay on some of those phrases-so I could be as emotive as possible with the melody, as if I was playing in church with people in the audience.”

“I’ve Been ‘Buked,” a spiritual sung by Mahalia Jackson in front of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington onAugust 28, 1963, where Dr. Martin Luther King also delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech,” opens with some dramatic unaccompanied arco bass work by Williams before the full band enters with Jackson conveying the melody simply and deliberately. “In a perfect world, I would love to have had David bowing with Paul Robeson singing that melody,” says the leader. “The bow is so beautiful because, to me, it’s close to the human voice in a way.”

Jackson and company render the normally somber “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” as a buoyant calypso. In fact, you can hear the saxophonist directly quoting from Sonny Rollins’ most famous calypso, “St. Thomas,” midway through the song. Bassist Williams, being from Trinidad, is uniquely qualified to provide the requisite bounce on this ebullient calypso rendition of this well-known African American spiritual. “Doing that song this way is a reminder that the departure or the transition doesn’t have to be one of sadness,” says Jackson. “We don’t want it to be where the person or persons listening to the CD become downtrodden. We want it to be celebratory. It’s like what Art Blakey always used to tell us: ‘You cry when they come in, and you rejoice when they go out.’ I never forgot that.”

The most intimate piece of the collection is the gentle hymn “Lord, I Want to Be a Christian,” performed as a rubato duet between Jackson’s tenor sax and Manasia’s piano. The quartet closes on a rousing note with a swinging “I Opened My Mouth to the Lord,” which again features Williams’ deeply resonant bass carrying the melody and Jackson in strong ‘speechifying’ mode on tenor sax. Manasia also turns in an exhilarating piano solo here, and even drummer Hunter gets a solo taste near the end of this triumphant closer.

Captured live at Telefunken Studios in South Windsor, Connecticut, the 10 tunes on The Gospel According to Nikki Giovanniwere all done without the use of headphones, another first for Jackson. “I’ve never done a recording before in a studio where I didn’t use headphones, so it felt like performing a gig,” he says. “We never counted off a piece and there were no endings, where I might dictate or give a direction towards an ending. I really wanted to do it just like if you’re in church, where there’s a preacher talking and all of a sudden the choir begins. So each time, whether the bass would start the tune or the piano or myself, there were no count-offs because I wanted to make it as natural as possible.”

“This music is something that people will probably be a little surprised to see coming from me,” Jackson says. But given the state of the world, it could be just in time. Both poet and saxophonist stand on the shoulders of their ancestors on The Gospel According to Nikki Giovanni.
https://www.javonjackson.com
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Edison’s amazing talking machine

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WARREN — James Valesky brought his personal collection of Edison and Victrola phonographs to the Warren Heritage Center for his recent lecture, “Thomas Edison’s Amazing Talking Machine.”

“He invented the talking machine in 1877,” Valesky said of Edison. “It was actually by accident. They were working on other things — telegraphs, telephones and all those things — and he was thinking that, Ok, maybe we can capture this (sound) and record it in some way.”

Valesky, a history enthusiast and president of the Warren Heritage Center, explained that Edison attached a needle to a diaphragm and pressed the needle to a rotating cylinder covered in tin foil, and the recording was able to be played back.

“You could make out distinct sounds, but it was not high fidelity by any means,” Valesky said of early tin foil cylinder recordings. He said Edison put the idea “back on the shelf” for around two decades because he didn’t believe it was commercially viable — though Edison did take his machine on tour in 1878.

“He just amazed the world with how cool it was.”

At the turn of the 20th century, Edison started selling the machines to the public, Valesky said. He had first intended the machines to capture notes and speeches, like a dictaphone, but eventually realized there was a market for people to listen to music.

After the cylinder machines became popular, another format emerged — machines that played flat discs. Typically referred to as Victrolas, the predecessors to the modern record player were purely mechanical, with no electricity involved. More robust and more user-friendly, that style of player eventually became more popular than the more complicated cylinder machines, Valesky explained.

Valesky’s collection includes both Edison cylinder machines and Victrolas from the late 1800s and early 1900s, some of which are always on display at the Kinsman House. For his lecture, he brought in a factory-original 1905 Edison Home phonograph, which can play two minute and four minute celluloid cylinders.

His smaller Edison Standard machine plays two minute wax cylinders, which are easier to find in good condition than the celluloid ones, Valesky said.

The roughly 20 people in attendance at the lecture had the opportunity to examine cylinders and discs, and start and stop the machines.

“I don’t want people to be afraid of the machines,” Valesky said, adding the phonographs were made to be handled by the average person. “They’re very, very resilient.”

Valesky said he chose the topic for the lecture because people should understand the history and how items taken for granted today began with discoveries long ago.

The phonograph was important in its time not only because it led to modern sound recording and playing, but also because it allowed people to preserve sound.

“They’re like time machines,” Valesky said of the machines. “You were able to capture a moment in time and save it for future generations.”

Valesky’s talk last week was one in a series of recent Warren Heritage Center lectures at the Kinsman House on Mahoning Avenue in Warren.

“Overhearing people talking about the lecture after the fact, they were really enthused,” said Warren Heritage board member Melanie Vincent, an organizer of the nonprofit’s lecture series.

Vincent said the goal of the lectures is simply to spread knowledge.

The next scheduled talk at the Warren Heritage Center is “Victorian Valentines” at 6 p.m. Feb. 11. Warren historical players Dr. Ronald Brooks and Dr. Gregory George will talk about the origin of the modern Valentine’s Day celebration.

A two-day lecture series celebrating Black History Month is scheduled for 6 p.m. Feb. 21 and 22. On the first night, local artist Sonja Davenport will talk about African-American art. The next evening, a black history lecture by Warren Mayor Doug Franklin will be followed by a visit from Frederick Douglass, portrayed by Carlos Rush.

All Warren Heritage Center lectures are free and open to the public.

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Eureka’s NAACP held a virtual event to Commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

EUREKA, Calif.(KIEM)- Each year, we observe Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s day on the third Monday of January. The day honors MLK, a civil rights leader and minister, assassinated in 1968.

Pre-covid, we honored the day by participating in a march or an MLK parade. Unfortunately, events were canceled throughout the country due to the ongoing pandemic.

This January 17th Eureka NAACP held the 27th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s holiday and day of service. Members of Eureka NAACP and other community members commemorated Dr.King. But they started their presentation by first acknowledging the land Eureka is on.

“We acknowledge that the land many of us are on is the land, the unceded territory of the Wyatt peoples…And it has been a place for the Wyatt to take a break when traveling north in a canoe from the south bay… to the mad river,” said Sharonne Blanck, President for Eureka NAACP.

They had performances throughout the event by black artists, spoken word artists, and community members. 

“To my black king better yeat… my lord. Don’t you know you are our protector, full armor plus the sword? And your armor is your strength. It is your skin that mesmerizes melanin and your sword the words that pour from your lips,” said Sandra Martin, Spokenword Artist.

NAACP President shared her favorite Dr. King quote.

“If you can’t fly, then run. If you can’t run, then walk. If you can’t walk, then crawl. But whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward,” said Sharonne Blanck.

President Blank announced the David Josiah Lawson Scholarship that will be awarded to 3 local high school students for one thousand dollars each.

In the end, community members were invited to a virtual vendor lobby to shop virtually from local businesses.

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American Visionary Art Museum Hosts MLK Day Poetry Slam

BALTIMORE (WJZ) — The American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore held a poetry slam event honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

“It’s just a really important day for us to think about what Martin Luther King was doing and saying and how his words are still relevant today and the lessons we still need to continue to learn from him,” American Visionary Art Museum Director of Education Beka Plum said.

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The museum, located in Federal Hill, offered free admission Monday so that people could come to see the art and experience spoken word poetry.

Normally, the museum is full of people for the annual event.

“This event is usually our biggest free day of the year where we have birthday cake that we serve for 1,000 people,” Plum said.

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This year, the submissions were made virtually. The museum also played them inside for those who came to visit.

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“It’s a testament to the vitality of human spirit,” museum visitor Karishma Habbu said. “We always keep going. There is always hope. You’re never going to erase it.”

The museum also highlighted art made by black artists and promoted their gallery dedicated to compassion.

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“We hope we can inspire people and they can find those same values in our museum that Dr. Martin Luther King embraced: tolerance, dignity and respect for the individual and all the gifts they can give.”

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‘Traveling While Black’ art exhibit features an iconic DC restaurant

Ben’s Chili Bowl acted as a safe haven for Black travelers in the 1950s and ’60s.

MCLEAN, Va. — In the 1950s and ’60s, navigating your way around the country, while Black, wasn’t always safe. A traveling virtual reality exhibit currently at the McLean Community Center highlights the travel perils Black people faced. 

“Traveling While Black” shares the history of the Green Book, a tool created to help Black people travel around the country safely. The virtual experience allows you to travel as if you were a Black person in the ’50s and ’60s. 

“For a moment, it gives you the perception of what it might be like to be in a Black person’s life,” said Daniel Singh, the director of McLean Community Center. “Where you can’t escape it, it’s all around you.”

One of the first experiences visitors will have is stepping inside an iconic D.C. restaurant: Ben’s Chili Bowl. Owner Virginia Ali shares her own stories about the harsh realities of travel at that time, illustrating why the Green Book became a vital resource to know safe places to stop for gas, food, etc.  Ali created Ben’s to be both a safe haven for fellow Black travelers, as well as a community center for locals. 

“It’s not just about what happened in the past, but what’s happening right now,” Singh said. “I think this film is helping them sit back and listen a little bit and say there are things I don’t know, but I need to learn. The biggest thing that we find surprising is that people don’t know how prevalent racism is in our country in our backyards.”

After the virtual tour, guests can write messages about their experiences on cards. 

“Hopefully they’ll continue to learn more of what they didn’t know and start working to fix those problems,” Singh said. “We can also all be part of the solution. And to me, that’s what’s exciting, is to undo the systemic racism, the institutional racism, and start working towards … making it safe for everyone to be a part of this community.” 

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Civil rights struggles honored at Stillman with art walk

By WVUA 23 News Reporter Asher Redd

Stillman College hosted its fifth annual MLK Legacy Art Walk over the weekend, just ahead of Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday.

Stillman Art, Music and Language Education Department Chair Jesse Wheeler said it’s imperative that we remember and honor Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy.

“The importance of fulfilling his dream, continuing the march so to speak,” Wheeler said. “All of the events this week, including the art walk, are really geared to just keep people active, keep people feeling encouraged, inspired and really fortified.”

Stillman Art Education Coordinator Kelly Shannon said events like these are great for the whole community.

“One, because it gets people to Stillman’s campus,” Shannon said. “Two, it exposes them to the arts and the arts community, and to share our beautiful campus and our wonderfully talented artists with the world.”

The event began five years ago with the goal of featuring prominent Black artists. Now, it’s a highly anticipated event every year.

Featured Artist Danny Broadway said his art is best appreciated by anyone who wants to look beyond the surface.

“What always inspired me has been a connection to people,” Broadway said. “I love people. As you can see, most of my work is figurative in nature, meaning that I’m dealing with real people, real situations and things that people experience, and then hopefully, things that we have in common. It’s meant to be appreciated by anybody who can see the human quality in it and the beauty in it.”

Posted by Stillman College on Saturday, January 15, 2022

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Colts hit the ice

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The Hanna Colts hockey teams were back on the ice this weekend with the U9 Yellow facing off against Drumheller and the U9 Black facing off against Kneehill Black.

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U11 T4

The U11 T4 team took on Drumheller on Jan. 9, suffering a 20-4 loss in their away game. The team will have their next home game on Jan. 22 against Coronation at 11 a.m.

U11 T3

The U11 T3 team had a game against Big Valley on Jan. 8, winning 11-1. The teams next home game will be on Jan. 22 against Kneehill at 1 p.m.

U13

The U13 team had a Jan. 15 home game against Delburn which they won 10-3. The team will have two games at the end of January on the 28 at 8 p.m. against Delburn again and on the 29 against Bentley at 1 p.m.

U15

The U15 team had a Jan. 14 game against Oyen, where they had a 6-2 win and a Jan. 15 game against Indus there they had a 6-0 win. The team has no more home games this month.

U18

The U18 have had a quiet January so far with no games. Their first home game will be on Jan. 22 against Olds at 6:15 p.m.

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‘Art of the Black Experience’ showcases Black artists in New Orleans

The exhibit will be at Ashé Cultural Arts Center until January 28.

NEW ORLEANS — The Art of the Black Experience exhibit is on display at the Ashé Cultural Arts Center (1712 Oretha Castle Boulevard) until January 28th. It’s all about showcasing black art and supporting black artists.

“We are super excited here at the Ashé Cultural Arts Center to be in partnership with the Arts Council of New Orleans for the Art of the Black Experience exhibit,” said the Chief Equity Officer for Ashé Cultural Arts Center, Asali Devan Ecclesiastes.

Ecclesiastes knows that Black artists haven’t always received the support they need to thrive.

“The reason we are super excited is that this is an equity show. ‘The Art of the Black Experience’ attempts to fix that history, and this is a show that is 90% black artists…investing in our local culture bearers in the way that they deserve,” said Ecclesiastes

Nic Brierre Aziz is one of the artists in the show.

“I’m an artist in this exhibition. My piece is entitled, “When the Slaves Go Marching In: Charles Deslonde.” It’s part of my Rafters series of work which is exploring the 1811 slave rebellion and the history of enslaved Africans being branded with the fleur-de-lis,” said Aziz.

Another one of Aziz’s pieces is part of the Sugar exhibition at Antenna Gallery (3718 St. Claude) until February 6th.

Kentrice Schexnayder has a piece in the show entitled “Teedy.”

“She basically represents the women in our lives who took on motherly roles who were not our biological moms but still nurtured us, fed us, took care of us as if they were. She represents that woman that is a part of the village that it takes to raise a child,” said Schexnayder.

Schexnayder has a solo show for Black History Month. Visit her website for more details: ken6studio.com.

If you want to snag one of these beautiful works at Ashé, you’ll have to head over to see what’s still available. Most of the art in the show was purchased by the city of New Orleans to become part of their permanent collection.

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Muskegon students spend MLK Day as docents for art museum

MUSKEGON, Mich. — About a dozen art students from Muskegon High School spent Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day at the Muskegon Museum of Art. The students were there to help visitors better understand works on display, and the artist who created the works.

“This is my first time doing something like this,” said Muskegon High School art student Issys Hilliard. “I think it’s great, and especially being on Martin Luther King Day because I know there are some pieces created by Black artists.” 

“It’s special for them to see all of the different opportunities in art, the different styles of art that they could pursue,” added Muskegon Museum of Art Curator of Education Heather Placko.  

The fifth annual MLK Day at the MMA included free admission, a film screening of “Black Man” throughout the day and interactive tours of work by African American artists that are part of the museum’s permanent collection.

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Canada Post recognizes Eleanor Collins with stamp

TORONTO — “Canada’s first lady of jazz” Eleanor Collins is getting her own commemorative stamp.

Canada Post says the 102-year-old music legend will be celebrated at a virtual event Friday that will reveal the stamp and pay tribute to Collins’ life and career “as an artist, musician and mentor.” 

Collins is set to take part along with special guests who were influenced by and worked with her, including Nalda Callender of the National Congress of Black Women Foundation, filmmaker Sylvia Hamilton, and musicians Sharman King, Marcus Mosely, and Wendy Solloway.

The Edmonton-born Collins began performing in the 1930s on television and radio shows across the country, and has worked with everyone from Dizzy Gillespie to Oscar Peterson.

In 1954, she joined CBC’s “Bamboula: A Day in the West Indies” and became part of the first interracial cast on Canadian television. A year later, she starred in “The Eleanor Show,” which made her the first woman and first Black artist to headline their own national television series.

On her 95th birthday in 2014, Collins was invested into the Order of Canada for being “a civic leader and pioneer in the development of British Columbia’s music industry.”

An in-person event had originally been scheduled but was moved online due to recent COVID-19 protocols and restrictions. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 17, 2022.

Sadaf Ahsan, The Canadian Press

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