Jazz Giving Oaklanders Hope

We weren’t sure what to expect at the “Celtic to Coltrane” performance yesterday, and left the Malonga Casquelourd Center filled with pride about the local jazz scene.  It was such an upper!

The hostess and organizer, Destiny, decided to celebrate her birthday in grand style.  During the concert, she invited a parade of musicians to the stage and encouraged them all.  Meanwhile, the audience bowed at the Church of Coltrane’s altar.

Oakland's Church Of Coltrane

The Players ranged from talented unknowns to old hands.  Destiny kicked things off with her harp and soulful singing, and was later joined by her Strings of a Nubian GrooveNona Brown, who’s backed Patti LaBelle, played piano and sang with Destiny.  D’Wayne Wiggins also played a little guitar – one day Alicia Keyes, the next in our ‘hood.

The Kids were the real stars yesterday, performing as part of Oaktown Jazz.  Under the tutelage of trumpeter Khalil Shaheed, we heard a 10-year-old crooning, a couple 12-year-olds on flute and piano, two saxophonists, a bass player and an amazing drummer.  The future brought big grins to everyone there.

The Church of Coltrane wrapped up the concert, with a little preaching and benediction by Pastor Wanika Stevens.  He gave thanks to John Will-I-Am Coltrane and the spirit of jazz, while we all chanted A Love Supreme together.  Just a typical, spiritual Sunday afternoon in Oakland!

How Do You Create A Song?

How do you create a song?  No, not a melody with words.

We mean Strings of a Nubian Groove, and this S.O.N.G. was created by three Oaklanders who had been making music with kids in the ‘hood as well as jazz cognoscenti – and who now perform a new kind of classical, spiritual and jazz fusion as a trio.

SONG. After Performance

In their own words, S.O.N.G. is about this fusion:

S.O.N.G. is an ensemble of musical Mavericks!  Destiny, sound sculptress aka harpist from the hood, Tarika Lewis the rebirth of Jimmie Hendrix on electric BLUE violin and Vince Tolliver “The Preacher Man” on electric and acoustic viola.  We come together and create music!  We sometimes call it “Ethno eclectic, classical/crossover/jazz fusion.”  And sometimes it just feels so GOOD we don’t know WHAT to call it – but the main thing:  We are having FUN and that’s most important.

SONG. In Performance

The S.O.N.G. Concert

Since this music doesn’t fall neatly into a specific genre, it sometimes stays hidden from view.  Fortunately we were able to hear S.O.N.G. perform their ethereal music during a sultry afternoon, at Sundays In The Redwoods.  Using a concert-sized harp, violin, viola and voice, this ensemble took the audience on a spiritual trip – that wasn’t new-agey at all.

This group created original treatments based on familiar themes or melodies.  While we recognized classical, broadway, folk and rock melodies, the actual tunes were secondary to the performances.  Some of the arrangements flowed across the strings and others sounded almost like guitars jamming away.  And yet the music numbers worked well together in concert, whether more classical or jazzy in nature.

S.O.N.G. mostly performed instrumentals last Sunday.  However on Michael Row Your Boat, we heard a spiritual rendition sung by Destiny.  The sound of her voice and rhythmic repetitions were the appeal, rather than words themselves.  She contributed a soulful, fourth instrument during the performance.

The S.O.N.G. Musicians

They are a highly-talented collection of musicians!  The lead arranger, performer and self-described Harpist from the Hood is Destiny, who’s originally from LA’s Compton hood and now lives in Oakland.  Watch her video performance, including Amazing Grace (at 6:00).  This harpist-vocalist fearlessly treads across the genres, including more spiritual music on earlier albums like Sacred Bath.

The violinist, Tarika Lewis, teaches both classical and jazz violin to inner-city Oakland children.  She has also performed with jazz greats like John Handy, and her violin playing has tremendous range!  Tarika’s a multi-talented artist as well as musician, who illustrates kids books and does graphic designs.  (As a side note, she was an early civil rights activist with the Black Panthers.)

Last but not least, Vince Tolliver plays viola for the trio.  He has been part of the Oakland music scene for years, performing in eponymous quintet and quartet groups.  Listen to this piece called Sugar (click on MP3 here), which is a lovely traditional jazz number.  He also directs the instrumental music department at Skyline High’s Performing Arts Academy, including their marching band.

More info:   For S.O.N.G. updates and performances, please visit Destiny’s Harpist from the Hood web site as well as the S.O.N.G. MySpace page.  The trio has recorded a CD, and sells them for $10 each (plus $2 shipping and handling in the USA).  To buy a CD, please send snail mail to S.O.N.G. aka Strings of a Nubian Groove, 1428 Alice Street, Suite 406, Oakland, CA 94612; email to harpistfromthehood@hotmail.com; or call 510-465-7794.