As COVID-19 continues to spread its deadly contagious germs around the world I sadly continue to report deaths of those committed to jazz and the world of music.
SAMUEL “Sam” HARGRESS JR. died on April 10 at Mount Sinai Morningside Hospital in Manhattan. He was 84. His son said the cause was complications of the coronavirus.
I had the pleasure of meeting Hargress in 2014 when he was interviewed for this column. Paris Blues, his local Harlem bar, became more than just a place only cherished by community elders. During its heyday it was a place where seniors hung out and reminisced, and where hustlers stood around rapping about their latest conquests as the jukebox blasted a James Brown tune, while folks constantly came in for a quick drink and to check the winning number for the day.
Despite gentrification and technology, the little homey community bar Paris Blues continued to flourish. In 2014 Hargress celebrated his 45th anniversary in the same location at 2021 Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd. as when he opened on November 15, 1969.
After a diligent search he found this location and purchased the entire building; he lived upstairs. Hargress related two experiences that led to the name Paris Blues: “When I was stationed in Paris, the French treated Black soldiers with respect. But coming from Alabama, Black people were not treated with respect and racism was everywhere which caused us to have the blues.”
Paris Blues was reflective of the earlier television series “Cheers” with its theme song, “Sometimes you just want to go where everybody knows your name and they are always glad you came.” The customers were Hargress’ friends, not just folks who came in to purchase drinks.
Paris Blues offered live jazz every night with complimentary home-cooked peas and rice and bar-b-que chicken and no cover charge. He had the jukebox computerized and encouraged senior citizens to come in to chat or watch the big screen TV during weekday afternoons and on the weekends.
One of the wooden panels behind the bar was covered with photos. He had a picture of Rosa Parks and trombonist Wycliffe Gordon, who lived down the block. The owner noted with pride, “I knew him when he was a young man before he became famous.”
Paris Blues survived the horrendous drug epidemic that caused a significant rise in crime, followed by New York City’s fiscal crash. During those times Hargress was so well respected that some faithful customers continued to come to the bar and a watch patrol was organized. Paris Blues is a Harlem institution attracting 65-70% of the tourism market. Many college students and Harlem residents came for the jazz.
The award-winning filmmaker/director Nadhege Ptah produced the short film “Paris Blues in Harlem” released in 2018. The production, filmed at the bar, starred Hargress, with Ptah as the grand-daughter. The film received the Harriet Tubman Award.
Hargress, known as being a very slick dresser, presumably one of the best dressed club/bar owners in Harlem and New York City, stated in our interview, “I’m like Frank Sinatra, I’ve been up, down and all around.” Sam’s smile, big laugh and stories of Harlem’s past will surely be missed.
BOOTSIE BARNES, the thunderous tenor saxophonist who was the sun of Philadelphia’s jazz scene and a legend to generations of musicians from Philly and beyond, died at Lankenau Medical Center in Wynnewood, Pa. on April 22. He was 82.
His wife, Sandra Turner-Barnes, said he had been hospitalized for 22 days and died from COVID-19.
I first met Barnes at the Cape May Jazz Festival in the mid-1990s. His performance was a memorable experience, leaving me in awe. He had a relentless, bodacious sound that hit all the right pockets. He was a welcomed regular performer at Cape May’s annual jazz festival in New Jersey. He was the consummate Philly jazz musician and I looked forward to seeing him at the festival every year.
Barnes was as essential to the Philly jazz scene as Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff were to The Sound of Philadelphia (TSOP). He grew up in West Philly, and began earning his reputation in the 1950s by playing with his homeboys: trumpeter Lee Morgan, and drummers Philly Joe Jones and Al “Tootie” Heath. He also played with his close friend Bill Cosby, who was considering a post in live jazz at the time as a drummer. He appeared on organist Don Patterson’s recording “Why Not” (Muse, 1978).
Robert “Bootsie” Barnes was born on November 27, 1937 in Philadelphia and grew up in the Richard Allen Homes in North Philadelphia. His father played trumpet in the Air Force jazz band and his uncle Jimmy Hamilton played clarinet for Duke Ellington.
“I had Bootsie on my show a couple of dozen times,” said Bob Perkins, jazz DJ on Temple University radio station WRTI-FM. “And I always used to say he was as indigenous to Philadelphia as cheesesteaks, hoagies, Philly scrapple and probably Billy Penn.”
Barnes had this smile that just drew you in. If you asked someone if they knew him the response would be, “Yeah Bootsie Barnes can play his butt off” or “Man, Bootsie is a hell of a cat.” His music will live on to inspire new generations and his bright spirit will continue to shine on us.
LITTLE RICHARD, whose dynamic singing and piano playing defined rock and roll and left an undeniable impression on artists from James Brown to the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Prince, and Janelle Monáe died on May 9, in Nashville, Tenn. He was 87.
His agent Dick Alen confirmed in People Magazine he died from bone cancer.
“Little Richard” Penniman has been described as “The Innovator” or “The Originator” of rock and roll. He came up with the title “The Architect of Rock and Roll” in response to Elvis being crowned the “King.” The truth? Little Richard was rock and roll. His outrageous style, his raspy high-ranging voice, the way he pounded the hell out of the piano, and his wailing back beat as the tenor saxophonist went crazy says it all. Just put his photo in Merriam Webster to replace the words rock and roll.
Little Richard was the epitome of Black music. He came out of the Baptist church, where he sang in the choir, gospel music as well as the blues and rock and roll. The flamboyant singer on stage went straight to the soul like any Baptist minister, but he implemented the fire and brimstone of rock and roll, that raspy shouting cadence, the sweat, the bangin’ piano chords his screeching took audiences into a frenzy, and those feet just wouldn’t stay still, the dancing was uncontrollable—screaming ladies Black and white bum-rushing stages was the ministry of Little Richard.
It was a difficult task to keep segregated audiences (Blacks upstairs in the balcony and whites downstairs) in their places during his shows. He ultimately became one of the first crossover Black artists, bringing audiences of all races together from the north to down south. During an interview he once stated he became more flamboyant so no one would think he was “after the white girls.”
Little Richard was uninhibited and unpredictable on stage. He often lifted his leg while playing piano (a move that was a Ray Charles signature), and would stand on the piano, or run off stage into the crowd and throw his jacket into the audience. His stage fashions included colorful capes, blouse shirts and suits studded with multi-colored precious stones and sequins.
He was from the start a music innovator, a fashionable trend-setter, extremely outspoken, holding no bars to his thoughts and feelings (ironically, the same could be said of Miles Davis). He personified rock and roll—in his stride, in his voice, in his music, in his attitude. In the midst of segregation, this Black man stood up and followed his own path. He was uninhibited and unpredictable onstage, a route the entertainment industry and society had never witnessed before.
Penniman’s first hit song “Tutti Frutti” (1955), one of his signature songs, crossed over to the pop charts in both the United States and the United Kingdom. His next hit single, “Long Tall Sally” (1956), hit No. 1 on the Billboard chart, followed by a rapid succession of 15 more hit singles in less than three years.
Penniman was invited to perform at the Cavalcade of Jazz Festival held at Wrigley Field in Los Angeles in 1956. He shared the stage with such jazz artists as Dinah Washington, Julie Stevens, Chuck Higgins’ Orchestra, Willie Hayden & Five Black Birds, and Gerald Wilson and his orchestra.
During a five-year period beginning in 1957, Penniman abandoned rock and roll music for born-again Christianity.
Upon his return to live performances he toured Europe in the first half of the 1960s, with the Rolling Stones and the Beatles supporting him. They learned from Little Richard how to be rock stars.
In 1965, Penniman joined forces with Jimi Hendrix and Billy Preston and they recorded the Don Covay soul ballad, “I Don’t Know What You’ve Got (But It’s Got Me),” which became a number 12 R&B hit. Hendrix was a member of Penniman’s band for a period of time before leaving to join the Isley Brothers’ band, the IB Special.
Little Richard, born Richard Wayne Penniman, was born in Macon, Georgia, on December 5, 1932, the third of 12 children of Leva Mae (née Stewart) and Charles “Bud” Penniman. His father was a church deacon and a brick mason. His mother was a member of Macon’s New Hope Baptist Church. Richard began singing in church at a young age.
Penniman was eons ahead of his contemporaries when it came to stage presence and fashion. The pancake makeup, eye-liner, processed hair and wigs with that pencil mustache was his stage persona that kept some wondering and others confused but all remained hypnotized to his sound.
Regardless, the fact is he celebrated life and along the way changed the music culture forever while influencing generations of superstars across musical genres such as Bruno Mars, or Otis Redding, who started his career with Little Richard’s band, The Upsetters. Tina Turner based her early vocal delivery on Little Richard’s vocals; Rod Stewart and Michael Jackson also took chapters from the Little Richard playbook. He influenced David Bowie and Prince, two incredible creative performers, who both dressed in cross-gender fashions while pushing their male sexuality to another curve. The actor, director and screenwriter John Waters noted his pencil mustache is in admiration of Little Richard.