We are still adjusting to this twilight zone reality insane sane world of COVID-19. This coronavirus has shut down the universe and left us to practice social-distancing, shelter-in-place and self-quarantine, and it has made live music a yearning thought, swinging memories of a hip world that seems so far gone.
The thought on everyone’s mind in the jazz community is what are the musicians doing in the midst of this drama. Here two amazing musicians, vocalist Lezlie Harrison and bassist/composer Dezron Douglas, discuss their life and plans in the midst of this pandemic.
Harrison is an incredible jazz vocalist, who swings in the rhythm of Carmen McRae with a sassy/witty Pearl Bailey stage presence. She sings from the Great American Soul Songbook interpreting genres from Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye to Bob Dylan and jazz standards.
“I had plans, things to do, up-coming gigs—now my calendar is so clear,” says Harrison. “I had carved out a nice little groove. You work so hard to get somewhere creatively then it’s taken away—now what!?” Well, for the moment Harrison is working on the final touches of her album “SOUL BOOK” slated for release in July. “All the tracks have been recorded, mixed and mastered,” she stated joyfully. “We are just working on the liner notes, artwork and licensing.” She was originally set to hire a photographer for the album photo shoot, but now she feels maybe she can do it herself. Extra time has a way of bringing out all types of new creative energies and ideas. She is also contemplating dropping one of the tracks as a single. Since her record release party and performance album promotions at various jazz clubs seem almost null and void, she says, “Time will tell but for sure working on this album is keeping me sane.”
She is thinking about a plan B that includes learning how to record herself on social media and getting some equipment like speakers and microphone that will assist in boosting her social media presence. “But I like being on stage with musicians and that vibe,” notes Harrison. “Singing is my medicine.” As an on-air host (substitute) on the jazz station WBGO-FM, she is looking at other radio options. Personally, her radio voice is fantastic.
This is a new world order. “It’s like mother nature hit a restart button and it’s time for cleansing,” and she’s not going to freak out, says the singer.
To keep busy she is cooking more, trying out new vegan recipes. She noted her vegan mac and cheese is a smoker, she uses cashews. “One thing for sure—I have become more frugal and practical, no need to shop like crazy anymore, no place to go and no gigs,” states Harrison. She now does her own hair and nails like many women have started doing. For special days she gets dressed in dresses and heels with lipstick and hangs out with her boyfriend in the living room.
One of her favorite online streams is The Jazz Gallery Zoom Dance Party with musician DJs each week. Harrison was sharing with me the great time she had last week with drummer, composer Terrie Lyn Carrington as DJ. Unfortunately, readers will miss Harrison’s debut DJ host as it happened on Tuesday; hopefully she will hit again at some point.
Harrison says, “I’m healthy and still sane.” At this point that is a great accomplishment.
The bassist, composer and bandleader Dezron Douglas says, “Playing for the Happy Hour Hang [The Jazz Gallery live Zoom stream] was like playing for an audience; it was the closest experience I’ve had in this new technology normal. I could see the audience and interact with them, which was very cool.” While in comparison the Friday Brunch live streams (on Instagram and Facebook) with Douglas and harpist, composer, bandleader Brandee Younger doesn’t allow them to see the audience, although they can get messages from those watching.
“You know when you see the audience like the Hang it’s like being in the club but everyone is at home but we can still interact. I saw musicians and friends all hanging out. These feelings come out on the bandstand, the connection between the patrons and musicians together is part of the process of creativity.” Douglas goes on to say, “The live creative part is somewhat missing but Rio [artistic director of the Jazz Gallery] is giving us a dose of that. Having the community at the Hang is uplifting.”
Like many musicians, Douglas had dates set up and a bunch of things planned. “2020 started off great and it boosted my confidence, and that is what I am using now to get through,” the bassist noted. “Since sheltering in place I have done some recordings I am happy about, turning my pain into some beauty. I will be putting it out just to express my feelings. I am feeling the highs and lows like other people.”
Douglas feels being home and spending time with his lady (harpist Brandee Younger) has been nice. “We are rarely together, especially for this long. Either one of us was on the road and if we got three days together, wow! But now we are here together, it’s been pleasant and challenging,” laughs Douglas. “It teaches people to be more understanding.”
While still jogging regularly in Mt. Morris Park, he misses supporting his local watering holes and hanging out. “Whatever the new normal is going to be, it has to be a higher level of humanity,” says Douglas. “That is how progress is going to happen. I think the world is ready for it. We can be better; we can be the model to change in New York.”
The bassist continues to practice but notes nothing really specific although he is writing some music. “I need to get better with my technology and I am working on it,” he notes. “The internet will be part of the normal and I am doing my best to be a part of it.”
As it relates to playing live music on the bandstand he says, “We give people magic and take them away from their daily lives, just like athletes, we give of ourselves to entertain people. So, playing will always be crucial.”
Douglas is cooking more. He is cooking (grilling) more fish and has stopped eating beef. He notes, “I am Jamaican so you know I love some beef. But I have been trying out different fish recipes. I am a musician, so I like to get creative with my cooking. If you come out of this quarantine and can’t cook you have a problem.”