Posted inJazz Notes

Black Woman, Harlem Hit and Run

Most scientists agree that our early ancestors evolved in Africa (1-2 million years ago), and gradually spread throughout the world (the “Out-of-Africa” theory). This theory basically concludes that Black women are the mothers of earth, they gave birth to the planet. Their hearts beat a universal spirituality and Mother’s Day is just a prerequisite to the other 364 days they are honored and loved throughout the year.

“Black Woman (A Conversation)” (Radway Music, 2020), is pianist, composer, arranger and author Sharp Radway’s offering to Black women. “Black women played an integral part in my life as teachers, Sunday school teachers and mentors but most of all I was born of a Black woman,” Radway stated. “Black women have shaped my life—to me this album was a no-brainer, to honor and offer her yet another platform for her voice to be heard.”

Core members of the ensemble include female jazz instigators tenor saxophonist/flautist Camille Thurman, bassist Endea Owens and drummer Camille Gainer-Jones. The ensemble is rounded out with prominent master alto saxophonist James Spaulding, trumpeter Duane Eubanks, trombonist Andrae Murchison, bassist Corcoran Holt, drummer Chris Beck, vocalists Shenel Johns and Cynthia Soriano and special guest the elder maestro percussionist Candido Camero (at age 98, this was one of his last recordings prior to his transition the following year). The musicians play in various configurations on different tracks combining their talents swinging from blues to straight-ahead jazz.

“Black Woman” is a rejuvenating journey with inspired conversations with Thurman, Gainer-Jones and Radway as moderator. “Everything is a spiritual process, the music is always in the spirit,” stated Radway. “I wanted to have something that would be encouraging, uplifting, and maybe insightful, and the conversation makes this possible.” The pianist imposes the 45-minute conversation into brief chats as the women share experiences on relationships, history and their portrayal in the media. He composed all 20 tracks with the exception of “Faith of Our Fathers” and “I’m Pulling Through,” a stirring duo soul ballad with Shenel Jones and Radway. There is a magical chemistry that resonates in their duo performance. The song is dedicated specifically to the Black women who played a significant role in his life.

The track “Queen” is a peripheral avant garde duet with drummer Gainer-Jones and Radway strokin’ deep melodic chords on piano and percussions. The composition with rhythms reflecting the motherland paying tribute to such ancient African queens as Queen Makeda and Queen Nandi of the Zulu Nation and their descendants. Mama Kathy English Holt wrote the words.

The track “Who’s Next” is a love song, a spiritual shout-out, a prayer offered to younger generations and those yet to come. The configuration features drummer Gainer-Jones, Owens on bass and Radway.

Radway, a native of Connecticut, says his primary influences were his mentor and guru Randy Weston, as it related to the music, its spiritual context and the ancestors of Africa. For his ballad stylings he points to Art Tatum and acknowledges pianist Ellis Larkins’ style when it comes to accompanying vocalists. And of course, Thelonious Monk among others. While deeply submerged in the jazz pool, Radway has never given up his gospel roots. In church, as a child he began playing alto saxophone and drums, and as a teenager he switched to piano and keyboard. He performed concert openings for gospel artists Donnie McClurkin and Tramaine Hawkins and is the founder and director of The Sharp Radway Gospel Chorale.

The jazz bug bit him early during his listening of John Coltrane’s recording “Central Park West.” He has performed with everyone from Benny Golson, Benny Powell, Diane Schuur, Nnenna Freelon, Leopoldo Fleming, Russell Gunn, and Nicolas Payton. Radway’s litany of varied works substantiates his relevance in the world of music. His melodic percussive tones will rattle your bones and those smooth caressing rhythms will warm the spirit. He is forging ahead with more great music deserving a good ear.

As this COVID-19 pandemic persists, he continues lecturing and conducting seminars via Zoom related to his book “Musicianship 101 (What They Don’t Tell You In School).” For his current CD “Black Woman (A Conversation),” he says “I want Black women to continue to be as beautiful and powerful as they are!”so a prolific composer and arranger.

The first page pulls you in like a tornado bumping into suspicious characters packing guns and a whole lot of drama in “Harlem Hit & Run: A Murder Mystery” by Angela Dews. Join the cyclone mystery as it unfolds on the streets of Harlem, riveted with a rollercoaster love triangle, and loads of gangsta action taking place during the 1990s. The mayhem roars on between two editions of a weekly Black-owned newspaper the Harlem Journal. The protagonist Pearl Washington recently inherited the paper following her publisher/father’s death. Washington is a film actress, who plays a kick-butt police Lt. Summer Knight (in the ongoing film series “Harlem Knight”). Right now, her only interest is trying to find a killer before returning to California to shoot the next film sequel. The multi-faceted star studies Buddhism as part of her martial arts training.

Dews offers a front row seat into Harlem’s rich history in the midst of this tangled murder mystery. She mentions Showman’s Café, a popular bar in her story which was once a hotbed of activity (where musicians such as Seleno Clarke, Houston Person and Patience Higgins performed). A spot where celebrities like Sammy Davis Jr. and the tap dancer Honi Coles hung out with Black writers from the Amsterdam News and New York Voice. With all the trouble raising the Harlem temperature to extreme levels, be assured her character Capt. Obsidian Bailey of Harlem’s 28th Precinct is on the case, but it seems Washington is taking the lead while getting scoops for her newspaper. Shady transactions are happening at the Black-owned bank on 125th Street worth looking into. Some names have been changed for various reasons but John Johnson, a former news reporter and anchor for WABC-TV News, is represented.

Her characters are so descriptive, the Harlem scenes from vendors on the street to nightclubs and action in between pop out in blasting colors with distinct sounds. You can smell the unique aroma of Harlem’s summer streets. Hopefully, this book will be scripted for the big screen like Walter Mosley’s “Devil in the Blue Dress” or Chester Himes’ “Cotton Comes to Harlem.” Dews is currently working on her next installation with more twists and danger than a giant python at night.

For “Harlem Hit & Run,” Dews draws on her experiences as a journalist in New York City, working in politics and government. Many of the names have been fictionalized with the exception of night spots and some of Harlem’s unsung heroes. This mystery caught the attention of Dews’ agent once she heard the character practiced Buddhism and meditated, causing her to write “Still, in the City: Finding Peace of Mind in the Midst of Urban Chaos” (Skyhorse Publishing, 2018), followed by “Hit & Run.”