The music of Curtis Mayfield was one of soundtracks for the civilrights movement it is a vital part of Black Music in the CurtisMayfield project we arrange some of his classic tunes Like “People Get Ready”, “Freddie’s Dead”, “I am so proud",“We people who are darker Than Blue”, etc. Since Curtis has passed AmiriBaraka has written words that respond and extend the sentiment ofCurtis’s lyrics. We also do some original material that serve as interludes between pieces.
William Parker’s Mayfield Moment
by: Michelle Mercer
Banlieues Bleues is a sprawling, five week, free-jazz festival that takes place in various venues throughout St. Denis, a set of suburbs in the shadow of northern Paris. This placed festival concerts a healthy distance from not only the City of Lights proper, but also the well-worn tourist put stops Eiffel Tower and Shakespeare & Co. bookstore. In terms of economic prosperity, the distance between St, Denis and Paris is even greater. Although American suburbs may conjure scenes of middling bourgeois comfort, these particular suburbs are projects, with a largely working-class population. William Parker’s “The Inside Song of Curtis Mayfield” show was the poster event of the Banlieuses Bleues Festival, and for good reason. Parker’s status as a unique bassist and original composer on the New York jazz scene’s outer fringes commanded instant credibility with the festival audiences. That Parker departed from playing his own original charts in the service of Mayfield – pop music’s original soul preacher for the projects – pretty much ordained the bassist as the festival’s patron saint.
Besides producing concerts , the festival fulfills an education initiative with programs called “Action Musicales” Parker was selected to head one of these programs and spent part of November and January in St. Denis middle and high schools conduction workshops on Mayfield’s music. These seminars culminated in a March 11, Sunday matinee performance with an 80-voice youth choir, a drum ensemble, and a local amateur horn group. In spite of all the faulty intonation, and adolescent enthusiasm propelled the performance and the young musicians even managed the alternation between free improv and orchestrated passages on Parker’s arrangement of “People Get Ready”
Many of the young workshop participants attended the professional performance two nights later, taxing the auditorium’s 370 seat capacity. Although no one could predict how Parker would handle Mayfield’s material, expectations were high. Mayfield’s music enriches today’s pop scene as much as Ellington’s work fortifies jazz, and Parker emphasizes this influence with slow steady vamps. His septet rarely strayed from the comfort of a groove, but took liberties enriching that groove via a profusion of disparate voice.
At the start, with “We People Who Are Darker Than Blue,” Parker’s percussionist Hamid Drake laid down a simple vamp based on a descending three-not run, which was lightly embellished with layered horn riffs from trumpeter Lewis “Flip” Barnes and saxophonist Darryl Foster. Gradually, Parker and Drake stretched their three-not vamp into six notes, with subtle rhythmic variations from pianist Dave Burrell. This shift initiated “I Believe,” the second tune in Parker’s seamless tribute suite to the late reverend of soul. Above the instruments, singer Leena Conquest conjured celestial vocals like June Tyson performed with Sun Ra. Throughout, Amiri Baraka’s spoken-word vocalizing expanded on Mayfield’s lyrics, albeit in a disjunct fashion, with random phases like “353 shades of darkness,” “250 flavors of invisible,” and “What did I do to be so black and blue?” Despite the language barrier, the French crowd gave up lots of Amen witnessing, suggesting that perhaps they were more galvanized by Baraka’s fiery delivery than the content of his message. When the band segued in “Pusherman,” a tune form the Superfly soundtrack, Conquest abandoned her mic to do a modern dance dramatization of scenes from the blaxploitation film classic. First she depicted an impatient watch-tapping junkie, then the cautiously casual air of an approaching drug dealing. The lonely road of drug addiction and recovery was more subtly connoted when the instrumentalists broke free from the communal groove to take their first solos of the evening. After burning through “People Get Ready” and “I’m So Proud,” the band settled into “Freddie’s Dead,” the most widely sampled tune in the Mayfield songbook. In the middle of a time-suspended groove, Parker prompted a half-step modulation, and that slight movement brought the house down.