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Archive for January, 2010

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During the height of the AIDS epidemic, there was a standing joke among my cousins and my siblings: if anyone asks, “where are you from?” say you’re from Martinique not Haiti, anywhere other than Haiti. Although we joked about it we never denied our heritage. We are proud to be Haitian. Many friends and aquaintences have called me this week to see how my family fared after the earthquake. One of whom was my old college friend the insideplaya. He encouraged me to try to put into words how I felt about the plight of Haiti.

The images of death and destruction stain the mind for hours. Unlike a computer, the brain is not able to calculate and give a logical answer in response to the stream of information given. What? Haitian earthquake. When? Tuesday, January 12th 2010 at 5:00 PM in the evening. Magnitude? 7.0. Casualties? Still processing. There may never be an accurate count.

The island nation of Haiti has been the focal point of the collective media’s coverage this week. The eyes of the world are trained on the small Caribbean nation. The devastation hit a country that is already incapable of properly serving it’s citizens. Decade after decade, major events continue to happen; dictators, millitary coups, violence, famine, floods and the rest. It never seems to end, but this week makes those other disasters look like child’s play. Rich and poor, educated and uneducated are affected. What next? All they can do is wait. Wait for assistance, wait for supplies to arrive, wait for medical care, wait for the nightmare to end. For thousands it is just the beginning. Their lives are gone, families erased, histories wiped out and ancestry vanished. The death toll increases, and the question lingers: am I next?

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There is no going back to normalcy anytime soon. What used to be routine has just collapsed under the weight of a mound of stone, steel, flesh and blood. People can’t work, worship, study or shop. All of the trappings of regular existence have been swept away, and now begins the process of putting a nation back together.

For the individual, a life of any kind will be difficult to piece together. Even the simple task of finding identifying documentation for you or a loved one can be impossible because government agencies are in the same state you are in. Why? Because unlike when other disasters happened this hit the island’s nerve center and capitol, Port-au-Prince. What does this mean? It means that even though other parts of the country were not hit by the quake, they will feel the effects of the quake for some time to come. In Haiti all roads lead to Port-au-Prince, it is the lifeline of the island.

As a former citizen of New Orleans, I heard many stories that came out of Katrina. After several months of frustration, people leaving their homes without their important papers had to go through Baton Rouge or national agencies to replace them. Horror stories about the conditions in the Superdome abounded. Survivors were treated like animals and animals they became before they left that place. The Haitian disaster stories are a hundred times worse because the Haitian foundation and infrastructure were weaker to begin with. Earthquakes strike without warning, and the people of Haiti had no time to gather important items nor were they able to set meeting places. There was no plan in case of emergency, no chance to run for shelter or an alternative power grid to back up an already nonexistent one. In an instant, life was definitively altered.

As I sit here safely at home, surrounded by loved ones, and the mementos of a lifetime, I am fairly certain that a catastrophic disaster of the kind that has struck the island that my family can trace it’s roots to will most likely not happen in New York. I cannot avert my eyes from the TV screen. I am many miles away, and like many others I ask; what can I do? Everything and not enough. My greatest resource is prayer, and going to the throne of grace and asking for mercy is a powerful tool that I have not hesitated to employ since I first heard the news of the disaster. But it is not enough, faith without work is dead. However, collectively we can make a difference. Through both prayer and action we can make a contribution that when added to what others send, can help to end the suffering.

Right now the need is both immediate and long-term. I am looking forward to the months and years of reconstruction ahead of the Haitian people. Please give now, and give whatever you can; water, non-perishable items, such as; tarps, toiletries, food, etc. All will be appreciated, but what is most needed is cash! Please continue to give cash over the next weeks, months and years.

These organizations have a long-standing relationship with Haiti and are trustworthy.

World Vision

Doctors Without Borders

Salvation Army

Save the Children

UNICEF

Partners In Health

Food for the Poor.

So, as I prepare for my Sunday worship services, my thoughts and prayers are with the people of Haiti, and I have faith that the newly formed alliance of Presidents Clinton and Bush will do great work for Haiti, and help to get her back on her feet. So I ask from my heart that you continue to pray for the strength and safety of the Haitian people, and to send what you can, as often as you can, for as long as you can. She will need a strong hand of assistance before she can walk on her own again.

Josy Ann Dussek Dunne

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Theodore "Teddy" DeReese Pendergrass Sr. (March 26, 1950 - January 13, 2010

Soul City has suffered a loss that we will not soon forget. The incomparable Teddy "Bear" Pendergrass, the megawatt headliner from the Philadelphia based Gamble & Huff constellation of stars died at 9:50 PM on Wednesday evening in a Philadelphia area hospital with friends and family at his bedside. He may be gone but he left a long list of hits, smashes and classics to soothe the pain and remind us forever what a true Soul Music legend should sound like. The Harold Melvin & The Blue Note leads; "If You Don't Know Me By Now;" "I Miss You;" "Bad Luck;" "Wake Up Everybody;" and the solo blazers; "Only You;" Life Is A Song Worth Singing;" "I Don't Love You Anymore;" the simply sweet "When Somebody Loves You Back;" "It Don't Hurt Now;" the come on trilogy; "Come Go With Me;" "Close The Door;" "Turn Out The Lights," and the post paralytic redemptive ballad "My Latest Greatest Inspiration" will outlive us all and show future generations what's up.

The Philadelphia Black Music community has produced many an executive, promoter, manager, producer, on air personality and artist. Patti Labelle, Nick Martinelli, Thom Bell, Linda Creed, Mtume, Dyana Williams, Butterball, Dr. Perri Johnson, The Jones Girls, Dexter Wansell, Schooly D, Jill Scott, The Roots, Lady B, Vikter Duplaix, Will Smith and others have all brought prestige to their town, and the Black Music tradition. I've met many of them, worked with a few, and was blessed to call one or two "friend."

One product of this community grew up, left town and made her way north up the turnpike to join the New York Hip Hop community, and as has been previously documented here, met me on a yacht filled with revelers celebrating the 3 X platinum success of Billy Ocean's "Caribbean Queen" album, signed Nas to Columbia Records, and made a lifelong friend of the playa. Her name is Faith Newman-Orbach, Faith to friends. She has chosen this venue to pay tribute to the influence of "The Bear" and Black Music on her life. We are honored that she has.

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At about midnight last night I heard the news that Teddy Pendergrass had died. The tears started about thirty seconds in. I immediately sent an IM to my beloved friend of over 25 years, the insideplaya; I knew that of all the people in my life, he would understand why I felt such a sense of loss. “Write it down, he said, explain what he meant to you.” So, here goes…

I think to adequately express myself, I need to take it back…way back. I’m four years old and sitting by myself on the stoop of my Grandparent’s house in North Philly before the great white flight. Even as a little child, I liked to be alone with my thoughts. Across the street on the corner, there was a table set up distributing info on the Black Panthers being manned by three people with magnificent afros. I watched them for a few minutes, then decided to cross the street and join them. I can’t say why. They looked at me with amusement. “Are you lost?” one woman asked. She smiled at me and offered to walk me back across the street. She did.

By the time I was seven, I had purchased numerous records and had cataloged them in an orange spiral notebook. My first 45” purchase was Al Green’s “Guilty.” My first album was “Soul Train, The Hits That Made It Happen.” I remember walking through the mall with my Dad. I saw that album on a display rack outside of Woolworths. “I want this one” I said. “Are you sure?” my Dad asked. “Definitely.” Maybe he had forgotten that Soul Train was my favorite show and I that had my Mom wake me up every Saturday morning so I could put on my maroon platform shoes and dance along to the music.

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AL GREEN

By ten my family had moved to the suburbs, but I didn’t let that slow down my love for the music that felt more real to me than anything else in my life. At twelve, I would walk the mile to the SEPTA train so I could go to Center City Philly and buy records. Mind you the Philly of 1979 was a little different than the Philly of today. No matter to me. I would exit at Reading Terminal before heading down Market Street to buy records at Funk-o-Mart and Sound of Market Street then head home with a pile of 45s and albums. Naturally my stash included the “Teddy” album and 45s of “Come Go With Me,” and “Turn Off The Lights.” I think twelve year olds then weren’t quite what twelve year olds are today. I may not have know what was what, but I did know that whatever “sex” was, it sounded like Teddy Pendergrass. It became a natural part of my repertoire. I had music that spoke to every emotion, funky music to feel happy, ballads to feel sad and now Teddy to feel, well, you know…

Around this time, I was reading about Teddy’s “Ladies Only” shows at the Tower Theatre in Upper Darby. I fantasized about actually being able to be there, never mind that I was too young. Besides, how would I get there and who would take me?

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WHEN TEDDY MADE 'EM FELL "YOU KNOW"

I wrote love letters to Teddy (and Rick James!) that I never mailed. I tacked the “Teddy” and “Live Coast to Coast” album covers on my bedroom wall; I’m guessing that not too many of my classmates did the same. As a side note, that same year while roller-skating at United Skates of America on Roosevelt Boulevard, I heard “Rappers Delight, “ causing another monumental shift in my musical world that would carry into my later career in the hip hop business.

Flash forward to the early eighties. By fourteen I knew that I wanted to “be in the music business,” although I had no idea what that actually meant. All I did know was that I loved music, Black music, and that there had to make a life where I could be surrounded by it at all times. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else with my life.

In 1981, at fifteen, I got my first job at a Philly record store called “The Listening Booth.” I flirted with the kinda slimy guy with the coke pinky who worked in the stereo department so he would play the in-store music that I liked. Of course that included Teddy and Rick and Marvin and Prince and my all time heroine, Teena Marie, the one person who made me feel that it was okay to be who I was and respect what I loved. I was asked to leave after I asked stereo guy to play Vaughn Mason’s “Jammin’ My Big Guitar” in the store. It was Christmas season and it didn’t go over too well with management.

Sixteen was the Prince 1999 show on U. Penn’s campus. I was a huge fan of The Time and wore my “Wild and Loose,” t-shirt to school the next day. I was met with a lot of quizzical stares. You see, I went to high school in a lily white suburb. There were exactly three African Americans in our whole school, one of whom is my friend to this day. What up Jeff?!

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PRINCE

I was an honors student, I was a “good girl,” no sex, no drugs, no alcohol, but man was I addicted to the music. I remember trying to “fit in” more by going to a “kegger” with some of my classmates in junior year. They had asked people to bring records to play. I showed up with the Zapp IV album , and the Raw Silk (Do It To The Music) and Secret Weapon (Must Be The Music) 12”s. Needless to say, it didn’t go over too well and I left soon after glad that no damage was done to my vinyl.

1982 brought the tragedy that changed Teddy forever. I vividly remember the Philadelphia Inquirer headline accompanied by a black and white picture of his mangled car. I thought to myself, “he’ll be okay, he has to be.” I actually cried then like I did last night. It didn’t seem fair but I just knew he would be back to doing those ladies only shows so I could finally see him in person. When you’re young, you find it hard to accept that humans can be so frail and life so tenuous.

Since I was sixteen by then, and duly licensed to drive, I finally had the freedom to explore the world outside the suburbs. My best friend at the time was a Spanish girl named Olimpia who had recently moved to the United States from Valencia Spain. She was nothing like the other girls I knew. Her family ate dinner at 10:00 then sat around the table drinking espresso and smoking cigarettes. Olimpia had been going to nightclubs in Spain since she was fourteen; she got me.

We cosmetically altered our Pennsylvania licenses using White-out and black eyeliner and proceeded to hit Philly clubs like The Library, Kim Grave’s Lounge and Cahoots. We were the only non-Black girls there, but it never, ever felt strange to me. I mean, where else was I going to hear the music that I loved?

The summer of my sixteenth year also brought me an internship with Electric Factory Concerts. I was able to be backstage at numerous concerts, including Marvin Gaye’s last tour. I made some good friends there and was invited to more and more house parties in West Philly, which I clearly preferred over keg parties in the suburbs.

FAITH

THE AUTHOR

Between the house parties and the club nights, I got to know the Philly crew; Doug Henderson, Mimi Brown and Butter from WDAS, Lady B, Fred Buggs from Power 99, Lawrence Goodman, folks from Philly International, from Sigma Studios and of course, my friend Lee Johnson from Electric Factory Concerts who always looked out for me.

All of these people, these Philadelphia people, accepted me without hesitation. Around them and in that scene I didn’t feel like an outsider, I didn’t feel mis-understood. I love the Philly music scene to my core. It made me who I am. It allowed me to become a success in the music business, the dream I had had all my life.

So, why the tears for Teddy’s passing? Because he symbolized for me a time and a place in my life that can never be replaced, just as he can never be replaced. In 1994 when I was an A&R exect at Columbia Records, Teddy came in for a meeting with me. It was all I could do to keep my legs and my voice steady! He was kind and gracious and full of humor. He didn’t seem to have a bitter bone in his body. It was only a half an hour meeting, but I will never forget it; I will never forget him. Rest peacefully Teddy. We were blessed to have you in this world.

Faith

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When last we met, our hero (along with Bruce Lundvall) had successfully wooed Norah Jones, and convinced her that the landmark Jazz diskery, Blue Note Records was just the place for her to launch what would prove to be one of the most storied recording careers of the past quarter century. We pick up the thread of the tale, and find Mr. Bacchus assisting young Ms. Jones in the selection of materiel for her first project, and after a misstep in choosing a producer, he gets serious and brings in a legend. The result was the smash debut “Come Away With Me.”

insideplaya

Norah Jones

NORAH JONES

When I got back to the office on Monday, I was really excited to play everything for Bruce because I knew he would dig it. Of the 9 tracks, there were 4 covers in the jazz, country and blues canon; I Didn’t Know About You (Duke Ellington), Turn Me On (John D. Loudermilk), Hallelujah, I Love Him [Her] So (Ray Charles) and Peace (Horace Silver). The rest were all originals; Come Away With Me by Norah, Lonestar by Lee Alexander and Don’t Know Why, Something Is Calling You and The Only Time, all by Jesse Harris. Bruce definitely got it, but I know he would have liked some more jazz standards. I think folks there (except publicist JR Rich who championed and loved it from note one) felt the same. A comment I remember hearing several times was, “ This is great, but what are we (Blue Note Records) going to do with it?” It was certainly unlike anything else we had on the label. Eventually everyone came around, including Capitol Records President Roy Lott, because it was just that good and because of the unassuming and down-to-earth charm of Norah herself.

Of the 9 keeper tracks, I brainstormed with Shell White to press up an EP of 6 tracks to give to Norah to sell at gigs while we got about planning her first record. That EP was First Sessions and would prove pivotal in spreading the word via some of the special radio stations out there like KCRW on the west coast and WFUV & WFMU on the east. They and a select group of alternative triple A-like and public radio stations would be early champions of this new singer with the jazzy/bluesy country vibe and start a slow simmer while we regrouped and thought out the next steps.

HORACE SILVER

HORACE SILVER

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THE DUKE

The first discussion was about finding a producer. Norah really wanted to do it herself, but as a young artist on her first recording Shell, Bruce and I felt that she really needed to have someone there to guide things along at the very least. Her first choice was Craig Street, as she loved his work with Cassandra Wilson. Craig is a friend and a great producer and also had a producer deal with Blue Note that involved producing a certain number of projects as part of his deal. He and Norah hit it off and went about planning the sessions. Craig decided to go up to Allaire, a beautiful studio that sits atop the mount above the Shokan Reservoir near Woodstock. Norah wanted to bring Jay Newland back on board, but Craig pressed to use his own engineer, S. Husky Höskulds (Mitchell Froom, Tchad Blake, Sheryl Crow, Tom Waits, Ani DiFrano, Los Lobos). The core of the band became the brilliant drummer Brian Blade, bassist/songwriter/producer Lee Alexander and phenomenal Canadian guitarist Kevin Breit.

Guitar hero Bill Frisell also came up to add some magic with Norah on vocals, piano and Wurlitzer. Tracking went smoothly with no serious time constraints in the most beautiful setting. I had to come back just before mixing started but checked in daily to make sure everything was kosher. When Craig delivered the mixes though, everyone was surprised. Perhaps because everyone was used to listening to our first demos, which were simple and clean vocally, they weren’t prepared for Craig’s (and Norah’s as she was there for the mix) vision that was certainly a departure. We were yet to do a listen down with Norah so I told Bruce to wait to give her our opinions when she came in and we could hear from her first hand where she was coming from and also to let her have time to absorb the mixes herself. A few days later she called me with trepidation in her voice and told me she didn’t like the mixes at all now and didn’t even want to go in and remix again. Of course she felt bad because of the money that was wasted, but anyone who has spent time in major label A&R departments, knows this is part of the territory. I felt bad for Craig as he was her choice and his specialty is guiding artists into uncharted territory to deliver unique masterpieces; Cassandra Wilson, Meshell N’Degeocello, Chris Whitley, Joe Henry and k.d. lang have all benefited from his touch. I was still hoping that some of the tracks could be salvaged, but knew that she had churned out 9 winners in two days before, so was capable of still making this a reasonably priced first recording.

Around the same time Arif Mardin and Ian Ralfini, who had offices over at Atlantic Records, were looking for office space and had approached Bruce Lundvall about possibly renting two offices down at our 304 Park Avenue address. Ever the tactician, Lundvall turned it around and convinced them into running a re-activated Manhattan label, something that Bruce had always wanted to revive. Now that we were looking for a producer again for Norah, Bruce wisely suggested Arif Mardin. I thought the idea was genius. Arif had worked with the cream of the crop of singers and in particular, singers that were also pianists. Aretha Franklin and Roberta Flack immediately come to mind.

The problem was convincing Norah, who now really wanted to go it alone after the first misfire. Shell White, her manager, liked the idea but knew we had some convincing to do. It fell on me to bring her around. Norah had two opposing feelings about it; one was trepidation at working with someone as esteemed and part of recording history as Arif and the other was whether they might be in the same place aesthetically because of her youth and his age. I convinced Norah to attend a showcase-like session at SIR rehearsal studios with just her, Arif and myself. She would play some tunes and sing and they would talk. I would just be a fly on the wall and hope for the best. They had a good time just talking about and playing music. Arif put her at ease and the fences eventually came down.

The Queen of Soul

THE QUEEN OF SOUL

ROBERTA FLACK

ROBERTA FLACK

ARIF MARDIN

ARIF MARDIN

Now, to get back into the studio. Norah was adamant about having Jay Newland back as engineer and also going back to where the original magic first happened, Sorceror Sound. She also wanted to keep some of the original basic tracks from those sessions, most importantly Come Away With Me (which would become the title track) and Don’t Know Why (which went on to garner 3 Grammy Awards – Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance!). Lonestar and Turn Me On would also be in the mix. Hank Williams’ Cold Cold Heart and Hoagy Carmichael’s The Nearness of You (with Turn Me On) would satisfy Bruce’s desire for some standards, but the rest would be all originals by Norah, Jesse Harris, Lee Alexander and JC Hopkins. The basic tracks of two songs from the Craig Street sessions were indeed salvaged but Arif didn’t want to confuse the issue, as he wasn’t involved in the original tracking direction, so Jay Newland and Norah produced and remixed them. The rest of the record was cut fresh with some of the same folks and a few new people. Jay Newland and Arif Mardin did their magic in the mix and I learned some valuable producer lessons watching Arif track, comp and mix Norah’s vocals.

While the record was being mixed in the summer of 2001, the recording industry was taking a nosedive. I received and delivered the final masters that September on the heels of 9-11, which felt like the final nail in the coffin. Indeed, a few weeks later, I was let go from Blue Note and got busy getting SoulFeast Music off the ground. Come Away with Me was released in February of 2002 and slowly gained momentum. At first no radio formats outside of AAA and the original core radio base I mentioned before, wanted to play it. A low budget video was also done and MTV initially refused to play that as well. But the groundswell, word of mouth and listener cumes (cumulative audience) on the stations that played it turned everyone around and stations in every format would end up finding a place for it. MTV even called back to get a copy. I knew it was breaking new ground when both CD 101.9 and Z100 here in NYC were both playing it. I received my Gold record in May of that year and by June the record had gone platinum. When the Grammy Awards came around the following February of 2002, Norah and Come Away With Me went on to snag 8 Grammies, a record for a female artist. At the Grammy party Norah, Lee Alexander, Jesse Harris and Jay Newland were still pinching themselves, but this was familiar ground for Arif. When he saw me he shook my hand and said the nicest thing, “This is yours too – I just added a little something here and there.” A little something indeed!

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THE AUTHOR

3 recordings (not counting The Little Willies and El Madmo), 4 movie appearances, 9 Grammies and with over 36 million records sold, Norah is back with The Fall. If you haven’t heard it yet, I recommend you pick it up even if you weren’t a fan. Not only has she grown as a writer, singer and musician, she has given us something completely different without losing her core essence – a trick not easily attained by most artists. Her usual cohorts from the Handsome Band are gone and she’s enlisted Jacquire King whose musical breadth is just what the doctor ordered. Norah first heard his engineering work on a favorite album of hers, Tom Wait’s Mule Variations. His work can be heard on records by artists as different as Kings of Leon, No Doubt, Buddy Guy, Guster, Modest Mouse and Third Eye Blind. The cast of musicians on this particular trip is a cross between rock, soul and country with a little fairy dust sprinkled in. To get what I’m talking about imagine including drummers Joey Waronker (Beck, R.E.M.), and James Gadson (Bill Withers), keyboardist James Poyser (Erykah Badu, Al Green, The Roots), and guitarists Marc Ribot (Tom Waits, Elvis Costello, Los Cubanos Postizos) and Smokey Hormel (Johnny Cash, Joe Strummer). In addition to acoustic and electric instruments, there is the judicious use of synthesizer and programming, something not heard before on any of her previous albums. Downtown songwriters Sasha Dobson and Robert DiPietro are on board not as writers here, but as backing musicians (acoustic guitar and drums respectively). Frequent songwriting collaborators Jesse Harris and Richard Julian also show up in their more traditional roles, but some new songwriting collaborators also emerge – Ryan Adams (Light As A Feather), Make Martin (Young Blood) and Will Scheff (Stuck). The rest of the 8 tracks are entirely composed by Norah from the vantage point of her guitar. She is also playing more guitar here, both acoustic and electric, which adds a different rhythmic edge as well as sonic underpinning. Lyrically she has also grown considerably; consider she was just 20 when she first recorded the First Sessions EP. Almost a decade later she is a completely mature woman that has seen and experienced not just the world, but gained some perspective on the ups and downs of her own personal life. It shows not only in the music and her ability to swim in uncharted waters, but in her sense of grounding that lets you know that this is the same young woman that sang Come Away With Me a mere 10 years ago… just all grown up!

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