Rachel Winder Finds ‘Freedom’ in the Midst of Struggle

FJR founder, Jordannah Elizabeth’s March 2021 feature for CapitalBop.

On a chilly, clear-skied February morning in Baltimore City, the young composer, multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Rachel Winder was holed up in the Moose House Recording Studio, delegating out musical tasks as she glided from the vocal booth to the engineering room. Standing over her recording engineer’s shoulder, she offered thoughts and suggestions for slight enhancements to her new single, “Freedom,” out Friday. Sharp and attentive, Winder listened closely while he filled out the low end to the track and added atmospheric elements to the vocals, like a billowing reverb and sensuously haunting echoes of delay.

Each room in the studio was inhabited by a handful of young Black musicians, all there to play on Winder’s new album. During breaks, she chatted with her social media manager, while awaiting the arrival of a videographer who would be gathering preliminary shots for the song’s music video. Her team was calm and in good spirits, and the energy in the studio felt communal and productive.

Known as Ray to friends and collaborators, Winder has a kind and patient bearing, yet she was clearly in command of the several cogs revolving around her, stewarding the process of musical manifestation with quiet confidence and decisiveness. “We make sounds out of what we are,” she said as she prepared to go into the booth to lay down vocal ornamentations. Continue reading “Rachel Winder Finds ‘Freedom’ in the Midst of Struggle”

Amirtha Kidambi & Lea Bertucci’s End of Softness

FJR founder, Jordannah Elizabeth’s March 2021 review for New York City Jazz Record’s Women’s History Month Issue.

The surreal, apocalyptic musical offering End of Softness is the second collaboration between vocalist Amirtha Kidambi and sound artist Lea Bertucci. The album is comprised of carefully woven musical shards from their debut album Phase Eclipse and a live performance the duo reworked and retexturized in order to create this new collection of darkly-themed songs.

End of Softness is an artistic illustration of the end of days and patriarchal-induced confusion and decimation erected and produced during Kidambi and Bertucci’s personal isolation due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It can be assumed that the stark collaborative readjustment was a deeply embedded source of inspiration as the tracks are heavily coated with sounds of empowered desperation, resulting in a kind of freedom that can only be earned through perseverance and ingenuity during this time of global loss. Continue reading “Amirtha Kidambi & Lea Bertucci’s End of Softness”

Nubya Garcia’s Source

FJR founder, Jordannah Elizabeth’s November 2020 review for New York City Jazz Record.

British tenor saxophonist Nubya Garcia continues to emerge as a significant voice with her leader debut SOURCE. This sensuous collection is admirably played by Joe Armon-Jones (piano), Daniel Casimir (bass) and Sam Jones (drums), produced by Garcia and Kwes, the latter working with notable artists like Solange and Bobby Womack. This combination of musicians and producers is sonically compatible and gels well on an intuitive level as well as technically. Garcia is an imaginative storyteller, SOURCE a reflection of her swirling inner world of familial history, highs and lows of attaining well-earned prestige and personal struggles of grief while experiencing the world through an Afrodiasporic lineage and lens. Continue reading “Nubya Garcia’s Source”

Sevens: Alice Coltrane – Transfiguration (Live, 1976)

FJR founder, Jordannah Elizabeth’s 2013 review for Aquarium Drunkard.

It’s been noted that 1976’s “Transfiguration” is a culmination, and a sort of completion of the body of work Alice Coltrane had been building since 1967. The title track from the eponymous live album (not released until 1978) was purposely titled to mark the beginning of Coltrane’s spiritual based compositional phase where she strictly composed Hindu inspired chants and meditation music. Strong and entrancing, “Transfiguration” is perhaps most importantly a free jazz piece that contains absolutely no bells and whistles, and no Hare Krishna title or lyrics. It’s just Coltrane on piano and organ, Reggie Workman on bass and Roy Haynes on drums, giving the audience at UCLA in Los Angeles an opportunity to hear what Coltrane was naturally working with. Continue reading “Sevens: Alice Coltrane – Transfiguration (Live, 1976)”

Billie Holiday and the First Hundred Days

President Biden has made new promises to contain the COVID-19 pandemic and systemic racial divides which can undoubtedly result in releasing a new season of reassurance to the ailing and marginalized community in Harlem World and countless regions in American society, but there should be a level of patience and skepticism within our collective mind. Yes, an era of chaos, abuse, sabotage, and dishonesty has ended since the swearing-in of new power and Biden wants speaking honestly about the healing of our hearts and minds, but he can never truly understand the trauma of oppression and the terror that has been bestowed upon us as a people. Kamala Harris understands, but we must wait and see if she and the president can create solid policies that will withstand a possible entrance of a conservative administration that historically arrives after the reign of a Democrat president. Continue reading “Billie Holiday and the First Hundred Days”

Equal At Last? Women In Jazz, By The Numbers

Originally published on NPR Music. Authors: Lara Pellegrinelli, Shannon J. Effinger, Jordannah Elizabeth, Kira Grunenberg, Rachel Horn, Georgia Sebesky, and Natalie Weiner.

In the 2019 NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll, five of the top 10 new releases were recordings led or co-led by women artists — a startling 50%. In fact, it is the largest number of projects led by women in the top 10 since the annual poll began 14 years ago, surpassing 2018, when women comprised a third of those rankings.

That would seem to be good news for a musical community that has been frustratingly slow to embrace women musicians. Women in jazz have traditionally been singers, a role that allows them to be dismissed as entertainers who are not fundamental to jazz as “serious” art. Few female instrumentalists — or, for that matter, composers, arrangers and bandleaders — have become part of the music’s story, one that stretches back to the late 19th century. Continue reading “Equal At Last? Women In Jazz, By The Numbers”

Billie Holiday’s complex life explored in two new films

FJR founder, Jordannah Elizabeth’s review for New York Amsterdam News.

For those curious about the tumultuous life of one of the greatest jazz singers of all time, Billie Holiday, 2021 offers new and fresh perspectives on the late vocalist.

“Billie” is a stark and moody documentary on Billie Holiday that explores her short time on this planet through tape cassette recordings of interviews with her closest friends, colleagues, lovers and family conducted by jazz critic and biographer, Linda Kuehl. The film intertwines Billie’s story with Kuehl’s, who mysteriously died in 1978 while attempting to write a more sympathetic and acutely accurate account of the singer’s life with the understanding that the dominant white male jazz critic lens lacked empathy for Lady Day. Kuehl worked laboriously on the book, many times at the expense of her mental health and safety. A number of the interviews were contentious and, to Linda’s memory and assumed chagrin, continued to paint Holiday as a victim. In many ways, Holiday was a victim, but the film, which should be viewed as a historical resource with a unique view of the singer, fails to truly depict Holiday’s true agency. She is spoken about in-depth by those who were in her inner and social circles, but it is uncertain if anyone truly knew Billie on a deeply intimate level. She is called a masochist and a psychopath by interviewees which denotes a lack of awareness of her emotional sensitivity and only scratches the surface of Holiday’s larger-than-life, wealthy and glamorous persona. Continue reading “Billie Holiday’s complex life explored in two new films”

Black Women Jazz Musicians Speak of Their Transitions During COVID-19

Stay-at-home orders have caused several months of shows to be canceled. No one knows if or when people will be able to gather again which doesn’t allow women in jazz an opportunity to plan for their future. “I do not expect things to go back to normal.  The life we were living is now over. We have to operate with a new understanding and connect to each other in an entirely different way,” Ebony continues.

Since the emergence of jazz music, women musicians have faced difficulties from both the world at large and within the culture. Misogynoir is a day-to-day experience for these women and because of this, they have to use their energy to create mindsets and philosophies to help them overcome the existence of sexist conflicts.  “I don’t try to focus too much on the “struggles”. Yes, there’s sexism, ageism, etc. I choose to remain positive and hopeful. Right now, we have to thank all the essential workers who are out here on the frontlines risking their lives every day,” says cellist and composer, Tomeka Reid.

If gone unchecked, the presence of the COVID-19 can widen the gender gap by draining the already limited resources women of color in jazz receive. Without their national and international tours, the ability to network and collaborate with like-minded musicians, there is a chance that more male musicians will emerge stronger by living off royalties from top-selling albums, for example. There are systems set up to ensure the success of male jazz musicians via better media exposure and promotions which push their musical products to the forefront. Continue reading “Black Women Jazz Musicians Speak of Their Transitions During COVID-19”

Feature ~ Dorothy Ashby: Pioneering Jazz Harpist

FJR founder, Jordannah Elizabeth’s feature for uDiscover Music’s editorial series, Black Music Reframed.

The harp has long been a part of classical music. Mozart used it, memorably, in his Concerto for Flute, Harp and Orchestra, and the composers of the Romantic Era in Europe featured it heavily. The instrument invokes images of the gentry in music salons or angels among clouds. It wasn’t until centuries later that the harp would be transformed from a solely orchestral instrument to an elegant fixture in the world of jazz. The woman responsible for this innovation is Detroit-born jazz composer, Dorothy Ashby, who released her groundbreaking debut album, The Jazz Harpist in 1957, introducing the world to an entirely new sound and use of the stringed instrument.

Ashby was already well versed in jazz composition and performance before she became a recording artist. Her father, guitarist Wiley Thompson, hosted jam sessions at their house in Detroit with local jazz musicians. Ashby earned her chops by sitting in and playing piano. She continued to study the piano at Cass Technical High School, Detroit’s historical magnet high school that boasts graduates like Donald Byrd, Regina Carter, Zeena Parkins, and Geri Allen. In Cass Tech’s music program she had the opportunity to explore many instruments, one of which was the harp. The school’s Harp and Vocal program was – and still is – esteemed throughout the music world, and Ashby’s eventual teacher was one of the best, a woman named Velma Fraude. “[Velma] was a bit of a pill, but she was a really amazing teacher,” remembered Zeena Parkins in an interview with Pitchfork in 2010. “You had to fall into line, but if you decided to go with her, you really learned how to play the instrument.” Continue reading “Feature ~ Dorothy Ashby: Pioneering Jazz Harpist”

Feature ~ Regina Carter, Electoral Collage

FJR founder, Jordannah Elizabeth’s feature in The New York City Jazz Record‘s October 2020 Issue.

Music has been an encompassing presence in Regina Carter’s life since she was two years old. Her journey has been colored by the bowing of the violin, which she began playing at the age of four, and has allowed her to create a lifelong soundtrack to her unique journey. Carter is accomplished and has had a lengthy, successful recording career, which stands as a testament for her talent and love for people and collaboration. Throughout her career, she has been open to performing diverse genres as her musical talents have spanned across R&B, avant chamber music, funk and reimagined arrangements of traditional African music.

Her music has taken her all over the world but Carter, as of late, has taken on a duty and responsibility to use the platform she has earned from the fruits of her hard work and philanthropy to inspire people to engage with one another and their communities in America in a way that promotes unity. Her new album, Swing States: Harmony in the Battleground (Tiger Turn Productions-eOne) has a very specific purpose: to encourage as many people as possible to vote.

The Regina Carter Freedom Band consists of John Daversa (trumpet and flugelhorn), The Late Show with Stephen Colbert bandleader Jon Batiste (piano), Kabir Sehgal (bass and percussion), Alexis Cuadrado (bass) , Harvey Mason (drums) and guest tenor saxophonist Brian Gorrell. The aim for this album and all-star musical lineup may have initially been to make a clear and well-executed message of voting but, in the preparation for the release of the album, the world was afflicted with the COVID-19 pandemic and an international outcry of protests and demonstrations in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and many other Black people slain at the hands of the police. Carter’s concerns emerged long before the protests as she discovered the large numbers of people who did not vote in the 2016 election. “Voting is a civic duty and an extremely important responsibility, even more so now as we are living in surreal times…we have become a divided country of Red vs. Blue, Us vs. Them or Not Our Kind and that pot is starting to boil over,” says Carter. Continue reading “Feature ~ Regina Carter, Electoral Collage”