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John H. Armwood Jazz History Lecture Nashville's Cheekwood Arts Center 1989

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Variety - Cheadle jazzed for Davis biopic

Cheadle jazzed for Davis biopic

Actor will produce, direct, star in film

Don Cheadle

Don Cheadle has solidified five feature film projects that he'll produce and star in. Among them is a biopic of jazz legend Miles Davis, on which he plans to make his feature directing debut.

Cheadle, who is being honored today as ShoWest male star of the year, has set up the projects through Crescendo Prods., the shingle in which he partners with longtime managers Kay Liberman and Lenore Zerman.

"Nixon" scribes Stephen J. Rivele and Chris Wilkinson are penning the Davis film, and Liberman and Zerman said they have secured music and life rights to the jazz legend, with whom Cheadle has long been intrigued.

"Miles pushed the envelope and was never satisfied and kept evolving," Liberman said.

Crescendo's producing with Cary Brokaw and Vince Wilburn Jr. and Darryl Porter of Miles Davis Properties. They have waited to complete the package before bringing it to financiers, with Cheadle aboard to direct.

Other projects on Crescendo's slate:

  • "Traitor" is a politically charged drama that was written and will be directed by Jeff Nachmanoff ("The Day After Tomorrow"). Overture's Chris McGurk and Danny Rosett are negotiating to finance a film that Crescendo will produce with Mandeville's David Hoberman and Todd Lieberman.

Cheadle will star as an operative embedded in a terrorist organization who becomes the target of federal agents; they fear he's crossed the line and actually become a terrorist himself.

  • "Quest to Ref" is a comic vehicle for Cheadle, scripted by Ben Watkins and Guy Guillet. Story concerns a disenchanted lawyer who follows his life dream to become a pro basketball ref.
  • Peter Biegen-scripted drama "Broken Adonis" has Michael Apted attached to direct. Crescendo will produce with Apted, Jeanney Kim and Sandy Kroopf. Story concerns an ex-con (Cheadle) who forms an unlikely relationship with a border patrol officer and her young informant.
  • Cheadle continues to work with "Ocean's" co-star Brad Pitt's Plan B and Reason Pictures on "Marching Powder," a fact-based story of a drug dealer who spent five years as a tour guide in the notorious San Pedro Prison in Bolivia. Cheadle will play the tour guide.

In addition Cheadle is producing, with "Crash" cohort Cathy Schulman and Jonathan Mark Harris, the Participant/Warner Independent docu "An Indifferent World," which is already in production. Cheadle is one of five subjects of the film who are trying to address genocide in Darfur. Ted Braun is directing and is in the Sudan shooting the film.

Cheadle, who made his producing debut on "Crash," is also co-writing the upcoming Hyperion book "Not on Our Watch," a handbook for activism that describes his own awakening to strife in Africa after he starred in "Hotel Rwanda."

His Crescendo partners said that while Cheadle continues to work steadily -- he's about to open opposite Adam Sandler in "Reign Over Me," then reprises in "Ocean's Thirteen" in June and stars in "Talk to Me" in July -- he is determined to be the architect of his future acting opportunities. They recently brought in Arlene Gibbs to be senior veep of production.

"Don has always made strong choices and been very smart about identifying and developing strong material, and that is what drives this company," Zerman said. "In the current climate, coming in with strong projects makes you feel like you're more a master of your own destiny."

Monday, March 05, 2007

Shock of the new

An Article written By A British Writer Who Has Not Taken The Time To Lear About Jazz Before He Writes

I have not heard the new Wynton Marsalis album but it is clear this writer is part of the "hate Wynton contingent" in jazz. I am responding to his article which is below so you probably should read it first. He attacks Wynton and what he represents, not the specific album.

1) I personally have spoken with Lester Bowie about Wynton. Wynton was a member for a brief time in Bowie's New York Hot Trumpet Repertory Company. Lester's criticisms of Marsalis were both more nuanced and complex than those presented by this writer. Who takes Jarrett's rantings on jazz seriously. He is a wonderful player but his judgments of musicians leave a lot to be desired. He is notorious has a effete and difficult artist to work with.

2) There is nothing traditional about either "Blood On The Fields" or "All Rise". I wonder if the author has taken time to listen to these works. A casual listening to Wynton's playing will demonstrate that he has his own, original sound. He sounds nothing like Clark Terry, Roy Eldridge or Freddie Hubbard. It is unfortunate that writers who know little or nothing about jazz have the arrogance to write about a subject that they have taken little time to study.

3)Marsalis is part of an ever growing chorus in the African American community who decry the vulgarity and crudeness of hip hop. He is right in arguing that some people like to see vulgarity emanating from African American culture. I am thankful for Wynton's voice. In addition what is wrong with making money. Are all African Americans supposed to be poor and downtrodden?

John H. Armwood

Shock of the new

Wynton Marsalis almost explodes with rage when he talks about hip-hop. So why has the jazz stalwart recorded a track on which he breaks into a rap? He talks to John Lewis

Friday March 2, 2007
The Guardian

Wynton Marsalis is 10 minutes into an angry denunciation of hip-hop and he's just hitting his stride. "I call it 'ghetto minstrelsy'," he says. "Old school minstrels used to say they were 'real darkies from the real plantation'. Hip-hop substitutes the plantation for the streets. Now you have to say that you're from the streets, you shot some brothers, you went to jail. Rappers have to display the correct pathology. Rap has become a safari for people who get their thrills from watching African-American people debase themselves, men dressing in gold, calling themselves stupid names like Ludacris or 50 Cent, spending money on expensive fluff, using language like 'bitch' and 'ho' and 'nigger'."

Article continues
We shouldn't be surprised that one of the world's most famous jazz musicians is not a big hip-hop fan. The 46-year-old trumpeter and composer is regarded as a rather fogeyish, Brian Sewell figure in the jazz world, one who loudly registers his disgust at most music made since the early 60s. What is however surprising is that Marsalis's latest album sees him trying to rap. The album's final track, Where Y'All At?, is a state-of-the-union address, a declamatory, baritone-voiced sermon about a country in chaos, set against a jittery New Orleans funk beat. The lyrics make you cringe occasionally ("the rap game started out critiquing/ Now it's all about killin' and freakin'"), but it's clearly a rap. Isn't it?

"It's rapping, but it ain't hip-hop," he says. "It's the kind of rap we did in New Orleans back in the day. We called it juba juba, you know, 'My grandma said to your grandma/ Iko iko uh nay.' But it dates back long before the Dr John or Dixie Cups version of that song. Kids would sit on the street corner, improvising stupid rhymes with pornographic lyrics. You know the kind of thing: 'Your old woman got an ass like a truck/ Your old woman she likes to fuck.'" He declaims the words while beating out a rhythm on the table. "Today's hip-hop is just those pornographic rhymes on a grand scale."

Aren't you just using one strain of hip-hop to attack an entire genre? "Listen, I don't have to attack hip-hop. Hip-hop attacks itself. It has no merit, rhythmically, musically, lyrically. What is there to discuss?"

Flow? Rhymes? Assonance? Scansion? Lyrical dexterity? Rhythmic complexity? The use of samples that explore African-American musical history?

"Yeah yeah," he snorts. "It's mostly sung in triplets. So what? And as for sampling, it just shows you that the drummer has been replaced by a loop. The drum - the central instrument in African-American music, the sound of freedom - has been replaced by a repetitive loop. What does that tell you about hip-hop's respect for African-American tradition?"

Aren't these the same objections that cultural conservatives made about jazz 70 or 80 years ago?

"How does objecting to hip-hop make me a conservative?" he yells, his gruff holler getting louder and angrier. "Is it OK to call me a nigger and your wife a bitch? If I object to that then I'm a conservative? That is ridiculous!"

One could drive a bus through some of the holes in Marsalis's arguments. The man who rails against conspicuous consumption is the same Marsalis who advertises ultra-bling Movado wristwatches in the US; the man who denounces rappers for using made-up names seems to have forgotten those performers who called themselves Count, Duke, King and Jelly Roll. And since when have his assertions about drumming represented "the African-American tradition"? But it's equally true that even fans of hip-hop will find a kernel of truth in what he says. "I've been arguing with [Public Enemy frontman] Chuck D about this, on and off, for more than 20 years," he says. "Even he's come round to a lot of what I've been saying."

Marsalis' fury is not confined to hip-hop. His new album, From the Plantation to the Penitentiary, is an angry, fascinating, exhausting and often infuriating polemic that addresses the legacy of slavery. It's something that's never been far from his work, but too often his grand compositions on the subject - such as 1994's Pulitzer prize-winning opera Blood on the Fields, or 2001's symphony for the New York Philharmonic, All Rise - have fallen short of his ambition. (The late New Yorker critic Whitney Balliett described Blood on the Fields as "suggesting a play about slavery written by a precocious eighth-grade class".) Here, Marsalis takes the simpler form of a straight vocal jazz album, his quintet fronted by a 21-year-old from Florida called Jennifer Sanon, who was spotted singing Duke Ellington at a talent contest four years ago. Sanon delivers a set of didactic lyrics that examine the cracks in the American dream - rampant consumerism, the failure of public education, homelessness, government ineptitude, along with tirades against the misogyny of gangster rap - with a controlled anger that recalls the militant, civil rights-era jazz of Archie Shepp and Max Roach.

Marsalis is, of course, no stranger to outspokenness and controversy. For the past decade he has used his pulpit as the artistic director of jazz at the Lincoln Center - part of New York's large and well-funded arts complex - to denounce his fellow musicians who have moved into funk, fusion and the avant garde. While he paints himself as a lone voice of dissent that needs to be heard ("There is a need for strong visions to be asserted so people can choose; mine is just a single vision"), he has a salary (revealed last year to be about $850,000), a budget and curatorial powers at the Lincoln Center that no other figure in jazz history has ever had. By concentrating on consolidation rather than experimentation (his jazz canon, broadly speaking, encompasses Louis Armstrong to early Miles Davis), he has been accused of encasing the music in aspic, and it has made him something of a hate figure in the faction-filled world of jazz.

There is no doubting his technique - Marsalis was a child prodigy who played Haydn's trumpet concerto with the New Orleans Civic Orchestra at 14, and became the first person to win a Grammy in both the jazz and classical categories, aged only 22. But there are doubts about his legacy as a musician. He tends to use his technical virtuosity to stitch together pastiches of other trumpeters, such as Clark Terry, Roy Eldridge and Freddie Hubbard, while his compositions borrow heavily from Duke Ellington, Count Basie and George Gershwin. Many other jazz musicians have been highly critical. "I've never heard anything Wynton played sound like it meant anything at all," said pianist Keith Jarrett. "He has no voice and no presence. His music sounds like a talented high-school trumpet player." Trumpeter Lester Bowie agreed: "If you retread what's gone before, even if it sounds like jazz, it could be anathema to the spirit of jazz."

However, From the Plantation to the Penitentiary moves beyond Marsalis's self-consciously traditionalist musical strictures into more contemporary territory. As well as the rap track that closes the album, there are songs that nod towards the spacey 70s funk recorded on the Strata East label and even the cryptic, angular, hip-hop-influenced rhythms of Brooklyn's late 80s M-BASE collective - music that was always seen as the opposite of Marsalis's defiantly retro brand of jazz.

"Every decade I try to do a record that has a kind of relationship to contemporary culture," he says. "In the 80s I did Black Codes (From the Underground); in the 90s I did Blood on the Fields; now, in this decade, From the Plantation to the Penitentiary. As I say on the rap track, Where Y'All At, 'You got to speak the language the people are speakin'/ 'Specially when you see the havoc it's wreakin'.' Sometimes it's important to speak in the vernacular, both lyrically and musically."

The debris of Hurricane Katrina looms large over the album. Marsalis, a native of New Orleans, was one of the most prominent voices in the American media to denounce the government's response to the disaster, and he held a large benefit at Lincoln Center to raise money for those affected by the floods. He sees Katrina as an event that reawakened a long-dormant political awareness in American culture.

"People looked at the TV set and saw central government - and, let's not forget, local government, which was black - behaving with incompetence and inhumanity. We saw human beings suffering through bureaucratic fumbling, ignorance and stupidity. And we saw the descendants of slaves weeping in front of the cameras, saying, 'Have you seen my family? Have you seen my friend?' And that was eerie. That could have been happening in 1840, do you know what I mean? It made you realise that the legacy of slavery is very much with us. And I think that radicalised a lot of people. It's become something that's forced Americans to ask serious questions about what we are doing. I would hope that people are more receptive to these ideas than they've ever been."

· From the Plantation to the Penitentiary is released on Monday on Parlophone


New CDs Critics’ Choice By THE NEW YORK TIMES

“From the Plantation
to the Penitentiary”

(Blue Note)

From his landmark album “Black Codes (From the Underground)” through his Pulitzer Prize-winning oratorio “Blood on the Fields,” the trumpeter Wynton Marsalis has always found avenues for social critique. But his new quintet album delivers a fresh jolt to the system, by blowing apart the refuge of allegory. Oh, and he raps. But we’ll get to that.

Mr. Marsalis delegates most of the album’s vocal duties to a remarkable newcomer, Jennifer Sanon. Singing in a clarion tone with minimal vibrato, she projects a timbre not unlike Mr. Marsalis’s trumpet, carrying the album the way that Abbey Lincoln carried Max Roach and Oscar Brown Jr.’s “Freedom Now Suite.”

But that was a cry for civil rights; what troubles Mr. Marsalis is the state of civility itself. His lyrics disparage a culture of heartless poverty, chic misogyny and rapacious greed. He delivers the sharpest jabs himself, quasi-rapping on a track called “Where Y’All At?”:

All you ’60s radicals and world-beaters
Righteous revolutionaries, Camus-readers
Liberal students, equal-rights pleaders
What’s goin’ on now that y’all are the leaders?

Don’t be fooled: Mr. Marsalis still has no amicable feelings for hip-hop, the genre his lyrics elsewhere deride as “ghetto minstrelsy.” But while this album builds on blues and jazz traditions — by way of a band that has studiously conquered them — it also hungers for relevance.

“You got to speak the language the people are speakin’,” barks Mr. Marsalis, “ ’Specially when you see the havoc it’s wreakin’.” But he seems aware that fighting fire with fire, in some cases, might only fuel the flames. NATE CHINEN