Monday, November 3, 2008

Singing for Obama!

There have been over 2000 songs devoted and dedicated to the Illinois Senator and the Democratic Party Nominee for President of the USA. This phenom called Barack Obama and in honor of him and how he will soon transform history here is a small snippet of songs to check out - with different flavors all in great celebration of Obama. Enjoy and please VOTE!

Here something funny...

Here is is Trinidad & Tobago's Mighty Sparrow performing a song in Barack's honor

Sung by Jamaican Coco Tea

Hear this and you just might cry...

Finally Seal salutes:

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Singing At It's Best - Diamanda Dahhrling!

If you've never heard of Diamanda Galas you're in for a strange dark treat. It's dark alright, in your face and strong. She definitely wants it that way and that's the point. Diamanda is a performance artist, vocalist, pianist and composer that happens to have a three and a half octave range, and she work off material with the following warm and fuzzy themes such as suffering, despair, condemnation and injustice. She personifies singing at its best! Check out the clip below...

Sunday, October 19, 2008

An old friend goes away

on October 3, 2008 a great vocalist, educator, entertainer and friend passed away from us. Perhaps you knew him. Maybe you heard him sing somewhere and his voice tugged at you. Maybe you were in church or a jumping Brooklyn hot spot or at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. If you were fortunate to have been in the way of, nearby or at the crosswalk of the tornado that was Ulysses Slaughter then you knew that his voice tugged at you, hell, reeled you in. Made you stand at attention and if you were even luckier to have had him as a vocal teacher, which I was, then you learned untold riches of the trade from a soul so generous with his talents and advice, you BELIEVED you were great. When he chastised you for work not done or music not done just took it knowing the place it came from was a pure, pure heart. In spirit and in life. Ulysses was the gift that kept on giving. He had a way of making everyone, individually, feel like a million dollars. To me, he was the teacher and friend I met first whom I trusted with what little I had in me to say with song. He told me the truth and he practiced what he preached. I saw with my own eyes the power of a strong performer, confident and comfortable in his shoes whether he was wearing a dashiki or a tuxedo. His person always shone through. This was invaluable information to a budding vocalist like myself and he was simply invaluable.

Ulysses was there. At the beginning.

A long time ago...I befriended the branch stockbroker of a bank I briefly worked at in NYC. We'd chat from time to time and one day we had the most bizarre conversation that got me off my feet as vocalist. The subject of me loving to sing came up and before I knew it, he kept pointing out all the wonderful things that could happen if I sang and became successful. The stockbroker practically sold me on the idea of investigating this. This conversation TRULY started everything.

The strange thing, besides the fact that he was a near-stranger, was I wasn't involved with music at all at this time. I was in a phase pf my life where I was figuring things out. Finding my way after dealing with the loss of my mother. So his far-fetched plea seemed timely. What did I have to lose? He said "Look I knew a few places that have live music in the neighborhood. We can go check some of it out if you like." I said OK.

Sheila's Restaurant was walking distance from where I lived although I didn't know it existed. One dreary Friday night in February we went to hear this singer the stockbroker couldn't stop talking about. It was a duplex and upstairs in a dimly lit corner was this Grand gentleman - portly, handsome, with great carriage - in a dashiki with a keyboardist and a trombone player. This was Ulysses Slaughter SANGIN' "Ain't Misbehavin". I sat there with my stockbroker friend and was in awe! Ulysses could sing! He flung his warm energy out at you through his voice and his song . He was playful, shrewd and he was confident. I wanted to know about all of it.

At the break, my friend introduced me Ulysses and told him that I could sing but was just starting out and if Ulysses could give me any advice. Ulysses looked me over, slowly smiled.

"You can sing?" He said.

"Yes, I think so." said I.

"Let me hear you sing something." He said.

I didn't expect that. I froze then realized that I knew no music, no nothing. Oh my God! Then I remembered a tune I learned by ear from the closing song from a radio program here in New York City. It was "Moody's Mood for Love" and I knew it by heart. I waited for the song most nights since I was 14 years old. I sang this for Ulysses as best I could.

You have a nice voice!" He said. "Come back next Friday and sit in with a song."

I was shocked. He looked right through me and told me he was serious. In that moment, I knew he saw something. I went back next Friday and bombed! But he still saw the potential and not too long after this, he became my teacher and my guide. For a couple of years we were thick as thieves. Frequently accompanying him to this and that gig or just hanging. Going to the Jazz Vocal Workshop he took me to in the beginning. Making that workshop my home. Sitting in gaining invaluable experience and all along being told the TRUTH about what I was doing. He introduced me the best he could and had the confidence from the very beginning that I could be something special. I loved him for it. Then life intervened.

After a time...I didn't see him too much. My personal life was about to crash in on itself and I was dealing with that as much as trying to work out my place in this music and what I wanted to say as a vocalist. At this very same time, I started traveling too and broadening my horizons. First to Japan and then to Europe. So much was going on for me: excitement, determination, loss, heartache and the vision to keep plowing on further and to eventually make Europe my home for a long period of time...I had little contact with Ulysses then. I had heard that he was ill and that he had a serious cancer scare but came back from that and was doing well.

When I returned Stateside a few years back, I ran into Ulysses and he told me how upset he was that we didn't keep in touch like old times. He said it hurt him. I thurt me to hear that and I told him that I was just pretty messed up and needed to get myself together all those years ago. Last spring I spent the most time I had spent with him in years, He was at the JazzMobile Jazz Vocal competition and one night we hung out the whole night and talked about old times he looked great. He got me up to date on what was going on with him. All he had been through with his health and how much he still loved music. I got to hear him sing for the first time in years. He sounded wonderful. He heard me sing. He was impressed and God, it still mattered that he did. After this we spoke alot by phone for awhile but slowly the contact eased off again.

On Tuesday, September 30th, just 3 days before he died, I saw him at a jam session in the neighborhood. I was taking a student of mine to her first jam session and as we were leaving he came in and we stood outside and spoke for awhile. I hugged him and kissed him on his forehead and told him that I loved him. A week later I heard that he was gone.

I went to the packed funeral on Friday, October 9th. He was so loved. People who knew him well recounted aspects of Ulysses' big spirit that I realized I knew too. He was an inspiration and he showed me the way when everything was wobbly and new. When music began to take on a new dimension. But no matter the distance between us, he was and is instrumental in my development as a singer and he deeply informs how I tell a musical story. He told me I had good ear. He told me I could sing. He routed for me! He'd holla when I'd hit it and let the whole room know he was proud. He was scathingly honest but with a love and compassion that made you take the words with pure honey because Ulysses was very sweet and loving. He had the talent to have been a household name.

and yet it didn't work out that way but he lives on in me and all the people - many, many people that he touched along the way to where he is now. I also know that Ulysses felt things very deeply and suffered in this life like many of us. I know that he is somewhere where his spirit can run free and be the big huge positive force that it is. But now that force is for everybody. I swear saw him yesterday dusting off a star...

Monday, October 6, 2008

Confidence and the voice

The other night I, I took part in a jam session here in New York City. It wasn't the typical sort of jam where the tunes are predetermined. This was a free jazz jam and there were a bunch of horns: Trumpet, alto and tenor saxophone, trumpet, flugelhorn and flute. Later came a guitarist too.

The drummer at the jam asked me to sit in, alongside all the horns. It made me a little nervous because I've performed at myriad jam sessions over the years but never in this way. I didn't know if my voice would cut through and if I'd be able to say something. The drummer said "Oh, come on...!"

I walked with him downstairs and let the horns + rhythm section start. A few minutes later, he looked my way and I took a deep breathe. I walked to the stage and I decided...just go for it. What the hell. I grabbed the microphone and let out a wail in my high register and threw in a rhythmic line in complete contrast to what they were playing. It turned the music around. Everyone went my way...and we started to make music. The horns accepted me and sometimes gave me some space and when they didn't I asserted myself when it felt right to do so.

It was a liberating experience. I threw myself outthere and it felt great. I'll never be afraid to to try this again and experiences like these, each time I or we push ourselves just a little bit more - we find out what we can do. I discovered again that when I make a strong statement, people tend to listen. Shake them awake. Let the chandelier rock off the ceiling. Let it crash. It's OK.

Sorry for the break...but I'm back

Dear friends...

Sorry for the small hiatus from the blog. September was kinda hairy on my side and from time to time..I'll dip away. I'll work to keep on top of that since this blog means a lot to me and for those who may stop by...I'd like the information here to be timely.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Singing at it's Best - Sister Rosetta Tharpe

This lady is one of my all time favorites. I discovered her reading an article in MOJO magazine some years back and couldn't believe a life lived without knowing her, her music and her guitar. It was truly a life deprived because if this lady doesn't have the HOLY GHOST then that just don't exist! Her spirit and voice leap out at you, grab you by the throat and you just can't move. She had style and sass too - checkout her look in the first video. Listen in moderation now - because she is HOT!!!

one more...

Friday, August 29, 2008

News you can use: Twista!

As a vocalist and an audience member, one of my vocal pet peeves is inarticulation. I feel, very seriously, that if you sing with lyrics - it's important that every word to be understood so the audience understands what you're singing about. Otherwise, why sing with words??

So to aid in the agile, facile delivery of words, here's some fun tongue twisters to get those jaws loosened and get you speaking and singing clearer than ever while have loads of...well... fun! Why a giggle or two over a groggy gurgle or grumpy grumble will make clarity a hoot! Say the following exercises 4x round, take a breathe and then move on. Do it again 2x as fast. Now you try:

Nice & easy starts things off...

A skunk sat on a stump and thunk the stump stunk,
but the stump thunk the skunk stunk.


A flea and a fly flew up in a flue.
Said the flea, "Let us fly!"
Said the fly, "Let us flee!"
So they flew through a flaw in the flue.

On to more challenging fare...

Betty Botter had some butter,
"But," she said, "this butter's bitter.
If I bake this bitter butter,
it would make my batter bitter.
But a bit of better butter--
that would make my batter better."

So she bought a bit of butter,
better than her bitter butter,
and she baked it in her batter,
and the batter was not bitter.
So 'twas better Betty Botter
bought a bit of better butter.

More wondrously wordy words and phrases - check out the official Tongue Twister Database:

See a darn good demonstration:

Tired already? Let's loosen up our jaws in another way - here's our current President having some tongue twisting issues of his own...