Dannie Boyd's Posts
|I am an aspiring professional writer and artist of words. I'm currently a journalism intern at KDHX and a senior in Communication at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. I'm also an alumni of St. Louis Community College at Florissant Valley.|
There is something about the opening number of a jazz act that is timeless. On the first night of a four-night stand in St. Louis, Ramsey Lewis Electric Band kept it cool with electric jazz that captured that feeling all through the night.
Wednesday night I attended the performance of Ramsey Lewis Electric Band at Jazz at the Bistro located on Washington Street across from the Fox Theater. Lewis is the current feature for the Jazz St. Louis 2011-2012 season. His career spans over five decades and includes three Grammy awards. Pianist Ramsey performed with his newly assembled quintet that includes Henry Johnson (guitar), Tim Gant (keyboards), Joshua Ramos (bass) and Charles Heath (drums). The electric band is in town for a four-night series that includes both 7:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. sets.
Jazz at the Bistro is a common venue for the St. Louis jazz scene. Many jazz acts, local and national, frequent the wedge building in Midtown. St. Louisans that enjoy a combination of jazz and casual dining are likely to be familiar with the location. For those who are not familiar with it, Jazz at the Bistro is a two-story restaurant and intimate concert venue with a small stage located on the ground level.
Ramsey Lewis and his electric band came out for their second set at 9:30 p.m. sharp. To the stage walked five well-dressed gentlemen who were ready to perform. Five suits inched their way across the narrow stage before separating between the scattered instruments to take their places. Without delay they jumped right into the night.
The opening was luscious. There is something about the opening numbers of jazz performances that never ceases to amaze the audience. It seems as if the band pulls some magical collection of chords and notes out of thin air to create a mystical melody that you replay in your thoughts throughout the entire night. However that process works, Ramsey and his electric band accomplished it. Their introduction blended traditional jazz with contemporary style to produce the perfect balance of smoothness and rhythm.
Speaking into the microphone, Mr. Lewis welcomed the crowd to the “midnight, not quite” set. After making his opening statements he led the band into the selection “Love Song.” The piano-driven tune evoked a calming effect with the grace and tranquility that is synonymous with love. By the end of the piece the crowd was feeling the joy. “That’ll work!” uttered an attendee in approval. The nice thing about small intimate performances is that you can see and hear each audience member making a personal connection to the music.
The quintet carried on with their rendition of “Oh Happy Day.” Ramos on bass reminded me of how small the Bistro’s stage was as tried to groove in a stiff posture to prevent from bumping into Johnson who was to his right. A full-sized piano, a second piano, two keyboards, bass and guitar complete with separate amps, additional audio equipment and five musicians doesn’t leave much room for movement in a corner the size of an SUV and a half. Nevertheless, their performance did not suffer from the cramped space one bit.
On a recent trip to Amsterdam, I discovered something called Audiowear — a new class of jewelry for fashion and for the studio. The husband and wife team of Arjen Noordeman and Christie Wright, founders of the Amsterdam-based company Elasticbrand, designed the collection that functions as usable musical instruments.
In short, Audiowear is a line of wearable, ceramic jewelry shaped in the form of instruments. More interestingly, the jewelry pieces were designed to create sound and can be played just like the full-sized counterparts they replicate. What started as an idea in a ceramic workshop became a real-life venture that has produced a recorded album using the pieces.
I interviewed Noordeman and Wright via email about their Audiowear project and what inspired the collection, as well as the “Audiowear LP” album.
The idea for Audiowear arose during a CAD/CAM (computer aided design and computer aided manufacturing) residency the two participated in at the European Ceramic Work Center in Den Bosch, Netherlands. According to Noordeman and Wright, “We wanted to create a project that was both wearable and inspired by one of the senses.”
“In the past, Christie had created a project called ‘Therapeutic Armor’ at the EKWC. That was also wearable and appealed to other senses, namely touch and scent,” says Noordeman. From these thoughts and experiences Noordeman and Wright went on to further develop their ideas into an actual product.
Noordeman and Wright describe the design process of Audiowear thusly:
“We first designed the pieces in [Adobe] Illustrator, then hired someone to model them in Rhino 3D software. Once we arrived at the European Ceramic Work Center artist residency in Den Bosch we were able to print the models out on a 3D printer that builds the models up from a plaster powder. With the positive prototypes in hand, we made plaster molds so that we could cast the pieces in porcelain. Some had to be built up out of several separate pieces that were joined by hand in what is called the leather-hard stage of the clay, [which is] when it is still rubbery and not completely dried out yet. After drying it completely it was fired in a kiln. A few pieces were glazed and detailed with gold luster.”
“St. Louis and New Orleans have been linked forever,” says Mark “Sunny Boy” Mason. Every Tuesday afternoon, 4-7 p.m. Central, he proves it, bringing a Mardi Gras of music to the airwaves with his 88.1 KDHX show Howzit Bayou?
Sunny Boy has been a member of the 88.1 KDHX family for over 17 years and counting. He first joined as a volunteer in 1993, and years later he grew into an on-air personality and gained his own time slot. With Howzit Bayou? he features a variety of Louisiana-flavored tunes that include cajun, zydeco, blues, jazz and a whole lot more. When not on the air, he can be heard performing with the roots music band Sins of the Pioneers.
In mid October, when the fall leaves were just starting to ripen, I had a chance to chat with the St. Louis native. We met at MoKaBe’s Coffeehouse on the corner of Grand and Arsenal, not too far from KDHX’s Magnolia Avenue Studios. This gathering was far from formal given all of Mason’s jokes and wisecracks. In this interview he shares his background with KDHX and a brief history lesson on Louisiana’s music and culture.
Dannie Boyd: Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
Sunny Boy Mason: I grew up in north county, Florissant. I was born up there. My family is from there too. I grew up in a musical household. My dad was a traditional jazz musician, and still is, so there was always that kind of music around. From the time I was born we were always exposed to New Orleans things. Louis Armstrong was like the patriot saint of our household. That kind of thing. It’s something that’s always been around. I’ve always been well connected to that stuff and it carried on into adulthood. I took it into the KDHX world too.
How did you get started in music and DJing?
Like most people there [at KDHX]. I was just a fan of the station years before that. I listened to it and decided to become a volunteer at a pledge drive back in 1993. I did volunteer work, answering phones, working in the mail room. I use to be there almost every day. I was annoying (laughs). I was there all the time, it was a cool thing. I made a lot of good friends. I started learning the ropes, the technical ropes and what not, which were a lot different then than they are now.
I guess about a year later I got a show of my own on Saturday mornings. I did that for about five years. It was like a variety show kind of thing. Tuesdays, the same time slot that I’m doing now, was held down by Al Boudreaux. He did a Louisiana/New Orleans music show for, I’m not sure how many years. Maybe a few years. He retired early and moved back down home and so I kind of inherited his time slot. I became the New Orleans guy, the Louisiana guy. It was an interest of mine anyway.
Street musicians connect with their audience where it counts the most, their everyday lives. In this piece, I document nine performers in action, live from the sidewalks you walk on.
I chose to create a photo essay on street musicians because they are everyday people who inspire people like themselves. Street musicians fill the streets with beautiful music that touches people in route to completing their day.
As Zalinksy, Dan Aykroyd’s character in the movie “Tommy Boy,” said: “I make car parts for the American working man because that’s what I am and that’s who I care about.” Street musicians share music with everyday people because that’s who they are.
Street musicians can be found across St. Louis in the most public of places. Each musician has his or her own reason for sharing his or her music on the sidewalks. Some do it as a source of income. Some do it for the pure enjoyment of playing for others. Regardless of why they perform in public, they all have one thing in common — sharing their love of music, and perhaps to earn some change, even eek out a small living, along the way.
The most common places to find street musicians (or buskers as they’re sometimes called) in St. Louis are the Delmar Loop and Downtown, especially near events that draw large crowds. There are occasional sightings on or near Metrolink platforms, on South Grand in the theatre district, in the Central West End or popular hangout spots where there are crowds of people.
Guitar player Wayne Valentine was found on a Tuesday afternoon at 1 p.m. on the Delmar Loop. He was playing under the pavilion next to Market Pub House. Valentine comes to the loop two to three days a week.
Valentine plays jazz and ragtime music by Scott Joplin. He primarily plays guitar, but is also classically trained on the piano. Valentine plays at open mics from time to time. “It’s nicer to play to an audience than to four walls,” says Valentine.
The 49-year-old has been playing since the age of 12. After hearing him play, a woman affiliated with the Julliard School for Performing Arts told him that he has a “gift for composition.”
Concert review and photos: St. Louis Bluesweek Blues Cruise makes a cannonball run through Soulard, Saturday, September 3
Sponsored in part by KDHX, St. Louis Bluesweek gave the city a chance to revisit its nationally-recognized blues roots. Closing out the epic week of blues was the Soulard Blues Cruise.
The more-than-week-long event dedicated the Labor-Day weekend to two nights of roaming through the Soulard neighborhood. With 10 venues participating in the cruise the scenic voyage was more like a cannonball run from concert to concert.
The event consisted of a lineup of 20 bands performing across 10 venues in the Soulard area. Purchasing a $10 wristband granted access to all 10 venues for an entire night. In essence, the Blues Cruise was like being confined to a cruise ship on the Mississippi filled with hours of live performances.
To aid in the simulation of a cruise, shuttle buses were provided to transport concert goers from venue to venue. The shuttles ran about every 15 minutes or so to get attendees across the area in a timely manner so they wouldn’t miss out on any action.
Participating venues included: BB’s Jazz Blues & Soups, Sonny’s, Broadway Oyster Bar, the Great Grizzly Bear, Hammerstone’s, the Shanti, Joanie’s Pizzeria, Johnny’s, 1860′s Saloon and Lywelyn’s Pub. Many of the venues are clustered together within blocks of each other which made for pockets of block parties scattered across the area. Soulard is located south of downtown St. Louis.
Local bluesman David Dee is recognized both nationally and internationally for his contribution to the blues genre. “The blues is whoever it fits,” he says.
Dee is known for his hit song “Going Fishing,” and others such as “Give Me Some Air” and “Forgive Me Girl.” He has performed with many of the top blues acts that have passed through St. Louis. According to Dee, “My destiny was to accomplish something in music.” When not playing music he spends his time working for the East St. Louis Police Department.
In the week leading up to St. Louis Blues Week I had a chance to sit down with Mr. Dee for an interview at his East St. Louis home. His home rests on a peaceful two-lane street that is ideal for watching cars pass by while his over-grown tree shades you from the sun. It was the perfect setting for a talk on the blues. Here he told me what the blues means to him and what led him to find his own definition: “You feel good when you hear something about you. That’s the blues.”
Dannie Boyd: How did you first get started with the blues?
David Dee: I first got started with the blues by singing. I like music period. When I was 12 years old I was singing with a spiritual group. The spiritual group broke up by the time I was 15 or somewhere in there. What I did then was try to get something together and possibly sing the blues. I really didn’t get deep off into it at the time because I didn’t know too much about it, but I remembered the blues when I was a kid.
And as I got older, I left home around the age of about 16, and I moved to Chicago away from my mom. When I moved to Chicago I got me a job and bought a guitar. When I bought me a guitar I started trying to play the blues. At the time I remember meeting Nat King Cole back in the ’50s. He was the only black man that I saw in the ’50s, that I know, that had something worthwhile, in good shape of living. I remember Nat King Cole’s songs and him playing piano.
He was the only man that I knew that really showed success with his background by singing. This was one of the only black men I knew. I knew a lot that sung blues. But as far as show, luxury and money, a black man didn’t have that in the ’50s. Very few of them did. But he was one of them. So I made up my mind that I was going to get into blues, or get into music period. Playing music, singing music.
After I turned about 21 I was drafted into the service. I was in the paratroopers for a couple of years. While I was in there I had two or three fellas together. We use to sing a little bit. I got discharged in 1960 because I was drafted in 1958. After I got out of the service I had a little group in the early ’60s. It was about ’63 or ’64. I had a little group called David and the Temptations. Later on I met some guys that played instruments and I started singing with them and I kept on maneuvering into the music. I had a bass player who quit my band, his name was Keith, so I didn’t have a bass player. We had show coming up in two or three weeks so it was my thing to learn how to play bass and fill in the spot. I learned how to play bass good enough to play a gig with my group.
After that I met another guy called Little Dave. He played guitar. Me and him would go around singing a lot. He played guitar and I played bass. Luther Ingram approached us to play for him. I had a band so I refused to. I said, “We can’t go to no New York man” (laughs). I figured if you go to New York, you’ve got to have money to come back just in case things don’t go like you expected. So Luther, he went on and we stayed here down in East St. Louis. I heard a few months later that Luther Ingram left his band in New York. I said, “Well, I’m glad we didn’t go.”
All photos by Dannie Boyd. Read my recap of this great KDHX event.
Midwest Mayhem 2011 in review: Funk and folk and rock & roll and DJs take over the City Museum, Thursday, May 12
KDHX kicked off a summer of independence from mainstream media with Midwest Mayhem. The City Museum was home to four floors and several stages of music acts and entertainment spread out over five hours on Thursday evening.
The layout for Midwest Mayhem — a show appreciation to donors and fans of KDHX — included a total of seven stages that held often simultaneous performances. The City Museum is known for its exotic, maze-like structure that includes underground tunnels and scraped construction materials that serve as an adult-sized jungle gym. The jagged features all come together in an artistic canvas of concrete and colors.
Throughout the entire night concertgoers shuffled from set to set hoping to get a piece of all the action that surrounded them on every floor. On route to each set was an array of showgirls, hula-hoopers, and refreshments. With over 2,600 guests in attendance it was clear that St. Louis loves KDHX.
The first act to go on at Mayhem was Beth Bombara who took to the Whale Stage at 7 p.m. Accompanying Bombara were fellow musicians Carl and Anna. Fitted with a violin, guitar and banjo the trio opened up the night with a a taste of folk. The gentle opening was relaxed and allowed attendees to file through the door unaware of how spectacular the night would be.
Starting 15 minutes after Bombara was Pretty Little Empire on the Vault Room Stage of the second floor. Pretty Little Empire was the polar opposite of Bombara; its aggressive rhythms got the party started. Matching the band’s rhythms were the showgirls and professional dancers that dropped jaws on the third-floor burlesque stage.
With so many great performances to cover during the night I kept busy running up and down the crowded steps trying to capture what I could.