Monday, November 14, 2016

Read Excerpts from Freedom of Expression: Interviews With Women in Jazz


For those of you new to Freedom of Expression: Interviews With Women in Jazz, I’ve posted excerpts from some of the interviews in the book:  

Cellist Nioka Workman
Saxophonist Mindi Abair

Freedom of Expression: Interviews With Women in Jazz, a collection of interviews with 37 female musicians of all ages, nationalities, and races and representing nearly every style of jazz one can imagine, was released November 16, 2015.

You can purchase the book via Amazon

The interviewees, including Terri Lyne Carrington, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Eliane Elias, Anat Cohen, Helen Sung, Diane Schuur, Ellen Seeling, Val Jeanty, Carmen Lundy, Mindi Abair, Cheryl Bentyne, Jane Ira Bloom, Sharel Cassity, Connie Crothers, Jane Monheit, and Sherrie Maricle, speak about their earliest experiences playing music, the years of practice and study required to become a professional musician, and what it means to be a jazz musician in the 21st century. The 320-page book includes a 25-page history of jazz, as well as introductions to each interview, to provide helpful context for readers who are unaware of the contributions by women to the development of this music.

Cover photo of Connie Crothers by Peter Gannushkin. 

"At long last, an in-depth recognition of the female contributions to jazz.  As Dr. Billy Taylor said about the lack of awareness of female musicians: ‘If it isn't written down, it didn't happen.’ Now everyone will know that it did happen and continues to happen. What a great gift to the history of women and music." — Judy Chaikin, director of the award-winning documentary The Girls in the Band

"Finally, a comprehensive HERstory of jazz music! Each of the women interviewed in this book have created strong musical identities while operating under the radar for far too many years. Thanks to Chris Becker, the world can discover the inner workings and creative lives of these fine, deserving jazzwomen. This book is a riveting read . . . an exciting journey into the mind of female genius." — Rachel Z., composer, keyboardist (Steps Ahead, Larry Coryell, Wayne Shorter, Peter Gabriel)

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

November Readings With Music

In November, I will be doing two readings from my book Freedom of Expression: Interviews With Women in Jazz accompanied by Houston jazz pianist Pamela York. My hope is that by arranging music around specific passages from my book will reveal additional layers of meaning and history to the content. It also should be a lot more fun to listen to than just me reading solo.

The November 17 event is for a student music club at Lone Star College Kingwood.

On November 27, Pamela and I will be at Project Row Houses as a guest of Houston artist, historian, and DJ Tierney Malone, who is one of the participating artists in Round 45, curated by Public Art Director Ryan N. Dennis. Through the duration of the Round, artists will present a variety of public programs. The November 27 reading with music is free and open to the public.

Here are the dates, times, and locations:

November 17, 2017
12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m.
Lone Star College Kingwood | Choir Hall
Book lecture with music for the Camarata Club

November 20, 2017
3:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Project Row Houses
2521 Holman St, Houston, Texas 77004
FREE AND OPEN TO THE PUBLIC

And looking ahead, I will be leading a panel discussion at the Bayou City Book Festival, April 8, 2017. The panel discussion takes place 11:15 to 12:15 p.m. Panelists will include Pamela York and saxophonist Alisha Pattillo, who is also interviewed in my book.

More details to come. Thank you for your support.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Mary Osborne On Guitars

A friend on Twitter shared this ad with me. The ad copy is awkward, but interesting. It does indeed acknowledge and celebrate Mary Osborne's talents, but also has mildly condescending, definitely sexist tone as well. ("Love a quick, easy action!") And of course, we can't have Osborne holding the guitar like an actual guitarist, right? Hmm. Of course, this approach to advertising guitars and saxophones hasn't changed all that much in the 21st century, for women or for men.

Here's what Connie Crothers has to say about Osborne in her interview in my book:

Mary Osborne is one of the most important musicians in jazz. She's the missing link between Charlie Christian and the guitar players who came afterwards. The missing link the historians have been looking for is her. She was Charlie Christian’s only protégé. She's major. Billie knew about her, and hired her for that TV special. So there were two women in that band. [laughs] — Connie Crothers to the author, 2013



Thursday, September 29, 2016

The History of Houston's Musical Soul

Saturday, October 1, the The Jung Center of Houston will be selling copies of my book Freedom of Expression: Interviews With Women in Jazz in their pop-up shop at the Houston History Alliance - HHA's History of Houston's Musical Soul conference. My book features interviews with three Houston jazz women: Pamela YorkAlisha Pattillo, and Jacqui Sutton.
Saturday's speakers and panelists include John Nova Lomax, Roger Wood, Rick Mitchell, Dr. Robert Morgan and many others. I'm really looking forward to learning much, much more about Houston's musical history. Hope to see you there! 

Zydeco dancers at PT's Cajun BBQ House in Clear Lake, which closed in 2005.
Photo by James Fraher

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Connie Crothers Memorial Broadcast Archived


Suga' In My Bowl's memorial broadcast for pianist Connie Crothers is now archived online. Sadly, Connie left us August 13. She graces the cover of my book Freedom of Expression: Interviews With Women in Jazz.

The broadcast incorporates a recording of the interview I did with Connie back in April 2013 for my book, as well as remembrances from her fellow musicians, including trumpeter Lewis 'Flip' Barnes, drummer Warren Smith, and dancer Patricia Nicholson Parker
Suga' In My Bowl host Joyce Jones did an amazing job putting this show together in a very short amount of time. I'm pleased to have contributed in some way to Connie's memory. 
Listen on demand >> here.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Connie Crothers Memorial Broadcast on WBAI, August 21, 2016

This Sunday, 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. ET, tune in to Suga' in My Bowl on WBAI 99.5 FM for a memorial tribute to pianist Connie Crothers. You can listen to the show online at wbai.org. Crothers passed away last Saturday after a brave battle with cancer. 

The broadcast will include a recording of my interview with Crothers which appears in my book Freedom of Expression: Interviews With Women in Jazz. Trying to capture the "voice" of an interviewee in print is very challenging. Needless to say, hearing Connie's actual voice and her descriptions of her first attempt at improvising, her studies with Lennie Tristano, and the pervasive sexism that existed in the jazz world before the women's movement is a special experience. I hope you can tune in.


Here's a little more information about the broadcast:  


"Connie Crothers expressed her musical life as performer, recording artist and teacher releasing feeling–her source–through spontaneous improvisation. This edition is a memorial broadcast in honor of Connie Crothers by guest contributor Chris Becker, who provides an interview he recorded for his book released earlier this year titled Freedom of Expression: Interviews with Women in Jazz. Additional remembrances will be provided by Arts for Arts/Vision Festival organizer Patricia Nicholson Parker, percussionist/drummer Warren Smith and trumpeter Lewis "Flip" Barnes.

"This program is engineered, produced, hosted and edited by Joyce Jones. Listen for our "On the Bandstand" segment with NYC metro area appearances of Suga’ guests at the end of the first hour with associate producer Hank Williams."


Photo of Connie Crothers by Joyce Jones.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Connie Crothers: A Queen At Her Throne

Pianist Connie Crothers, one of the giants of jazz, passed away in the early hours of August 13, 2016 after a brave battle with cancer. She was 75. As one of jazz music's great virtuosos, Crothers was a bridge between strains of seemingly disparate musical camps, especially so-called standard-tunes players and free improvisers. Like her mentor pianist Lennie Tristano, her approach to free (or “spontaneous”) improvisation was founded in a deep knowledge of and appreciation for the earliest practitioners of jazz (e.g. Louis Armstrong, Roy Eldridge, Billie Holiday). But while she saw herself as part of a lineage, she considered jazz to be an evolving art form, and believed the music was in fact “heading into something incredible.”

It is Crothers who graces the front cover of my book Freedom of Expression: Interviews With Women In Jazz. (She is one of 37 musicians interviewed.) This powerful image of Crothers at the piano, all ten fingers on the keys, her head tilted back, perfectly captures the feeling of transcendence that comes from playing music, as well as the sacrifices necessary to achieve such a state of grace. Not surprisingly, the image has resonated with many women, as it conveys the struggles and triumphs uniquely experienced by women in jazz.  

Photo of Connie Crothers by Peter Gannushkin
The cover’s gold, rose, and turquoise colors were inspired by the stained glass windows of artist Henri Matisse’s Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence. For many of us, music is our religion; dogma doesn’t work when your craft requires you to be open and receptive to influences and inspiration from the past and the present, and to play in response to what’s in your heart, not in your head. That's a pretty good description of the kind of spontaneous and freely improvised music Crothers played so masterfully, both as a soloist, and in collaboration with some of the great improvisers of our time. 

Crothers began studying classical (or “European”) piano at age 9 and went on to major in composition at the University of California at Berkeley. At Berkeley, her teachers emphasized “procedure and structure” and “compositional rigor” over emotional expression, which didn’t sit well with Crothers. She began listening to jazz, and upon hearing Tristano's recording “Requiem,” had a shamanistic vision that inspired her to leave school and travel to New York to study and master a completely different musical language:    

“ . . . during the length of the track ["Requiem"], I had an amazing experience where I saw my future. . . . I knew nothing about New York City; I knew nothing about improvising or about jazz, but I knew that that’s what was going to happen. It was almost as if it had already happened.”

Tristano, who was blind, told Crothers singing along with records was an important key to developing an ear for improvisation. In her own teaching, Crothers emphasized the importance of learning and internalizing a tune's melody, not its chords, in in order to improvise more freely and creatively: 

“What I try to get to instead with [my students] is have them play the strict melody of a tune with no ornamentation whatsoever. . . . like how they would sing it, just very simply. And then, instead of trying to think chords, just hear the melody, and let the melodic line get released . . . I like to say the melody has everything in it. It has the harmonic sound, so you’re getting the harmony from your ear, rather than thinking ‘C7’.” 

For those of you scratching your head and wondering how this concept is applied practically in a performance setting, it can be helpful to understand free improvisation does not necessarily begin with common-practice musical building blocks, such as chord progressions, Western European song forms, or clearly stated time signatures. Bassist William Parker, who has described Crothers at the piano as “a queen at her throne,” describes instead an alternate “periphery” of sounds that musicians tap into when playing free. The resulting sounds are limited only by a musician’s imagination and technique. (And Crothers' imagination and technique were formidable!) Crothers believed playing free is one of the most challenging things for a musician to attempt:

“. . . if you have that understanding of music, you’re never going to be able to fake it. You can’t. You have to tap into that deep well of understanding every time you express your music. . . . With no parameters to guide you, it’s on you to create music that’s beautiful and has an inner logic. I find this extremely intriguing and really exciting — thrilling in fact!”

This is music that is the opposite of walls, borders, paranoia, prejudice, and hate. In fact, Crothers equated freedom with truth plus beauty plus love, with love being an ever-present and wholly accessible source for musical and spiritual inspiration.


(Henry Grimes and Connie Crothers in performance, April 26, 2016.)

When Crothers and I first spoke, she told me how pleased she was to be asked to be included in a project that focused on and celebrated the contributions of women to jazz. She named several pioneering jazz women, including pianist and bandleader Lillian Hardin Armstrong, saxophonist Vi Redd, and guitarist Mary Osborne, who each made major contributions to the development of this music. For Crothers, New York in the years before the women’s movement was a place where men a generation ahead of her and her peers still thought women were inferior and not be taken seriously:

“When I first came to New York City in 1962 . . . when I went to a club, it was like walking a gauntlet. It was just understood that if there was a woman on the premises, the men were gonna hit on her. . . . A lot of women in those days were kicked off of bandstands and out of the recording dates because of the prevailing notion, which was very strong then, that men were better, that women were not as good as men.”

I mention this to make it clear that Crothers was both an activist and a feminist. She was also a strong advocate for independent artists. In 1982, Crothers and drummer Max Roach co-founded the label New Artist Records when no label expressed interested in releasing an album of their duets. New Artist Records would later become a cooperative, with each artist contributing to its operating expenses and receiving 100 percent of their album sales. It is an excellent place to sample and purchase some incredible recordings by Crothers, including the aforementioned album of duets with Max Roach titled Swish and her epic live solo piano recording Concert in Paris.

What remains to be seen is where a new generation of musicians go with the music. Like Duke Ellington, Crothers was an optimist, and she made her feelings about the future of jazz plain to me:

“For many years, the jazz world was sort of divided into groups. . . . there was a kind of division between the free improvisers and the jazz musicians who played tunes, as well as other divisions based on other considerations. But now we’re moving into a new era. I feel that is already underway . . . I call it a jazz renaissance.

“But the thing that I think has to happen . . . is that all the groups need to open up and find out about each other, because there are so many valuable musicians in each group. And if they find out about each other, the art form will just blossom! I look forward to that. I hope to be a part of that.”

And I’ll just leave it at that for now. Connie, we love you madly.

Monday, July 25, 2016

New Interview With Singer Jane Monheit


Please enjoy this excerpt from my recent interview with singer Jane Monheit for the Los Angeles Review of Books. Jane's most recent album The Songbook Sessions: Ella Fitzgerald is excellent, a truly adventurous program of newly arranged classics made famous by the great Ella Fitzgerald. 

Jane Monheit is one of the 37 musicians interviewed in my book Freedom of Expression: Interviews With Women in Jazz
CHRIS BECKER: Ella Fitzgerald was so many things to so many people. Tell me who she was to you.
JANE MONHEIT: She was one of the true originators of the art form. She was one of the first singers to really take the influence of the instrumentalists around her and bring them into her singing. But more importantly, in addition to all of the technical things she did as a singer — the swinging, the scatting, and all of that — she sang with such great warmth. I know a lot of people who knew and worked with Ella, and they all say she was like that in person.
When were you first introduced to her music?
I was at home with my mom. My mother was a singer and because I loved to sing, she was very conscious of playing singers for me that I could learn from. Little kids tend to copy. She knew I was going to be singing along with records and wanted to make sure they were singers with good technique. I remember her putting on Ella for me, and saying to me, “Listen to this!” and me just losing my little mind over how beautiful it was.
Was it just the sound of her voice that moved you?
Yes! I remember that specifically, the sound of her voice.
You have described Ella’s songbook albums as “biblical.” Why are those particular albums so important to you?
As a child, they were what I chose to focus on. I don’t know why. The songbook albums are more of the pop music of their time. She’s not doing a ton of improvisation, so they were wonderful records to learn these songs from. But Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Duke Ellington Song Book, which is by far much more of a jazz record than the other ones, has always been my favorite. She’s looser on that record, and she’s singing more jazz.
In Ella’s later recordings, one hears so much joy in her singing, but there’s also wisdom, and even some sadness in the material as well. Could you connect to that?
Ella was someone who was able to sing with complete and utter sincerity, but without any histrionics. That’s a place I need to get to! [Laughs.] She was a total sage. That’s the mark of any great singer, to be able to distill life experiences into a song and help people understand other people’s experiences. Ella was brilliant at that, but she did it in such a calm, collected way. That’s something I do not know how to do. For all of her influence on me, I sing in this crazy emotional way. Ella was able to sing something so calmly, and you would believe her. I can’t do that yet.
Quincy Jones has spoken about the “open wound” that pushed Ella, Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, and other singers to greatness. Is that what you’re talking about as well? Having those painful experiences and then being able to speak about and share them through singing?
You want to use your experience to help provide some catharsis for others. But I think it’s the same with your joyful experiences. It doesn’t have to be just the things that hurt us. As a singer, you get used to having your heart on your sleeve. It’s about accessing all of it, and having it at the ready. I always tell my husband, if I’m being overly emotional or overly dramatic, “No, no, no. This is cool. It makes me good at my job.” [Laughs.]

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Interview With Judy Chaikin, director of The Girls in the Band

Director Judy Chaikin
Here's an excerpt from my recent interview with filmmaker Judy Chaikin, director of the award-winning documentary The Girls in the Band. Judy's film was an important source of inspiration and historical reference for me while writing my book Freedom of Expression: Interviews With Women in Jazz. You rent or buy Judy's film from iTunes or order the DVD from The Girls in the Band website
CHRIS BECKER: The initial spark for the film was your discovery of a female drummer who played in big bands during World War II, correct?
JUDY CHAIKIN: Yes: Jerrie Thill, the composer and producer. Alison Freebairn-Smith first told me about her. Jerrie was active in the late 1930s and early 1940s, and had an all-girl band. She ended up being a drummer out here in Los Angeles and played a regular gig at a place on Hollywood Boulevard for about 20 years. She died at 93, and had been playing up until the year before. She was pretty phenomenal.
Were you surprised to discover there was so little about women who played jazz?
It was totally surprising, and that was one of the things that really spurred me on. When I realized how many women there were, and that no one had paid any attention to them, that really got me going.
How did you start with your research for the film?
It started with learning about Jerrie Thill, and then talking to various musicians I knew who gave me a couple of other names like saxophonist Roz Cron, who lived out here in Los Angeles and had been in the International Sweethearts of Rhythm; contemporaries like the DIVA Jazz Orchestra, who were big in New York, and also the all-female big band, Maiden Voyage, that was here in Los Angeles. I just started contacting these women and talking to them and one by one they started giving me other names, like Clora Bryant. One person led to another, and the story started to unfold.
What was the initial audience reaction?
The reaction was so surprising to me, because it covered such a wide audience: a lot of young female musicians literally came up to me crying afterward saying, “I can’t thank you enough. I thought I was the only one!” Older people who were big band fans said, “This is phenomenal. I can’t believe this. I had never heard of these women!” And then professional musicians, a lot of them said, “Boy, this is shame that these women are not known, and that I don’t know about them. They were so fantastic.” So the sense of wonder was across the board.
One of your earliest screenings was in Dubai. What was the response there to these women musicians?
The screening in Dubai was a little strange. It was an outdoor screening on the beach, and people were just sort of wandering around like they were at a rock concert. [Laughs.] But people came up afterward and said they enjoyed it.
The greatest overseas screening that I attended was in Sweden. The film screens somewhere in Sweden almost every other week. They absolutely adore it. It’s playing on television as well, and we keep getting requests for it. When I was there, it played at a film festival, and it played at a college, and it played in a theater. The response was fantastic.
I think one of the reasons for that is because a lot of the women in the early years of jazz, who could not have careers in the United States, went to Europe and had careers there. In some of the places where the film showed, these women were known. Generally, there is such a big interest in jazz in Europe, so much more than there is here. You walk through public places and jazz is playing, in stores, in restaurants — it’s always jazz you hear.
Dr. Billy Taylor, the late musician and composer, and Woody Herman, who is also now deceased, are both in the film. These men, in different ways, were strong advocates for women in the bandstand and providing equal opportunities for women jazz.
Right.
Has your film helped to open any dialogue between jazz men and women — either performers or educators?
Not being a musician myself, and not being in the studios having face-to-face contact with the men in the business, I don’t know about that dialogue. What I know is from hearsay. The men I know have said to me how wonderful it was that I brought this to their attention. That’s the only thing I can go on.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Interview with Terri Lyne Carrington (Excerpted from "Freedom of Expression: Interviews With Women in Jazz")

Freedom of Expression: Interviews With Women in Jazz is a collection of inspiring and in-depth interviews with 37 women musicians of all ages, nationalities, and races and representing nearly every style of jazz one can imagine. The interviewees include Carmen Lundy, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Eliane Elias, Helen Sung, Anat Cohen, Diane Schuur, Sherrie Maricle, Sharel Cassity, Brandee Younger, Jane Ira Bloom and many other incredible artists. The 320-page book includes 42 photographs, and a 25-page introduction to the history of women in jazz.

Freedom of Expression: Interviews With Women in Jazz is available for purchase from Amazon. Here in Houston, TX, you find the book at Brazos Bookstore, The Jung Center of Houston Bookstore, and Casa Ramirez FOLKART Gallery.

What follows is an excerpt from the book: the introduction to and a portion of my interview with drummer, composer, and producer Terri Lyne Carrington.

Terri Lyne Carrington. Photo by Phil Farnsworth.

Drummer, composer, and producer Terri Lyne Carrington is one of the first musicians I interviewed for this book. In our conversation, she quotes composer Duke Ellington to help explain her relationship to jazz:
     “I don’t doubt my connection with it, because I don’t look at it as a certain thing. It’s creative music. Duke Ellington said jazz means ‘freedom of expression.’ And I think that everything that I do, for the most part, feels like jazz. As far as creative music and freedom of expression, like Duke Ellington said, there’s no ‘box’ for that.”
     Her reply provided me with the first three words to the title of this book. Her early participation as an interviewee also opened some doors for me as I contacted other musicians around the country about this project. There’s no question, Carrington commands a great deal of respect among the music community at large.
     Born in 1965 in Medford, Massachusetts, Terri Lyne Carrington is part of a multi-generational musical family that includes her father, saxophonist Sonny Carrington, and grandfather, drummer Matt Carrington, who played with Fats Waller and Duke Ellington. Carrington was a child prodigy and began taking classes at Berklee College of Music under a full scholarship at the age of 11. In 1983, she moved to New York and became an in-demand musician, drumming for jazz luminaries Lester Bowie, James Moody, Pharoah Sanders and many others. Her extensive résumé includes television gigs as the house drummer for the Arsenio Hall Show and Quincy Jones’ late-night show Vibe, hosted by the comedian Sinbad. She has also toured extensively with pianist and composer Herbie Hancock.
     In addition to being a virtuoso drummer, Carrington is a formidable producer, a role that allows her to bring together artists from all genres into her creative projects. I interviewed Carrington for this book not long after the release of her Grammy Award-winning album The Mosaic Project, a collection of tracks performed by some of the world’s most highly respected female instrumentalists and singers, including Dee Dee Bridgewater, Carmen Lundy, Helen Sung, and Anat Cohen, who are also interviewed in this book. In the liner notes to The Mosaic Project, Carrington says the album “comments on historical, current, and appropriately feminine themes,” and for listeners new to jazz, it is a wonderful, engaging, and profound introduction to this music.

When did you first begin studying music? 
My grandfather was a drummer. He passed away before I was born. I guess my father was my first teacher.
     At around age 9, I started taking private lessons at like a music shop. But I never, throughout my whole public-school time period, took music classes, except for violin, in third grade.

So at a young age, the drums were your main instrument? 
It was always just the drums! I took piano lessons, but I guess I never really felt I was going to play the piano. I wanted to know music theory and things like that. But for the most part, it was just the drums.

At that age, before you were even a teenager, what kind of music were you listening to? And what kind of stuff were you playing on the drums? 
Well, see my dad was a saxophone player too. I was into jazz because that was what he was into. But I was also listening to the popular music of the day because . . . I was young! [laughs] I had friends! So I listened to people in the jazz world, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Michael Jackson, and Earth Wind & Fire as well.

And your family, as things got more serious, they were 100 percent behind this career choice that was forming for you at such a young age? 
Oh, yeah! Yes, they were always supportive. Still are. My dad still plays a little bit, and my success was one of three generations.

So maybe it wasn’t that unusual to have a musical prodigy in the house? 
Well, not unusual for us! [laughs] I think you’re very fortunate when you have a family that understands it and doesn’t think music is something that should be a hobby. I wouldn’t be the musician I am today without my dad and all of his knowledge.

You began at Berklee at the age of 11? Is that correct? 
Yes. I was taking private lessons and jamming with ensembles. I didn’t really attend real classes, mainly just private lessons on drums and piano. 

Did you think back then, as a young woman, a young woman playing drums, you were cutting your path, doing something that had not necessarily been done before? 
I think as a young person, no. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve been seeing myself more as a pioneer in a sense. 

As a trained jazz musician, with a lot of experience playing live and tour¬ing, was the transition to playing on television weird? 
No, because I always had respect for great artists in the R&B field and the pop field. And as a result of my television gigs, I ended up playing with a lot of those people, like James Brown, Whitney Houston, Rick James—all kinds of people. It was just fun for me. It wasn’t like I was playing down to that music or those artists at all! 

Did you end up shifting your focus as a musician as a result of the schedule demands of television? 
Yes, but I think your focus should shift every time you work in and play another style. It wasn’t about chops or anything like that. When I played jazz, which was a lot less during that time, I played better, because my approach was fresh. Because I had been away from it, I got better. 

Was playing for Rick James different from playing for Herbie Hancock? 
Yes. TV is a very different animal. You have to play in 30 seconds with such energy. It’s not about a building; it’s about getting to the point very quickly. When you’re coming in and out of commercials, you have to sound good from the moment you hit the first stroke and absolutely have to have a certain level of energy. 
     When I play certain styles of jazz, it’s more about telling a story, and starting something and building something into an experience for the listener. 
     But with TV shows, and maybe pop music in general, it’s a little different. It’s about really performing from that “one.” It’s entertainment. So, maybe it’s not as spontaneous. But I’m not saying it’s not creative; that music is creative too! 

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Interview With Saxophonist Grace Kelly for the Los Angeles Review of Books

Saxophonist Grace Kelly
CHRIS BECKER: So much of how we get our information these days is through visual communication, be it on social media or in pop music — and you certainly have your own unique eye-catching style. As an artist, has that become an important component to get people to pay attention?
GRACE KELLY: That’s a great question. I have family friends who live in New York City, and one of their kids is four years old; he’s an amazing kid, so musical, and I remember they were playing him my new album. He kept saying, “Why can’t I see it?” It was kind of a light bulb moment for me.
One of the things that I’m working on for my new album is how it will be presented live as a multimedia show. The album is so visual. All of these songs I wrote I saw [them] visually beforehand.
We’ve done a couple of music videos for the album, the latest one for the track “Blues for Harry Bosch,” which includes Bosch in a trench coat, cigarette smoke, me, and the musicians in a club [with] cool lighting. Jazz, as an art form, is a little bit behind in the way pop music uses visuals. I think this is something jazz musicians are becoming aware of, and will come into play more in the future. In a live performance, people are there to hear you, but also to see you. I’ve always thought it was so important to dress well and to present a visually stimulating show.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Ah, New York . . .

Just wanted to save this somewhere where I could see it and share. (Dee Dee Bridgewater of course is one of the 37 musicians interviewed in my book!)


Wednesday, April 27, 2016

April 30 is Independent Bookstore Day!

April 30 is Independent Bookstore Day. Which means . . . your favorite independent bookstores will be (hopefully) packed with customers looking to stock up on new titles.

I am very pleased that my book Freedom of Expression: Interviews With Women in Jazz is available in several excellent independent bookstores here in Houston, TX as well as my former home, New York City. If you haven't picked up a copy, consider visiting one of these stores (see below). Most of them also offer online ordering, so if you prefer not to use Amazon, remember, you have other options!

My book on the shelves of McNally Jackson, New York City. (Third shelf from the bottom!)
Houston, TX:

You can pick up a copy of my book at Brazos Bookstore, the Jung Center of Houston Bookstore, and Casa Ramirez FOLKART Gallery.

New York City: 

My book is available at McNally Jackson Books (home of the Espresso Book Machine!) as well as Bluestockings, a 100% volunteer-powered and collectively-owned radical bookstore, fair trade cafe, and activist center in the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

Published in November 2015, Freedom of Expression: Interviews With Women in Jazz is a timely collection of inspiring and in-depth interviews with 37 women musicians of all ages, nationalities, and races, who represent nearly every style of jazz one can imagine. The interviewees include Carmen LundyTerri Lyne CarringtonEliane EliasHelen SungAnat CohenDiane SchuurSherrie MaricleSharel CassityJane MonheitEllen SeelingCheryl BentyneBrandee YoungerJane Ira Bloom, and many other incredible artists.

The 320-page book includes a 25-page history of jazz, as well as introductions to each interview, to provide helpful context for readers who are unaware of the contributions by women to the development of jazz.



Monday, April 25, 2016

Happy Birthday, Ella Fitzgerald! (b. 1917, d. 1996)



"Born just a few years after Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, known as the 'First Lady of Song,' turned scat singing into high art and enjoyed an extended career through the swing and later bebop years, and on into the 1970s and mid-1980s. She recorded over 200 albums, including several with trumpeter and fellow virtuoso of scat, Louis Armstrong, as well as several album-length programs of music by some of America's greatest composers, including Cole Porter, Duke Ellington, George and Ira Gershwin, Irvin Berlin, and Rogers and Hart."

Happy birthday, Ella!

(Excerpted from Freedom of Expression: Interviews With Women in Jazz by Chris Becker.)

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Educators Discount for “Freedom of Expression: Interviews With Women in Jazz.”

Educators can now purchase one or several copies of Freedom of Expression: Interviews With Women in Jazz for $16.50 (25% off the $22.00 cover price) plus shipping and handling.

Published in November 2015, Freedom of Expression: Interviews With Women in Jazz is a timely collection of inspiring and in-depth interviews with 37 women musicians of all ages, nationalities, and races, who represent nearly every style of jazz one can imagine. The interviewees include Carmen Lundy, Terri Lyne Carrington, Eliane Elias, Helen Sung, Anat Cohen, Diane Schuur, Sherrie Maricle, Sharel Cassity, Jane Monheit, Ellen Seeling, Cheryl Bentyne, Brandee Younger, Jane Ira Bloom, and many other incredible artists.

The 320-page book includes a 25-page history of jazz, as well as introductions to each interview, to provide helpful context for readers who are unaware of the contributions by women to the development of jazz.

The interviews in the book can be used to help students develop and deepen their understanding of a wide range of classroom topics, including:
  • Jazz 
  • Improvisation
  • Composition
  • Music Education
  • Pedagogy
  • Music Business
  • Women’s Studies
  • Gender Studies
  • Women’s Movement
  • Sexism / Prejudice U.S. History
  • World Music
  • African American Studies
  • Jewish Studies
  • Latin American Studies
To place an order:

1.) Contact Chris Becker at beckeresque@gmail.com with the name of your institution and total number of books you’d like to order.
2.) We will then email you an order form to complete which will include the total cost of your order. Once you return the order form, we will place your order.

Educators can pay with a check or by using PayPal. We also accept purchase order numbers and will invoice you accordingly.



"At long last, an in-depth recognition of the female contributions to jazz.  As Dr. Billy Taylor said about the lack of awareness of female musicians: ‘If it isn't written down, it didn't happen.’ Now everyone will know that it did happen and continues to happen. What a great gift to the history of women and music." — Judy Chaikin, director of the award-winning documentary The Girls in the Band

“This is a truly welcomed work to be added to the annals of jazz’s oral histories. Chris Becker shows great care, respect and benevolence for women artists, too often ignored, who have contributed much to creation of this music and who continue to push the genre forward by all means necessary.” – Janice Rhoshalle Littlejohn, journalist and director-producer of But Can She Play?: Blowin’ The Roof Off Women Horn Players and Jazz

"Finally, a comprehensive HERstory of jazz music! Each of the women interviewed in this book have created strong musical identities while operating under the radar for far too many years. Thanks to Chris Becker, the world can discover the inner workings and creative lives of these fine, deserving jazzwomen. This book is a riveting read . . . an exciting journey into the mind of female genius." — Rachel Z., composer, keyboardist (Steps Ahead, Larry Coryell, Wayne Shorter, Peter Gabriel)

"Surrounding this almost clinically-sound distribution of talent, Becker has raised succinctly-stated perimeter in which to place these musicians, more brightly illuminating their individual, group, cultural contributions. He begins with a brief history of jazz before veering into the contribution of women, and with his Texas-sized literary lasso, wrangles issues like rock and roll, the women's liberation movement, the growth of jazz education, and global influences." — C. Michael Bailey, AllAboutJazz

Freedom of Expression: Interviews With Women in Jazz
The interviewees:
Mindi Abair
Saxophones
Cheryl Bentyne
Voice
Jane Ira Bloom
Soprano Saxophone
Samantha Boshnack
Trumpet
Dee Dee Bridgewater
Voice
Terri Lyne Carrington
Drums
Sharel Cassity
Saxophones
Anat Cohen
Clarinet, Saxophones
Jean Cook
Violin
Connie  Crothers
Piano
Eliane Elias
Piano, Voice
Ayelet Rose Gottlieb
Voice
Lenae Harris
Cello
Val Jenty
Electronics
Jan Leder
Flute
Jennifer Leitham
Double Bass
Carmen Lundy
Voice
Sherrie Maricle
Drums
Jane Monheit
Voice
Jacqui Naylor
Voice
Aurora Nealand
Saxophones, Clarinet
Iris Ornig
Double Bass
Alisha Pattillo
Tenor Saxophone
Roberta Piket
Piano
Cheryl Pyle
Flute
Nichole Rampersaud
Trumpet
Sofia Rei
Voice
Patrizia Scascitelli
Piano
Diane Schuur
Voice
Ellen Seeling
Trumpet
Helen Sung
Piano
Jacqui Sutton
Voice
Mazz Swift
Violin, Voice
Nioka Workman
Cello
Pamela York
Piano
Brandee Younger
Harp
Malika Zarra
Voice