Melba Liston: Loved & Celebrated. . .Accomplished!

by gloria

Preparing our 2016 – 2017 events remains an ongoing adventure. I am working with such talented and distinguished people whose extraordinary accomplishments should be acknowledged and appreciated by all. Our 2014-2015 collaborations proved to be extraordinarily wonderful.

First of all, we collaborated with Manhattan School of Music’s Jazz Arts Program. Justin DiCioccio and Stephanie Crease were extremely accomplished and very helpful in producing the concert. It would not have been so successful without the assistance of Debra Kinzler. When the idea was initially presented, Deb put us in touch with Justin who eagerly accepted the challenge. Of course we had to gain approval from Randy Weston and obtain Melba’s music from the Black Music Research Center’s Archives in Chicago at Columbia College; Geoffrey Bradfield assisted without hesitation.

Wilmer Jennings Gallery where the visual Exhibition was shown for six weeks (from September 28 to November 8, 2014) is an historic venue whose growth out of Kenkeleba House is renowned. Corrine Jennings and Joe Overstreet are fixtures in this Lower East Side community. Established in 1974 as an Alternative Space dedicated to supporting African American art, Kenkeleba is also a pioneer in developing multi-cultural programming. They present the work of emerging, mid-career, and established artists, while providing needed opportunities for many artists who may not enjoy commercial representation. Kenkeleba also supports experimental work and interdisciplinary programs that feature visual arts as well as literature and music. The name Kenkeleba comes from a plant indigenous to West Africa, the Caribbean and South Africa that is valued for its nutritional and medicinal properties. Corrine Jennings is quoted as saying, “It can grow in a dry area and is spiritual, and the name sounded musical to me.”

Kenkeleba House presents contemporary and historical visual art in solo or group exhibits. Corrine and Joe have circulated local, regional, national and international exhibitions and provided events for churches, libraries, community centers and galleries. They have extensive archives and provide research material for publications and other institutions. In its history, more than 6000 artists have been exhibited. They have produced 23 art catalogues, and sponsored public programs, as well as artist talks, seminars, lectures, and educational programs for all ages.

When one even glimpses the extensive background and artistic accomplishments of Joe Overstreet, one is awed by his solo exhibitions, commissions, group exhibitions, and collections. His wife Corrine Jennings also has a rich background and accomplishments too numerous to even mention here. It’s well worth one’s time to do a bit of research on both of them and marvel at Joe and Corrine’s extensive knowledge not only of art but of the history of their LES neighborhood and its African roots from slavery to the African Free School #6 on Columbia Street to the first community of black freedmen living on the Bowery. Moreover, the gallery is named for her father, and some of her mother’s art has been exhibited there as well. Both Jennings and Overstreet have a rich and varied history of associations and friendships with world-class musicians and writers as well as fine artists.

The curator for this exhibition VISIONS, ROOTS & RHYTHMS, Ed Sherman, is a Harlemite. He has been working with the Thelonious Monk Family & Friends International Communications Association and curated a Monk exhibition at Wilmer Jennings Gallery last year. Ed also presented “Reflections of Monk: Inspired Images of Music and Moods II” at the Dwyer Cultural Center from October 23, 2014 to January 4, 2015.  It was an art exhibition featuring the artwork of over twenty renowned artists in celebration of modern jazz pioneer Thelonious Monk (and celebrating Monk’s 97 birthday). Many of the artists also participated in our Kenkeleba event.

When one visits Ed Sherman’s page at, it is clear that he is best known as a photographer. Most recently, his photographs were shown at Macy’s Herald Square, Furniture Gallery on 9, 151 West 34th Street, NYC, from September 28 to October 5, 2014, when Macy’s unveiled a new Furniture Gallery.  Among highlights of Ed Sherman’s photographic career is working for the Police Department of NYC. He was Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly’s photographer; moreover, his photographs have been widely exhibited in The Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture, Howard University, and The Cathedral Church of St. John The Divine in NYC, among other places. He was the national and New York president of the National Conference of Artists and is currently a board member of NCANY. The National Conference of Artists is the oldest continuously operating African American visual arts organization in the USA.

It was exciting to have Corrine Jennings include us in their calendar. As we sought assistance, she asked if we knew Ed Sherman. Artist Willie Torbert also knew of Ed and indicated he lived in Harlem. Finding Ed proved to be quite interesting, and it turned out that he lived quite near.  Online tools are always helpful, and our search meant finding NCANY. I had already written NCA in Chicago without response. When we found an address and telephone number, Ed answered and we agreed to meet. Ed and our friend Maketa Dorothy White and I met each other. She had not known Ed, and was unable to curate; however, Dorothy was able to offer procedural suggestions as well as contacts for many artists that remain valuable. Her long career as curator and art expert is well known; she is also the widow of fine artist William White. Perhaps a future exhibition will be forthcoming for many other extremely accomplished fine artists must continue to be shown, especially benefiting young emerging professionals. In the meantime, we were thrilled to have all who have agreed to exhibit and celebrate MELBA LISTON & RANDY WESTON and their 40 year musical collaboration from September 28 to November 8, 2014. Randy gleefully exclaimed that is should be a permanent, traveling exhibition!

This celebration continued. . . . The Opening Reception on Sunday, September 28 was extremely successful. It brought together artists and musicians. Our special guest, of course, was Randy Weston and his lovely wife Fatoumata. Our guest musicians were the iconic master drummer Louis Hayes with Juini Booth on bass and Rodney Kendrick on piano. Juini is often featured at Wilmer Jennings Gallery openings because he is well known by Corrine and Joe who value his unobtrusive approach. Rodney Kendrick whose wife Rhonda is Diana Ross’ daughter, is always recommended by Randy! This Reception, however, was filled with many special musical guests, including TK Blue on saxophone, pianist Ed Stout and vocalists Melba Joyce and Dennis Jeter, a wonderful trumpeter, and others who did not play. Artists not in our Exhibition supported us as well as writers and other friends. Randy and Fatou stayed quite a while and many people were able to greet them and take photos with them. Others wanted photos with Joe Overstreet and Corrine Jennings, Sandy Jordan, and so many others.

There was a Pre-Concert Symposium at Manhattan School of Music on Friday, October 17, 2014, at 6:30 pm moderated by Stephanie Crease of the MSM Jazz Arts program. Participants were Geof Bradfield, Melba Joyce, Sallie Placksin, and Janice Robinson. It was exciting to see the slide presentation of Melba Liston photos produced by Sandy Jordan and hear Melba’s voice in Sally’s presentation using some of the Smithsonian audio. Please visit YouTube to experience this event. Unfortunately, Sally had problems with her laptop, but thankfully you can access Melba’s Smithsonian Interview online and see her perform on YouTube. In the “Styles of Jazz” Documentary (Marian McPartland) featuring Vi Redd; the second group is Melba Liston’s.

The main musical Performance MELBA LISTON REMEMBERED! was an extraordinary event. Our Special Guest Fostina Dixon joined a MSM small group of musicians to perform three of Melba Liston’s original compositions: Insomnia, All Deliberate Speed, and Elvin Elpus. She was joined by students Elena Pinderhughes, Flute; Patrick Bartley, Alto Saxophone, Adam O’Farrill, Trumpet; St. Clair Simmons, Trombone; Nicolas Hetco, Piano; Benn Ruben-Schnirman, Bass; Ben Zweig, Drums.

After Intermission, we were treated to Compositions by Randy Weston, Arranged by Melba Liston. Featured were Randy on Piano with T.K. Blue (Music Director) on Saxophone and Flute, Santi Debriano on Bass, and Neil Clarke on Percussion. They performed Blues to Africa, The Healers, and African Sunrise with Justin DiCioccio conducting the student MSM Jazz Orchestra: Saxophones – Patrick Bartley, Alto; Sam Torres, Alto; Brandon Wright, Tenor/Soprano; Cameron Vohr, Tenor; Mercedes Beckman, Baritone. Trumpets- Gerhard Ornig, Tyler Tritt, John Otten, Max Boiko, Adam O’Farrill, Soloist, African Sunrise. Trombones- Johnathan Black, St. Clair Simmons, Peter Wilke. Tuba- Ryan Fisk. Rhythm Section- Bernabe Williams, Guitar, Ben Ruben-Schnirman, Bass 2, The Healers, Ben Zweig, Drums. (We knew the famous Yankee baseball player Bernie Williams played guitar, but we were still surprised and delighted to have him join our event!)

The Artists’ Symposium on Sunday, October 19, 2014, from 3 to 6 pm also brought together artists and musicians tremendously familiar with JAZZ & FINE ART: AN HISTORICAL PAIRING. Music. . .artists. . .writers: basic in our culture. . .inseparable! It was exciting to have Danny Dawson, from Newark he tells me, artist and educator. Newark is famous for jazz musicians and, of course, Amiri Baraka. Maxine Gordon joined our panel. Most recently, she published an article in the Black Music Research Journal (Vol. 34, No. 1) Spring, 2014 issue that is exclusively about MELBA LISTON. They also printed Melba Lives! stickers; we have both to share. Maxine’s article, “Dexter Gordon and Melba Liston: The ‘Mischievous Lady’ Session” discusses not only that tune, but the special friendship of Dexter and Melba who were also school mates. Dick Griffin is not only fine artist but exceptional trombonist. He knows Melba’s music! Artist Charlotte Ka is working on building a Performing Arts Center in Pittsburgh with her husband Errol “Mobutu” Reynolds. It was she who showed me the art of Cuban artist Manuel Mendive with similarities to Bob Thompson’s famous painting “Tree.” NEA Jazz Master Slide Hampton®  joined us. Slide is on Melba’s only LP “Melba and Her Bones” and is one of those musicians who always earns the highest respect. Jazz Impresario Cobi Narita also joined us. Only the night before, she had looked in her archives and found wonderful memorabilia including photos to share. Our Moderator Janice Robinson was a trombonist in Melba Liston’s Big Band which performed for the Wilbur Ware Institute in August 1982 in Philadelphia. I was also so honored to participate.

As mentioned, Geof Bradfield was instrumental in assisting us in obtaining the Melba Liston music from the Archives at Columbia College in Chicago. He also has an article in the BMR Journal, “Digging Down in the CBMR Archives: New Music Inspired by Melba Liston’s Scores.” We were delighted that Geof was able to join us! TK Blue is Musical Director for Randy Weston. Not only did he work tirelessly on the music, but he allowed the students to shine.

We have completed the WORKSHOPS. We collaborated with Harlem School of the Arts and the Afro Latin Jazz Alliance; as you may know,  Grammy Winner Arturo O’Farrill is Artist-In-Residence at Harlem School of the Arts where the Workshops were held.  The day-long Workshops were on Monday, June 29, 2015: YOUTH MUSIC WORKSHOPS Celebrating the Music of NEA Jazz Master MELBA LISTON. These were held at HSA Herb Alpert Center 645 St. Nicholas Avenue. Our Musical Director T. K. Blue, who knew and performed with Melba, was exceptional. He knows Melba’s music intimately. He also provided a DVD that we shared with the students of Melba performing with the Quincy Jones Orchestra. We also showed the slides that Sandy Jordan prepared for the first Symposium of young Melba in Los Angeles, Melba with her mother and others. T. K. had worked with the “Fat Cat” music students prior to the Workshops, so students other than the participants had been introduced to Melba’s music. So many other people were willing to assist and inform their students: Vince Ector, Arts for Kids; Matt Buttermann, Jazz at Lincoln Center; Robin Bell-Stevens, Jazzmobile; and especially Arturo O’Farrill, Afro Latin Jazz Alliance. Vince came and his daughter Melody participated. Arturo’s sons Zack and Adam both assisted in performance, as well as Jim Seeley (who helped in off-site rehearsal). Our Clinicians Bertha Hope and Earl McIntyre were great! It was quite informative to see Arturo in the Master Class for he obviously has exceptional rapport with youngsters! Thanks again to Jaime Cobb, Sandy Jordan, Julian Weller, Pat Vingo and all others who made this possible.

Liston Youth w TK Blue 14edited Liston Youth VIEWING Liston DVD 12edited Earl McIntyre Clinicianedited Liston Youth 13 w Arturo O'Farrilledited Liston Youth Master Classedited Liston Youth Performance Audience Pat & Sandyedited Liston Youth Performance w parentsedited Liston Youth SUPPORT Jaime and Vince 6editedListon Youth Performance w Bertha Hope conductingedited

We hear Jazz Masters and so many others speak of famous musical instruction in public schools. We have witnessed art and music being removed from public school curricula over the past sixty years. We now hope to do whatever is necessary to expose under-served students to this music. Perhaps we can work with the Schomburg Center on Black Culture and create ways for youngsters in Harlem and beyond to gain exposure and learn the history of the music now known as “America’s Gift to the World’s Music.” Your ideas and suggestions are invited.

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