Thursday, August 17, 2017

Jazz Herstory Collective: More Recent Past than History

Today’s lunchtime event in the Yerba Buena Gardens Festival was a concert given by the Jazz Herstory Collective:

courtesy of the Yerba Buena Gardens Festival

This is a group that features, in its own words, “a soaring triumvirate of soul-steeped singers,” Valerie Troutt, Viveca Hawkins, and Kimiko Joy, performing with a rhythm section of Aneesa Strings (also a vocalist) on both acoustic and electric bass, Ruth Price on drums, and Sundra Manning on keyboard, often using the organ stop. The group’s description also includes the following sentence:
The Bay Area has a long and deep history of extraordinary women playing jazz, funk, rock and soul, and the Jazz Herstory Collective is a project that celebrates that legacy.
Nevertheless, on the basis of what was performed this afternoon, I came away with the impression that this “long and deep history” does not extend earlier than my undergraduate days, another sobering reminder of my own age!

Setting the scope of the past to one side, however, I would have to say that the high point of the program came when Trout sang “Love Will Never Change” to reflect on the recent resurgence in acts of hate, many of which are criminal, and the recent fixation on using a motor vehicle as a “weapon of mass destruction.” Drawing again on my own personal history, I can recall the days before the news media began to pay serious attention to Martin Luther King, when people like Orval Faubus were regarded as an insignificant sideshow. We got through those dark days arriving at significant civil rights and voting rights legislation on the other side, and this afternoon Trout was there to remind those of us willing to listen that we can get through the current darkness as long was we have the will to persist.

On the musical side each of the members of that “soaring triumvirate” had her own way of bringing a personalized style to her singing. The same could be said of Strings, but here I must confess to a  personal preference for the instrumental. Her bass work on both instruments is still ringing in my ears, with particular emphasis on her trio work with Price and Manning before the vocalists took the stage. Equally impressive was Manning’s work on “Sunny,” taking a pop hit from my college days and endowing it with the sharper edges of jazzy rhetoric. Perhaps one of these days this group will appeal to my ongoing quest for singers who can do justice to the legacy of Bessie Smith!

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