1 on 1: Paying Homage in Jazz Appreciation Month

Al Strong by Cathy Foreman Al Strong by Cathy Foreman

by: Cathy Foreman


Growing up in the 70’s, like most black families my household was filled with music. That music came in the form of gospel in the early mornings, on Wednesday nights before bible study or all day Sunday. Saturday’s were filled with Soul Train and that good old school groove, and Friday nights in preparation for the blue light basement party. Okay let’s pause for a moment. I was too young to know anything about a “Blue Light Basement Party” but you know what I mean, right? lol Now back to the story. Music in many ways became an integral part of my life. It wasn’t until 1990 when I was introduced to Jazz through a little film called “Mo’ Better Blues” by Spike Lee when my taste in music expanded. It was something about the whaling of the horn that drew me in and from there I exposed my palette to other genres of music like opera, classical and alternative rock … all of which I still listen to today, but my sweet spot consists of the smooth and mellow sounds of r&b and jazz.

As a concert photographer, I am constantly exposed to new artists and music, most of whom happen to be play jazz. So, I started thinking with the number of people I’ve gotten to know, how cool would it be, if in honor of Jazz Appreciation Month, I reached out to a few of my creative friends asking them each a single question. I arbitrarily sent out Facebook and IG direct messages to some of these creatives and waited with baited breath. Honestly, I wasn’t sure what the response would be, but I was extremely hopeful and the response has been nothing short of amazing. I’m thankful that these ladies and gents have faith in me and my projects.

What I’ve done is provide you information into how I know these amazing people and a glimpse into who they are. I’ve also included artwork that I’ve created of them, in their element … followed by my question and their answer. Let’s get to it.

YOLANDA RABUN

Yolanda is a local Triad area of NC, vocalist who I view as one of my amazing muses. From the moment I met this woman, she embraced me with all the love and warmth one could hope for. She is a creative through and through, with an ever expanding repertoire in theater and music. You’ll find that Yolanda, like the other ladies mentioned below is also a proponent of and advocate for young ladies; inspiring and challenging them to lead the way. If she had to choose one, I honestly don’t think she could. I’m proud to call her friend.

Ode to Billie featuring Yolanda Rabun by Cathy Foreman
Ode to Billie featuring Yolanda Rabun by Cathy Foreman

N&N: You’ve paid homage to the likes of the phenomenal Nina Simone and the every so graceful Nancy Wilson but when I met you, you wore a gardenia in hair … a note to Lady Day. Of the three, who has inspired you the most and how?

Yolanda: Billie Holiday was my foundation for trusting lyrics to help breathe emotional conversations to life. Nancy (Wilson) gave me that stretch to use technique and articulation for dialogue and voice power for effectiveness. And Nina (Simone), well, she, very much like Billie, helped me to explore the “why” behind any song I choose. The Song as much as the lyric is the story. Funny enough, I think the linkage is Billie, Nina, Nancy. And somewhere in there is Dinah (Washington) and Ella (Fitzgerald).

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SHENETTE SWANN

Shenette is another local artist who dips her hand in many creative avenues as a vocalist, author and mentor. I’ve also had the pleasure of knowing for almost as long as I have been a photographer – seven years. I met Shenette by sheer happenstance on an evening that I was attending a networking event and she was performing at the same location. I was so enamored by her presence and voice that I completely forgot about the event and focused my attention on her. As I was coming to network, I chose to leave my camera at home. Armed with only my iPhone, I began to snap photos of Shenette and with the help of some online editors, I presented her with some artwork I was able to create off the cuff. The rest is history, as they say.

Shenette Jones by Cathy Foreman
Shenette Jones by Cathy Foreman

N&N: What person in Jazz, has been instrumental in cultivating your sound, if any?

Shenette: Sarah Vaughn… the way she forms her words. Her diction is crisp and mouth makes music even if you don’t have ears!! You can watch her and see that she’s singing something with love in her soul. Kimbra, a fairly new indie pop artist gave me the boldness to create my sound with technology use and vocal looping machines. Bobby McFerrin, who I trained under summer of 2017, reinforced my love for circle singing and vocal improvisation, leaning into whatever I want to let come out and audaciously calling it music!

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GARLAND HANCOCK

Garland calls me his personal stalker, but he also refers to me as one of his little sisters. It’s a long story, but know that’s it all in love. Around home, the triad area, it is not unusual to see the two of us in the pit together … we’re concert photographers. As I’ve gotten to know Garland, over the years, I’ve come to appreciate his love and knowledge of all things jazz; hell music in general. When I tell you this man knows the liner notes, it’s no joke. He can tell you things about any musician that will leave you in a state of quandary wondering “How the hell does he know that?” He is definitely your man, if you want to know any interesting details or tidbits about an artist…their music… who they played with…a good comparison or anything. I respect him and his affinity of music immensely.

Self Portrait by Garland Clark
Self Portrait by Garland Hancock

N&N: As my resident jazz enthusiast, I’m curious to know who you think made the biggest impact on jazz in the last 10-20 years?

Garland: Hell, my list could go on as none of them are white due to the watered down shit they play and calling it jazz. Roy Hargrove, may he continue to rest in peace, is one of the artists that made a huge impact on jazz and kept it alive with the be-bop style. Along with merging it with some hip -hop artists such as Guru who had a great CD titled Jazzmatazz where he featured a host of great jazz artists such as Roy Ayers, Donald Byrd, and many other great jazz musicians. Roy Hargrove’s style of playing was good enough to get him a couple of Grammy’s and had members in his group, RH Factor, who became great such as Spanky Alford, Jon Baptiste. And before joining the group Bernard Wright, who had success on his own as a producer and piano player. I could say Marcus Miller, who had a major impact on jazz in the last 30 years during his time with Miles Davis, David Sanborn and The Jamaica Boys along with composing movie soundtracks and playing or writing for Beyoncé, Michael Jackson, Chaka Khan, Aretha Franklin and the list goes on as his name appears on the lips of what a bass player wants to be as far as influences. Christian Scott IMO is a modern day Miles Davis with his own style and keeping it standard and straight ahead while wearing Jordan’s along with being the nephew of saxophonist Donald Harrison. Just check out his style on a song titled The Eraser and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Scott grew up in a jazz environment and took it to another level for today’s jazz heads and has a smoking band which I call the Wu-Tang Clan of jazz as they all have dropped solo projects with great success, topped the charts and went on tour but when they get back as a unit they’re a major force to be reckoned with. Marc Cary who became music director for Bettye Carter and Abbey Lincoln, he remains one of the heavy hitters of contemporary jazz from the young lions era along with Me’Shell N’degeocello whom he went to school with in DC. And done major stuff with Dizzy Gillespie, Carmen McCrae, Lauryn Hill, Wynton Marsalis, along with having the blood of trumpeter Cootie Williams who played with Duke Ellington running through your veins doesn’t hurt at all. So as you can see I just can’t pick one particular artist as they’ve all made a major impact on jazz today, yesterday and tomorrow whether behind the scenes or on stage.

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RISSI PALMER

Rissi Palmer is as sweet as hot apple pie and that goes right along with her country/soul persona. I met Rissi a little later in my photography journey when she opened up for husband and wife duo Kindred the Family Soul, here in Raleigh at local music hall The Pour House. Rissi performed several of her own songs and completely drew me in with her southern twang. Honestly, the idea of a black country artist outside of Charlie Pride, Darius Rucker or Cowboy Troy … and forget about a black woman. The very idea was beyond me. So, when she opened up, I was like “oh hey … I see you” and I wanted to know more. Here we are a few years later, like the other artists in this article, I call her friend.

Blue Country featuring Rissi Palmer by Cathy Foreman
Blue Country featuring Rissi Palmer by Cathy Foreman

NN:I know for all intents and purposes you are a country artist, but tell how jazz has impacted you and your sound?

Rissi: Sarah Vaughan has had a profound influence on me as a singer. I started listening to her when as a teenager at the urging of my vocal coach. She wanted me to study Sarah’s tone, phrasing, breath control, and intonation. I became obsessed with studying her and getting my hand on as many of her recordings as I could. Her voice was one of the most perfect things I had ever heard. She was a pre-auto tune vocalist, meaning there was no technology for her to fall back on so her singing had to stand on their own. I vowed to myself that I would work to be that type of vocalist. My favorite Sarah Vaughan recording of all time is her version of “Misty”…especially the last phrase, “in love”…the resonance kills me every time.

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AL STRONG

I met Al about six years ago through Durham’s Art of Cool Project where he now interim president. I’ve come to know him more as a musician while continuing to get to know the man. Locally, I think it’s safe to say that Al is a part of almost every ensemble here. He is either the lead, bringing other musicians into the fold or he steps in making guest appearances with the likes of Marcus Anderson, Branford Marsalis and Big Daddy Kane.. of course this is a ultra condensed list of the many whom he performs and calls his music family.

Al Strong by Cathy Foreman
Al Strong by Cathy Foreman

NN: Of all the amazing musicians you’ve worked with, jazz-wise who has made the biggest impact on you as person and then on you as a musician?

Al: Ok, so the first person who comes to mind, that fits into both of these categories is professor Ron Carter (saxophonist/educator). People at times get him mixed up with the bass legend Ron Carter, but among the jazz community he’s just as well known. I studied under him in his top ensemble during my time at northern Illinois university. He’s a great person with tons of wisdom who taught us how to always reach deeper to find better music within ourselves. I still work with him in a professional capacity from time to time even today, because he retired and moved to Mebane several years ago. So if I had to choose he falls into the music in influence and character column

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Of the artists included in this tribute, it’s an honor to live in an area that thrives with such rich and creative spirits. When you couple that with the ability to get to know them personally, it’s truly something special. It’s also a testament opposing the idea that you have to live in a thriving metropolis to accomplish any of the feats these ladies and gents have.