That's me at the Blue Note, 05/10/19, Saturday, waiting for Robert Glasper and Yasiin Bey

Robert Glasper and Yasiin Bey at the Blue Note

We saw Robert Glasper and Yasiin Bey (formerly Mos Def, but he’s way beyond that now) at The Blue Note on Saturday, October 5. Last we year we saw them at the later show, also in October. Both shows spun me around, but much differently. This year, my husband bought tickets for the eight o’clock show and wanted us to get there at six o’clock to get good seats. And we did.

Below is a picture Manny took of me after an hour of waiting. When DJ Jali Sundance appeared on stage and began setting up–I recall hearing a digable planets song–he asked that no one take photos or videos.

That's me at the Blue Note, 05/10/19, Saturday, waiting for Robert Glasper and Yasiin Bey
Me at The Blue Note waiting for Robert Glasper and Yasiin Bey, 05/10/19

To me, keeping the cell phone off and locked is critical for any live performance. For these musicians–DJ Jali Sundance, Chris Dave on drums, Derrick Hodge on bass, led by Robert Glasper on piano, and special guest, Yasiin Bey–the samples, effects, mics, dynamics, etc. are finely tuned for improvisation. Trying to record the deeply layered sounds from your seat results in disrespect and distortion. Especially because they respond to the other in the moment. A version of Glasper’s residency shows up in his new mixtape, Fck Yo Feelings.

Each set offers a unique experience. What you hear, ideally, includes the vibe in the room, in other words, us, the audience. Yasiin Bey addressed this last year, and requested that we, “Put your robots away.” Many did not.

This year, he asked us to focus–stay alert and participate in the miracle of the here and now. Then, becoming playful, he said, they didn’t want to “enforce” the rule. In whole-hearted agreement, I perhaps misread the mood. Because surprise! He said, “All right, let’s get it over with! One minute.” The women near me shouted, “Thank you, thank you!” Robert Glasper struck a Megan Rapinoe pose. Yasiin took off his hoodie and slowly turned.

After that? Yasiin started one of his hits and transformed it. A huge admirer of his word play and repetition, I recall variations on, “All that’s real isn’t true. And, all that’s true isn’t real.” He elided words, whistled, mimicked birds, and danced. The song “Treal,” included on Robert Glasper’s mixtape, rose and dipped, intertwined with new lines and rhymes. He pronounced “Treal” (true and real) to rhyme with kill. “The one thing death can’t kill–life!” Life, death, kill, trill! Yet he also spelled it clearly, T-R-E-A-L.

The lyrics, the different meanings, and layered rhymes and rhythms resonated inside me like iambs with a spondee on the fifth (Shakespeare), but more so! I cannot convey the shifts and sheets of jazz converging with cosmic intonations, except that it grew ever more ecstatic.

RIP Roy Hargrove

In August, 2012, I heard a trumpet playing that was so brilliant and happy, I jumped from my desk to follow it. I found Roy Hargrove playing a free concert in City Hall Park. His trumpet playing gave me a light, breezy sensation that swept away a phase of spiraling darkness I’d been trying to escape for months. The songs he performed that Sunday afternoon kept me buoyant for a long time.
After that, we got tickets to har him whenever we could–whether we could “afford” it or not. He traditionally performed at Chicago’s JazzCase in Chicago at Christmas and those shows were such a high point after too many family traditions.
We heard him play with the RH Factor at the Highline Ballroom in New York, and more than once at The Blue Note. The last few times we saw him, he seemed unwell but with his band, still put on a smart, uplifting show.
My husband will never forget his performance (I was suffering a migraine) at the Litchfield Connecticut jazz Festival, where our daughter was attending a jazz camp. It was mid-day in mid-August, in the mid 90’s, and various jazz artists sleepwalked though their sets under a big tent. No one, it seemed, had the energy to break through the heat and humidity. Until Roy (who was from Waco, Texas) emerged, immaculately dressed in an electric blue suit and tie, his hair in neat dreadlocks. He snapped his fingers rapidly to set the pace for the band and they
took off into a searing hour and a half set. He outburned the sun that day.

Lean On Me


Last night we were lucky enough to see Jose James at The Highline Nightclub, doing songs from his album, Lean On Me, a tribute to Bill Withers.  As always, Jose James performing live was thrilling. His band was a group of killer musicians–didn’t get every name but the drummer was Nate Smith.  James said when he first started talking about a Bill Withers’ tribute album, on which he’s been working long enough to grow a significant Afro, he narrowed it down to sixty songs—he couldn’t do it without including all of them. He then met Bill Withers. They talked for three hours, after which James made the album “Lean on Me,” which includes ten songs. The tour is going on now.

After performing “Ain’t No Sunshine,” “Hello Like Before,” and “Use Me,” everyone left the stage except the drummer, Nate Smith, who easily enrapt the audience. James and crew returned, James now wearing a pale blue suit circa 1972 that looked terrific on him. A trained jazz singer who incorporates hip-hop, R&B, gospel, and funk, he said people have been asking him, “Why Bill Withers? Why now?”

Several answers to that question, one of which is that he considers Bill Withers the greatest living songwriter. But the answer he offered as his go-to response was that “Lean on Me,” was an uplifting anthem on the level of “We Shall Overcome” (or “Lift Every Voice and Sing”.) Bill Withers grew up in West Virginia during the Jim Crow era.

The songs opening lyrics are:

Sometimes in our lives we all have pain
We all have sorrow
But if we are wise
We know that there’s always tomorrow

and grow even more compassionate from there. I’ve been listening to this album for a few weeks now.  James’s live performance of “Grandma’s Hands” last night, I hope, will stay with me forever.

Most of “Lean on Me”  album isn’t on YouTube. To this day, scarce bits of James’s live shows are all that’s offered of his lyrics for John Coltrane’s “Equinox,” “Central Park West,” and “Resolution.” Limited showings, too, of his Billie Holiday tribute, which is both faithful to the original and stunning in interpretation.

Yasiin Bey at the Blue Note

Sorry my photo isn’t better. Trying to keep it together, I spilled a glass of water.

Robert Glasper and his band are performing at NYC’s Blue Note for a month’s residency.  The guest performer for October 11-14 was Yasiin Bey, formerly known as Mos Def. For  Saturday night’s performance, some of Yasiin’s lines were familiar. Some were not. His delivery, however, struck me as wholly original. He seemed to sculpt rhymes and rhythms in the air, where they lasted all night. He was emphatic and ecstatic, but more than that, he was intent and serious while creating art in real time. Yassin Bey has perfected his rapport with the energy of a spirit at large.

(An original, outside spirit filling one with artistic energy was once what inspired meant.  But its overuse, often regarding not much, has led it into the awesome muck. Possibly, not too distant from Mark Zuckerberg’s empathy.)

During a pause, the young man next to me asked, was this hip-hop? He wondered, too, why change your name when Mos Def is such a great name? Mos Def is a great stage name, but it conveys none of real-life seriousness of an artist who dares to take his work seriously. Of course, all art depends on being playful. Many people play all their lives and are undeniably artistic. But taking the risky, sky-leap into serious art occurs to very few people, and even then, it demands nerve, commitment, and luck.

At one point, he started “Ms. Fat Booty,” and Anderson.Paak joined him onstage. (A surprise–AP had been sitting in the row below me, among the “cheap seats.” The younger rapper, his voice higher, his intention pure fun, blended, perfectly with Yasiin’s lofty joy.

The show ended with Yasiin’s ecstatic litany starting in contradiction, moving through repetition, in which a word or emphasis is altered in loop until what you hear is something like a koan, or no, original truths. (That’s what I thought, anyway.)

Yassin Bey’s raspy voice and supreme invocations offered everyone present the “Sun, Moon, and Stars.”

Jump Rope

My son composed the music for this on an old synthesizer he bought from Ebay. My husband made the video after we had been visiting our daughter in Oakland, CA. Usually, I jump rope inside the apartment because nothing’s below us but mail slots. But I needed to calm down before the long flight from San Francisco to LaGuardia.