an Appreciation by
How can one begin to assess the numerous contributions of a great cornetist/trumpeter/composer/bandleader/educator? How can one also adequately offer a testament for an artist who is such a high quality human being and who profoundly touches so many lives?
Those of us who have been blessed to know Bobby Bradford for a number of years can attest to a probing, powerful intellect that assimilates the history of Jazz in a highly unique manner, drawing conclusions that are as innovative and provocative as one of his solos. His understanding of the history, coupled with his embracing of Jazz’s mandate for innovation, reveals itself in his teaching, playing and composing. I have profoundly admired his brilliant mind, up-tempo wit and his usual location of being two or three steps ahead of everyone else. Like Lester Bowie, he has achieved an individualistic incorporation of Louis Armstrong’s musical language and has placed that influence within the context of modern Jazz’s avant-garde movements. Like Sonny Rollins, J.S. Bach and Ornette Coleman, Bradford has a strong penchant for using musical sequences in both his compositional and improvisational languages. Also like Sonny Rollins, Bradford has a remarkable gift of musical memory. These gifts along with a boundless imagination have consistently enabled Bradford to deftly organize his improvisations. I am consistently stunned by the exquisite musical architecture instantaneously created in his solos. These improvisational edifices give room for his listening audiences to roam within them – exploring and discovering something new about him and themselves. Bradford’s rhythmical language is extremely diverse and his lyrical leanings give many of his solos an emotional depth that only the best practitioners in the music achieve. Bradford is Bradford - coming out of Louis Armstrong, Thelonious Monk, Fats Navarro, Charles Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Lester Young - yet still Bradford.
One crucial aspect of Los Angeles’ musical scene, from Bop to Free Jazz, was that one had to find his or her individual sound. It is impossible to confuse one note of Bobby Bradford with that of any other trumpeter or cornetist. His sound uses a smidgen of air, sometimes in a fashion similar to Ben Webster or Paul Gonsalves’ use of air, as an expressive part of the sub-tone sound. Bradford’s timbral specificity within his language (not the one sound fits all ideas approach) adds a vocal quality to his playing that exudes emotional sensitivity not often found within the context of new music.
Just as Horace Tapscott was during his lifetime, Bobby Bradford is an important musical and personal mentor for many in the Los Angeles basin. To this day his Mo’Tet ensembles continue to help to develop many younger and mature musicians. I first met Bobby Bradford in 1973 in Claremont, California while he was playing in Stanley Crouch’s group, “Black Music Infinity.” The front line of Black Music Infinity consisted of Bradford and alto/soprano-saxophonist Black Arthur Blythe. It was amazing to hear the two of them together. Looking back, I am convinced that it is still one of the most effective front lines that I have ever heard. Eventually the ensemble expanded, adding David Murray, trumpeter Walter Lowe, Mark Dresser and me. Bradford’s influence on all of us younger members of the ensemble was immense. He treated each of us as if we were his equal, although we were struggling mightily, trying to come to grips with the distance between what we were able to articulate and the precious gold that poured out of Bradford’s cornet and Blythe’s alto sax. I can clearly see his (and Arthur Blythe’s) imprint on all of us.
A few years later when Bradford opened up The Little Big Horn it became the place for the avant-garde community in the Los Angeles area. The grim realities of segregation that characterized much of the Los Angeles musical scene were left outside of Little Big Horn’s doors. For the most part, it had a feeling of hope and determination. It was clear that Bradford was highly respected in numerous communities and that this high standing was a force that united many. Bradford’s openness gave musicians and listeners a freedom that was rarely found in Los Angeles’ performing establishments. John Carter, William Jeffrey, Roberto Miranda, Vinny Golia, Mark Dresser, Tylon Barea, Diamanda Galas, Charles Owens, Alex and Nels Cline, Allan Iwohara, Azar Lawrence, Wayne Peet and many others were able to explore all that they artistically had to offer.
To discuss Bobby Bradford one must also reverentially look to clarinetist/composer John Carter. Bobby Bradford and John Carter performed exquisitely together for decades. They were very close friends, although musically they had very different personalities. When they came together to perform, their Texas roots emerged, both of them being masters of the Blues and Texas-Bop Traditions. The blues was an undercurrent in much of their music. Added to the Texas roots was a powerful focus on producing something new and fresh in every performance. John Carter called it “futuring”. Their groups were the example of how an ensemble can create in a way that the whole greatly exceeds the sum of the individual parts. Thank God for “futuring.” Thank God for Bobby Bradford. Happy seventy-fifth birthday Maestro Bradford! May many more birthdays come your way!
Al McKibbon, Wardell Gray backstage at the Gene Norman concert in Portland, Oregon in February 1954.
花 喜納昌吉 with 久保田麻琴
"Subete no Hito no Kokoro ni Hana Wo" (May Flowers Bloom in the Hearts of All People)
Special session for NY Times / Travel magazine.
Filmed by Zak Ettlinger
Audio mixed by Makoto Kubota
in Okinawa, 2012
"Our job as musicians should be to celebrate the good and do something about fixing the bad. That’s why I hate the military bases here, but I love Americans." - Shoukichi Kina (pictured, courtesy of Itsuo Inouye/AP)
"The theme I really want to explore through my music is that no matter what happens, local people’s way of life must be protected." - Tatsumi Chibana
[via The Guardian]:
Okinawa’s musicians provide a focus for Japanese protest against US bases
With Barack Obama visiting Japan in April, resentment at plans for the US Futenma military base is finding a musical voice
Justin McCurry in Okinawa
theguardian.com, Thursday 17 April 2014 10.50 EDT
If an island of 1.4m people can be summed up in a sound, it is that of the sanshin. Where there are people on Okinawa, a Japanese island almost 1,000 miles south of Tokyo, the distinctive tones of the three-stringed instrument are never far away.
Music is deeply rooted in Okinawa’s tragic place in Japan's history and the conduit for its modern grievances against the glut of US militarybases on the island. As Barack Obama prepares to visit Tokyo to meet Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, later in April, the anti-war message of sanshin players such as Shoukichi Kina and Misako Oshiro is back in vogue as the subtropical island confronts its biggest political challenge since it reverted from US to Japanese rule in the 1970s..
In his mid-60s, Kina cuts a controversial figure as spiritual leader of Okinawa’s activist musicians. Since the release of their first single Haisai Ojisan (Hey, Man!) in the 1970s, Kina and his band Champloose have done more than any other artists to secure Okinawan music against competition from mass-market Japanese J-pop and the more innocent musical motifs of the mainland folk genres minyo and enka.
"Our job as musicians should be to celebrate the good and do something about fixing the bad," said Kina, who some have called Okinawa’s answer to Bob Marley. "That’s why I hate the military bases here, but I love Americans."
Though it accounts for less than 1% of Japan’s total area, Okinawa is now home to about 75% of US bases in Japan and half its 50,000 troops. Military facilities take up a fifth of the island. Obama and Abe are expected to discuss the controversial relocation of Futenma, a sprawling US marine base, from a heavily populated part of Okinawa to an unspoiled location on the island’s northeast coast, as the allies attempt to lessen the island’s military burden. The move is opposed by most islanders, including the residents of Nago, whose city lies near the proposed site for the new base.
The spirit of resistance pioneered by Kina is to be found in the more eclectic music of Tatsumi Chibana, a quietly spoken 33-year-old university graduate and perhaps the most visible of Okinawa’s new generation of rebel artists, fusing traditional sounds with rock, reggae and hip-hop.
After a US military helicopter from the Futenma US marine base crashed into Okinawa International University in 2004, Chibana was moved to write his best-known song, Tami no Domino (People’s Domino), a collaboration between his band Duty Free Shopp and local rapper Kakumakushaka.
The incendiary lyrics reflect the feeling of many residents towards the ever-present threat to safety posed by the island’s 27,000 US troops and their hardware: “Surrounded by weapons in the land of disorder; what the hell can you tell me about peace in a place like this?”
Most of Chibana’s music eschews the sanshin and other traditional instruments, but his background looms large, he said. “I’m always aware of my Okinawan identity when I make music. OK, so I wasn’t brought up listening to folk songs, but the spirit of that old music is in mine. It doesn’t matter whether I play reggae, hip-hop or rock, it’s still Okinawan music.”
Despite appearances at concerts organised to protest against the Futenma relocation, Chibana is reluctant to be pigeonholed. “The base issue is huge, but my protests songs aren’t anti-base, so much as pro-community. I’m not interested in the ideological battles between left and right. The theme I really want to explore through my music is that no matter what happens, local people’s way of life must be protected.”
Like Kina, Chibana occasionally sings in the Okinawan language Uchinaguchi – an artistic choice that renders his lyrics unintelligible to many Japanese, but which exemplifies the island’s historical and emotional sense of detachment from the mainland.
In the 16th century, where the sanshin’s origins lie, Okinawa was part of the Ryukyu kingdom, which, while politically independent, had tributary relations with Ming dynasty China. Forced annexation by Japan came in the late 1800s, followed in the 1940s by the carnage of the Pacific war.
Less than a century after it was forcibly made part of Japan, Okinawa was the scene of one of the second world war’s bloodiest battles. An estimated 240,000 Japanese and Americans died, including more than a quarter of Okinawa’s civilian population, after US forces invaded in June 1945. Japanese troops distributed grenades to civilians, urging them to commit suicide or risk being raped and murdered by American soldiers.
"There are lots of songs about how terribly the Okinawans were treated in the war," said John Potter, the author of the only English-language book on Okinawan music and a prolific blogger on the subject.
Okinawa’s return to Japan in 1972 – almost three decades after the war – fuelled the local sense of “otherness” from the mainland.
Not all Okinawan musicians draw inspiration from the island’s bloody past, Potter said. “Many songs come back to what a fantastic place Okinawa is. Lots of artists sing about their culture and being island people, and their pride in being different.”
Poverty – Okinawa is Japan’s poorest prefecture – and the looming clouds of conflict sent many people in search of new lives overseas, creating a diaspora whose youngest members are making their presence felt on the island’s contemporary music scene.
Lucy Nagamine, a Peruvian-born singer whose grandparents left Okinawa shortly before the war, learned classical Ryukyu music from her grandmother and picked up her deceased grandfather’s sanshin at the age of 10.
Before settling in her ancestral homeland several years ago, Lucy often sang for Okinawan immigrants in Peru who were desperate to preserve the emotional ties with home. “Now I’m here in Okinawa, away from the country of my birth, I know how my grandparents and other immigrants felt,” she said in between songs at her regular venue, a restaurant in Naha.
"In those days immigrants had nothing to do except sing and play the sanshin. It was a central part of their existence, and why music and the Okinawan lifestyle are closely intertwined, even today."
Less polemic are Nenes, a group of four whose lineup has gone through several reincarnations since they were formed by the legendary artist and producer Sadao China in 1990. Nenes perform classic Okinawan songs for groups of tourists from the mainland.
One rare departure from their otherwise “safe” repertoire is their stirring version of Keisuke Kuwata’s Heiwa no Kyuka, which simmers with resentment over Okinawa’s bloody wartime sacrifice. “Who decided this country was at peace,” the song asks, “Even before the people’s tears have dried?”
"Now that we’re confronting the base issue again, this is a good time to sing about peace," said 24-year-old Mayuko Higa. "It’s important that the people who come to see us perform know why it’s an important subject here."
Nenes’ tourist-friendly melodies can seem a world away from Kina’s ceaseless quest for social and political change, an artist who implores the world’s armies to swap their weapons for musical instruments. His decade-old feud with NHK, Japan’s national broadcaster, proves that Japan’s mainstream media and firebrand politics can be uncomfortable bedfellows.
"They demanded that I drop any references to peace from my performance," Kina said, his arms in motion again as he recalls his incredulity. "I refused, of course, and they haven’t invited me back since. The message for Okinawan musicians has always been that if you want to get on in this industry, then keep your mouth shut. But I’ll say what I like."
I was down for Pharrell, but he is in sore need of a thorough dragging to rid him of his White-gaze thirst and tacit respectability politics BS. I mean, what’s next, an “Accidental Racist” duet with LL?
Honorable mention to @LouMinoti:
Pharrell needs to come out and clarify this shit before everyone forgets him….Money corrupts some, for real……
Pharrell is a dummy for this shit.
Kill Shot = “if you can’t beat em, serve em”
where is the Tyra gif. “We were rooting for you! We were all rooting for you!”
wow. new black.
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)’s Friday night Jazz Concerts continue tomorrow night featuring Pete Escovedo Latin Jazz Orchestra.
Yusef Lateef - Come Sunday