Blues guitarist and vocalist Johnnie Bassett dies at age 76

Johnnie Bassett
Photo credit: Cybelle Codish

According to a news release, Johnnie Bassett, the celebrated Detroit blues guitarist and vocalist, died from complications of liver cancer on Saturday, Aug. 4 at Saint John Hospital in Grosse Pointe, Mich. He was 76 years old.
Gretchen Valade, owner of Mack Avenue Records, reflects, “Johnnie Bassett was a wonderful musician and a good friend. Whenever I walked into a room where he was playing, he would start singing ‘Georgia,’ my all time favorite. He was sympathetic and loyal to his friends, and had a good sense of humor. He was a heck of a blues singer who wasn’t appreciated as much as he should have been, and didn’t have as many gigs as he should have had, but he never complained about anything. Johnnie was one in a million, and I will miss him terribly.”
Mack Avenue Records president Denny Stilwell laments the passing of one of the last few truly impactful blues musicians. “This is of course a sad day for us. Johnnie was the second artist signed to our Sly Dog imprint and we will miss his gritty vocals, raw guitar sound and mostly his gentlemanly ways.”
In 1944, Bassett relocated with his family from his hometown in Marianna, Fla., to Detroit, where his legacy flourished as he held his own in the fast company of luminaries such as Ruth Brown, Big Joe Turner, Smokey Robinson, Dinah Washington, former neighbor John Lee Hooker, and a young guitar fledgling named Jimi Hendrix. Even as a young boy in Florida, Bassett was surrounded by music. His mother, sisters, and aunts took him to church and surrounded him with gospel spirituals, and he spent the summers at his grandmother’s fish fries where the likes of Tampa Red, Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup, Lonnie Johnson and others would play while people ate and danced. It was years before Bassett realized these people he was meeting as a young teenager were big names. 

While attending Northwestern High School, Bassett’s brother gave him his first guitar. After much practice, the young teenager went on to perform in talent shows, theaters, and nightclubs with pianist Joe Weaver, a close friend, as Joe Weaver & The Blue Notes. The group, which was performing in some of Detroit’s greatest nightclubs before they were old enough to drink, became the house band for Frolic Showbar in the mid-50s after just three weeks performing there. It was unlikely that Bassett knew at the time that this was what would lead him to performing with legendary vocalist Dinah Washington when she made it to the gig and her band didn’t. The band was eventually playing gigs with John Lee Hooker, Big Joe Turner, Ruth Brown, and Eddie Burns and a tenure as the house band for Detroit’s Fortune Records label. He also spent a bit of time with Chicago’s Chess Records and appeared on the first sessions for Smokey Robinson and the Miracles before Motown’s existence. 
In the mid-60s, after a six year run in the United States Army, Bassett decided to remain in Seattle, Washington. During his stay, he hosted a Sunday night jam session which was frequented by a prodigious young guitarist, Jimi Hendrix. Hendrix usually hung around to pick up licks and tricks, and also to develop an understanding of the tuning of Bassett’s guitar. He achieved his signature sound by using a style of tuning he referred to as Vestapol (open E flat), which he recently joked in an interview that no one under 70-years-old knows about. During this time, he was also backing John Lee Hooker, Little Willie John, and even backed Tina Turner on one occasion. It was the late 60’s when Bassett made his return to Detroit. 
It wasn’t until the early-90s that Bassett emerged as a leader and formed his own band, The Blues Insurgents, with encouragement from drummer RJ Spangler who rallied the guitarist after catching his set on a side-stage at the Montreux-Detroit Jazz Festival. During this time, Bassett recorded a series of albums starting withThe Heid/Bassett Blues Insurgents (with keyboardist Bill Heid and the late saxophonist Scott Petersen), I Gave My Life To The Blues (recorded in The Netherlands), Bassett Hound (also with Bill Heid), Cadillac Blues (nominated for five W.C. Handy Awards and included in DownBeat magazine’s best albums of the 90s) and Party My Blues Away, but his last label, Cannonball Records, went out of business. He kept working and eventually became a hometown legend and treasure, receiving a well deserved Lifetime Achievement Award from the Detroit Blues Society in 1994. He has also earned five Detroit Music Awards, as well as many other nominations. Jim Gallert, Detroit music historian, says, “Johnnie Bassett took the sounds of the Delta, the Basie band, and Funk, and made them into a personal dynamic style. He was a unique and special person.”
Years later, during a four-night residency at Dirty Dog Jazz Café in Grosse Pointe, Bassett found himself speaking with Valade during a break. When Valade asked if Bassett had a label and he said no, she replied with, “Well, you do now.” Bassett soon after signed a deal with Sly Dog Records, a Mack Avenue imprint, where he released 2009’s The Gentleman is Back. His most recent album, I Can Make That Happen, also released on Sly Dog, was released on June 19, 2012. Both albums were produced by his longtime sidemen, organist/pianist Chris Codish and saxophonist Keith Kaminski, and feature their Detroit bands The Brothers Groove and The Motor City Horns, respectively. Codish and Kaminski toured, recorded, and performed regularly with Bassett and helped to guide his career for almost 20 years.  
Bassett is survived by his wife Deborah, daughter Benita Litt, and his wife’s children, Lynn Tolbert, Courtney Campbell and Kenneth Pringle. Funeral arrangements and a memorial service are pending.

Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame honors new members on Wednesday

Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame’s Jazz Depot, Tulsa

The Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame (at the historic Jazz Depot, 111 E. First St. in Tulsa, OK) will honor several outstanding musicians at the 2011 Induction Gala and Ceremony on Wednesday, Nov. 16.  (Also Oklahoma Statehood Day!)

The Inductees for 2011 are…. 
  • Conductor, musician, composer and writer David Amram will be awarded the Jay McShann Lifetime Achievement Award and will give a performance.
  • Lou Kerr will be awarded the Spirit of Community Excellence Award for her continuing commitment towards improving Oklahoma and her support of educational and leadership programs.
  • Dorothy “Miss Blues” Ellis of Oklahoma City and Theodore “Rudy” Scott of Tulsa will be inducted in the Blues category;
  • Suzanne Tate, recently retired Director of the Oklahoma Arts Council will be awarded the Spirit of Community Excellence Award for her two decades of tireless work for the arts and her service to the state of Oklahoma. 
  • Donald “Don” CherryJames “Jim” Pepper, and Charles E. “Pee Wee” Russell will be posthumously inducted in the Jazz category;
  • Dr. Terry Segress of Southwestern Oklahoma State University, Dr. Ron Predl of the Tulsa Symphony Orchestra, and Dr. Kent Kidwell of the University of Central Oklahoma will receive Zelia Breaux Distinguished Jazz Educator Award;  
  • Sharel Cassity, a Juilliard trained, multi-instrumentalist will receive the Legacy Tribute Award.   


The reception will begin at 6 p.m. Dinner is at 6:45 p.m., and the Induction Ceremony begins at 7:45 p.m. Tickets are available online at or call (918) 281-8609. 

Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival presents U.S. debut of “Sing The Truth!”

(From left to right: Angelique Kidjo, Dianne Reeves, Lizz Wright)

According to a recent news release, Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC) in Saratoga Springs, New York, will present the U.S. debut of Sing The Truth!, a new production that honors the music and spirit of great women of jazz, folk, R&B, gospel and the blues.  Featuring African-born songstress Angelique Kidjo, pre-eminent jazz vocalist Dianne Reeves, and genre-defying jazz singer Lizz Wright, this meeting of three critically-acclaimed, powerhouse vocalists will pay musical tribute to the legacies of three recently departed, iconic female artists: South African singer and civil rights activist Miriam Makeba, American jazz vocalist, actress, civil rights and political activist Abbey Lincoln, and “the Voice of the Civil Rights Movement,” American folk musician and human rights activist Odetta.  Sing The Truth! will also feature songs by other great women of music, ranging from Billie Holiday to Aretha Franklin, Joan Armatrading and Lauryn Hill, along with original songs.
The original Sing The Truth! premiered as a 2004 JVC Jazz Festival concert at Carnegie Hall, New York City, and celebrated the music of Nina Simone. 

The all-star Sing The Truth! ensemble for the Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival performance will feature Geri Allen on piano and keyboards, music director Terri Lyne Carrington on drums, James Genus on bass, Munyungo Jackson on percussion, and Romero Lubambo on guitars.  This remarkable group of musicians will go everywhere and anywhere that Angelique Kidjo, Dianne Reeves and Lizz Wright feel the music takes them.  The audience will be along for a memorable ride.
Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center runs from Saturday, June 25 to Sunday, June 26, 2011.  Other artists scheduled to appear include Michael McDonald, Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, Dee Dee Bridgewater, George Wein & the Newport All Stars, Donald Harrison, Jr., The Bad Plus, Ben Allison, Marcus Strickland, and many more.  For the complete lineup of artists and performances, go to
Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival is produced by SPAC and Absolutely Live Entertainment.
Located in scenic Saratoga Springs, New York, Saratoga Performing Arts Center has been the site of the Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival since George Wein established it in 1978.  With an inside seating capacity of 5,200, lawn seating of 20,000, world class talent and just three hours driving time from either Boston or New York City, SPAC’s Jazz Festival draws thousands of jazz lovers from across the Northeast and the United States.

2011 Charlie Christian International Music Festival features new talent, events in Oklahoma City

Brother Enoch
In a recent news release, Anita G. Arnold, executive director of Black Liberated Arts Center (BLAC), Inc., said that the 2011 Charlie Christian International Music Festival will feature fresh, new talent in the almost week-long event along with some familiar faces.  The outdoor festival that runs June 3-4, 2011, at Bi-Centennial Park in Oklahoma City will showcase the musical talents of 10 bands playing continuous music throughout the weekend.

NIKKI & DA MIXX and Brother Enoch are first timers at the festival.  NIKKI & DA MIXX, a hip, swinging group from Broken Arrow,OK, promises to “light your fire” with the sultry vocals of Nikki Washington Givens.  Brother Enoch, whose founding members are Timothy Haverkamp, John Carter, and Boris Connally, met and formed their musical trio at the University of Central Oklahoma in the spring of 2010.  Timothy is an accomplished pianist and composer who completed a Masters Degree in Jazz Studies.  John is an established and experienced percussionist and has a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology.  Brother Boris is a saxophonist, clarinetist, and flutist with a Masters Degree in Jazz Studies.  Their eclectic style is a combination of jazz, R&B, soul, classical, hip-hop, gospel and blues.

Familiar faces at the festival include Taylor Made Jazz, Kelvin Drake (Mr. Guitar), James Slaw & Friends, Jeremy Thomas Band, Cara Black Band, 411 Band, and the two headliners, Lao Tizer on Friday Night and All Funk Radio Show on Saturday Night.

The Charlie Christian International Music Festival adds a new family friendly performance piece, “Amazing Children” on Saturday, June 4.  From 3:00 to 4:00 p.m., the festival attendees will have a rare opportunity to see gifted children from Oklahoma City perform amazing feats during friendly student competition in solving rubrics cube puzzles in approximately one minute from the Dove Science Academy Elementary School, martial arts performed by championship students from Martin Luther King Jr. school as well as ballroom dancing.  Wilson Arts Integration School students will showcase their excellent talents in instrumental and vocal music. “Too often the public has a negative perception of students today and they never get to see the amazing things that students can do,” Arnold said. “We are delighted to put the spotlight on such talent.”

Wristbands for the two-day event may be purchased for $10 per day or both days for $17 at the following locations: BLAC Inc., Capitol Square Station, Charlie’s Jazz, Rhythm & Blues Store, City Cuts and Design Group, Hopkins Haircare, KM66 and Learning Tree Toy Store.  For more information, call (405) 524-3800.

Sponsors for the festival include BancFirst, Friends of the Oklahoma Historical Society Archives, and The Oklahoma City Chapter of the Links, EMSA, The City of Oklahoma City and the Oklahoma Arts Council.

Kenny Garrett joins other Honorary Doctorate of Music degree recipients at Berklee College of Music

Kenny Garrett/Credit: Jimmy Katz

According to a recent news release, Mack Avenue Records recording artist Kenny Garrett will be presented with an Honorary Doctorate of Music degree from Berklee College of Music. The presentation will be made at the college’s commencement ceremony on Saturday, May 7, 2011, at the 7,000-seat Agganis Arena at Boston University. 
Additionally, Garrett will serve as the commencement speaker, addressing more than 900 Berklee graduates, their parents, and invited guests. Other renowned musicians to receive an honorary degree with Garrett include: Chucho Valdés, Bebo Valdés, Mavis Staples, and Michael McDonald.
“I was totally elated when I was advised that I’d be receiving an Honorary Doctorate from the world’s largest college of contemporary music!” Garrett said. “This is a dream come true, and I’m deeply appreciative and honored to be a member of this illustrious group of recipients.”   
For over 30 years, Garrett has garnered critical recognition for his versatility in jazz, blues, and R&B. The Detroit native began his career performing with the Duke Ellington Orchestra and Mel Lewis Orchestra. In the early 1980s, Garrett began working with Miles Davis, becoming a member of Davis’ working group —  a collaboration that lasted for five years. These days, he is working on his sophomore Mack Avenue release, due to be released during the first quarter of 2012.

GNOTE to headline 9th annual All That Jazz Fundraiser on Feb. 19 in Bartlesville

GNOTE (from left): George Allen, Annette Peters and Toby Denton

GNOTE, a high energy trio that specializes in music from the 50s through today’s hits, will headline the 9th annual All That Jazz Fundraiser at 6 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 19, 2011, at the Hillcrest Country Club, 1901 Price Road in Bartlesville, OK. Attendees will enjoy a reception featuring hors d’oeuvres and music by the Bartlesville High School Jazz Band at 6 p.m., dinner at 6:30 p.m., program at 7:45 p.m. and music by GNOTE from about 8:15-11:15 p.m. For ticket information, call (918) 336-6760.
GNOTE, consisting of group members George Allen, Annette Peters and Toby Denton, covers genres from R&B to country to rock-‘n’-roll to jazz as well as blues. Oklahoma Magazine selected the group as one of the Who’s Who of Oklahoma Entertainment in 2005.
All That Jazz is a fundraiser that supports the programs of the Westside Community Center (WCC) in Bartlesville. The Westside Community Center, founded in 1950 as a center for the black community, has enriched the lives of Bartlesville residents through the encouragement of self-motivation and self-reliance. The Westside Community Center also provides vital services and meets many needs that aren’t addressed by other local organizations. Although the center primarily serves minorities, low-income families, senior citizens and children who reside in the western sector of Bartlesville, membership is open to anyone who wishes to join and benefit from WCC programs.

Rick Gill’s J3 Acoustic Jazz and Blues Band takes the stage at the Jazz Depot on Sunday, May 16, 2010

Rick Gill’s J3 Acoustic Jazz and  
Blues Band, considered one of the most popular jazz and blues groups to hit the stage at the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame‘s Depot, this quartet play a variety of jazz standards, blues and popular tunes. The band will perform at 5 p.m. Sunday, May 16, 2010,  Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame (The Jazz Depot), 111 E. First Street (Upper Level), in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Attendees will hear Rick Gill on guitar and vocals, Jack Wolf on piano, Damon Daniels on drums, and Doug McDuffie on bass. General admission is $15 or $10 for seniors and students. Table seating is available for $20 per person. Click here for tickets or for more information, call (918) 281-8600. You can also buy tickets at the door the night of the event. Doors will open at 4 p.m.

The Zuits return on Friday, April 23, 2010, to the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame

Tulsa’s jazz, Latin and Blues ensemble The Zuits will return at 7 p.m. Friday, April 23, 2010, to the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame‘s Depot, 111 E. First Street (Upper Level) in Tulsa, OK. Dance lessons start at 7 p.m., and the show begins at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $10. 
For more information, call (918) 281-8600. Participants may also buy tickets at the door, which will open at 6:30 p.m.
The extra large dance floor will be rolled out, so participants need to wear dancing shoes and come enjoy the ensemble!  

BLAC Inc. presents “An Evening with Ray Charles” Soul Food Dinner Theater on April 17 in Oklahoma City

Bluesman Bryan Lee releases “My Lady Don’t Love My Lady” this week

Justin Times Records recently announced the release of Blues guitarist Bryan Lee. Titled “My Lady Don’t Love My Lady,” the compilation features a star-studded blues affair, featuring top tier, special guest performances by the legendary Buddy Guy; Kenny Wayne Shepherd, who was mentored by Bryan early in his career; pianist David Maxwell, who intuitive playing blends seamlessly with Bryan’s; and guitarist Duke Robillard, who also expertly produced the session at his studio in Rhode Island.
According to Lee’s bio, he was born in Two Rivers, Wis., and he completely lost his eyesight by the age of eight. His avid interest in early rock and blues was fostered through the 1950s by late night listening sessions via the Nashville-based radio station WLAC AM, where he first encountered the sounds of Elmore James, Albert King and Albert Collins. By his late teens, Lee was playing rhythm guitar in a regional band called The Glaciers that covered Elvis Presley, Little Richard and Chuck Berry material. In January 1982, Lee headed south to New Orleans and eventually landing a steady gig at the Old Absinthe House, where he became a favorite of tourists in the city’s French Quarter.
Lee’s been a regular at the Festival International de Jazz de Montreal (FIJM) since signing with the Montreal-based label in the early 1990s, and also performs regularly throughout Europe and North America.