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Drummer Nate Smith chronicles personal experiences on debut album

smithNate Smith‘s visceral, instinctive, and deep-rooted style of drumming has already established him as a key piece in reinvigorating the international jazz scene, and now his rising career reaches a new benchmark with the release of his bandleader debut, KINFOLK: Postcards from Everywhere (Feb. 3, 2017 via Ropeadope Records). Much like his diverse and ample resume (which includes esteemed leading lights such as Dave Holland, Chris Potter, Ravi Coltrane, José James, Somi, and Patricia Barber, among others), this album sees Smith fusing his original modern jazz compositions with R&B, pop, and hip-hop.
This leader debut shows Smith at the helm of a core ensemble consisting of pianist and keyboardist Kris Bowers, guitarist Jeremy Most, alto and soprano saxophonist Jaleel Shaw, electric bassist Fima Ephron, and singer/lyricist Amma Whatt, with Michael Mayo on backing vocals. The lineup expands on several cuts with the inclusion of several illustrious guests: saxophonist Chris Potter, bassist Dave Holland, guitarists Lionel Loueke and Adam Rogers, and vocalist Gretchen Parlato.
KINFOLK is about the musical family that I’ve put together,” Smith said in a recent news release. “All core members of the band have very unique and specific points of view.”
He reinforces the idea of family by composing tunes that touch upon his childhood: such is the case with the jovial “Morning and Allison,” whose title partly invokes Allison Drive, the street on which Smith grew up. The song stars Whatt serenading idyllic recollections of a child enjoying a bright, fun-filled Sunday morning.
Smith recorded his parents – Lettie and Theodore Smith – talking about their respective parents on the mesmerizing interludes “Mom” and “Dad.” On the former, Smith’s mother tells how her father migrated from Virginia to Detroit and was drafted into U.S. Army, then later returned to Virginia where he bought the family a house. The latter provides a vehicle for Theodore to recall how his own father tirelessly worked at Navy shipyard in Norfolk, Virginia during the Jim Crow era without getting proper financial compensation or promotion until decades later.
“I think of these stories as snapshots that ultimately gave shape to the Black American experience into which I was born, which ultimately informs this music,” Smith said. He stressed the significance of having his father on the disc: Theodore Smith passed away in March 2015.
“He never got a chance to hear the music or the band,” Smith said.
Because Smith didn’t come strictly from the formal matriculation of music studies as so many of his jazz contemporaries did, he lovingly describes his approach to drumming as “unrefined,” which in turns helps him distinguish his voice. He did, however, earned his bachelor’s degree in 1997 in media arts and design from James Madison University. While he was still in college, the legendary singer Betty Carter recruited him for her world-acclaimed Jazz Ahead program.
Smith said that the visual arts discipline he studied in college definitely seeps into his compositions.
“I love great movies and images. I’ve always had a deep interest in composing for film,” he said. “For this project, there is something very cinematic about the way that I conceived this record. That’s why it was so important for me to cast the right characters in terms of musicians. They bring to life the themes of family, nostalgia and identity that define this music.”
Ultimately, Smith likens the songs on KINFOLK to film vignettes sequenced together to tell a greater story about the unfolding journey of a working artist. This music represents snapshots from that voyage – these songs are the postcards from everywhere along the winding road.
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2013 Charlie Christian Festival attracts special guests as journey to centennial begins

Charlie Christian

Charlie Christian

This year’s Charlie Christian International Music Festival in Oklahoma City is attracting a contingent of people from the Lone Star state who have started their own celebrations of legendary guitarist Charlie Christian in Texas.

“We welcome everybody from near and far to join us in this history laden event,” festival chairman Mark Temple said in a news release. “We want them to know that not everything big happens in Texas. There are big things happening right here in Oklahoma City. For the first time,  we have four headliners for our event – Joe McBride, Najee, All Funk Radio Show, and Kirk Whalum and so much more.”

The 2013 festival is the beginning of a launch to the 100th anniversary of Christian in 2016.

“We invite the community to join us in making this one of the biggestand best events, yet,” Temple said. “We are pleased that the last two days of the festival will be held at the Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark, site of the first Frederick A. Douglass High School established in 1896. In fact, the site will be special to these out of town guests because the murals on the walls of the ballpark showcase Charlie Christian, Calvary Baptist Church where his funeral was held, the Aldridge Theater where Charlie’s picture hung on the walls for years and so much more of the Deep Deuce History.”

Other special guests expected at the festival are remaining members of Charlie Christian’s family. Freddy Jenkins, a cousin to Christian, will travel from Arizona with his family to attend the event. Oklahoma Sen. Connie Johnson will present a proclamation at the Ralph Ellison program, and state Rep. Anastasia Pittman will open the festival at the ballpark.

To add to the festive occasion, Anita Arnold, executive director of Black Liberated Arts Center, said that as a bonus to the first 500 two-day ticket holders on Friday night, there will be free parking next to the ballpark at the red parking lot on the east side of Joe Carter Avenue. The festival will feature three events that are free to the public.

The festival schedule can be found at here, and tickets can be purchased online or in community outlets. Proceeds from the festival benefit will benefit BLAC, Inc. (Black Liberated Arts Center), a local not-for-profit organization known for presenting and producing educational arts programs and preserving African American history in Oklahoma City.

The Ensemble Theatre continues season with “Knock Me a Kiss” by Charles Smith

houstonensembleThe Ensemble Theatre,  3535 Main St. in Houston, Texas, will debut its first production from  Jan. 31 to Feb. 24, 2013, by award winning playwright Charles  Smith as its 2012-2013 season continues. The show will be directed by visiting artist Chuck Smith, resident director at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre.

“Knock Me a Kiss” takes place during the 1920s in Harlem. The story follows Yolonda DuBois, a woman torn between two lovers. One is a fast-living musician, Jimmy Lunceford, the other a poet, Countee Cullen, sanctioned by her father, activist W.E.B. DuBois. This fictional account is inspired by the actual events surrounding the 1928 marriage of W.E.B. Du Bois’ daughter Yolande to one of Harlem’s great poets, Countee Cullen. The marriage marked the height of the Harlem Renaissance and was viewed as the perfect union of Negro talent and beauty. It united the daughter of America’s foremost black  intellectual, co-founder of the NAACP and publisher of Crisis Magazine, with a poet  whose work was considered to be one of the flagships for the New Negro movement. At what personal cost does a leader pay to make life better for so many others when he is blind to those living in his own home?

The Ensemble Theatre’s 2012-2013 Season is sponsored in part by grants from the City of Houston through the Houston Arts Alliance and Texas Commission on the Arts. United Airlines is the exclusive airline sponsor for The Ensemble Theatre. For more information, call  (713) 520-0055.