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GIL SCOTT-HERON’S HOUSE PARTY AT THE SCHOMBURG
 

     A gregarious gathering packed the house to hear grassroots griot Gil Scott-Heron officially open the 70th anniversary season of performances at the Schomburg Center.  With high revelry and deep respect, the attentive audience received him as a cultivated character composite of extended family member, long-time friend, next door neighbor, street corner sage, political satirist, revolutionary guru, city preacher and life-of-the-party.

     He, however, branded himself a bluesologist, explaining that whatever you want to do, just put an “-ologist” on the end of it and open an office.  As a bluesologist, Gil Scott-Heron with his brilliant band, The Amnesia Express, gave a powerful performance of vintage material and enchanted an appreciative audience into a state of euphoria.  As a people’s performer, he transformed the setting from concert hall to community park, from community park to block party, and from block party to house party.

     For his opening segment, which can be categorized as stand-up comedy of consciousness, Scott-Heron stood alone on stage and served the capacity crowd a hearty helping of holistic humor.  He then segued into the poetic monologue “Whitey on the Moon” from his “Small Talk on 125th Street” album which he recorded at the age of 21.  Still alone on the stage, he accompanied himself on piano in the first musical selection of the evening, “A Song for Fannie Lou Hamer.”

     For his second song, “There’s a War Going On,” he brought out The Amnesia Express band members and introduced them as soldiers.  The combined contribution of Ron Holloway on tenor saxophone and Vernon Jones on alto saxophone created a catalytic continuum for the remainder of the evening.  Responding to silent requests for the favorites, “Is That Jazz?” and “Winter in America,” Scott-Heron was in his glory, galvanizing the gathering with his greatness.

     The final two presentations of the program escalated the ebullient evening into a climatic conclusion of high drama.  Firstly, Scott-Heron gracefully guided us through the opening stanzas of the guardedly optimistic ballad, “Better Days Ahead.”  The solos that followed boasted beauty beyond belief: Ron Holloway’s tenor saxophone spirited us into a magnificent mix, courtesy of King Curtis, Junior Walker, Stanley Turrentine, early Wayne Shorter, and Holloway himself.  Next, the alto saxophonist’s statement was intense and invigorating.  Then came the bass solo, a mesmerizing manifesto that was simultaneously conversational in its creativity and confessional in its craft.  The harmonica solo continued with a tear-jerking treatise on tomorrow, while providing us with a slow drag pendulum swing between poignancy and passion.

     All the solos were punctuated with cheers, screams, clapping, whistling, and howling.  Lastly, “The Bottle.”  The ever-popular, successful song that had been an immediate hit when first released and subsequently became entrenched and enshrined on the club music circuit.

     Prefaced by words of praise for the Schomburg Center as a symbol of “something good about Harlem,” Scott-Heron began “The Bottle” by connecting the repeated “celebrate” riff to Schomburg Center’s celebration.  Needless to say, as soon as he announced “The Bottle,” the house party hit an all-time high.  It had clearly become a collective performance with people partying in and out of their seats.

     In a post-party mini-interview, Scott-Heron repeated his message from days of yore that is as meaningful today as it was before: “Nobody can do everything, but everybody can do something; and if everybody does something, everything will get done.”

Author:  GEORGE EDWARD TAIT

Publication Name: NEW YORK AMSTERDAM NEWS

Publication Date: 11-04-95

   

 
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