Thursday, December 22, 2016

2016 in review: The year in local hip-hop

Posted By on Thu, Dec 22, 2016 at 8:00 AM

Cover art for Clint Breeze's Nappy Head - SUBMITTED PHOTO
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  • Cover art for Clint Breeze's Nappy Head
During 2016 Indianapolis emcees and beat-makers thrived in all domains — online, onstage and on disc. Artists like Flaco, Drayco, Ejaaz and Poindexter racked up impressive listens through online music streaming services, the second edition of Chreece was one of the most talked about and successful local live events of the year and a plethora of great LPs were issued by Indy hip-hop names both known and unknown.

One of of the most significant releases of 2016 was Clint Breeze's Nappy Head album. Drummer/producer Carrington Clinton has been creating beats under the name Clint Breeze since 2014. While his 2015 LP Maisha became a cult favorite among local listeners, Nappy Head is poised to position Breeze as one of the most important creative artists in Indianapolis. 

Featuring over a dozen guest contributors, including poets, rappers and jazz musicians, Nappy Head weaves a phantasmagoric assemblage of words and sounds into a razor-sharp critique of racial oppression in modern America. "It's a social commentary on our times," Breeze told me during a recent conversation. "I wanted to be very particular and concise with the message. The overall theme or motif of all the album is to symbolize the oppression of Black people in America."

The tone of the album is immediately set by Jacob Gardner’s striking cover art. I asked Breeze to explain the significance of the image.

“The album art depicts a Black person overcoming oppression in America. They’re sitting on top of the American flag, and the noose that is perceivably about to hang them is now broken. It’s to symbolize the state of oppression Black people experience every day: not getting fair treatment from the justice system, getting shot and killed by law enforcement, being unfairly treated in the workforce — you name it.”

As a producer Breeze draws skillfully from the soulful, jazz-rooted sound of the beloved Soulquarians collective, which briefly united the creative talents of artists ranging from Dilla to Questlove to Erykah Badu. Beyond music, one of the most impressive aspects of Nappy Head is Breeze's directorial ability to channel the talents of a diverse range of contributors into a coherent whole.

Oreo Jones had a big year in 2016 too. As mentioned above, the second edition of Jones' Chreece festival was a smash hit. The emcee also dropped Cash For Gold, the best album of his career and one of the most important Indianapolis releases of 2016. 

I spoke with Jones about the record earlier this year. In addition to experimenting with new sounds, Jones also pushed into new territory as a lyricist. Best known for his comedic, larger-than-life flows, Cash For Gold's "Mud" found Jones exploring more difficult material. "That's definitely a social justice record," Jones told me. "At the time I was writing it, the crime rate and shootings and violence in the city were running rampant. I felt like it was important to tell a story about the people affected by the killings and shootings in the city. That's very important to me and it's important to the city to be aware of this." 

The local disc I gave the most play to this year was Sirius Blvck's NXGHTCRAWLR. With the assistance of producer Bones of Ghosts, Blvck has created one of the must fully realized Indianapolis hip-hop records I've ever heard. NXGHTCRAWLR unfolds with almost cinematic movement, as Bones' dark ambient soundscapes provide the perfect foundation for Blvck's cryptic meditations on life.

The mood here is different, perhaps bleaker, than past entries in Blvck's back catalog. That's in part due to Bones' production. Blvck elaborated on the record's sound when we spoke earlier this year, "When Bones sent me some of the instrumentals I was unsure about a few of them because they were so different from anything I'd ever heard before. It kind of threw me off at first. Not in a bad way, but it was new. We had kind of developed a good outline together from the first three records, but we threw everything out the window with a lot of these tracks. Bones just said, 'Trust me. This is what we need to do. If you do this it's going to be something fresh.' So I trusted him, and it came out good." 

The three records outlined above represent a mere snapshot of Indy's large and constantly expanding hip-hop scene. If you haven't yet ventured into this world, these discs offer a perfect entry point. There's a widespread feeling among journalists, fans and artists that the local scene here has serious potential to explode into the national consciousness, but until that happens, these artists need your support.

I'm reminded of a recent conversation I had with Cortland Tunstiill, better known as Fre$co of the New Wave Collective, who spoke at length on this subject: "The music here is flourishing. ...

"The biggest issue is us reaching out beyond the scene. There's a whole city out there, but we're still underground."

Beyond the need for more community support, I'd like to add one more critique as I close out this look back at Indianapolis hip-hop in 2016. There is a startling and unacceptable lack of gender diversity in this scene. Without question, more effort needs to be put forward in booking women artists and growing the talents of emerging women DJs, producers, emcees and promoters. 

One major exception to this gender imbalance is emcee Rehema McNeil. In addition to being one of the most charismatic live performers in Indianapolis hip-hop, McNeil also released a superb EP this year titled Moko. The word "moko" translates to "womanhood" from the Polynesian language of Tonga. So I asked McNeil about the lack of "womanhood" being represented in local hip-hop. 

"I have mixed emotions about it honestly," McNeil told me. "Part of it is an opportunity, because there aren't that many female emcees in the city that are dominating, so I have an open path to dominate and control the scene and saturate it with my music. But also I feel like I'm overlooked in certain areas, like getting booked for shows.

As the unprecedented political changes of 2016 point to a scary future in the year to come, we need the critical voice of hip-hop more than ever. Let's hope Indianapolis hip-hop continues to grow in 2017 — to grow artistically, to grow in community support and to grow in diversity.

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Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Stuart Hyatt knits together 200 years of Indiana voices

Posted By on Wed, Dec 14, 2016 at 7:00 AM

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It was December 11 of 1816 that President James Madison applied his signature to an act proposing statehood for the territory of Indiana. There’s been no shortage bicentennial-themed projects emerging from Indiana this year in commemoration of that historic date. One of the most interesting among these entries comes to us from artist/musician Stuart Hyatt’s Field Works project.

I would be hard-pressed to describe Hyatt’s musical summary of Indiana’s bicentennial any better than the artist did himself in the initial message he sent me about the work: “The Fair State is a minimalist ode to Indiana, with highly critical commentary... You’ll hear everything from lead vocals sung by goats to rare recordings of Eugene Debs.”

Stuart Hyatt and company have created a subtly critical soundtrack for meditative reflection on the current condition of Indiana, weaving voices from politicians, farmers, and educators into a quietly spellbinding musical score. The Fair State offers no judgement on the myriad topics addressed throughout the album’s duration, instead Hyatt seems to be urging us to listen more conscientiously to the individual voices buried within the harsh dissonance of contemporary socio-political debate.

The Fair State is available now in a vinyl edition at LUNA Music, or you can go to to purchase a copy online.

FIELD WORKS: Ecology from TEAM Records on Vimeo.

NUVO: This is the fourth album you’ve released as Field Works. Each Field Works’ LP was composed using audio field recordings collected within a defined geographical location. What appeals to you about this method of creating music?

Stuart Hyatt: It’s been a way for me to continue recording and performing music without having to be in a band. I'm not at a place in my life where I want to go play in bars, or go to band rehearsals. But I love writing and recording music.

So writing music using the entire soundscape around us as a giant palette to draw from has been endlessly interesting and motivational for me. I was driving today and heard some kids playing outside, I was listening to this kind of new age-y piano music by Max Richter in the car, and these kids were shouting in perfect time and tune with the music. Those are the moments where maybe you're driving and listening to music and the world becomes a part of that. So exploring how to make music out of recorded natural field sounds has really been my obsession for the last several years.

NUVO: Do the Field Works projects always start with you going out on location to collect sounds?

Hyatt: It always starts with me going out in the field. It's me exploring a place and eventually grabbing the microphone, headphones, and a cheap audio recorder to start collecting the sounds.

When I started The Fair State project it was initially going to be about the State Fair. In 2015 I went to the State Fair almost every day it was open. I just felt it was this great sonic whirlwind, this panoply of sonic experiences, from animals to the midway. The record was going to be about the fair as kind of a human experience and the collision of urban and rural, past and future.

But about the third day I went, I was exiting off 38th Street, and even though I grew up a mile from the State Fairgrounds, I'd never really looked at those huge limestone towers they have at the main entrance. So I read them, and they were given to Indiana in 1976 for the country's Bicentennial. It basically said, "Indiana, here are five things you should be proud of." The five things are: agriculture, labor, education, industry, and trade. So those five things are arguably what our state is supposed to be proud of, at least in 1976.

So I got to thinking, "Oh gosh, maybe these sounds and this experience isn't so much about the fair. Maybe it's about our state, and the bicentennial that’s coming up, and that next year is an election year, and that our state's been through a lot of difficult national news stories. Maybe that's what I'm really wanting to get at." That's when the record shifted from being about the State Fair, to being about our fair state.

NUVO: You added a couple of your own categories to those five Hoosier themes documented on this 1976 limestone monument, your themes being ecology and equality. You also did a redesign of the Indiana state seal featuring the art of Nat Russell, which is included as a limited edition print in the album’s packaging.

Hyatt: It was my idea to do a refresh of the seal. It's a little bit tongue and cheek. I wanted it to be innocent and playful. So I called up my favorite Indiana illustrator Nat Russell, who totally nailed the concept.

I suggested rather than a buffalo literally running for its life and running away from our state - what if they came back? Rather than chopping down and clearing the forest - what if we were planting trees instead? And we gentled the mountains, which Indiana doesn't even have and were drawn by an East Coast artist who'd never been west of the Appalachians, and we added a bit of a cityscape. It's just kind of a sweet, more peaceful rendition of the state seal.

NUVO: There are a couple tracks off the record I want to ask you about. The first being “Labor," which features the voice of the great Indiana labor leader and social justice activist Eugene V. Debs.

Hyatt: I was amazed to have found an audio recording of Debs speaking. He was born in the mid-1850s, so to do a record where lead vocals are by this guy who has been dead for almost one-hundred years was amazing.

For those who don't know Debs, just imagine if Bernie Sanders was born in Terre Haute. Obviously when you look at labor and you look at Indiana, he rises to the top of the list of people you want to think about or write about.

NUVO: I also wanted to ask you about “Equality," which contains some of the most potent commentary on the album. “Equality” features a sort-of reconstructed dialogue between a range of voices including Mike Pence, and former Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard among others.

Hyatt: Well, I tried to squeeze a lot of things into that track. We'd just come off RFRA, as well as the refusal to resettle some Syrian refugees. Those were both upsetting to me for a number of reasons. But I didn't want it to be completely one sided. This is a conflation of those two issues and trying to imaging everyone involved as human beings.

We hear our governor talking about "Hoosier hospitality" and it should mean something beyond a tagline. To have those two topics be so hurtful to myself and other people when we're supposed to be this welcoming state, that's what this track is about.

I think there's some pointed commentary within the music. I feel pretty uncomfortable in my social spheres and my personal life espousing my political beliefs, I guess because I can always try to see two sides to every issue and I really try to embrace those perspectives. So this was an opportunity for me to explore some of my own feelings about what's going on Indiana through a musical statement. It's the first time I really tried to do that and I guess I'd let the listeners decide for themselves what we're trying to say.

NUVO: Under the Field Works banner you’ve released an album about the Indianapolis waterway Pogue’s Run. You also released an album titled The National Road, which features recordings you made while traveling the length of the National Road’s span through Marion County.

Are Indiana themes central to all your entries in the Field Works series?

Hyatt: No, the third album in the series is called Born in the Ear and that was built around recordings made in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. I spent about 18 months slowly developing that project, and that was released in the spring. That was number three in this five album set. So out of the five, three of them really have an Indiana component. The last one is about pre-human sounds. Like sounds of the universe and the planet way before we ever arrived. It gets pretty trippy.

NUVO: Is there an overarching conceptual theme to the Field Works’ collection?

Hyatt: The idea was to create a body of music based on audio field recordings to tell a story about the human experience and our relationship and conflicts with the natural world. That's the connective thread through all of the albums. I've been slowly peeling off one record at a time trying to assemble this really awesome collection in a five album box set which will have limited edition packaging. There are some short films that go with each record that will be included. I'm working on number five right now. It's actually going to be a double LP.

NUVO: Can you give us a preview of what exactly we’ll be hearing on volume five?

Hyatt: One LP will feature gravitational waves, which were the final piece to prove Einstein's theory of relativity. They were just discovered last year, and they make a perfect middle C tone. So it's just magic. Then the sounds that might have been happening on Earth around that same time 1.3 billion years ago. Those sounds will be volcanic in nature. I recently got back from the Democratic Republic of Congo recording one of the greatest volcanos on planet Earth, Mount Nyiragongo. Those sounds are sizzling hot!

So this music will be built around ancient sounds of the planet and ancient sounds of the universe. We're going to get totally away from people and just zone out on these ancient sounds.

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Thursday, December 8, 2016

Flutist James Pellerite's second wind is Native American flute

Posted By on Thu, Dec 8, 2016 at 11:02 AM

James Pellerite - PHOTO BY KYLE LONG
  • Photo by Kyle Long
  • James Pellerite

At 90 years old, James Pellerite could comfortably rest on the many achievements of his past. Instead, he’s chosen a path of restless innovation, challenging the conventional orthodoxy of both classical music’s status quo, and accepted forms of expression within the indigenous American folk tradition.

For the majority of his life, James Pellerite was known as a world-renowned master of the 16-key classical European flute. After studying flute at Juilliard, Mr. Pellerite served as principal flutist with the Philadelphia Orchestra, as well as the Detroit, and Indianapolis Symphonies. Mr. Pellerite has recorded with artists ranging from Igor Stravinsky to Johnny Mathis, and performed under a long list of great conductors including Leonard Bernstein, Pablo Casals, Neville Mariner, Eugene Ormandy, and Leopold Stokowski.

Here in the Hoosier state Mr. Pellerite is likely best known for his 30-year stint teaching flute at Indiana University. But it was after his retirement from IU in 1987 that Mr. Pellerite began writing the current — and perhaps most unique – chapter in his life story.

In 1993 Pellerite attended a recital of Native American flute in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The experience was transformative and immediately set Pellerite on a mission to master the Native flute, and to begin fusing the instrument with the Western classical traditions he’d devoted his life to articulating. Since 1993, Pellerite has commissioned and recorded a large and enchanting catalog of contemporary compositions for the Native flute.

During my wide-ranging chat with Mr. Pellerite we discussed the full scope of his remarkable and unprecedented journey in music.

NUVO: You were honored earlier this year with a lifetime achievement award from the National Flute Association for your many contributions as a teacher and performer.

Pellerite: Yes, it was a quite an event. I was the recipient of this award, which is evidently the highest award that the National Flute Association makes available.

NUVO: Am I correct that you were born in Clearfield, Pennsylvania in 1926?

Pellerite: Yes, if you have to remind me. I was born into a wonderful Italian family. Of course I'm all Italian because my father came from Sicily and my mother was born in this country, but she came from a Neopolitan family. My mother spoke beautiful English, but my father's English was kind of an abstraction. It was a mixture.

But it was a wonderful experience growing up in an Italian background. The work ethic was the main focus almost daily. From age seven I was pushed into recognizing that the harder I worked, the luckier I would become.

NUVO: Your entry into music came at the age of seven when your parents purchased a piccolo for you.

Pellerite: That is correct. That was my first instrument. The family thought I should be in music, and purchased a piccolo for all of five dollars. In those days during the Depression, it took six months to pay it off.

NUVO: Did you have an immediate affinity for the instrument?

Pellerite: Not really. At that age I don't think I had an affinity for very much other than wanting to play with my friends. However, I do recall that playing with my friends often amounted to me wanting to lead the band. We would have a band made up of empty olive oil drums. They used to import olive oil by the five gallon drum then. Perhaps that accounts for my longevity, having olive oil all my life.

Eventually playing piccolo in the band was not enough and finally my family purchased a flute. This flute was very unusual. In that period they manufactured the flute in almost one piece. It was a C.G. Conn flute that at least got me through the service years. I was in a Naval Air Force band in Puerto Rico for two and a half years. This enabled me to get a jump start on practicing the flute, although I also played piccolo and cymbals in the band when they wanted an extra cymbal player. That helped my rhythm.

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NUVO: I would imagine all your drumming on the olive oil cans helped too! Do you remember if there was a specific moment in your life when you decided you wanted to study music seriously?

Pellerite: I'm not sure I can say it happened at a certain time. I think it was by default because I spent so many hours practicing during my Navy days. I always wanted to have the night watch in the band room so I could have the band room to myself to practice. I practiced for hours and having devoted so much energy to the instrument I decided that since I knew nothing else, perhaps I should go into music.

I was very fortunate while I was in San Juan to meet a great music family, the Figueroas. They were close friends of Pablo Casal's and the influence was fantastic. When I would have leave, I would choose to go to their house on a Sunday afternoon and we would play string quartets and I would read the first violin part on flute. This did something for me whereby I became a little more classically oriented in playing the instrument. While I had no teacher from the time I left Clearfield, my uncle had been my primary teacher then and he was a clarinetist, but I had no teacher at all until I got to Juilliard.

So by the time I got to Juilliard, I had a lot of bad habits. Well, at Juilliard the first thing of course was for me to get rid of this one-piece Conn flute and get a real professional instrument. I got my first Verne Powell flute. My teacher was Frederick Wilkins, who was not only a great friend, mentor and teacher, but he helped me almost by day. He must have appreciated the fact that every assignment he gave, I worked assiduously to try to come in with a well prepared lesson. From that day forward he was always on my side trying to help. And it was one of his flutes I was able to purchase.

That was probably the turning point to where I was totally committed. Fortunately, through him I was able to jump start my professional activity in New York by substituting for him while he was off. He was the principal flute for the Radio City Music Hall symphony. He needed as many substitutes as he could, and he went down through his list one night and couldn't find anybody. So he told me to come down to the Radio City Music Hall and you're going to read a rehearsal with me for a new show and you're going to start subbing next week.

I was mortified! I couldn't imagine going suddenly from playing at Juilliard to a professional orchestra. They had a full symphony orchestra at that time. These were really the halcyon days in New York. So that really got me started and was a turning point in my life.

NUVO: Do you remember the first piece you played at Radio City?

Pellerite: Yes, the “William Tell Overture” four times a day for four weeks. From there on a composite of show tunes and a Chopin ballet. It was quite exciting indeed. After four weeks, I knew the program pretty well.

NUVO: I’m curious what sort of music you were interested in as a young man?

Pellerite: You have to remember I came from no experience at all. No matter what it was, it was a new experience for me and I enjoyed I every bit of the influence. At one point I even had the good fortune of doing a recording session with Johnny Mathis and also the Modern Jazz Quartet. That was exciting, because suddenly I went far afield. I remember Gunther Schuller was the French horn player. He had been first horn at the Metropolitan Opera.

NUVO: I remember during a recent conversation you told me that it was in 1949 that you joined the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra.

Pellerite: Yes, that was my first symphony job outside of New York. I was principal flute for two years under Fabien Sevitzky, and that was another eye opener. To be honest with you, at that time the orchestra was not what the Indianapolis Symphony is today. This is a tremendous ensemble today. But at that time, I don't think it was as good as the Juilliard orchestra I had left. I was shocked.

It was very easy getting started with the Indianapolis Symphony, because it was like being in another student orchestra. A lot of us in the orchestra at that time were so young. The orchestra was thought of as being a stepping stone to something better, and sure enough after two seasons I was able to audition for the Detroit Symphony. I was first flute there for five seasons.

The management of the Indianapolis orchestra became the management for Detroit. So from Indianapolis the manager just simply brought me to Detroit. Yes I auditioned, but I think I was the only one who auditioned at the time. They didn't have the strict rules that the union has today where you have to have a formal audition behind the screen along with 150 other flutists. But at that time there went that many flutists around.

I was in Indianapolis for two years and then went to Detroit for five. But after five seasons I thought it was time I tried something else. So I took some business courses. I was going to try to complete a bachelor's in business. I went to Wayne State University and started to take some economic and accounting courses.

NUVO: Before we move beyond your days in Indianapolis, I’m curious if you have any outstanding memories of playing with the ISO? I remember you told me that Fabien Sevitzky was a real character.

Pellerite: Well he was a very interesting man. He tried to instill a great deal of class with the orchestra. But many times it would come splashing back onto his face. I remember once for a children's concert the theme was Western music of some sort. He dressed up as the Lone Ranger with his six guns. He came running onto the stage to get on the podium and the poor man tripped and fell on his face. But he got up and began to conduct the “William Tell Overture”! (laughs) There are many such stories.

NUVO: Do you remember any particular highlights from the ISO’s repertoire during your two seasons with the orchestra?

Pellerite: [laughs] Well, I remember we were doing a Dohnányi work that called for 5/8 time and obviously the ensemble was anything but perfect. So Sevitzky began to say, (impersonates Russian accent) "It is very easy. You just ah-count: one, two, three, four, fi-yev. One, two, three, four, fi-yev." Somebody in the string section raised their hand and said, "Dr. Sevitzky, that's six." "No! I said one, two, three, four, fi-yev."

Such moments as those provided for levity and we enjoyed a great deal of camaraderie in the orchestra. It was a wonderful experience.

NUVO: At what point did you join the Philadelphia Orchestra?

Pellerite: That didn't come until much later. In about 1955 or 1956 I became very interested in corporate finance. I met an interesting fellow who had been coming to the Detroit Symphony concerts and he always wanted to talk about Hector Berlioz and I always wanted to talk about stocks. So the two of us got along famously. Eventually I became an intern with a New York Stock Exchange house in Detroit and I took a correspondence course to become a full-fledged broker.

Eventually I did get my license and the day I was authorized to begin taking on accounts the ticker tape read "finest flutist on Wall Street." [laughs] So that was my introduction to Wall Street!

NUVO: How long were you working as a broker?

Pellerite: I worked as a broker for about a year and a half. But I couldn't put up with the thought that I was so responsible for the ups and downs people would have. It would keep me awake at night worrying about losses that customers would have. You can't be a successful broker doing that.

So all the while that I was with this day job, at night I was playing jingles on commercials for the various automobiles. I can remember a piccolo solo from a Chevy truck ad. They kept playing this ad and it would blare all day long and the royalties were coming in. I would also play the Broadway shows that would come in to Detroit for four or five weeks.

This eventually resulted in my having to feel that I better get something more stable. So my teacher in the meantime, Fred Wilkins again, had been offered a professorship to teach at Indiana University. He called one day and said, "I don't really want this job. Would you like to interview for it?" I thought my goodness, teaching at a university. I had no degree because I didn't wait long enough to try to work on a degree at Juilliard. I was anxious to become an orchestral player.

So I decided to take the interview at Indiana. The first thing I did was to tell Dean Bain, "I have to apologize, I don't have a degree." He said, "We don't require them. We just give them."

That more or less set the tone for the type of faculty he was after. He wanted professional musicians, not necessarily just the doctorates who were only in the classroom. Although they’re of great value, there's no question about that. However, to have the performance background I think established a platform for me from which I could organize teaching based on performance. The performance experience I'd had by the time I reached IU was such that it gave me a good start on how to really treat so many of the playing problems based on the preparations I had to make. I'd come from a situation where I'd had so many flute problems to begin with, so I knew exactly what the students were facing. I'm convinced this helped me help my students. 

NUVO: When exactly did you start teaching at IU?

Pellerite: I started out from 1957 to 1960, and then in 1960 I auditioned for the Philadelphia Orchestra. I played only one season because Dean Bain at the time said, "You should go only on the basis of a leave of absence from IU. You shouldn't quit. Because there's no way you're going to know if you'll want to stay." Particularly for economic reasons. At that time orchestras didn't pay anywhere near what they are paying today.

That's another story, but I think many of the problems orchestras are having now is based on the fact that here is an industry that is based on donations and grants. The incomes are insufficient to pay the salaries that they are under obligation to pay today.

But in those days, the salaries were nowhere near what universities were paying. So after a year, Dean Bain simply insisted that he was organizing a faculty second to none. And that's true because he imported players from the New York Philharmonic, the Chicago Symphony, and the Cleveland Orchestra. This was a great attraction for me to come back to IU. Plus the fact that I could have a good family life within the environment that Bloomington can offer. I simply assumed that it was a wise move to go back. It was a better paycheck, plus a great retirement which I'm enjoying yet today.

NUVO: Before we move on to your work on the Native American flute, there are a couple specific recordings you made on the modern flute that I want to ask you about. In 1961 you performed on a session with Igor Stravinsky for the legendary Columbia Masterworks album Igor Stravinsky Conducts. You played on the “Octet For Wind Instruments." Tell us about that experience.

Pellerite: Yes, that was really an opportunity of a lifetime. I had been playing the Casals Festival in Puerto Rico and the manager called me after I had been in Philadelphia. He said, "You know, Stravinsky is in town and he's going to record the "Octet". Would you like to play?" I said, "I'd love to play. Yes, tell me when and I'll try to organize it."

He gave me the date, and sure enough the schedule was such that Columbia had to schedule the recording to start at midnight because both the trombonist Keith Brown and I had to travel from Philadelphia after a concert. We started recording at Columbia's studios at midnight and there was Stravinksy with Robert Craft. The other players were from the New York Philharmonic. It was quite a good group I must say.

NUVO: What kind of man was Stravinsky to work with in that setting?

Pellerite: He was wonderful. I have to say admittedly, not too much of a conductor. But it didn't matter, because at that time we knew the piece. Robert Craft, while he didn't conduct was more or less the A&R man on the recording. His tempi and all were authentic and actually I think Columbia considered that a hallmark recording at the time.

NUVO: Yes, it’s certainly a hallmark recording! Another fantastic recording I want to ask you about occurred during your time at IU. You recorded David Baker’s Concerto for Flute, String Quartet and Jazz Band for Laurel Records. Tell us about working with the wonderfully brilliant Indianapolis composer and musician David Baker.

Pellerite: Well, let's begin first when the concerto had not yet been born. After listening to his violin concerto, I approached David with an idea: let's do the same thing for flute with jazz band and a string quartet and have a slow movement that would be performed on the alto flute.

I already had all this in mind before we even began. I said, "Write out all of the idiomatic expressions that you would normally expect of a jazz player and I'll try to play it." Sure enough, he wrote this virtuosic piece that took months to really organize. The cadenza itself entails everything from quarter tones and multiphonics to pyrotechnics that I think displayed the instrument in quite a brilliant manner.

And it was accompanied by tabla, which in itself was unique! The combination I thought was enough to make that a separate piece for solo flute with tabla. David and I collaborated almost daily for a few months on that piece.

Working with David was very easy, because as you know he was such a congenial individual. He set the tone in terms of trying to bring as much of the improvisatory character to the piece as he could.

Interestingly, you know today's great trumpet virtuoso Chris Botti performed in that band. It was a wonderful big band at that time. This was 1983. As I said, there was a slow movement with string quartet and alto flute. I remember during the recording session I suddenly cracked a note that was in a phrase, but when we listened to it, I turned to David and he looked at me and said, "Let's leave it. That sounds great!"

So there's one cracked note that sounds expressive.
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NUVO: Mr. Pellerite, we could talk all day about your truly amazing career on the modern flute. But I have to stop myself here from going further, because I do want to talk about your more recent exploration of the Native American flute.

I understand you took up the Native flute after retiring from IU in 1987.

Pellerite: I remained in Bloomington until 1993, and then moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico. There I was entranced by the land of enchantment and hearing the Native American flute for the first time. I was not aware of the instrument at all before this.

It was a July 4th event at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque. A friend of mine said we should go and that the concerts were often entertaining. All of a sudden during the program, I heard this flute that was so unusual. It was doing nothing more than sustaining four different tones, but with such a haunting expression. This was unforgettable.

People around me were saying, "How boring. Only those four tones?" But I kept saying, "What beauty! There must be more notes in that flute!"

So the next day I called a friend who I knew was playing the instrument and I asked, "What do I do about getting a flute?" He said, "Well, I've got this flute maker in Denver. Why don't you call him?"

So here I was with no experience whatsoever and I met him in Boulder. He told me, "You know, I don't have a workshop. I work in a barn. There isn't a place you can try the instrument. I could meet you along this river where there's a park. Meet me there and I'll bring a group of flutes that you might try."

What a setting! I had never had one in my hands before he took out these gorgeous instruments. I was so taken by the wood carvings and so on. I attempted to blow one of them and it literally blew me away. I thought here was a case of me just being introduced to the instrument and this beautiful sound is emitted. It had a naturalness. The sound was already in the wood. As a matter of fact, the Native American speaks of this and says it's, "The sound from the wood that speaks." How true that is.

Eventually many years later I've translated the phrase to say, "The flute that speaks many languages." Because of the fact that I do such a variety of music on it.

NUVO: That’s certainly true, I saw you perform recently and you played traditional Irish tunes, opera arias, and famous film scores. In your hands it is a universal instrument.

Pellerite: Oh, absolutely. Interestingly, it's by default I do all that. Because when I began I consulted with who I thought was the prime mover in Native American flute performance. He indicated that I should not continue to copy these tribal tunes I was listening to on Youtube, but rather go out and get my own music. So I wondered how do I do that with only five notes?

So I began to stumble through and eventually came up with a chromatic scale that I could play on the instrument, albeit so terribly out of tune. These instruments aren't built to be playing Western music with the informality of the instrument and its naturalness. Every flute maker has his own concept of how he carves these holes. Every instrument responds differently and subsequently has an entirely different scale.

However, I decided what I should probably do is come up with a collection of etudes that would enable me to learn different aspects of the instrument. A group say for phrasing, another group for achieving great technique via the fingerings, and another for rhythm. I immediately latched onto the collection of Frank Sinatra where I was getting the effectiveness of his phrasing via the rhythm of Nelson Riddle's great arrangements. So this is why I've included some of his songs in my collection.

NUVO: I’m so curious about this moment in your life in Albuquerque in 1993 where you first heard this instrument that would ultimately go on to redirect your life’s path. You were retired from teaching at this point, were you still actively involved in performing music at this time?

Pellerite: The truth is by that time I was faced with some serious realism. There were instances where I was no longer very happy with my performance on the modern flute. Fortunately only I heard this and of course my dear wife hearing me practice. We decided together that it was time to quit.

Many professional players may overlook that point in their life. Some of us have to give it up earlier than others. I can see where some players are still able to perform in their seventies and eighties. But I couldn't.

So the Native flute really provided the inspiration for me to continue on in a more creative manner. Suddenly I branched out as a musician, not just as a flute player. I began to play concerts almost immediately. Admittedly I should have probably waited longer now as I look back. But it was good experience nonetheless.

It was interesting how I began to enlist the contributions for the Native flute by composers. Working with one composer seemed to beget working with another, and on and on. It was like a rolling stone. I began to get pieces that were more difficult than I was capable of performing. In so doing, I amassed a repertoire much of which was too soon for me to try to perform. But that challenged me to learn more about the instrument. I would extract passages from the different compositions and make exercises. I would not go back to the composer and say, "Hey, this is difficult." No, I chose to use this as another means by which I could tackle a new technical problem. In so doing I have fingering charts to help me produce different dynamic levels. You're not supposed to be able to play loud and soft and maintain the same pitch. But I'm able to because I've turned the fingerings into an embouchure.

NUVO: You were so taken by the Native flute after your introduction to the instrument, that you made what I think is a very dramatic gesture, and you sold off your entire collection of modern flutes. These instruments represented your life in music up to that point. Why did you make the decision to sell your modern flutes?

Pellerite: I looked at the modern flute as nothing more than a tool in a workshop. After awhile you make a change.

The Native flute is something I thought could be reborn, and it has been. There are a number of musicians who are voicing an interest in going in this direction. What's fascinating is that I've take the instrument in this direction without adding keys to it, without adding any additional holes, or trying to improve upon its condition. But rather, take it as it is to preserve the beauty of its traditional state of playing pentatonic traditional songs. From there I have embedded the chromaticism.

In many of the compositions I have not given up the stylistic aspects of the Native flute. We use the pitch glide, we use the appoggiaturas as ornamentations. Much of what I'm doing in my modern repertoire is nothing more than an offshoot of the traditional styles that the Native American’s had conceived from their wonderful tribal songs that are passed on from generation to generation.

I have a sort of mission statement that I've tried to adhere to. If you'll permit me I'll read it. It's interesting because this was inspired by the Native American statement in which it's said, "The Indian's music is from the heart, not the mind." So over the years I've decided that yes, music is from the heart. But I've added another heart, that of the modern composer. Because he or she also is expressing from the heart as well as the mind. So we have dovetailed the concept of the Native American stylistic aspects.

[begins reading from paper]

"As an instrumentalist I have believed that musical strengths are born from direct attachment to tradition. This provides a platform from which I've enjoyed performances memorable for their powerful emotions and played with technical and musical comfort. Therefore the use of diatonic and chromatic harmony in new repertoire for the Native American flute is the pathway I've selected for this unique instrument. All of our commissioned composers have created compositions that have graced this flute with optimum musical expression. I prefer to identify this music as Modern Romanticism. It serves to add another dimension to its naturally beautiful and haunting pentatonic flavors. As well, tonal music stretches the musical and technical boundaries of the Native American flute without the application of some modern woodwind techniques found in many contemporary scores of atonal or avant garde compositions from the 1960s through the 1970s. So let it be said, that music from the Native American flute is from the heart, but also from the mind."

NUVO: In addition to that description, I’ve also read interviews where you’ve described the instrument as being both “spiritual” and “magical." Can you elaborate on that?

Pellerite: Much of this stems from the fact that there's a naturalness in the sound of the instrument. We are dealing with something that was alive. It was a tree branch before it became a flute. It's still that same tree branch, even though it ended up on the lathe and with a drill for the holes, and the carving for the air channels.

So the naturalness remains. You pick up a magical piece of wood that has vibrating characteristics and the sound is emitted before you even apply any thought of instrumental technique.

NUVO: Through the many pieces you’ve commissioned, you’ve assembled an extraordinary repertoire for the Native flute. I was curious if you receive any resistance from either classical audiences or Native American music traditionalists regarding this unique body of music you’ve brought into creation?

Pellerite: I wouldn't say it's been met with any thoughts of restricting attitude. I think my students can't quite accept the fact that I no longer play the modern flute. But they've come to realize that the dedication I always had for the modern flute has done nothing more than transferred to the Native flute. I think having heard me perform a recital in August at the National Flute Association convention convinced them that the work ethic is still there. So they took it more seriously now than they used to.
As far as the Native American flutists are concerned, they are of course thoroughly devoted to their art and they're not about to give up their tradition. If they are going to do anything contemporary, they may set an ensemble whereby it does have a modern bent to it, but all the while they maintain the pentatonic flavor in what they do.

NUVO: So your work on the Native flute coexists peacefully with their traditions and no one expresses any serious qualms about it?

Pellerite: They keep their distance.

NUVO: You told me the question you most often receive is do you miss playing the modern flute. So, do you?

Pellerite: Very simple: no. How can I if I am so engrossed every day trying to perfect a performance level with the Native flute? I realize there is only so much I can do with this instrument, by virtue of its limited scale, but I've never considered its limitations. The hidden capacities of the instrument are within view, and they make up for any limitations in the range though their sheer beauty.

NUVO: I think your story is really extraordinary, you were born into this whole new musical life after your retirement. Did you ever imagine you would take on a new career after retiring?

Pellerite: I've always been open to new ideas. I wasn't planning any kind of a career. But I don’t necessarily consider this a career, I would just say it's a great life and I appreciate what the Native Americans have given me. I consider it a gift. I really do. I admire them for maintaining their traditions. Their traditional values are based on a great deal of beauty, which is evident in the flute and it should continue.

However, let's not overlook that modernism does bring many changes. But clinging to tradition is part of every day life, however we choose to accept the modernism as we face it.

NUVO: How do you view your legacy with this instrument and your journey to bring the Native flute into the fold of the modern classical world? How do you think your work on the the Native flute will be perceived one-hundred years from now?

Pellerite: Well perhaps I'll come back again as a Native American flute player. I shouldn't say that, rather I should say I'll come back as a flute player playing the Native American flute. I was once booked as a Native American flutist and that doesn't go. Not when I'm a Sicilian. [laughs]

NUVO: Do you see an audience growing in the classical world around the instrument and the works you've commissioned?

Pellerite: I would like to think that eventually the eighty-five compositions that have been created can still live on. I'm hoping so. The music library at Jacobs School of Music is a repository for our publications. They have every single piece that we've published. I'm quite proud of that. So that will always remain.

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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Rogers brothers celebrate album release at Pioneer on Dec. 10

Posted By on Wed, Nov 30, 2016 at 11:29 AM

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The Bloomington brothers known as Busman's Holiday released their new LP Popular Cycles in mid-October. Next week, they'll celebrate that new release with a show at Pioneer on December 10.*

Popular Cycles finds Addison and Lewis Rogers taking aim at a huge pop sound — and we're talking Brian Wilson or George Martin huge. And, to the duo's credit, their arrow has zeroed in on that bullseye.

The sound here is indeed big. The intricately crafted arrangements on Popular Cycles make use of a 21-piece orchestra, in addition to a range of other arresting choices in instrumentation. But beneath the massive soundscapes and layered vocals lies the soul of Busman's Holiday: carefully written and lovingly performed pop songs overflowing with unique melodic and lyrical turns.

When all these elements come together, the effect is magical, as evidenced on the nostalgic "Make Believe," or the Beatles-esque "Evening Flows."

I caught up with Addison and Lewis in advance of their December 10 holiday-themed album release party at Pioneer. I was pleased to find the Rogers brothers to be every bit as bright, fun and engaging in conversation as they are in performance.

NUVO: Did you guys grow up in a musical home?

Addison Rogers: Not necessarily. Our father is a huge jazz fan. So we grew up with a lot of jazz because of that. But he never played and our mother never played or sang.

I stared playing drums when I was in fifth grade. I was in the Star of Indiana band. I was also in the IU Chamber Choir around that same point as well. I did a little bit of that in middle school and by high school I started doing more dramas and plays. But I'd been doing that since elementary school.

Lewis started playing saxophone for a year and then switched over to guitar.

Lewis Rogers: It's funny, our dad didn't even listen to music until he was like forty. Neither of our parents were that big into music until our dad found jazz, then he became a fanatic. Now he's probably got a thousand CDs.

He would always say, "If you want a jazz album, I'll buy it for you. But anything else you have to pay for it yourself." I remember once I started getting more into jazz I asked him about that and he's like "I'm not going to get you a CD." [laughs]

But our parents were very creative. When I was young I drew a lot, and I had always thought I'd be a cartoonist. My mom would say, "You can do that, but if you think of something else let me know." [laughs]

Addison Rogers: That being said, the folks are artists themselves and they actually met at Herron School of Art. They owned a pottery shop in Indy for three or four years called Plaza Pottery. They're super creative themselves, and you know artists beget artists. They've always been super supportive because of that as well, which has been tremendous in our lives.

Lewis Rogers: Yeah, they've been huge. But it's interesting. I don't know where the music came from, but Addison would always sing and I would hear him and I'd think, "Oh, I can sing." Then my passion for the guitar started skyrocketing, and I'd say to Addison, "Hey, let's play." At first he was like, "I don't really want to.”

Addison Rogers: [laughs loudly]

Lewis Rogers: He wanted to sing, but drumming? He was like, "Nahhhh."

Addison Rogers: It helped when he switched from saxophone to guitar. When Lewis was playing saxophone I could only do so much. But then he switched to the guitar, and then it was like we can play full songs and sing and stuff like that. That really propelled our music a lot farther.

NUVO: Before we totally move beyond talking about your dad, I'm curious what some of the discs were in his jazz collection that might have struck a chord with either of you?

Addison Rogers: First and foremost he was a huge Thelonius Monk fan.

Lewis Rogers: One of the first jazz records I got into was by Ben Webster, who was Duke Ellington's saxophone player. He had this very woody kind of tone. Ben Webster made me really want to play saxophone. You know our dad was always like, "This guy! Listen to him."

So that album King of the Tenors by Ben Webster was on all the time and that made me want to play the saxophone. But when you start out playing saxophone you don't sound like Ben Webster. [laughs] So I thought, "I don't want to do this." You know, I'm playing the "Star Spangled Banner" or something. It was not what I was hoping for.

But yeah, Ben Webster and Thelonius Monk were a big deal. And Duke Ellington actually. I remember writing a paper about him in third grade because I was so obsessed. I didn't know much about him at that time, I just thought "Oh, he's a cool dude." But now he’s one of my idols.

Addison Rogers: Pops was also way into vocal jazz. So Ella Fitzgerald was on a whole lot, and Louis Armstrong.

NUVO: Bloomington has such an extraordinary music scene, at what point did you guys start trying to play shows or just trying to break out from the brotherly music making activities you were doing at home?

Addison Rogers: I think the first time we performed, my drama class was having an end of the semester cabaret sort of thing. Everybody brought something to perform for a small audience. We brought a song of ours and sang that thing.

I think it was later that summer when I got out of high school that I really started to perform a bit and it was in the next year when we really brought it out. Lewis at that point was 13.

Busman's Holiday - SUBMITTED PHOTO
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Lewis Rogers: Yeah, I think we made our first album when I was like 13. I had this little Tascam thing. Then we made CDs and I remember we only knew one business owner and that was the owner of the video store. So we were like "Well, we need a place to sell our CDs." So we went to Plan Nine video and said "Hey, can you sell these?" He was a really nice guy and he was like “Oh, yeah."

He was the co-owner, and funny enough the other owner of the business was the owner of Secretly Canadian. So when he walked in he was like "Who are these people's CDs that are being sold? I have a whole roster of bands that are mad that there's now one person's CD being sold here.” [laughs] So then we had to take it out. But we did eventually take it to a local record store.

That was kind of our first time getting into the local music scene.

NUVO: How old were you both at the time that you made this CD?

Addison Rogers: Lewis was 14 and I was 19.

NUVO: What was the name you released the project under?

Lewis Rogers: Rogers and Rogers, and that first album was called Shirts and Skins.

NUVO: What sorts of sounds were influencing your musical direction at that time?

Lewis Rogers: That's a good question. When I was younger I was obsessed with Dave Matthews, Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Those are the people I loved at that time. I would watch concert DVDs all the time. At that time Ben Folds was probably a big influence, and The Beatles. The Beatles were the number one reason I started playing music. As time went on, things changed and I discovered different things. But those were the guiding lights.

Addison Rogers: I'd definitely say The Beatles were pretty huge. I remember before I really got into them, it was around Christmas time one year and the family would always go to Sam's Club. They had a bin of CDs, and I saw a set of CDs with a title like Symphonies Perform The Beatles. [laughs] So my grandmother asked me what I wanted and I said "That! I want those CDs!"

So my mother went back there with my grandmother, and my grandmother is picking out these symphonic renditions of Beatles' songs and there was also a copy of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. My mom was like "Are you sure he wants the symphonies?" "Yeah, that's what he said." My mom said "You should also buy him this record." [laughs]

And I'm very glad my mom had that foresight to get me that as well! I really got into Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Also just by chance in fifth grade I was with a schoolmate in class one day and we had a couple newspapers, and in one of them was one of those BMG deals advertising that you could get 12 CDs for 12 cents. We were like “That sounds great! I've got 12 cents!” [laughs]

One of the month's CDs that was sent to your home unless you said you didn't want it was a Dave Matthews Band album. I got way into them because of that and passed that onto Lewis.

NUVO: Moving beyond your early teenage years, I wanted to ask about some of the other projects you’ve both involved with. Lewis, I know you were a member of the highly regarded Bloomington band Sleeping Bag.

Lewis Rogers: Yeah, and I had been in a jazz group for a long time. When I graduated from high school it was either “I’m going to be a jazz guitarist, or we're going to write songs and do Busman’s Holiday.” And I decided to do Busman’s Holiday.

But I was in a jazz band called the The Nowlin Mulholland Quintet. So that was the first band that was not Busman's I had done. Sleeping Bag came not too long after that. Sleeping Bag was a way to kind of rock out. I had no outlet for that, so that was really fun. We did two records together. But it just gets to a point where you have to decide which band you're going to do, if you're going to do music seriously.

NUVO: Addison I know you've toured with the Swedish songwriter Jens Lekman. Tell us about some of your music making activities outside of Busman’s Holiday.

Addison Rogers: Sure, I haven't been part of of too many projects outside of Busman's Holiday. We had a lot of friends in a lot of different bands, which seems like it's potentially the way for musicians in Bloomington, or certainly for the people we hang out with. Pretty early on I decided we should make this our main focus and not try to have too many branches off of it.

But yeah, a few years ago Jens Lekman was looking for a drummer and a vocalist. He was shown a few people, I was one of them. So he managed to pick me. It was actually at the end of a Sleeping Bag tour. Our friend David Woodruff of Sleeping Bag was working for Fort William at that point, which is the management company Secretly Canadian started up. He helped me with a vocal audition for the thing.

So all the dudes in Sleeping Bag were unpacking their van and I go out there and David’s like "Hey, go check your email." I step back in and the email reads "You've got the voice of an angel. You got the part." [laughs]

That was a crazy whirlwind thing. It was the first time I'd been on such a big tour. We had gone throughout the States and then went over to Europe for a few weeks.

Outside of that it's only been a couple other projects. Most recently it's been Vollmar, which is led by Justin Vollmar who is a tremendous songwriter and musician living in Bloomington. So me, and him, and Erin Tobey were playing together for maybe a year, and a number of years ago we recorded an EP. That EP finally came out this year. I was really proud that thing came out. I think it's wonderful.

Also, the person we make our arrangements with for Busman’s records is Matt Nowlin. Me, Lewis, and Matt all became fast friends one summer. Out of that friendship came The Nowlin Mulholland Quintet, and the first time they went on the road we all decided that we should be in a rap group together.

We first experienced Matt through rap music. He was in this band called The Rapscallions, which was part performance art and part rap group. We thought Matt was excellent.

Lewis Rogers:
Well, he's bonkers. I remember one of the first nights I saw him, I was thinking "Who is this dude?" He was crazy. He had a trumpet on stage, but he never played it. He ran outside the building and ran around the block, then came back in while the whole show was going on. His body language was insane. I knew at that moment we should rap with this guy.

Addison Rogers: Oh yeah, and he'd go from expressing all that energy to lying flat on the ground for 30 seconds.

Lewis Rogers: Yeah, they had a whole bit where they would just fall asleep. It was a wonderful group.

Addison Rogers: Yeah, just tremendous. We loved that thing and when Lewis and him started collaborating a little bit, we thought we should definitely get him rapping again. So I made my first verse while they were out on a jazz tour. When they got back we started performing and we had that group for about a year.

It was awesomely fun. We had a whole schtick. The name of the group was Rusty Zavitson. Our thing was that we were from the hills of Appalachia and we came down because nobody understood our raps in the hills and we had to take them elsewhere. [laughs]

Once we'd done that for about a year, we felt we needed to decide between two ideas - should we do a full band with Rusty Zavitson, or should we do strings with Busman's Holiday? Ultimately the strings won out and that set us down a different course with Busman's Holiday.

NUVO: And that decision led to the release of the 2008 Busman’s Holiday EP Old Friends. At that point how long had you been performing as Busman’s Holiday?

Lewis Rogers: Actually long before that, because we played with two other brothers before that. They're called the Romy brothers, two very talented dudes. We had actually put out two records as Busman's Holiday with that lineup.

It was a little different and everyone was kind of moving into different spots and there was kind of a falling out of sorts. It was unfortunate really.

It really changed our direction when we said, “Let's do this and do the strings thing.” We were both writing songs at that point that were just different than what we had done before. I had finally written songs where I felt this is like me. As the records go on, I think you become more and more yourself.

Addison Rogers: And the name Busman’s Holiday I'd suggested to Lewis when we were first starting out. We settled on Rogers and Rogers. But before then I was flipping through a book of idioms, it was a Scholastic book I got through a grade school book fair. It was a Scholastic book of idioms, and I found this one "busman's holiday," that means to do the same thing on your off-time that you get paid for. So it just seemed pretty great for us. But it took a little while for us to get back to that name.

NUVO: So that 2008 EP essentially launched the modern incarnation of Busman's Holiday as a duo consisting of you two?

Lewis Rogers: Yes, and with a big collaboration from our string arranger Matt Nowlin.

NUVO: You guys are known for your frequent performances busking around Bloomington. It seems to me that busking has been a big influence on your approach to making music. You have a very simple live presentation. Lewis, you often perform on acoustic guitar, and Addison, you're known for playing on a sort-of-makeshift drum kit built around a piece of Samsonite luggage.

Addison Rogers: Yeah! [laughs] One piece of Samsonite which I use as my bass drum and for a high hat type of sound, and then just a snare and cymbal. 

I don't know how much that has shaped our music, but certainly it's shaped our approach to entertaining and having a relationship and dialogue with the audience, for sure.

Lewis Rogers: Well, I've actually always thought that a big reason we sing how we do is because I've trained my voice to singing on the street. You have to be loud. I think that for a while on a lot of our songs I was singing super loud. 

David Byrne has that theory that music is shaped by its environment, and I think that's really true. I think that's one thing that's interesting about how we've evolved. As we've started playing different venues we started using microphones more, and the approach to music starts to change. Now I can have a song where I whisper. Before, we couldn't have a song where I whisper, because we were on the street and you can't play that way on the street. I've always thought that we've been molded by the busking. 

NUVO: It's interesting to me that your live setup is so simple and basic, and the stuff you're doing in the studio is extremely complex. Can you talk about the gap between these two very different sides of the band?

Lewis Rogers: I've always wanted the songs to work in both of those setups. So you can explore this totally different world in the studio, but at the end of the day when you play it live for people, they understand that with just the chords and melody and a basic setup the song can also work. 

I've always enjoyed when artists don't sound live like they do on the record. I know other people don't necessarily agree with that, but I totally do. 

Addison Rogers: It settled into me at some point that we should not try to replicate what's on the record. If you want that experience, just listen to the record. The live show should be something you can't get otherwise and something that is as true as it can be. 

We decided a long time ago, with our setup as it is, the records need to be exactly that or they need to be wildly different from that. So we've stuck to wildly different for a while. 

NUVO: Your 2014 LP A Long Goodbye was a significant step forward for Busman's Holiday. It's an impressive record with ambitious arrangements and production.  You recorded the LP in Canada with Mark Lawson, who is most know for his work engineering Arcade Fire's 2011 LP The Suburbs, which won a Grammy for Album of the Year in 2011.

I heard a really interesting story surrounding your work with Mark Lawson that started with an inheritance you received from an uncle. Can you elaborate on that? 

Addison Rogers: Our mother's father died early on in her life, and she always wanted us to spend time with our great-uncle because that was the closest thing she had to her father. Unfortunately that didn't really come around. Then he passed away, and we got this inheritance. So we were trying to figure out what we should do with it. 

We were having a late-night meal with our buddy David Woodruff at Steak 'n Shake, and we were thinking maybe we should get some equipment to make some videos. David said, "You're thinking about making this record. Have you thought about getting a producer for it?" Lewis said, "Well, there's probably only one producer we'd want to work with and that's Mark Lawson." At that point he'd just received a Grammy for working with Arcade Fire. So we're thinking there's no way he's going to work with us. [laughs] That is a total pipe dream. 

At that point David was working at Fort William, and in the morning he told me to check my email. We found out that he'd sent a message to Mark saying, "These guys are orchestral pop, would you be interested in working with them?" Mark writes back, "Oh yeah, orchestral pop. That sounds great. Send me the demos." 

We sent him some songs and gave him Lewis' phone number. Then out of the blue one day Lewis gets a phone call from California; he answers the call only to find out it's Mark Lawson.

Lewis Rogers: I was just driving and I picked up the phone and someone said "Hi, is Lewis there? This is Mark Lawson." That sobered me up. 

So then we started talking, and he thought we'd already recorded the whole thing and just needed it mixed. I said "We actually need the whole thing recorded." He said "OK, come up to the studio. I've got the keys to Arcade Fire's studio. Come up and we'll make this happen." I told him we didn't have that much money really. He just said "Well, we'll not worry about that right now."

It totally worked out and he's just a super nice guy. He got us. It was nice to find someone really talented who got you. That was a touching moment. You don't find that very often, especially with someone who is really going to do you justice.

It was synchronicity.

Addison Rogers: He had us up there for a week and arranged really fantastic musicians for us. Some that had recorded and performed with Islands, which is the group that came after The Unicorns. That's how we got into Mark Lawson. We didn't really know Arcade Fire very much. But we were both big fans of The Unicorns who were a super tight, three-piece, indie pop group Mark had produced. They were really funky, quirky and terrific. Lewis and I had seen them live. They came through Rhino's at one point, maybe a couple times. They performed amazingly. 

We recorded in Farnham, Quebec which is about 45 minutes outside of Montreal. The recording space was crazy; it was an old Masonic temple. So it was like a huge church with great stained glass. A beautiful mixture of this decaying structure and this warm energy there. 

We really hadn't had an experience like that before. We'd had recordings that had their own sense of space and experience. We recorded our EP before that at a friend's house and everybody was sort of new to recording strings and that type of process. But to be submerged into this entirely different environment was just terrific. 

Lewis Rogers: Well, we'd just never been in a studio before. In my mind I thought "I've recorded albums. I've been in studios." But then you realize "I haven't been in a studio once!" So it was odd to go into this scenario where you're just thrown into things. 

But luckily we were with someone who was a total professional. He'd say "Hey, you guys should just take your time and warm up." I think he sensed we were both kind of nervous. 

NUVO: So this brings us up to date to your new LP Popular Cycles. I think this is a remarkable album. The songwriting and production are brilliant. There's some fascinating instrumentation on the record, including arrangements utilizing a 21-piece orchestra. And again you're working again with Mark Lawson. Did you return to Quebec for the recording of Popular Cycles?

Lewis Rogers: This time Mark came down to Bloomington. It was interesting because we did it in both Bloomington and Montreal. It was cool because on the last record we were going into this foreign place, so it was nice for Mark to come into our spot that we were most comfortable in and record us there.

He stayed at our parents' house. He specifically asked for home-cooked meals. We showed him around and made him feel like family. I think that it really helped us. 

Then we went to Montreal and stayed with his family. We picked his kid up from preschool a couple times. I think that bonded us more. It was a really good experience.

Addison Rogers: On the first record we did with him, he at times specifically stated that he didn't want to touch what we were doing, he just wanted to record it. This time around there was much more collaboration and he took on more of a co-producer role. 

Lewis Rogers: The first one isn't technically produced by Mark, it was just recorded by him. So on this one he added his flavor to it. Especially "Evening Flows"; that's the one he was involved in shaping the most. 

NUVO: Well, congrats to both of you. It’s a fantastic record. And you have a holiday themed album release party for Popular Cycles happening in Indianapolis on Saturday, December 10 at Pioneer in Fountain Square.

Addison Rogers: A couple years ago we decided to have a holiday spectacular in Bloomington at The Bishop. It was a really fun time. We got together all of these musician friends of ours and the idea was that Lewis would play a few holiday songs and then we would introduce our friends onstage and back them. Everything worked out really well that night. We totally filled the room. The whole night we were waiting for Mike Adams, I think he had to work that night and it became a recurring schtick through the evening until he got onstage victoriously and played some songs with us. It was an awesome feeling and we've been meaning to do something like that again since then.

This year with the timing of the album release show, we decided to make it a holiday themed event as well and hopefully make it feel like the first holiday party of the season. It's real relaxed and a real good time. Hopefully everybody there will have already had some eggnog.

*Note: The print edition of this piece stated the show would be at Joyful Noise Recordings. The show is at Pioneer.
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Thursday, November 24, 2016

A Thanksgiving protest playlist

Posted By on Thu, Nov 24, 2016 at 4:00 AM

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  • TanyaTagaq

Like most American kids I grew up hearing the old yarn about the pilgrims and "Indians" breaking bread together for a peaceful harvest celebration. But as I grew older and pieced together a better understanding of the historical facts surrounding the American government's treatment of indigenous populations, I rejected the holiday. 

I don't make a big deal about my avoidance of Thanksgiving. I usually just try to find some alternative ways to spend my time while the majority of the country feasts.

But this year is different.

It's hard to abstain silently from this year's Thanksgiving celebration after repeatedly seeing images of state violence used against the indigenous communities gathered peacefully in protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock. In solidarity with the protesters at Standing Rock, I've assembled this list of indigenous protest music to blast loudly from your sound system throughout the holiday weekend. 

I understand that for most Americans Thanksgiving holds little political value and exists simply as a time to gather with friends and family. While I certainly respect that, I think it's important that we refuse to allow the barbaric history of violence and displacement carried out against Native American peoples to be falsified, forgotten or covered up. 

In his book American Holocaust (Oxford University Press, 1992), historian David Stannard argues that the genocide against Native American people is the largest in recorded history. Stannard estimates that as many as 100 million indigenous peoples of North and South America perished from diseases and brutality. 

We cannot alter the past, but we can try to foster a better future by acknowledging and learning from the tragic and unforgivable crimes of our history. The music listed below attempts to open up artistic dialogue on this theme. 

A Tribe Called Red — We Are the Halluci Nation  (Radicalized Records, 2016)

I was privileged to work with this incredible Canadian electronic music trio back in 2011, when I convinced the Eiteljorg Museum to fly A Tribe Called Red to Indianapolis for a performance at the opening night festivities of the Eiteljorg's Native American Contemporary Art Fellowship. It was one of the group's earlier U.S. dates, but their powerful mix of electronic music and Native American sample material was already fully defined. 

A Tribe Called Red's third and latest LP, We Are the Halluci Nation, is their best effort yet, both musically and conceptually. 

The LP opens with the words of the late Santee Dakota poet John Trudell, "We are the tribe that they cannot see ... we are the Halluci Nation." The album moves on to feature a multitude of artists representing marginalized cultures from around the globe, all in tune to A Tribe Called Red's thundering electronic take on traditional First Nation music. 

We Are the Halluci Nation features a vibrant range of voices from Swedish hip-hop artist Maxida Märak, who represents the indigenous Finno-Ugric people of the Sápmi Arctic region, to the American spoken word artist Saul Williams, to the Canadian Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq. 

Native North America Vol. 1: Aboriginal Folk, Rock, and Country 1966–1985 (Light in the Attic Records, 2014)

This fascinating 2014 compilation features rare archival recordings from indigenous voices within the Canadian rock scene. Stylistically the vibe here ranges from Dylan-esque protest ballads to wild blasts of raw '60s garage rock. 

The set opens with the captivating ballad "I Pity The Country" by Willie Dunn, a somber meditation on discrimination against Native American communities. "Kill'n Your Mind" by Willy Mitchell & Desert River Band is another standout it's an acidic stoner rock jam riffing lyrically on the theme of Native assimilation. There are also some amazing tracks here sung in tribal languages, as evidenced on the powerful "Tshekuan Mak Tshetutamak" by Groupe Folklorique Montagnais.

Native North America is a fascinating journey into an under-explored branch of rock-and-roll expression.  

Tanya Tagaq — Retribution (Six Shooter Records, 2016)

Tagaq's vocalisms abandon traditional stylistic modes of "good" singing in favor of more expressive sounds like grunting, howling, growling and yelping. At times Tagaq manifests the aggressive fervor of a wild rabid dog, while in more intimate moments her vocal eruptions take on a sensual quality. 

The press release for Retribution describes the disc as a conceptual treatise on the "rape of women, rape of the land, rape of children, despoiling of traditional lands without consent." Retribution finds Tagaq manifesting the fury of the Earth incarnate, screaming out in defiance of all environmental crimes and transgressions. 

On the amorphous "Cold" Tagaq's chanting documents the effects of global warming on the Arctic, while "Centre" uses hip-hop to verbalize global civilization's small place within the infinite scope of the universe. And Retribution concludes with a spare, but harrowing, take on Kurt Cobain's "Rape Me". 

Tagaq has created a soundtrack for mankind's abuses against the environment and ultimately civilization itself.

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Thursday, November 17, 2016

Dr. John ske-dat-de-dats his way to the Palladium

Posted By on Thu, Nov 17, 2016 at 8:08 AM

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  • Dr. John

In 1967 a gifted young New Orleans musician named Mac Rebennack found himself in Los Angeles, California, struggling to make ends meet as a record company A&R man.

He was 26 years old but already a veteran of the music business. Before leaving New Orleans in 1965, Rebennack had recorded some highly regarded singles under his own name while contributing songs and session work to legendary early rock and roll sides for labels like Specialty, Ace, Ric and Ron. In California Rebennack was an in-demand session player for hit-makers like Sonny Bono and Phil Spector, but he'd failed to establish his own unique identity as a musical force to be reckoned with. 

But 1967 would be the year that everything came together for Rebennack, who rechristened himself with the identity of a mid-19th century New Orleans root doctor known as Dr. John. Working under the name Dr. John, Rebennack developed a funky, stretched-out take on New Orleans voodoo music that struck a chord with the psychedelic generation and propelled Rebennack to widespread underground notoriety. What became an all-encompassing NOLA sound hit its peak in 1973 as Rebennack landed a hit record with the irresistibly funky "Right Place Wrong Time."

Today Dr. John is a six-time Grammy Award-winning musician and Rock & Roll Hall of Famer who embodies the essence of New Orleans music for millions of fans across the globe. I caught up with Dr. John in advance of his November 19 date at The Palladium with Nicholas Payton.

NUVO: I want to start off with a left-field question for you. The paper I write for, NUVO, is based in Indianapolis. There was a great blues singer and pianist here in Indy named Leroy Carr. His best-known recording was an arrangement of "How Long Blues," a record he cut in Indianapolis with guitarist Scrapper Blackwell in 1928 for the Vocalion label.

You've performed a couple takes on this song. In 1996 you laid down a version of the tune with Eric Clapton that seems to draw heavily from the 1928 Carr and Blackwell version, and in 2003 you recorded a version with Pete Jolly and Henry Gray for the Piano Blues volume of Martin Scorsese's documentary series Martin Scorsese Presents the Blues.

I'm curious if you were influenced by Leroy Carr's take on this tune?

Dr. John: No, I tried to listen to Leroy Carr's version but I couldn't get a good disc of it. 

NUVO: Do you recall if you ever played on Indiana Avenue? That was kind of like our Beale Street; lots of great jazz and blues players came up on the Avenue.

Dr. John: Yes, I've heard of that. I have a great memory of working the Chitlin' Circuit. I remember being in Indianapolis during the days of the Chitlin' Circuit, but I don't remember exactly where I was. 

NUVO: Your current tour is in support of Ske-Dat-De-Dat: The Spirit of Satch, an album you recorded in tribute to Louis Armstrong. I heard the inspiration for this album came from a dream where the spirit of Louis Armstrong visited you and told you to cut a record of his music in your own style.

Dr. John: That's correct.

NUVO: Had you ever thought about recording an album of Armstrong's music prior to this vision?

Dr. John: No, I had not thought of it. I had no idea in my head or on my brain that I would do something like this. 

NUVO: That's such a fantastic origin story for a record. I'm curious what was going through your head when you woke up the next day after having this dream.

Dr. John: I didn't know what to think. I put it on hold for the time being and I did what I had to do that day. But I started thinking about it the next night and I realized that Louis had told me something good.

NUVO: Did Louis Armstrong ever come back into your dreams to give you a review of the finished album?

Dr. John: No, but I would be grateful to see him one day in the celestial lounge to see how he took that record.  

NUVO: What kind of guy was Louis Armstrong to meet? Do you remember what you and Louis talked about?

Dr. John: Oh listen, Louis Armstrong was a gas to meet! I remember that in Joe Glaser's office he had this picture of Louis in Bucktown and I wanted to know if he'd passed thorough my pa's shop that was in Bucktown too.

[note: Rebbenack's father owned and operated a combination record shop and appliance store in the New Orleans neighborhood of Bucktown.]

But Louis Armstrong was laughing so hard about Ralph Schultz's Fresh Hardware store. He couldn't get out of laughing about that. But I could understand that. Ralph could marry you and divorce you. He could do anything.

[note: Fresh Hardware was a Bucktown hangout for a colorful cast of New Orleans characters, and in addition to peddling standard hardware store staples, the eccentric Schultz was known for catering to a wide range of his customer's needs.]

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Thursday, November 10, 2016

Pope Adrian Bless on visual writing and Black mental health

Posted By on Thu, Nov 10, 2016 at 10:43 AM


At 25, Pope Adrian Bless has amassed an impressive discography of mixtapes, albums and singles. He’s also shined on collaborations with local luminaries like Sirius Blvck, and internationally respected underground fixtures like Afu-Ra, Akrobatic, Apani B and C-Rayz Walz. For years Bless has been closely associated with the true school, boom bap sound of classic underground hip-hop. But recent work has found the MC branching out to embrace more contemporary sounds, like the disorienting ethereal swirl of cloud rap.

That shift in Bless’ sound is fully evident on his new EP Suicide Radio, which tells the story of a young man on the losing end of a struggle with mental illness. The character abuses prescription medications to cope with his pain, but is ultimately unable to ward off the self-destructive impulses brought on by his condition. “High up off some shit I can’t pronounce, I’m on the road all alone and I just poured an ounce. I treat depression like the weekend when you see a nigga. Depression got me geeking. My bipolar keep me turnt up, but I’m just sad,” Bless raps over the somber chorus of the EP’s first single “Green Apple Gatorade.”

It’s a story that closely mirrors the conditions of Bless’ own life. The rapper has frequently addressed his own personal battles with mental health in the lyrics of his music. Talking about Black mental health has become a sort of calling for Bless who told me, “I take pride in letting people know that I have a problem, because I want people to know their problems aren’t bigger than them.” Bless spoke at length on this topic during a recent two-hour conversation I shared with the MC.

A portion of our dialogue is documented here.

NUVO: Pope, you have a dynamic style as an MC. You write thoughtful lyrics. You’re a charismatic performer and an exceptional freestyler. You’re capable of spitting out impressive, tongue-twisting, rapid fire flows. I know a lot of your peers in hip-hop respect the artistry of your craft, and the hard work you’ve put into cultivating your talents, and studying the history and tradition of hip-hop culture. At twenty-five-years-old, you’re still a relatively young dude. But you represent that golden era hip-hop style and that ethic of putting everything you have into perfecting your lyrics and your delivery.

However, we’re currently living in the era of mumble rap. Critics of this style would say the attention to lyrical artistry and the refined vocal techniques of classic hip-hop MC-ing aren’t really valued by mumble rappers and their audience. I’m curious where you see yourself fitting in with all the stylistic shifts and changes happening in rap music?

Pope Adrian Bless: The reality is that it’s not at an attempt to fit in. Dude, I wear gold teeth! I look very trapped out. [laughs] You would think I would be a trap rapper.
But it’s like this - my goal is to plant a seed of some kind. I can’t mumble rap to save my life. I don’t know how to do it. I don’t know what it requires. Then there’s also a thing called cloud rap. I will never be able to fit in to that dynamic, because at the end of the day I won’t follow along with such guidelines and structures, because that’s a here today, gone tomorrow kind of thing.

This may be getting too deep, but a lot of things didn’t get passed down the way they were supposed to be passed down. You know I didn’t grow up on golden era hip-hop. My mom played screw tapes from DJ World, Scarface and Jeezy. Any Southern hip-hop that was crazy intense. I came up on that material. I didn’t know nothing about Nas or Rakim or how impactful on the scene a Busy Bee was compared to Kool Moe Dee. I had to learn it on my own. I had to go find it off the streets. I didn’t have the internet to do it. Now we’re in the golden age of technology and everyone can get to it — but nobody cares. You know why? Because we’re not paying the proper homage. The people up on the platform that we thrive off of aren’t bigging up the people who made it happen. I can’t do a show without saying Nas is the reason. “Live At The Barbeque” with Nas being 17-years-old? That’s what I wanted to do. You can’t forget that type of material.

Legends are made by the impact they created by being themselves. All of these young people right now aren’t going to be legendary. They can’t be. Because you sound like your next door neighbor, and your next door neighbor sounds like the guy across the street, and he sounds like the dude who lives in the duplex next to him. All of them sound the same, and the content doesn’t differ. Hip-hop’s social message is lost.  
If they mumbled a message, yeah let’s do that. But there’s no message being spoke! You’re telling me the same shit I’ve heard since I was 14. The first rap song I recall watching on BET was Slimm Calhoun’s “The Cut Song.” I didn’t even know what cutting was, but it was such a great record because it was structured well. But even then, you’d still have Nas’ “One Mic” come on, or “My Block” by Scarface. There was a balance. If there was a balance today, it would be fine. There’s no balance. My job is to provide the balance.

I am an alternative trap contemporary artist. Yes, I’m gonna use autotune. But I can rap very well, so it doesn’t matter. I know how to convert certain things. I’m going to tell you that it’s fucked up about Tamir Rice and Trayvon Martin and everything going on at Standing Rock. I’m gonna say these things in a way you’ll be able to listen to.

Kyle! Come on dude! Can you name me an Uzi Vert lyric? Can you tell me what 21 Savage has said that spoke to your soul? I want to know what Rae Sremmurd has done for you today. Nothing? Bet.

I’ve gotta come fill the void. My job is to take those cadences of mumble rap that stick with people and flip them and make them intense and then give it back to you so you can pick it up and walk around and rap “Green Apple Gatorade” for yourself. But when you listen to what I’m saying you think “Fuck, it’s deeper than that.”
But it’s interesting to see where this music is going to go in the next five years. Let’s see where mumble rap is at in five years.

NUVO: You were talking about the content you try to put into the lyrics you write. While your lyrics can often have a very abstract poetic quality, there certainly is a lot of literal commentary too. I know that you’re a freestyler, and you can bust out verses off the dome. But it feels like you put a lot of thought and discipline into crafting lyrics for your records. I’m curious about your approach to writing and some of the early influences that first got you thinking about the power of words.

Pope Adrian Bless: Tupac to me is the rapper who changed everything. Tupac embodied the spirit of what hip-hop is, from the performances, to the charisma, to the ability to talk about a plethora of things, to the poetic dynamic in his writing.

Tupac was the guy that showed me that if you want to do it, you go do it. You learn it, you educate yourself, you apply it, and you push it to the people.
My mom was a Tupac fan, and he was big thing for me because he was him. He was him.

There’s nobody in the world that can replicate my writing style. Nobody can take my structures from me. I’m a visual learner, so I write visually. I don’t read as often as I should because I like to see it. You need to see what Im saying. I want to make you think visually, it’s not always about listening. So maybe I’m an alternative dimension mumble rapper for God’s sake! But I want you to see it! I want to write for your visual mind.

NUVO: You mentioned that you have an individualistic approach to writing lyrics and I totally agree with that. One aspect of that individuality that I think people associate with your work is your willingness to talk openly about issues that you’re struggling with. I think it takes a lot of courage to talk openly about personal issues relating to mental health for instance. Why is it important for you to address that issue in your art?

Pope Adrian Bless: Because nobody has the balls to talk about that shit because everybody wants to make money or be popular. I love Huey Newton, I love Assata Shakur, I love that pro-Black era, the Stokely Carmichael times. It didn’t seem like a lot of us were going out there fighting the fight, but there was. A lot of them were martyred or taken away. Huey P. Newton got killed over some dope. What does that tell you?
I have to give the truth and one thing we don’t talk about is Black mental health. We’re not talking about bipolar depression or borderline personality disorder. We’re not talking about hyper manic anything. We’re not speaking about how impactful it is.

It’s deep.

We’re not talking about it because of the judgment, “Oh we’re going to be looked at as weak and wrong and emasculated.” Me? I don’t care. Because ever since I was 15, I’ve said, “If I make it to 25, it’a blessing. If I don’t, so be it. Because I told the truth.”

I know how the world works in a way. If you tell too much truth, you’re eradicated. But if you don’t speak it, you’re a fool. You can’t really win. There’s no middle ground. So if I’m going to leave anything behind in this world, I’m going to leave the truth. Because there are people everyday who go into a therapist’s office and they sit there and they speak their truth and they’re breaking and crying because when they leave they can’t go tell their mother, they can’t tell their dad or their siblings. They have to hold it in.

Dude, here’s a fun fact for people. I have bipolar depression. It is hell. I’ve been untreated for seven years. There was once upon a time centuries and centuries ago where people who had chemical imbalances in the brain were not crucified people. We were revered people. We were shamanistic individuals. Now, in the society we’re in today, we’re looked at as wrong, or weak or beaten. But we’re geniuses.

There’s a bunch of us in the scene who have something, but you won’t know it because they’re not talking about it. Because their fan base don’t want to hear about it and they don’t know how to handle it. I didn’t come in to rap looking for a fan base, I came in to tell the truth. I came to tell people it’s fine. Yes, you’re fucked up. I’m fucked up too. Let’s be fucked up together. You need help and I need help. But we have to be together to get the help.
I have this analogy — and I don’t intend to sound facetious or offensive by any means — but because I don’t walk around with a limp arm, or wear a helmet, or start drooling, you can’t tell something is wrong with me. But when I’m prepared to punch out a window, or run my car off the highway, you’re going to blame shit that has nothing to do with it. “You’re too stressed out, take a vacation.” Or, “You’re overthinking things, snap out of it.” Or, “You have a kid, snap out of it.”

It doesn’t work that way. It’s a chemical imbalance.

It’s hard to describe this to anyone. But music is the universal language, so why would I walk the streets and tell you about it when I know a way to get to you? I’m able to make music that sounds popular while I’m telling you there is a pain so deep that you cannot wake up for one day without the fear that you may end it all. ...

NUVO: You touched on a powerful idea, the thought that speaking openly and honestly about mental health issues is in some ways just as revolutionary as groups like the Black Panthers who spoke openly about social justice problems during the 1960s.

Pope Adrian Bless: At the end of the day somebody has to spark it. If nobody says it, nobody is gonna know. I would be ashamed if I was sitting here saying the same things everybody else is saying on their records. Like “Damn, that’s me too? Fuck!”

Find a doctor at Midtown Community Mental Health Center
Read the Indiana Black Expo's Your Life Matters plan for health
Find a doctor through Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance
Join the Indiana Minority Health Coalition
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Monday, October 31, 2016

New Sirius Blvck is seriously good

Posted By on Mon, Oct 31, 2016 at 4:25 PM

  • Photo by Angela Leisure

With the release of his latest project Nxghtcrawlr today, Sirius Blvck cemented his position as one of the most important and brilliantly creative artists working in Indianapolis. Since issuing his full-length solo debut Smoke in the Trees in 2012, Sirius Blvck has amassed a discography of unparalleled merit in Indianapolis hip-hop. Nxghtcrawlr builds on Blvck’s past victories, while moving into bold new territory.

Nxghtcrawlr is cinematic in its scope and ambience. Blvck’s longtime musical collaborator Bones of Ghosts has produced a stunning set of darkly ambient compositions that provide a note perfect foundation for Blvck’s introspective meditations on life. Bones’ intoxicating soundscapes achieve an orchestral quality, while staying firmly rooted in the deep bass and hard-hitting beats so crucial to hip-hop tradition.

Lyrically Blvck remains a hip-hop outlier, eschewing the tired themes of materialism, violence and misogyny that bog down so much radio rap. Instead Blvck focuses his oratory on grappling with the existential angst and depression that life too often throws down in our paths. Conversely Blvck never neglects to celebrate the small victories of life and the simple joys found in the camaraderie of friendship. As evidenced on previous releases likeYear of the Snvke and Light in the Attic, Blvck’s words stretch beyond mere lyric into the realm of poetry, while the tone of his delivery continues to unleash a wild and magic energy.

In this critic’s opinion, Nxghtcrawlr is the most fully realized hip-hop album to ever emerge from the Indianapolis scene.

I caught up with Sirus Blvck on the eve of Nxghtcrawlr’s Halloween release date.

NUVO: Sirius, I really appreciate you making time to speak with me. I’m a huge fan of all your work, and before we get into your incredible new LP Nxghtcrawlr I want to ask a few questions about your background. It’s my understanding you were born in Crown Point and spent your early years growing up in the Region.

Sirius Blvck: Yeah, I was born in Crown Point and grew up in Gary. I lived in the same house for a decade of my life. I moved down to Indy when I was 14 with my mom, and my five brothers and sisters. I've been down here ever since. Indianapolis is home.

NUVO: I read a really awesome fact about your time growing up in Northern Indiana. In third grade you entered into a poetry contest where you got to meet the great children’s book author, poet and songwriter Shel Silverstein. That must have been an inspirational moment in your life.

Sirius Blvck: Yeah, I wrote a poem called "Too Many Chores" and it was picked for an honorable mention in this kid's poetry magazine that my teacher sent my poem into. They ended up picking it, and he did an appearance at the Gary Public Library. I got to meet him. I got a signed copy of Falling Up and got a picture with him.

It was crazy. That was like my idol. I grew up writing poems from the time that I was six or seven.

NUVO: So as a kid were you thinking "I want to be a writer," or "I want to be a musician"? Did you have any idea of what you wanted to do with this talent you had?

Sirius Blvck: I just knew I wanted to write. I wrote short stories all the time. I had characters. I wrote my own Matrix spin-off series. I was always writing. Then I got into music when I was around twelve or thirteen and started writing raps. From there it just progressed.

When I was 15, my mom was working with a woman named Tasha Jones on an after-school poetry program for kids. My mom got me and a couple friends in it and we formed a group called the Write Me Project. Tasha showed us how to write our first contract. She bought us our first Mari Evans book, and Langston Hughes and James Baldwin. She put us on game to a lot of things.

After the Write Me Project ended I started getting back into music again.

NUVO: The first time I remember hearing about you was through your work with Indian City Weather. For folks that don’t know, Indian City Weather was essentially a six-piece rock band and you were one of the vocalists in the group. Was that the first major music project you were part of?

Sirius Blvck: Indian City Weather was the first thing I invested all of myself into musically. We started making music together when we were sixteen or seventeen and it snowballed from there. We put out two records, Leather Lungs in 2009 and Flesh and Spirit in 2012. Those are my dudes. We made some really awesome music. I still work with a lot of them today.

Indian City Weather is what got my name out in the beginning. That's how I met Oreo Jones and Grey Granite and Jay Brookinz through them contacting us to open up the Gateway 2 show. Indian City Weather was the catalyst for everything really.

NUVO: What was the process of leaving Indian City Weather and shifting into the musical identity we know today as Sirius Blvck?

Sirius Blvck: I think it was just Indian City Weather slowing down a bit. We were getting older and developing our own lives outside of music. We couldn't spend five days a week together and play two or three shows a week anymore.

We were all developing our own lives outside of the band, but I still wanted to make music. We had a 24 channel Alesis mixer and I borrowed it for a month and started recording my own demos. From there I started working on my first mixtape Smoke in the Trees.

NUVO: You've released a number of mixtapes and albums under the name Sirius Blvck. Before we get into you new LP Nxghtcrawlr I want to ask you about a couple tracks from your back catalog of music, tracks that I think are classics of Indiana hip-hop.

The first tune I want to ask you about is “Running On Fumes (What A Year It’s Been)” which is the lead-off track from your 2014 LP Year Of The Snake.

Sirius Blvck: That is a really special song to me. At that point my grandmother had just passed, she was one of the closest people to me in my family. That was not very easy. I had just gotten out of a bad relationship. It was not a dark time, but a dreary time. Bones sent me that beat, and I went in on it. It turned out good.

NUVO: You just mentioned the producer Bones of Ghosts. You have a special relationship with this musician. He’s been the exclusive provider of beats for four of your albums, including Nightcrawlr. Tell us about your connection with Bones of Ghosts.

Sirius Blvck: Running into Bones is a funny story. It's crazy what the internet can do. I had one of his instrumental beat tapes from around 2009. It was called Use Your Ends To Choose Your Friends. It was mostly just jazz samples, very different from what he's doing today. I thought it was awesome so I decided to try to find him online. I found his Twitter; he had like 16 followers. I wasn't sure it was even real, his profile picture was something off the wall. I sent him a message: "Yo man, I really like what you're doing. We should collaborate." He sent me back five beats. I recorded to them and sent him the demos back, and he sent me five more. We kept doing the same thing and then we had Ancient Lights pretty much.

He's been in California for awhile now. But he's originally from the U.K. That's where he was born and raised. He's kind of like a hermit. He sticks to himself and just makes music. He doesn't collaborate with a lot of people.
He's so talented. Us linking up was like the stars aligning, man. We're four albums in now, I'll always collaborate with different people but it always be me and Bones. That's my dude, my musical soulmate, man. He just fucking gets it on another level, man. He feels the music from a different place, and it shows. Especially on this new record Nxghtcrawlr. He's just channeling some other worlds. He's on some shit.

NUVO: The next song I want to ask you about is ”Yung Vultures" from your last record Light In The Attic. That’s my all-time favorite Indianapolis hip-hop song. The lyrics sound very philosophical to me, tell us about ”Yung Vultures."

Sirius Blvck: I was about to be a dad, and I felt like I was a man and getting older. But at the same time still feeling like a part of the youth. It was kind of like the song of me transitioning from a boy to a man.

You know, "The youth is on fire" man. The youth control the future. When I look at Indianapolis hip-hop and the movement we’re building here and this new foundation, it's something that's going to set a fire. It's a new fire being started. It was just kind of a picture of everything I saw at the time.

NUVO: There’s one more track from Light In The Attic I want to mention, that’s “Tribe Quest” featuring DMA and Oreo Jones. Again, this is one of my all-time favorite Indianapolis hip-hop songs.

Sirius Blvck: That's still one of my favorite tracks, too. I got the beat and I instantly knew what I wanted to do with it. Bones killed it. DMA is on it, he does the vocoder part at the end. He's one of my favorite artists and I was super stoked to get him on the track.

I started writing that song after a night on acid. I was roaming the Square and the hook kind of started coming to me. I started that track that night and then woke up the next day and I was like, "Oh snap," and I finished it.

NUVO: Do you normally start your writing process in that fashion, writing the hook first and building the rest of the track around it?

Sirius Blvck: It always starts with the melody. Sometimes it starts with hook, and sometimes it starts with a cadence and I'll kind of fill in the blanks from there. Usually I'll hear a melody first.

NUVO: “Tribe Quest” features Oreo Jones who is one of your colleagues in the Ghost Gun Summer collective. Oreo has been a major driving force behind this new movement of Indianapolis hip-hop which includes artists like you, Drayco, Flaco, Ejaaz, Poindexter, Mathaius Young, and so many others. How do you feel about being part of this rising generation of artists here in Indianapolis?

Sirius Blvck: There is a really awesome new movement of artists in this city that all have potential and eventually will break out of the city and the state, no doubt. You have people like Flaco who tirelessly work on their craft and who are continuously putting out great records. Drayco as well. I feel like it's to a point now that people can't ignore it. I see it happening more and more. Blogs outside the city are starting to pick up on different artists and it's starting to move outside the city. There's a lot brewing here right now. There are so many amazing artists you can't even begin to name them all.

NUVO: So let’s jump into your new LP Nxghtcrawlr. You sent me the album last week, and it’s a hard album to digest quickly. There are 13 tracks on the record, and every single track is excellent. I couldn’t skip ahead to the highlights because every track commands attention, and every track is essential to the flow of Nxghtcrawlr. I never had the urge to fast forward while listening — in fact, I found myself rewinding several times because some of the hooks are so addictive that I wanted to hear them again and again!

I think it’s a totally brilliant record from every angle. The lyrics and the production are exceptional. So huge congrats on this album. Are you happy with how it turned out?

Sirius Blvck: I'm immensely happy with it. Bones and I put in a lot of work in for this record. This is the first record where I didn't instantly go with my gut. Nine times out of ten when I'm writing and I'm in the zone, when the pen hits the paper [snaps finger] I know that's it. I don't second guess it. This is the first album where I was second guessing what I was putting down.
But I came to realize it wasn't me second guessing myself, it was more-so me not settling and wanting it to be better. I rewrote and revised, and rewrote and revised for the first time ever on a record. I think it paid off, because we came out with some of the best stuff we've ever done together.

NUVO: When we were talking before the interview you mentioned to me that Bones kind of challenged you with the production he created for this record. You said the beats he was sending you were different from any of the work you'd done together before.

Sirius Blvck: Yeah, when Bones sent me some of the instrumentals I was unsure about a few of them because they were so different from anything I'd ever heard before. It kind of threw me off at first. Not in a bad way, but it was new. We had kind of developed a good outline together from the first three records, but we threw everything out the window with a lot of these tracks. Bones just said, "Trust me. This is what we need to do. If you do this it's going to be something fresh." So I trusted him, and it came out good.

NUVO: A lot of the tracks on Nxghtcrawlr really stretch out musically. There are some very far reaching sounds on this record. It's just a fantastic sounding record sonically and musically.

I want to ask you about a few specific tracks off Nxghtcrawlr that stood out to me. Let's start with "Ride Around" which is the first track you released off the album.

Sirius Blvck: I wanted to write a song that talked about the whole process of writing the album and what that's been like. I also wanted to have a song where I told people they were going to ride around listening to the track, just as like an affirmation. (laughs)

NUVO: Tell us about ”Black Magik”, which I found to be a very compelling track lyrically.

Sirius Blvck: That’s one of my favorite tracks off Nxghtcrawlr. The first verse takes place at a party. Just looking around at everyone, being lost in the trance of it all and realizing you don't need anything but yourself. That's what the "Black Magik" is. It's really about removing negative people and negative energies from your space and trying to shine in your own ray.

NUVO: I have to ask you about "Static Rain," which appears in the middle of the record, and feels sort of like the centerpiece of the album. That track left a huge impression on me. It’s an ambitious track musically and the hook you wrote is unforgettable. It gives me chills every time I hear it.

Sirius Blvck: “Static Rain” comes from a dark place. It's kind of about depression. You know, the static in the rain is the white noise in the brainstorm. Like falling from cloud nine and self-medicating. It comes from a dark place, but it's a beautiful song. "Static Rain" is one of my favorite songs that I've ever written.

NUVO: The last song off Nxghtcrawlr that I want to mention is ”Me, Myself and All My Friends”, which is placed near the end of the record and is probably the most optimistic composition on Nxghtcrawlr.

Sirius Blvck: That's one of my favorite tracks from the album. I feel like I've said that about every song. [laughs]

NUVO: Well there are a lot of great songs on this record, so I think you can get away with it! If you had a bad record I might not believe you.

Sirius Blvck: "Me, Myself and All My Friends" kind of encapsulates the last year of touring and writing and recording with my friends, and all the changes that have occurred with losing people and gaining people. I like that one because in the hook I talk about all of things I'd love to do by myself, but at the same time I also want to do those things with all my friends.

NUVO: I assumed you were talking about your Ghost Gun Summer crew on this song. Or are you speaking in more broad terms?

Sirius Blvck: Yeah, Ghost Gun Summer and all my friends.

NUVO: You've been touring throughout the United States with your friends in Ghost Gun Summer. I know you recently did a tour of the West Coast, and you've made some trips into the South. How is the Indianapolis hip-hop sound being received around the country?

Sirius Blvck: I feel like everyone that we tour with and all the Ghost Gun dudes individually are just really good artists that make really good music that can draw nationally. Whenever we tour we work hard, and I feel like we're good performers. So we give a good show. It's always received really well and people always want us to come back.

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Thursday, October 20, 2016

Roy Meriwether plays Sunday at Chef Joseph's

Posted By on Thu, Oct 20, 2016 at 4:19 PM


The Midwest soul-jazz piano legend Roy Meriwether has had an extraordinary career during his 50-plus years as a professional musician. Meriwether was born and raised in Dayton, Ohio where he gained notoriety as a child prodigy on the piano. But Meriwether came to national prominence in the 1960s, recording soulful, pop-inflected instrumentals for both Columbia and Capitol Records.

However many Meriwether fans would argue that the pianist really hit his stride in the 1970s when he independently recorded and released a series of brilliant underground jazz classics including his epic 20-minute version of “Nubian Lady” off the 1973 LP of the same title.

Nubian Lady has attracted an enthusiastic international cult audience, and original copies of the LP are rare and valuable collector’s pieces regularly selling between $200 to $300. Fortunately the Nature Sounds label released a deluxe reissue of the LP earlier this year, providing the LP with its widest distribution since its initial release more than forty years ago.

I caught up with Roy Meriwether via phone in advance of his Sunday, October 23rd performance in Downtown Indianapolis at Chef Joseph’s.

NUVO: Mr. Meriwether you were born in Dayton, Ohio in 1943. But I know you’ve played all over Indiana throughout your career. You've also recorded a couple albums here, including your highly collectable 1972 LP Jesus Christ Superstar Goes Jazz recorded live at Arni's in Lafayette. What can you tell us about your connection to Indiana?

Roy Meriwether: Well, Meriwether is a nice name. But you can call me Roy.

In the mid '60s when I was with ABC Booking, they were booking me at the Trolley Bar in Fort Wayne, Indiana. They would have people like Ike Cole, Freddie Cole, and people like that. It was very successful and it worked out good for me there.

Then in the late '60s ABC booked me at Arni's Market Square Lounge in Lafayette, Indiana. People like Ramsey Lewis and the great saxophonist Eddie Harris played there. They had a variety of people there. It was a Pizza King, but it was a very nice Pizza King. I didn't think I'd be invited back to play, but people there took to me very well. Arni is dead now, but he was a great club owner. Man, he was great to work for. I played there sometimes twice a year from the '60s all the way through the '70s.

NUVO: You weren't coming down to Indianapolis to perform in the 1960s?

Meriwether: Well, in the '70s my manager at the time Paul Watson wanted to book me in the old Marott Hotel on Meridian Street. So I went in there around Christmas of 1973 and played the New Orleans Room six nights a week. No offense, but because my name is Meriwether people thought I was white. (laughs) So they mistook who I was. But people white and Black started to notice that I played good and it got to be jam packed just about every night. The New Orleans Room seated about 450 people.**

[During this part of the conversation, Meriwether talked briefly about an incident of racial discrimination in Indianapolis that NUVO is working to substantiate.]

NUVO: Did you ever make it to Indiana Avenue to play, or catch a show?

Meriwether: I was there a couple times, but it was on its last legs while I was there.

NUVO: As a jazz musician what had you heard about Indiana Avenue’s music scene?

Meriwether: I heard it was like 52nd Street in New York, very active club-wise and historic jam sessions, so to speak. I met a lot of those guys from the Avenue, they'd come to hear me play when I was at The Marott because they'd heard about me.

NUVO: Roy, I do want to ask about your incredible catalog of music. At a young age you signed with one of the most important labels in the world, Columbia Records. I believe you were about 22 when Columbia released your debut LP Soup & Onions in 1965.

How did a 22-year-old musician in Dayton, Ohio get signed to the one of the biggest record labels in the world?

Meriwether: Let's see ... how did I do that? [laughs] I used to tell people when I was teenager that I was going to be on Columbia Records. But I didn't have any idea how I was going to do it.

I was playing at The Tropics, which was one of the top clubs in Dayton, Ohio. They had Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, Jimmy Durante and a lot of those old, traditional big stars. I was playing the lounge there and I remember I had eight teeth pulled that day. I was as sick as a dog. I didn't know anything about the union at that time or hiring a substitute, so I went to play while I was sick and bleeding. There wasn't many people in the audience that night, but Bob Hadley who owned the Trolley Bar in Fort Wayne was there. That's how I got booked in Fort Wayne. He told his friend Joel Muzzy about me, Joel was a booking agent at ABC in Chicago. Joel contacted Joe Glaser, the president of ABC Booking in New York, who talked to Clarence Avant, who became one of my A-list Black managers. Clarence Avant handled Jimmy Smith, Sarah Vaughan and all those people.

Clarence Avant flew in to Dayton to hear me play at The Nowhere in Fairborn, Ohio. There was a snowstorm that night, and I went with the owner of The Nowhere to pick up Clarence Avant at the airport. We saw all these well dressed, dignified white men get off the plane and walk by us, and finally we saw this well dressed Black guy who showed up at the end of the departure line. We figured Clarence had decided not to come and we turned around to walk away when we hear the Black guy say, "Roy?" [laughs] I had no idea at that time who Clarence Avant was, for some reason we thought he was white. We drove Clarence to The Nowhere, and because of the snowstorm Clarence figured there wouldn't be anybody there. When we got there the place was just about full.

So Clarence Avant was shopping me around to labels. Because of Freddie Hubbard and some of the other jazz greats, I told Clarence, "I'd sure like to be on Blue Note." Later Clarence called me and said "I couldn't get you on Blue Note, but I got you on Columbia."

That's how I got on Columbia, Clarence sold me to Tom Wilson who had discovered Simon and Garfunkel.
NUVO: Wow, Tom Wilson is a legendary and influential producer who recorded Bob Dylan, The Velvet Underground, Sun Ra, The Mothers of Invention and so many others.

Meriwether: Yeah, he was the A&R man that recorded me. He was real easy to work with. After him I got Teo Macero. Do you know about Teo Macero?

NUVO: Of course! He produced some of the most famous records of all-time, including Miles Davis' Bitches Brew and Kind of Blue, Dave Brubeck's Time Out, and Charles Mingus' Mingus Ah Um.

Meriwether: Right, and Thelonius Monk and Duke Ellington too. But at the time I didn't really know who people like Teo and Tom Wilson were. Teo called me and said "Roy, I got you now because Tom is sick." He talked like I was supposed to know who he was - but I had no idea! I was fresh out playing in the church.

I didn't know the workings of the music business thing. My father was a minister. You read write-ups where some musician's father took them to hear Art Tatum when they were five or six years old. My father never took me to hear any of these people. I learned only spiritual music. I think our family only owned two jazz records, some 78 RPM record from Duke Ellington and I think Lionel Hampton's "Hamp's Boogie Woogie" was the other. Other than that everything else was spiritual music. Me and my brothers and sisters were not allowed to play anything other than spiritual music.

NUVO: So how did your father feel about you pursuing a career in jazz music?

Meriwether: My father always wanted me to be a minister. But I was in Dayton playing on Third Street at age 17. Third Street was the original Route 40 and on Friday and Saturday everybody lined up at the Red Light and I'm playing in this big picture window. I had to play in this window and all the church people would see me and tell my father, "Your boy is playing for Satan!" My father would tell them, "He's making an honest living."

My father would walk up to me and shake my hand firmly when I was young and say, "Son, there are a lot of people very jealous of you." That's all he would say and then he'd walk away. I didn't understand it then, but now I understand. He was getting all kinds of flack about me playing in the window of this club. I was a popular minister's son and a prodigy at age four. So I was pretty well known around town because I played every hotel in Dayton when I was four years old. 

NUVO: That's wild! What type of music were you playing at four years old?

Meriwether: I wrote a couple of boogies and I could play the blues. I would play things like "Tomorrow's Just Another Day To Cry," which I'd heard off the radio. "Nearer the Cross" was the first song I ever played. I learned the "Wedding March" because my family used to have me play at Tom Thumb Weddings. Have you ever heard ever of a Tom Thumb Wedding?

NUVO: No, I haven't.

Meriwether: Well, I was four years-old and I'd play for all these little boys and girls who were dressed up like grown-ups in tuxedos and gowns and they would all march and have what they called a Tom Thumb Wedding. They were all little kids and I had to play for all of them to march in. I had to play on my knees because I was too short to reach the keyboard when I sat down on the piano stool. My knees got pretty sore playing for that long wedding march, because every kid on the block wanted to be in the wedding! [laughs]

NUVO: Getting back to your time at Columbia Records, you recorded three albums for Columbia before transitioning over to Capitol Records. I'm curious if you had a good relationship with Columbia?

Meriwether: Yes, basically. After my first album Soup & Onions did so well, they said, "Let him do whatever he wants to do." But at the end of the '60s Columbia started letting go of some of their biggest artists, like Andy Williams. I mean big sellers. I was on the fence, and I probably could've stayed because Teo liked my talent. But I didn't push it and then Capitol was interested. I should've just stayed with Columbia, but I went with Capitol in 1968.

NUVO: You jumped from one giant record company to what was probably their largest rival.

Meriwether: Yeah, Capitol Records, the home of The Beatles. Capitol were glad to have me, but you have to understand I really had zero experience. When I was getting mixed reviews for my albums it discouraged me. I didn't know at that time like Donald Trump does, any publicity is good publicity.

I remember playing at The Trident out in Sausalito, which was owned by the Kingston Trio. I got panned for my second album Popcorn & Soul and I remember the manager of The Trident telling me "Roy, don't worry about the reviews, it's all good!" But I couldn't hear him because I was just so embarrassed. I had zero experience at this thing.

For Popcorn & Soul Columbia approached me and they wanted me to record "The Shadow Of Your Smile" which won the Academy Award for '66. Columbia told me I had to do "The Shadow Of Your Smile" and "What's New Pussycat?". All the rest of the songs I could pick from different movie themes. Overnight I learned all these songs for that album. At 6 a.m. I went down to Columbia after staying up all night learning the songs and I recorded that album. They were quite impressed with me when I did that. I was impressed with me too. [laughs]

NUVO: I want to skip ahead to your work in the 1970s. In the ‘60s you'd been making what I'd consider more commercial records for Capitol and Columbia. In the 70's you started recording independently and that gave you a chance to really stretch out as a musician, correct?

Meriwether: You could say that, I stretched out on Columbia but they really edited it. They edited 16 minute things down to a minute and 58 seconds. It made me angry! So I recorded on my own label records like Nubian Lady, which has just been rereleased.

NUVO: You released Nubian Lady through Stinger Records in 1973. The album was recorded live at The Magic Carpet in Dayton, Ohio and as you mentioned it was independently produced and released. But it's gone on to attain a worldwide audience and it's a very valuable record in its original pressing. It's a beautiful record. That was the first record of yours I ever owned and I just fell in love with the music. Tell us about that album and the continued interest from hardcore jazz fans and record collectors.

Meriwether: I took my own piano into The Magic Carpet, it was a full grand piano. A friend of my bass player brought us some equipment to record. I wanted to play without being restricted. It was in protest of being edited so much by the big companies. People used to say to me "they just need to hear you live Roy! People just need to hear you live, that's the problem." I kept getting that back in the early days. When I did Nubian Lady I just wanted to play like I'd normally play, and that's what you heard on the record. I released it pretty much as is. Nothing was edited on Nubian Lady.

I played it for Clarence Avant, and it was the strangest thing. I just knew "Nubian Lady" was a hit. It had a nice ride on the solo, and even though the bass player was from the avant-garde, the beat was still present. The beat stayed present through the whole thing and I knew that made it listenable. Clarence Avant said "It's just not danceable enough." And there were about 20 kids who heard the record when I had the door open in my apartment and they’re like "What is that?" They started dancing in the yard! My girlfriend said, "Tell him to tell these kids it's not danceable!"

I only sold Nubian Lady at my live shows. I'd gone out in the this college tour through the National Entertainment Conference. The colleges developed NEC because people like Sly Stone were coming so late to performances because they were getting stoned. They'd come at 11 o'clock for an 8 o'clock performance. So the colleges started this organization and you had to audition no matter who you were. No matter how big you were, you had to audition for twenty minutes and take the music through all kinds of genres.

So I took the Nubian Lady record along for that tour. The only distribution that album had was a college concert tour along the Upper Midwest. It was only sold off-stage. It was never distributed at all and it did what you were talking about. It's unreal. It was on Ebay for one-thousand dollars last year.

NUVO: How do you feel about the reissue that was just put out by Nature Sounds?

Meriwether: I was okay with it. I didn't get as much as I probably could've. I got a pretty decent amount. They released it as a double album with extra material and they added pictures of me from that period of time. It's got new liner notes that talk about my work and past. It's a nice package.

NUVO: What do you think it is about your recording of "Nubian Lady" that's been so enduring and continues to attract new generations of fans?

Meriwether: Billy Jackson the drummer, he doesn't play any more because of medical reasons, he was with Richard "Groove" Holmes for five years. He used to tell me "I got this beat that sounds like a tambourine." When we played "Nubian Lady" one night, he went into that rhythm spontaneously. He just went into that gospel-type beat. It was the rhythm he had that really locked in "Nubian Lady". The solo I did had nice layers, it built very nicely with the drums and I think that's what sold it.

NUVO: The paper I write for here in Indianapolis is called NUVO Newsweekly, and for many years Chuck Workman was the chief jazz writer at NUVO up until the time of his death in 2012.

Meriwether: [interrupts] Chuck was a friend of mine!

NUVO: I know Chuck was associated with your record label Stinger in the 1970s. Tell about about your work with Chuck.

Meriwether: My manager and Chuck were friends and Chuck helped to promote me. Chuck became the president of Stinger Records. I wasn't interested in being president at the time. It wasn't a big deal, but he was listed as president of Stinger Records. The home of Stinger Records was supposed to be in Lafayette, Indiana. It was really almost a pseudo-address. He was a big fan of mine and a big help. He booked me a lot. He was a very nice man. I was so sorry when he died.

Yeah, Chuck was the first president of Stinger Records. I made him president. I asked Mike Pence, but he didn't want to be president then. [laughs]

NUVO: There's one other Indiana-related project I wanted to ask you about. In 1987 you released a live album called Opening Night. I understand that album was recorded here in Indianapolis at a club called The Place To Start, which is now The Jazz Kitchen. Any thoughts on that album?

Meriwether: Most of that album was recorded at Just Jazz in Anderson, Indiana. There were a couple cuts on there that were done at The Place To Start.

I remember the stage at The Place To Start was very high. [laughs] It was a very high stage. I didn't like that. I love the way the stage is now at The Jazz Kitchen. The Place To Start was an okay place, I drew good crowds there. It wasn't as nice as the Kitchen is now, but that stage was very high! Very high. I mean, very high.

NUVO: That sounds crazy because I work a lot at The Jazz Kitchen and the ceilings are a pretty normal height, it doesn't seem like you'd have too much room to work with if you were building upward.

Meriwether: Well, you should've seen it. But I don't think they built it like that, I think it just happened to be that way when they got it. The stage was okay as far as being on it, it was just further from the audience than I like to be... height-wise.

NUVO: You’re going to be playing in Indianapolis on Sunday, October 23 at Chef Joseph’s. I’m curious if you’re still performing "Nubian Lady" and some of the classic tracks from your past?

Meriwether: Yes, and there's some new things too. I'm not bringing a group from New York as I normally do. I'm going to use a group from Dayton. I'll put something together with them and see what happens. I plan to do "Nubian Lady" because of the rerelease. We'll see how that works. I've never played with these guys, but they're professionals and I'll work the show up with them.

NUVO: Roy, it's been a huge honor to speak with you. I’m a huge fan and I’ve been collecting your records for many years.

Meriwether: Well, I’m kind of floored by that. It's been really nice talking with you.

Special thanks to Ralph Adams and Rick Wilkerson for making this interview possible.
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Friday, October 14, 2016

Mohammed Fairouz’s oratorio 'Zabur' is a powerful war requiem

Posted By on Fri, Oct 14, 2016 at 12:29 PM

  • Photo by Samantha West
  • Fairouz

Over a year has passed since the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir premiered Mohammed Fairouz’s oratorio Zabur, a powerful war requiem based on the humanitarian crisis in Syria. Zabur’s Indianapolis premiere is the subject of a new CD to be released this month by Naxos Records, one of the top classical music labels in the world.

This is a big deal for the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir, as the release of Zabur marks the group’s first ever recording for a major label. On top of that, the ISC will perform for Zabur’s New York debut at Carnegie Hall on October 16th.

The ISC’s commission and recording of Zabur represents a significant milestone for both the choir and the Indianapolis music scene at large. Classical music audiences in Indianapolis aren’t always enthusiastic in their support of new music. So the ISC should be commended for commissioning a work that challenges local audiences musically and conceptually.

On the occasion of Zabur’s CD release, I spoke with composer Mohammed Fairouz to get his thoughts on the continuously unfolding crisis in Syria. Fairouz is an important voice in contemporary music, in fact the BBC has called him, “one of the most talented composers of his generation."

NUVO: Zabur has been described as a “war requiem for Syria”. A significant amount of time has passed since you initially conceptualized Zabur, and during that period the humanitarian crisis in Syria has become graver. Are there any thoughts you’d like to offer on the continuing crisis in Syria as we approach the Naxos release of Zabur?

Mohammed Fairouz: Thank you for that. I appreciate your question, and I think it's the most important question to be asking about this work at this time. I'm glad you started with that.

The truth of the matter is that the Syrian situation should concern all of us very deeply for a number of reasons. One reason is the obvious strategic problem that has emerged as a result of the state falling out of the hands of anyone, really. It has transcended into complete chaos. We live in such an interlinked world that states cannot descend into chaos without causing chaos for other states.

A second reason is that we have on our hands the largest refugee crisis since the Second World War. That in itself should be very concerning to us.

I think the moral dimension is also extremely powerful. President Obama has many accomplishments under his belt, especially on the domestic front. But Syria is the strategic disaster of our time. Syria will be remembered as the shame of our generation, and the shame of our time. The strategic error President Obama made in issuing a red line and then allowing a dictator to cross that line with no ramifications, especially as that red line involved the use of chemical weapons, has been devastating. It's been devastating to the idea of global order. It's emboldened people like Putin to make excursions into the Baltic states and Eastern Europe. It's threatened NATO. It's created a situation we should all be very concerned about, and I can't overstate that.

The human dimension is what we are concerned with in the oratorio. It humanizes the tragedy and that's what is so valuable about depicting this musically. But I am also very concerned with the strategic problem that has emerged. I think most millennials you’ll talk to are great fans of the Obamas, and I think there is much to admire in his accomplishments, his integrity, and his seriousness. But I can't really decipher if it's been a very high level of moral ambivalence on his part to allow this to escalate. He does have a responsibility, as of now he's still the most powerful man in the world. When you have power, you have responsibility.

In 2014 I wrote a scathing critique of Obama fiddling while the world burns. I said that the next administration would inherit a nightmare on the foreign policy front, and indeed they will. We're very lucky that Hillary Clinton seems to be the clear favorite in this election. She has the foreign policy chops to get into this. She knows how to use the military, which I think is very important. We're just so lucky that she's part of this equation, as we are unlucky and embarrassed that Donald Trump is the other half of that equation.

NUVO: You mentioned the fact that we’re currently facing the worst refugee crisis since World War II. Not terribly long after Zabur premiered in Indianapolis, Indiana Governor Mike Pence announced his intention to block the resettlement of Syrian refugees within the state of Indiana.

This sort of anti-Muslim or anti-Arabic attitude has intensified in the last several months with the rise of Donald Trump. I wonder how this growing wave of anti-Arab or anti-Islamic sentiment is impacting you as an artist?

Fairouz: I have to interject there. I think that what’s dangerous about Donald Trump’s campaign and people like Mike Pence, is not so much an anti-Arab or anti-Muslim argument, the problem is that it’s sort of an anti-everything argument.

Donald Trump is a buffoon. Mike Pence is not. He’s more dangerous than that. If you watched the vice presidential debates, his diagnosis of the problem in Syria is largely accurate. His response to it isn't and I don't know why we would imagine it would be. Why would he be an expert in foreign policy? He was the governor of a state. We have to approach these things a little more analytically than we have thus far.

We have on the other hand, a former Secretary of State. Someone who has served on the Senate's Armed Services Committee, and the Foreign Relations Committee. She's very experienced. She's made mistakes and learned from them - which by the way is a strength, not a weakness.

I have to say this and it's really, really important, unlike Sisi in Egypt, unlike the Brexit movement, unlike Putin, unlike these other bloviating strongmen, what’s happening now is especially dangerous in the United States. The words "e pluribus unum" are not in Britain's DNA. Britain does not refer to itself as a nation of immigrants. It is part of our identity. This idea of the melting pot is part of our identity. It's part of the way we think about ourselves and brand ourselves to the world. I just want to be very careful about this, because I think when we say anti-Arab or anti-Muslim sentiment, we're excluding a long list of people that someone like Mike Pence is against.

When I came to Indiana the last time for the premiere of Zabur, it was around the time Pence was squandering the state's budget on oppressing gay people and LGBT Americans.

Think of what we saw a few days ago with the attitudes towards women. It's not a revelation, it's characterized this whole campaign. And women are over 50 percent of the population of the country.

It's also the language about Mexicans.

You know Hillary Clinton said that by the end of this cycle there will not be a single group in this country that Trump's campaign of sneer and snarl hasn't insulted - including our armed forces and off-limit things like Gold Star parents.

I've tackled this question before. People have asked me if I feel targeted religiously or ethnically and I think it's really important that we transcend that sort of thinking. I think we should all feel targeted. We should violated if someone takes the oath of office and doesn't know the Constitution. We should feel upset by that as Americans. Barbara Bush said she can't understand how any woman could vote for Donald Trump — I can't understand how any person can.

I think we have to be very aware of the fact that we’re all in this together. If by some unfortunate freak accident this man is elected, we’re all going to have to live with the consequences of it. There isn't just one community who will have to live with the consequences of it. We are all going to have to live with the consequences of it.

  • Photo by Samantha West
  • Fairouz
NUVO: I write a lot about the relationship between art and social justice, or art and the struggle for peace and human rights. You’ve written several programmatic pieces that engage with contemporary political or social issues. Would you like to share any of your thoughts or opinions on the relationship between art, music and social change?

Fairouz: If one were to be realistic about this, I'm sort of a foreign affairs analyst, a political analyst, or whatever you want to call it. I've written for a number of major publications, including The New York Times, on issues of global governance. I don't see my art as being separate from that.

When you write something like I'm writing now, The New Prince opera with David Ignatius, you have to make the journey compelling. I think that's something that is really important to my art.

If someone asks you what sort of writer you are, or what sort of composer you are, these are means to an end. They're not things in themselves. Do you know what I mean? You write in order to say something. Somebody can be a poet. Somebody can be a journalist. Somebody can be a novelist. There are all sorts of different writers, and different things serve different functions. Some people do all of the above.

The idea of creating art isn't about going in your ivory tower and creating art. Why are you doing it? What is your intention? Then what is your method? Often times I find that method dictates intention to artists, rather than the other way around.

People are often times surprised when they talk to me, at the end of the conversation they'll say, "Well, we haven't talked about music." I think it's a curious idea that artists will go into a conversation and talk about their art, rather than the issues they're passionate about, or the issues that drive their art or motivate their art. They'll go in and talk about their method rather than their intention or message. I think that's really strange.

Let me give you one final example off the top of my head. I actually think that there's a lot of good messaging coming out of the Clinton campaign right now. I think it's some of the most unspectacular, but substantial messaging. "Stronger Together" is a very meaningful slogan. It's not as strong as "Make America Great Again" or "A Future To Believe In," but it's more meaningful and more substantial.

There's another Clinton slogan I've seen a lot, and that's "Love Trumps Hate." I think that in itself is a very meaningful slogan and I think it's one you’ll run into when you talk to artists. They're going to say "love will win the day" when you're talking about social justice.

I'm writing an opera about Machiavelli. One of Machiavelli's teachings is that if you have to choose between being loved and being feared, you must choose being feared. It's safer and you ensure respect.

I personally don't believe that. But if I want to argue with that, then I actually have to write a drama that shows in a compelling way why I believe Machiavelli is wrong. I have to take real exercises from the world and put them onstage. One of those exercises is for example the situation with Palestine and Israel right now. Which is a never-ending cycle of violence. When Israel bombarded Gaza all those years ago, they were going in with the Machiavellian attitude that if we make them fear us they will be humbled into submission. Of course that's the same attitude that sent Israeli tanks rolling into Lebanon all those years ago.

It hasn't solved the problem of Palestine and Israel. The Palestinians started lobbing rockets at Israel and responding with suicidal vengeance. So how this cycle of violence will end we don't know. But the Palestinians and Israelis might want to consider for a moment the possibility that Machiavelli was wrong, that it is indeed safer to be loved than to be feared. It's safer to build communities than to denigrate others. It's safer because people don't respond well to being intimidated. They tend to want to react violently.

You have to demonstrate this through real world models. It's not sufficient to talk about it in the abstract. That's the sort of thing that I think can be valuable in our artistic enterprises. It's something that Mozart understood so well, and that Beethoven understood so well, and Mahler understood so well. It's not a new enterprise.

NUVO: It was a pleasure speaking with you Mr. Fairouz. Thanks for your time and I hope a future project brings you back to Indiana some day.

Fairouz: Me too. I like it out there.
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Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Face à Face covers music and social justice

Posted By on Wed, Sep 28, 2016 at 9:36 AM

Ariana Beedie, founder of Face à Face - SUBMITTED PHOTO
  • Submitted Photo
  • Ariana Beedie, founder of Face à Face
As the Indianapolis music scene continues to grow and evolve in new ways, it's important that a new generation of journalists and critics ascend to create spaces for documenting and disseminating the work of emerging young artists.

Music journalist Ariana Beedie was seeking to do just that when she launched her new digital media platform Face à Face this summer.

The content on FAF runs deeper than the strictly musical. Beedie and her contributors also offer editorial opinions on everything from gentrification in Indy, to the Black Lives Matter movement.

NUVO: My impression of FAF is that you’re covering music, social justice, and culture at large — but from a different perspective than we might see in more established publications.

Ariana Beedie: You really captured it. I wanted to start something that covered a full scope. I just know that I have a different experience than you do, and a different experience than my contributors do. We just wanted to shine light on what we see. It's a cultural hub for millennials in Indianapolis to shine light on what they see. 
NUVO: Before starting FAF you were active as a music journalist and, if I’m not mistaken, you contributed content to the much loved site AfroPunk. 

Beedie: Yes, I contributed a few stories to AfroPunk. It was totally freelance. I had some ideas, emailed someone, and I got picked up. That was back in 2012 or 2013. And I wrote specifically about hip-hop for AfroPunk. 

NUVO: One thing I really appreciate about FAF is that you're covering music and social justice shoulder to shoulder. That's something I've tried to do in my work for NUVO and I think it's important to connect these themes. 

Music is such a big part of that movement. It's more than just a soundtrack for the movement, it's often the inspiration for people to even begin thinking about ideas relating to race, justice and equality. That was certainly true in my case. And in your case, you're directly involved with these issues as an activist. You're a member of the Indy 10, which is affiliated with the national Black Lives Matter movement. 

Beedie: We are the Black Lives Matter group in Indianapolis. Indy 10 was founded by two beautiful and amazing Black women that I love, Leah Humphrey and Kyra Harvey.

Indy 10 was a blessing for me. I had just moved back to Indianapolis and I saw that they were really doing things as far as standing up for Black Lives Matter and just raising their voices. I went to a few meetings and joined and they welcomed me into their inner circle. They really get out on the front-lines and connect with other organizations like DON'T SLEEP. They are really standing up and in the face of the police — not to spread hatred at all, which is the common misconception. But just to make people aware that this is clearly still an issue we're dealing with. It's good to see people in Indy really stepping up for the cause.

NUVO: So how does your work in social justice influence you as a music journalist? 

Beedie: I feel like music pushes everything for me. As far as my activism, it can be hard out there dealing with hatred against a group you're part of, or someone that you support. Having music as that backbone is key. I gotta keep my A Tribe Called Quest on. I gotta keep my soulful music that makes me feel like home and family. It definitely plays a part, and not just hip-hop. I love punk rock, and that real urmph! I don't even know what to call it, but that feeling in punk rock that just makes you want to fight for what's right. And reggae music, it pushes you with the positive and sustains you when you may feel like your spirit is low. Music influences every aspect of my life, even the activism.
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Monday, September 19, 2016

Phil Ranelin's birthday tour lands at Jazz Fest

Posted By on Mon, Sep 19, 2016 at 3:10 PM


This interview originally ran on September 10, 2014. We're republishing it before Ranelin's set tonight at the Jazz Kitchen for this year's Jazz Fest.

Although he's a native son, jazz music fans will forever associate Indy-born trombonist Phil Ranelin with the city of Detroit. It was in Detroit that Ranelin found his voice as an artist, forming the Tribe music collective with musician Wendell Harrison in the early '70s. Functioning as a record label, band and magazine Tribe tapped into the spirit of its era addressing revolutionary concepts in music and political thought, from black consciousness to universal themes of love and peace. The music Ranelin and company released through Tribe has lived on to impact several generations of musicians, influencing works of avant-garde experimentalism, EDM and hip-hop.

While so much of Ranelin's legacy rests on his time in Detroit, the trombonist is undoubtedly a product of the Indianapolis jazz tradition. Ranelin was born in Indianapolis in 1939, received his musical education here and gigged regularly locally until moving to Detroit in the late '60s. 

Ranelin will return to Indianapolis for a September 16 date at the Jazz Kitchen. Ranelin's performance is part of the 2014 Indy Jazz Fest series, which also happens to coincide with his own 75th birthday tour. 

I spoke with Ranelin via phone from his current home in Los Angeles, a city that has provided Ranelin with all the due praise and honor his hometown has failed to offer. There, Ranelin's birthday is recognized as Phil Ranelin Day, and they've proclaimed the trombonist as a "rare and valuable cultural City Treasure” and a "Cultural Ambassador for the City of Los Angeles." Ranelin's return to Indy should give local arts administrators and politicians reason to reflect on Indy's negligence in paying proper homage to the historic jazz movement of Indiana Avenue.

NUVO: You grew up during a musically rich period in Indianapolis. I know you attended Arsenal Tech high school, but I understand you also studied with the great educator Russell Brown from Crispus Attucks, as well as David Baker. Can you tell me about growing up as a musician in Indy during the late '50s?

Ranelin: Musically I think Indianapolis is one of the world's best kept secrets in a way. There's a wealth of knowledge there, and I was blessed to have been around that coming up. As you mentioned I studied with Russell Brown and David Baker. I had a total of maybe eight lessons with Baker but those lessons are still with me. 

When I was a freshman at Tech, I discovered a record in the school band room. I used to look at this record from time to time for about a year before I ever played it. But when I was a sophomore I thought "Why don't I play this?" It was an album by Sonny Stitt and J.J. Johnson, and for me it was mind-boggling. At the end of the record there was something called "Teapot." iIt opened up with a Max Roach drum solo and J.J. came in immediately just playing on the changes. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. After it was over I looked at my classmate and said "You mean to tell me that a trombone can sound like that?" [laughs] Prior to that, I had only been playing marches in the marching band. It was a turning point for me getting more interested in the trombone. 

A couple years later after I graduated from high school I had the privilege of meeting and playing with Wes Montgomery. I'd met Melvin Rhyne through one of Russel Brown's summer programs. I happened to run into Melvin one day and he said "Hey man, what are you doing right now? Why don't you come by The Hubbub. Bring your horn and I'll introduce you to Wes Montgomery." So I came through and Wes was his beautiful, beautiful self. Wes was always seemingly in a good mood. I played with Wes and he invited me back. I ended up going to jam sessions with him every week for about three months in a row.

NUVO: You came up during a time when many great trombonists were emerging from the Indianapolis scene. Guys like J.J. Johnson, Slide Hampton, David Baker and yourself took that instrument into new directions. What was going on at that time to push musicians to explore the trombone?

Ranelin: That's an interesting question. The trombone is such a difficult instrument it tends to lead you into figuring things out musically. A lot of trombone players end up being pretty good writers, and arrangers also. I think that's part of the nature of the instrument. 

It is amazing that some of the top trombone players came out of this little town. I hear a lot of people say "Wow, Indianapolis is such a little place, but it's produced so many great players." And it's not just trombone players, Indianapolis has produced great brass players too like Freddie Hubbard. You've got Freddie Hubbard, J.J. Johnson, Wes Montgomery. There's three of the top musicians in jazz and they come from this little place called Indianapolis, Indiana. 

NUVO: Speaking of Freddie Hubbard I understand he befriended you early in your career, and later on in the late '70s you both recorded together. 

Ranelin: I just want to slightly correct you, Freddie Hubbard wasn't just a friend. He was a hero. He was only a year and a half older than me. We went to high school together. We developed a real close friendship, especially when I moved to the West Coast. At that time we were hanging out extensively. Every Thanksgiving I was at his house. He was a special friend and I valued him immensely. Freddie, for me, is my very favorite trumpet player. And I don't stand alone, that's not a biased statement. In terms of jazz a lot of people agree that it doesn't get any better than Freddie Hubbard. 

NUVO: Can you tell me about your decision to move to Detroit and what led you to co-founding Tribe Records? 

Ranelin: There again The Hubbub comes into play. I'd go by there and stand in with whatever band was there. There were a lot of great musicians coming through there including Grant Green and Eddie Harris. This particular time it was a band from Detroit and after the session was over the leader came and said "I really like the way you play. Are you staying pretty busy around here?" I said "No." He said "If you ever decide to move to Detroit, look me up immediately. I could get you some work."

That was music to my ears because I was getting very little work in Indianapolis. I didn't have any real ties in Indy at the time; my marriage had kind of broken up. So I decided to take him up on his offer. I moved to Detroit and immediately called him. He said "We're rehearsing, come on by." I go to the rehearsal, and come to find out it was a rehearsal for one of the Motown acts. In fact it was The Temptations. I played and I got the gig. They were heading out right that week on a 10-day tour and ironically enough the first stop on the tour was Indianapolis. At that point I'd only been gone from Indy for about a week, and most people hadn't realized I'd even left. [laughs]

As far as Tribe Records, that goes back to me meeting Wendell Harrison in 1964. He was touring through Indy with Hank Crawford's band. When I moved to Detroit in 1968 Wendell had just moved back there. We were both working at a place called Metropolitan Arts Complex. We didn't really remember each other that well, but we were both rehearsing in this big band. I stood up and took a solo and he looked around and said "Hey, don't I know you?" We exchanged numbers and started talking about our dreams of recording our own music. That's how Tribe was born. It started out mainly as a band, and later developed into a record label. It was a very gratifying period and it's still part of who I am.

NUVO: So much of your work with Tribe was focused on themes of social justice. Can you tell me what it meant for you to use your art to address social issues?

Ranelin: It meant everything to me. That's who I am. That's what I'm about. As a black man in America I face racism every day. Even today. Back then in particular we were conscious of all that, and it came out through the music. Later, Tribe developed from a band and record label into a magazine. We discussed political issues in the magazine. It was a very interesting time.

I feel like part of the Tribe Movement influenced a lot of activity in Detroit. The first record we recorded was Message From the Tribe. One song on that album was dedicated to Angela Davis, and I had the privilege of personally giving her a copy of the album during a political rally.

NUVO: Any current projects you're working on that you'd like to mention?

Ranelin: I just recorded a DVD that will be coming out early next year. It's called Portrait in Blue. They interviewed me while I drove from Los Angeles to a performance in San Francisco. They interviewed me every minute of the way while I was driving. It was crazy now that I think about it, that's dangerous talking and driving. [laughs] They interviewed me all the way back too. I'm looking forward to seeing how that turns out with the interview and performance. 

Also I'm celebrating my 75th birthday this year. That's one of the reasons I'm coming back to Indianapolis, as part of my 75th birthday tour. The tour has already included a date in Dakar, Senegal so it's an international tour. I'll be in Panama around the first of the year. So I'm celebrating all year. That's how we do it. 

I'm very happy to be back in Indianapolis for Jazz Fest, and I'm looking forward to the performance. I'll be joined by Clifford Ratliff on trumpet, Kevin Anker on piano, Thomas Brinkley on bass, and Greg Artry on drums.

A Cultural Manifesto is now available on WFYI's HD2 radio. Tune in Wednesdays at 7 p.m. and Saturdays at 3 p.m. as NUVO's Kyle Long explores the merging of a wide variety of music from around the globe with American genres like hip-hop, jazz, and soul.

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