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Posts Tagged ‘Gary Harris’

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Glen E. Friedman has been a friend for nearly thirty years. He is a world class photographer with a new coffee table book out on bookshelves right now. I have written the afterword for the book. Here it is…

Game Recognize Game

For many of the players found in these pages, a Glen E. portrait, magazine shoot, publicity photo, album cover, t-shirt photo, or poster coincided with the moment when the subjects were breaking through from one level of the game to the next. From a singles deal to an album, club act to arena opener, from an opener to a headliner, from gold to platinum sales status, from releasing a string of important recordings to booking their first film role, from hanging with their clique to being outta here. Whatever the next level was, Glen was there with his vision to present them as they were precisely at that moment: ascending.

Because more often than not, Glen was there when their demo was moving around the hands of the few tastemakers who were empowered to sign them or when their first 12-inch single dropped and he heard it. He was there early because he was not merely an outside observer or on an anthropological expedition—he was a member of the movement and the community that he captured so dynamically and promoted relentlessly.

That’s how we met. I was there too, and, like him and many others, I was engaged in the day-to-day struggle of building the small but tight hip-hop nation into the international hip-hop culture and global business force that it has become. We were both living in New York and we’d see each other around campus. I had been the head of promotion for Def Jam, moved on to work at several other companies but kept close ties with my man Russell “Rush” Simmons. Because you could generally find Glen where the action was, he rolled with Rush too, and we were all friends and members of each other’s extended families.

In fact, “Rush” had a four-hundred-square-foot “mini” duplex, a walkup apartment in the dead center of Greenwich Village that Glen and I had keys to, crashed in, and where we all operated as unofficial roommates for a time. The place had a sky-blue facade with illustrations of pigs and elephants descending to the ground via parachute. Man, if those pigs could talk.

I made a living by putting records on the radio for labels that were cool enough to sign dope joints, but had no clue about how to get them any exposure. These small indie, mom-and-pop labels that were the first to develop hip hop and turn it into a cultural force, before multi-national corporations turned it into an economic one, were also the ones that consistently hired me and Glen. I got their records played, and he directed and shot their artwork.

So we weren’t only members of a community that was still getting most of its juice from the underground—a movement that had yet to be fully recognized by mainstream media, and a culture that at the time, very few referred to as such. We were also part of a loose network of young folk mixing shit up every which way we could, hustlers who made their way in Ronald Reagan’s America and Ed Koch’s New York, who attempted to instigate change in the status quo and use art to improve our lot in life.

Hustling times call for moves to be made, so while I was on a mid-’80s business trip to LA for a Black Radio convention. I ran into Glen, who was still based in Cali, and looking out for Def Jam and Russell Simmons’s acts when they were in town. I was there networking, raising my profile and looking for checks. Glen was passing through with Lyor Cohen. Glen and I didn’t know each other well then, so I hit him with it, “Where you from?”

Homie told me he grew up in LA, but started school in Englewood, NJ, and was born in Pinehurst, North Carolina. Later, he told me he really was a bicoastal kid who shuttled back and forth to see his dad on the east coast. He said living in Englewood at a young age really opened his eyes to racism and discrimination. He relayed a story about his best friend, who was two years older than Glen and Native American, and who was assaulted in a barber’s chair when his mom took him to get a haircut from white barbers! They fucked his hair up, and when they cut it all off, it left a mark on Glen that he never forgot. He also was living in Englewood when Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated, which also left a huge impression on him.

Pinehurst was my own mother’s birthplace, and Englewood—less than a mile outside of Manhattan—was home to the first fully integrated school system in America. The city has produced artists like John Travolta, Brooke Shields, Richard Lewis and Karen O. It is the place where Sugar Hill Records was based when they signed Grand Master Flash, and got the hip-hop ball rolling when they dropped “The Rappers Delight” by the Sugar Hill Gang. It is a place where creative freedom flourished, and many artists who benefited from it called it home. It is the place where jazz greats Dizzy Gillespie and Sarah Vaughan once lived and Thelonious Monk died. Soul Man, Wilson Pickett lived there along with Rock & Roll Hall of Famers, the Isley Brothers. I know the town well; I was born there, grew up there, and broke into the record business by working at Sugar Hill. I was actually a classmate of Glen’s Native American friend from grade school. But Glen and I would not discover how closely we were tied together through our shared background until much later.

It is in that background where you may find clues as to why Glen, a kid of Jewish descent with a vegan diet, and far-left-leaning political tendencies; a kid who was already a graduate of the nascent skateboard and American punk scenes, rolled so easily with black folks on the come-up. It may explain why he relentlessly promoted the demos of eventual Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Chuck D and Public Enemy to countless tastemakers with the following prediction: “These guys are going to do for hip-hop what The Clash did for rock & roll.” Why he was the one to put me up on the first double sided De La Soul 12-inch, “PlugTunin’”/”Freedom Of Speak.” And why on the night after he first played the record for me, we went to see Queen Latifah’s first show ever, in an abandoned junior high school gym that on weekends doubled as a space for an underground party called “Amazon”; and why he walked around in the dead of winter with a self-recorded cassette of the De La joint with the hopes that he’d run into someone with a tape recorder and he could put them up on it too.

Glen was also the guy who shopped the first A Tribe Called Quest demo to that small group of cutting-edge labels that comprised the early rap business. And the one who first played Ice Cube’s Amerikka’s Most Wanted for me, with its early example of east-meets-west collaboration between Cube and the production team that laced the Public Enemy records with all that heat, the Bomb Squad. He dated beautiful black girls who wound up as doctors who graduated from Ivy League schools, and this may have been where he first learned that talent has no color and can never be held back by arbitrary boundaries.

With the exception of his confusing and misplaced love of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Glen has always been on point, but if you dig a little deeper, more facts can be unearthed. Pittsburgh was the team where MLB executive Branch Rickey landed, after he brought Jackie Robinson to the Dodgers, thereby breaking the color line. Rickey continued his progressive and contrarian ways when he built an organization that not only signed the Hispanic legend, Roberto Clemente, but would eventually be the first Major League team to start an all black lineup. Of course, to Glen, this was baseball like it oughtta be.

The late Dock Ellis was the pitcher who took the mound on the day the team sent that first all black lineup on the field. The legendary right-handed pitching rebel and malcontent threw smoke. Ellis would evolve into a symbol of black rebellion and a counter-culture hero who confounded the front office and baseball’s image-makers with his unwillingness to adhere to the status quo. By chance, Ellis met a loud mouthed, eleven-year-old Pirates fan yelling for an autograph from the stands at a game in Shea stadium. This resulted in Dock developing a friendship with young Glen Ellis Friedman. He was probably the first of many fuck-you heroes to cross paths with my man.

Like the artists that he photographed, Glen E. Friedman was a product of the underground and his commitment to youth culture, progressive politics, art, artists, and artistry is unparalleled among my collaborators, peers, associates, and friends. He is my Senior Vice President of Artistic Integrity, my comrade in arms, my man a-hundred-fifty grand, my Nigga. He made a home among talented outsiders, and by using his talent, his gifts, his contacts, and his power without discriminating, he lent credibility to the efforts of others, and thus greater access to the larger world. He became an advocate for hip-hop at the time when it was most in need of advocacy. He trafficked in authenticity, as well as conceptualized and documented images of rebels at work. He served it fresh daily.

And now you’ve made a move, you picked this book up, and you’re reading an essay in a publication filled with portraits that depict pioneers, legends and stars at important times in their lives and in their careers. You’re one of the smart ones, huh? You know what’s up? You’re probably a leader in your field and a top shelf player in your chosen area of expertise.

A top dog, a don. If not, then you have a book filled with images of people who are and were. And if you’ve got a combination of the right hustle, gifts, and skills, and the time is right, then maybe this book will help close the gap between where you are now and a spot at the top of the heap. Or maybe it will serve to remind you of what it was like when you were last there, and help you to recall the required swagger to get you back.

But remember this: the players in these pages, were not in it for the shine. They did it because they could. Their ethos was art for art’s sake, because it was not apparent that you’d get rich when you put your thing down back then. It was more likely that you’d put out a record that no one but your friends and family would ever hear. These players did it for love. If you got rich or famous, that was a result of a lot of sweat, more than a few tears, and the stars properly aligning in your favor; it was not the objective. They grabbed a mic, spit a rhyme, rocked the party, or dropped a joint because they needed to, wanted to, had to. They got on a roll, and used all of their heart, all of their training, and all of their skills to blaze that moment, and the next one, and the next, until they caught fire. And when they got just hot enough, Glen E. Friedman took their picture.

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In the late ’70s, I had a good friend and upstairs neighbor who was adventurous. Like many of us who’d grown up during the height of the Soul era, he was the type who wasn’t quite content with the Disco thing that had all the kids dancing, at the time, so he searched for more.

He listened to the Sex Pistols, the Ramones and Blondie, leaders of the Punk and New Wave movements, and began attending underground parties, in Queens and Manhattan, at unsanctioned and obscure locations that featured something called rapping. He had great stories. Seemed like he was having fun.

High school days ended all too quickly, and I went on to Boston, to college, and to make new friends in the local dance, radio and record communities. In the summer of ’79, my classmate, Jay Dixon, the current PD of New York’s Hot 97, invited me to join him on the air at WRBB-FM, Northeastern University’s 10 watt radio station. I played Jazz/Funk and Fusion records four days a week – the sort of stuff that Premiere and Q-Tip would eventually sample.

Time passed, and that fall, Steve Rifkind’s father and uncle’s diskery, Spring Records, released “King Tim III” by New York Funk clique, the Fatback Band. The record featured an MC in the break and change was in the wind.

The next month, a Soul music company, All Platinum Records that had fallen on hard times, and was located in my hometown, reorganized as Sugar Hill Records and released the game changing “Rappers Delight” by the Sugar Hill Gang. The change that Fatback promised came quickly, and through attending college parties, I began to see and experience what my upstairs neighbor had already known about.

Three years later, I was working in the promotion department of Sugar Hill Records, and I entered the Hip Hop community for life. My journey led me to cross paths with my mentor Russell Simmons, and I joined him and his partner, Rick Rubin in launching their Def Jam Recordings company.

Today, over thirty years later, I am Special Advisor to the Zulu overlord, Afrika Bambaataa, in his effort to erect a Universal Hip Hop Museum, in the Bronx, the place where it all started.

To do what must be done, we need to raise funds. Through the I’m In campaign, our initial objective is to design and build a virtual online museum, in advance of breaking ground for a physical space. To help us reach that goal, we have launched a Rockethub crowdfunding campaign at http://www.rockethub.com/projects/44101-i-m-in-support-the-universal-hip-hop-musuem We intend to raise $50,000 in the next 90 days, and $500,000 by years end.

This Saturday, in the Mott Haven section of the Bronx, along with our partners SoBro, we are hosting a Living Legends Of Hip Hop Block Party that will feature; Video Music Box legend, Uncle Ralph McDaniels, Kurtis Blow, Melle Mel, Grandwizzard Theodore and the planet rocker, Afrika Bambaataa and his Soul Sonic Force.

Join us if you can, donate if you can’t. Doing both would be the best choice. It should be fun.

Hip Hop has grown up in ways that were inconceivable on that day when I first heard “Rappers Delight” not all of them good. The time has come for serious and reverential curation, protection and presentation of this thing of ours. We intend to do it. Please help us in our cause.

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Nelson George and D’Angelo

Thank you for showing the good taste that you have in coming to this blog. I truly appreciate your interest in my writing. Sorry if you have come to see something that is no longer here, but indeed it had already served its purpose and then some. Please feel free to peruse and enjoy other writings and posts.

thank you,
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New from Ericka Blount Danois. Due to hit bookshelves tomorrow w/a forward from Al Bell and an afterword from the playa.

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In the annals of American Jazz one label stands apart from the rest: Blue Note. It was initially founded in 1939 by German ex-pat Alfred Lion and a communist writer named Max Marguilis. Lions and Marguilis were soon joined by photographer Francis Wolf, and the three of them made history together by forming an independent label that quickly garnered a reputation for both giving artists the chance to innovate, and treating them with respect while they were doing it. The rich, deep legacy of the Blue Note A&R direction has left us with gems from masters like Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Grant Green, Cassandra Wilson, Sonny Rollins, Jimmy Smith, John Coltrane, Donald Byrd, Eric Dolphy, Horace Silver and on, and on, and…..

Historically, Jazz has been a difficult business to flourish in. Many times, having the opportunity to perform it, or work in it was the only reward that the most committed received. Blue Note had been a place where purists found strength in numbers, and huddled together for needed solace and inspiration to ward off the indifference of a sometimes unwelcoming world. All of that going against the grain can be challenging, but sometimes you get the reward of being right.

At the dawn of the new millenium Brian Bacchus, a young A&R exec who had the three essential qualities of the Jazz man, intellect, soulfulness and an ability to improvise, heard a three song demo by a young female singer/songwriter/pianist that showed promise. The young artist was barely out of her teens, and newly arrived in New York from Texas. She had an estranged father who had shown the Beatles the mystery of the sitar, and she had a low, husky, sexy voice that made you want to listen, but more importantly buy her recordings. The young Texan’s name was Norah Jones, and she not only became the biggets selling artist in the history of Blue Note Records, but the biggest selling artist of this decade. Brian has written a fascinating first person account that details the meeting, signing and recording of the mega star. Enjoy!

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HERBIE HANCOCK & WAYNE SHORTER

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JIMMY SMITH

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ART BLAKEY

With the Christmas season upon us, there has been a lot of buzz over several much-anticipated recordings by established artists – Maxwell, Sade and Norah Jones. Norah, of course will always have a special place in my heart because of my pivotal role in launching her career. Over the years I’ve been asked many times about her discovery and signing and I really didn’t think there was anything more interesting to add, but the recent clearing of an old storage space that held tons of cassettes, CDs and DATs made me re-visit my first experiences with Ms Jones with fresh eyes and ears. Sometimes a little time is needed to gain a richer perspective on your experience and sometimes a little nudging from another respected A&R man (the insideplaya) will get you to take another peek and remember some new facets of an artist – that you may have overlooked. That and a dope new album by Norah, “Fall”, gave me a reason to relive some of those beautiful early career moments as well as to measure her growth as a singer, pianist, guitarist, songwriter and even as an actress.

Sometime back in early 2000, Shell White, who worked in royalties at EMI, came to see me with an artist that she had started to manage in her spare time. I had been at Blue Note Records, and doing A&R for a few years by then. At Blue Note we had unusually frequent communication with the royalties department because of the vast Blue Note catalog, and because there were always scenarios where we might have to track down older royalty artists that had changed their address too many times for anyone in royalties to know where to send their check or if they were even alive. Anyway, Shell came in with Norah and met with Bruce Lundvall, my boss and the man responsible for resurrecting/re-activating the label back in the 80’s. He called me in and asked me if I would meet with them, take them to my office, and listen to the CD they brought.

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I sat them both down and quickly got the lowdown on how Norah had recently come to town from Texas, and how Shell had heard her singing background vocals on a project that her husband JC Hopkins was producing with Victoria Williams on Atlantic Records. I listened to the three tracks on the CD. There were two jazz standards and one standout original by songwriter Jesse Harris. The standard that stood out was “Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most” which is a tough tune to sing especially for a young singer. Norah nailed it vocally even though the accompaniment wasn’t anything outstanding. Norah was on piano with a young bassist and drummer. Later, I would find out that Jesse was recording his publishing demos for Sony/ATV Music Publishing with Norah doing all the vocals – smart move!

After my meeting with Norah and Shell, I went over to Bruce and told him that I wanted to sign her. Her voice was all that and she was a special jazz vocalist, but we really needed to see her live. Bruce listened to the 3 tracks and concurred.

The first time I saw Norah live was at a little downtown club called Deanna’s. She primarily sang and played all jazz standards with an upright bassist and drummer. The band was not too tight, but her singing was great and she accompanied herself well. After that, I went out to see her every chance I got. Norah was also singing and playing in a host of other bands so I went out to see all of them too. Most importantly, in terms of her development, she had started singing in songwriter Jesse Harris’ band and handling not only the piano chair, but doing all the lead vocals.

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JESSE HARRIS

The Living Room (then on the corner of Allen and Stanton in the Lower East Side, and now around the corner on Ludlow) was a favorite spot for Jesse’s group with Norah as well as many other up and coming singer songwriters. The camaraderie among songwriters there as well as the appearance by songwriters like Richard Julian, Jim Boggia, Sasha Dobson and Rebecca Martin certainly influenced Norah on the songwriting tip too.

Norah had also started singing and playing with the Waxpoetic a band that recorded for Atlantic Records. Waxpoetic was the brainchild of Turkish saxophonist/keyboardist, Ilhan Ersahin. Ilhan now owns and runs a great Lower East Side club, Nublu, that has become an incubation spot for some pretty hip bands (Brazilian Girls, Forro In The Dark, Clark Gayton’s Explorations in Dub, Love Trio, etc.) as well as being a hip young label – melding progressive jazz initiatives with electronica and other music.

As Ahmet Ertegun (the founder and head of Atlantic Records) and Ilhan Ersahin were both Turkish and affiliated with Atlantic, it wouldn’t be strange to see Ahmet at Waxpoetic’s gigs that Norah was on. I knew this was trouble and sure enough I got word from Shell White that Atlantic was also knocking on Norah’s door.

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ATLANTIC RECORDS FOUNDER AHMET ERTEGUN

I immediately went to Bruce Lundvall to let him know. I suggested that we sign Norah to a demo deal with us ASAP. This was for two reasons. One, Norah had minimal studio experience, and I felt she needed to get comfortable in the studio as well as better flesh out the skeletons of the performances and recordings that I had heard thus far. Two, a demo deal with Blue Note would at least keep Atlantic at bay for a moment and we would secure the right to match whatever they might offer once the term of our demo deal was up.

My relationship with Norah and Shell White was solid by then, and we spoke almost daily. I had been out to see Norah at almost every gig with either her group, Jesse Harris’ group or Waxpoetic since we first got together. I think this and the fact we had the inimitable Bruce Lundvall, whose track record and old school charm mirrored Ahmet’s, tilted the decision in our favor so Norah agreed to sign with us.

Norah, Shell and I quickly got to organizing her first real demo sessions to get something down on tape. I suggested engineer Jay Newland, whom I had worked with in the past on a myriad of projects. Jay was low-key and a great engineer, both musically and technically. He also had an ear and extensive experience in Jazz, Country, and Blues projects so I knew he would ‘get’ where Norah was coming from, as well as keep her first sessions calm and drama free. They met and Norah loved him.

Next I called Vera Beren at Sorceror Sound to schedule two days. Sorceror was a reasonably priced studio downtown on Mercer Street with great gear and no major frills, so it was a great place to focus and just do music. Jay liked working there too, so I knew it would be a great introductory studio experience for Norah. Little did I know how good it would be!

Meanwhile Norah had been putting the nucleus of a band together as well as writing her own music. Her boyfriend and the bassist in her band, Lee Alexander, would also turn out to be a pretty special songwriter in his own right (“Lonestar,” ” Feeling the Same Way,” ” The Painter Song,” “Seven Years”). Lee and I had first met through a mutual friend and musician, guitarist, engineer Liberty Ellman, who happened to be biding his time getting record biz experience while re-launching his career and label on the East coast. I believe he and Lee knew each other from the Bay Area. Lee sometimes subbed in Liberty’s jazz trio, which had a crazy regular gig at The Rouge, an intimate chill bar owned by actor/director Michael Imperioli in Chelsea. Norah’s gigs with Jesse Harris were also starting to create a little buzz and becoming more co-lead affairs, as she became the focus. She was also starting to debut her own material. Drummer Dan Reiser had been playing in Jesse Harris’ band and was also now on Norah’s gigs. With the addition of guitarists Adam Rogers and Tony Scherr, as well as Jesse himself on guitar, we had the nucleus of the first demo sessions and actually a good part of her debut record, “Come Away With Me”.

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LEE ALEXANDER

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THE BREAKTHROUGH DEBUT

The demo sessions went extremely well and there was a great vibe in the studio. Also on hand was Anoushka Shankar, Norah’s half sister via the great Ravi Shankar, her father. Strangely enough, she had been signed to Angel, the classical sister label to EMI’s Blue Note by my A&R counterpart, Steve Ferrera, without us knowing the connection. Steve, a talented A&R, drummer, songwriter and producer, is now at J Records acting as Clive Davis’ right hand man (Kelly Clarkson, Heather Headley, Chrisette Michele). Anoushka had just been in town touring with her father and brought their tabla player with her to play on a Jesse Harris tune, “Something Is Calling You.” On the 6-track EP “First Sessions,” that was given a limited pressing so that Norah would have something to sell at gigs in the interim before the first CD dropped, the tabla is taken off. Norah felt it was incongruous with the sound of the other 5 tracks, but I always really loved the sound of the tabla on that track. In the two days at Sorceror Sound, Norah recorded and rough mixed 12 tracks! Nine of those tracks were really strong and are still circulating in a few hands. When I finally listened to the mixes I knew we had something special, but I had no idea that this would become the nucleus of what would eventually become one of the biggest selling records in the history of the record business.

to be continued…..

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