Berkeley nostalgia and Blondell’s blessing

Posted in Uncategorized on June 21, 2016 by Josslyn Luckett


So out of the dance world loop, I’m embarrassed to say I only just learned tonight that Blondell Cummings died last summer, in August. I am in Berkeley this warm June evening after a long month of research and staying not far from the theater on College Ave where we auditioned for the Ailey summer intensive sooo many moons ago (25 years or so). It was seeing that steady dose of Zellerbach magic, Garth Fagan, Bill T, Mark Morris and the Ailey company that had me thinking I should put down my pen, let my film and theater theory books go ahead and get dusty–I wanted to dance. When Peter Brook talked about the Holy Theater, I felt like I’d only ever seen it in modern dance.

Then there was Blondell…I almost couldn’t make sense of her cause she confused my dancer/writer split. I didn’t know you could write a story with your wrist in that way, your belly, hip, neck, brow, blink as plot, plea, history, hurt, hallelujah and don’t let the food (for thought) get cold.

One afternoon long after the Ailey intensive that was filled with 15 year olds who kicked my 20 something behind back to pen and electric typewriter, I went to visit someone at the old Ailey studio and happened to see Blondell in the offices. I remember sort of sheepishly confessing that I’d decided to go for an MFA in dramatic writing and had more or less left the serious pursuit of modern dance behind. She smiled her eyes so lovingly my way and said, “We need writers!” Like it was okay to tell stories with my wrist the other way, the way I use them now at this keyboard, while other wrists rhumba, flamenco fanning all manner of meaning, long as we get our colored tales out. Wrist in peace you beautiful, generous soul, and the deepest bows of gratitude for the story your eyes danced for me that day.

blondell hands



wheel within a wheel…circle is never broken

Posted in Uncategorized on May 3, 2016 by Josslyn Luckett

ron carter photo by fortuna sung“I’m here to see my husband,” winks the beautiful sister who is seated next to me and my squeeze for the second set last Sunday at the Blue Note. I know exactly what she means and who she means and it’s only because I’m with my real life love that I don’t gush too much in agreement. Some people have movie star husbands (“my husband Idris Elba”) or NBA husbands (don’t get me started), but in jazz? See photo above. ‘Nuff said.

Now to more serious and sacred matters. Happy Birthday Sir Ron Carter! 79 years young on May 4. And it’s all relative, right, because the age defying/denying, Roy Haynes was in the house last Sunday too, whose 91 years inspire us to repeat, “age ain’t nothin’ but a number” and glory be. Truth is, no one is studying the number 79 this year anyway. It’s all about 2221. The Guinness Book finally called it: with TWO THOUSAND, TWO HUNDRED and TWENTY-ONE recordings, Sir Ron is now the world’s most recorded bassist. My my my.

So why title a post on Carter with a tune by Bobby Watson? Well I’ve had the deep joy of seeing both musicians live in the past few months, and that song links them for me in a special way. While watching Watson with Orrin Evans in Philly recently, I thought about the circle of that song and my own travels with this music and those musicians. I first really focused in on that song some time likely a decade or so back when Ron Carter was teaching a master class at the Monk Institute (when it was housed at USC) and my bass teacher, Curtis Robertson Jr, and I had a chance to feast on Carter’s wise use of the Watson tune as tool to get the Monk ensemble to play together and still commit to that life long quest of “finding the right notes” to signal one’s own unique, individual voice. Curtis scribbled notes, musical and spiritual, that filled our lesson later that afternoon, and this is why whenever I hear that tune, no matter the personnel, I zero in on that bassline. And before anyone wonders, sadly I did not stick with those magical lessons or the bass in general much longer (Insha’allah I will return to it one day), still my burst of joy the other night hearing Bobby Watson and Orrin Evans go “Wheel” on us at South, brought me back to that Monk Institute glory. It was only the second time I’d ever heard Watson live…the first was at the Healdsburg Jazz Festival with Ruth Naomi Floyd and James Newton for a sacred concert they performed the last day of the festival in 2008, a Sunday matinee, oh come Sunday, that’s the day.

Coming back to last Sunday night at the Blue Note, what touched me most was the moment Carter called “ESP” to Donald Harrison and Billy Cobham, his trio mates that evening. I thought of the relationship each musician must have to the Shorter tune first recorded by the second great quintet in 65, several years before Cobham would join later figurations of Miles’s working band. These wheels within wheels…these intersecting circles, orbits, moods and miles of smiles exchanged between teacher, leader, composer, arranger, soloist, ensemble, artist, audience. Carter ended the final set asking Harrison to lead a song he wrote for Charlie Parker…and tables away one of Parker’s greatest drummers, Haynes listened in. The 91 year young drummer darted out of the club after the set with a pace that had me wondering if he was rushing home to sleep or to play, inspired surely either way. Cassandra sang it best when she adapted “ESP” for Traveling Miles, “then and now, circle is never broken….” Circle is never broken.

Who will love the lads insane?

Posted in Uncategorized on January 11, 2016 by Josslyn Luckett


Reading Bowie’s NYTimes obit this morning, I felt such a pang of nostalgia, of recognition when I got to these words: “Mr. Bowie wrote songs, above all, about being an outsider, an alien, a misfit….”

Somehow I managed to score (“borrow”) my brother’s copy of Changes Two when he left home for college in 1982. It’s possible it was my dad’s LP, but probably J’s. Bowie’s version of “Wild is the Wind” provided a solid musical meeting ground in the late 70’s/early 80’s for the three of us (when my Rodney on the Roq, Jason’s Jagger and Dad’s Nancy Wilson didn’t always make the best mix tape). We all knew and loved Nina’s version too, but frankly I think Pop’s favorite was still the original Mathis. Changes Two starts with “Aladdin Sane” which was the first song I longed for when I heard of Bowie’s death this morning. There is some old, blood memory of a kind of grounding quiet that that song held for me in my pre-teen Orange County colored girl angst. And that crazy piano solo again offered some kind of warm bridge to my father’s increasingly compelling jazz collection.

          “Whoooo will love Aladdin Sane?”

Who will love the crazy child? Who will love the politically radical, big, brown girl in Irvine, California in the 1970s? Bowie was such a surprising balm. By college, out of the suburbs and into the city, the eccentric black, brown and beige lads insane did at last start to find and love each other, still it gave me this private, affirming giggle when the thin white duke married the one-name Somali diva. Bless your funk to funky soul, dear Bowie.

I’m happy, hope you’re happy too…

“we are worth wanting each other”

Posted in Uncategorized on December 1, 2015 by Josslyn Luckett


The ICA here in Philly is paying tribute to one of the city’s most profound angels…Essex Hemphill. Today, world aids day, they are streaming Tiona McClodden’s “Af-fixing Ceremony: Four Movements for Essay.”

Watch here:
Essex Hemphill (born 1957, Chicago; died 1995, Philadelphia) was a poet
and performer who openly addressed race, identity, sexuality, HIV/AIDS,
and the family, voicing issues central to the African-American gay
community. His first collections of poems were the self-published
chapbooks Earth Life (1985) and Conditions (1986). His first full-length
collection, Ceremonies: Prose and Poetry (1992), won the National Library
Association’s Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual New Author Award. His work is
included in the anthologies Gay and Lesbian Poetry in Our Time (1986)
and Life Sentences: Writers, Artists, and AIDS (1993). Hemphill’s poetry
and his performances with the group Cinque were featured in the films
Looking for Langston (1989), Tongues Untied (1989), and Black Is … Black
Ain’t (1994). He received fellowships from the National Endowment for
the Arts and grants from the Pew Charitable Trust Fellowship in the Arts
and the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities. He was a visiting
scholar at the Getty Center for the History of Art and the Humanities in
Santa Monica, California.


“Our brightest hopes, extinguished now”…and still THE EPIC sings our glory

Posted in Uncategorized on June 20, 2015 by Josslyn Luckett


I love that young brother Kamasi had the nerve to launch a three disk release called The Epic and folks are losing their minds behind it. I have so many thoughts and feelings about all that’s happened this week…the sorrow is so deep and yet I hope somebody’s been playing Mingus’s Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting loud, unafraid of the glory and joy in that piece because that kind of soul force must have also been present in the radical hospitality our departed African Methodist Episcopal brothers and sisters extended to their assassin. I played Kamasi’s album for the first time yesterday and was so full up with gratitude for the life force unleashed by this saxophonist I’ve been watching since he was in high school (maybe junior high?). Amazing to hear and reflect on all he must have absorbed from the brilliance, rigor, and imagination of the many musical education encounters, both organized and organic, he experienced.  I’m thinking of jazz education programs once helmed by beloved ancestors Billy Higgins, Buddy Collette, and Horace Tapscott (P.A.P.A. is ringing so clear throughout the Epic) and those still rockin’ from East L.A. to the Watts Towers to Leimert to the Westside with generous geniuses like Patrice Rushen, Nedra Wheeler, Lesa Terry, Bobby Rodriguez and all the UCLA heavyweights like Kenny Burrell, James Newton and Roberto Miranda…

Washington dedicates his sonic dance with Debussy to Maestro Gerald Wilson. Still when I heard it I remembered the time Dwight Trible told me that Oscar Brown Jr was working on vocal arrangement of Clair de Lune before he died that he thought Dwight might be able to handle….and all of those thoughts flood me with the majesty of these sacred, multi-genre/generational transmissions that keep all of these musics alive. Then I get a chill hearing Dwight and Patrice Quinn sing Ossie Davis’s Eulogy for Malcolm X…and I am returned to the dirge so heavy in all our hearts behind the 9 extinguished hopes in Charleston, SC. Seem too soon for a second line, still Kamasi’s epic keep giving me the fire to remember and know and keep speaking our glory.

Courage love and listening: thinking about the loss of Charlie Haden

Posted in Uncategorized on January 1, 2015 by Josslyn Luckett


Happy New Year!!!

I had hoped to post a few days ago to remember the greats who became ancestors in 2014 and this morning Charlie Haden is on my mind especially. Throughout the painful days of this past couple months regarding racial violence and police brutality, it’s guys like Charlie Haden who help me. He helps me remember there are courageous white men who actually love, value, revere, deeply listen to, study from and celebrate black people. I’m pretty sure the last time I saw him play was in L.A. with Alice Coltrane who he loved so deeply. I think of the time he lifted up the black liberation movements in Mozambique and Angola and got himself arrested after a gig with Ornette in Portugal. And this morning I reread these beautiful lines from an old piece by Rafi Zabor in Musician magazine (published in the great anthology of jazz writings from that magazine: The Jazz Musician: 15 years of interviews edited by Mark Rowland and Tony Scherman). Dig this:

“People ask me what I think about when I’m improvising, and I have to tell them there’s no thought process. You have to get to know music as you would a person, and get close to music as you would to a friend, and the closer you get, the nearer you are to touching music, and when you’re really playing, when you’re really touching music, if you try to remember back you’ll see that your ears become your mind, your feelings become you mind, and there is no thought process as far as the intellect is concerned. It’s coming from the emotions and from whatever energy is passing from the music to you. The ego goes away. Or should I say, you reach a place where there is no ego, and in doing that you see yourself in relation to the rest of the universe, and you see your unimportance in relation to the rest of the universe, and in seeing your unimportance you begin to see your importance. You see that it’s important to have respect and reverence for life and music, and in being able to do that you get close to being honest in your playing.”

I miss Jimmy Scott to the core, miss Horace Silver too…still I am heaviest with the loss of Haden because these times need men like him so much, to model this kind of humanity. Deep deep bows of gratitude for what you modeled Mr. Haden. I’ll go listen to Steal Away now and imagine you and Hank Jones swinging in the New Year wherever you are…

Strong and free

Posted in Uncategorized on December 9, 2014 by Josslyn Luckett

blk sonshine

And never G.I.V.E. U.P and keep your H.E.A.D U.P….

Who knew Jaheim would lift me this week but I stumbled on that old tune, “Fabulous” and had to play it about 5 times in a row.  The other album that is offering such healing grooves are my dear brothers Neo and Masauko, Blk Sonshine…especially their song of Peter J Harris’ poem, “Fingerpainting a Masterpiece” and the supremely uplifting, “Building”…here’s the youtube for that here.

Thank you all for the healing, hopeful, head-up sounds…