BARE: How the Blues caught me by the jugular and never let go

Dear Friends!!

On the last day of this August month, Anders Nilsson and myself (as the ExPosed Blues Duo) release our debut recording, BARE, on Greene Avenue Music.  I’m so excited about this project being released and we’re looking forward to hearing the feedback that’s bound to come – one way or the other.  Preparing for the release also bought me back in touch with why I love the blues so much and how that came to be.  I’d like to share some of that with you…

A couple years after I moved to The Netherlands in the 90’s, I got asked to sub for an American soul singer at a festival in Cologne, Germany. We performed a mishmash set including jazz standards, blues, R&B and soul tunes we threw together to make the show. When the set was finished, a guitarist came up to me and asked if I’d ever performed blues before and if I’d be interested in performing a complete blues gig at a monthly series he fronted the house band for in Muenster, Germany. I told him I knew a couple blues tunes but was certainly no blues singer and doing a gig like that was out of my league. He said he thought I could become a great blues singer and it’s worth a try. What did I have to lose he said. On a Monday night, decently paid, room, board and travel thrown in. I agreed to give it a shot.

For the show in Muenster, a great German college town about 3 hours from Amsterdam, I pulled together a set of tunes based on the few bluesI knew and some jazzy-blues numbers by Stanley Turrentine and that ilk. When the Theater Café filled to capacity that night, it was no time to be tentative. I did the best I could and surprisingly folks really enjoyed it. Now, I figured one-half of the reason they liked it so much is because I looked the part.  Being African-American gives me all sorts of rights to sing this music, despite the fact that in that moment, I knew almost nothing about it.

You see, the truth of the matter is when I started out and heard the blues sung by Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington and Bessie Smith,I thought that was the real thing – or should I say the only thing. I learned some blues when I started performing because that’s what I was told to do plus they were ‘fun’ and ‘crowd-pleasing’ as opposed to a serious ballad or navigating a bebop tune. A jazz vocalist’s repertoire is incomplete without blues in the repertoire, just as it would be if one sang no bossa novas.

So this opportunity in Germany to put the blues out front made me look at that music differently for the first time. I began to see that it was an art in and of itself. Much older than jazz, simpler, clearer in expression, individual, ornery, dirty. I began to listen to Robert Johnson, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Blind Lemmon Jefferson, Memphis Slim, Willie Dixon, Howlin’ Wolf, T-Bone Walker, Lonnie Johnson, Elmer Snowden, Skip James, John Lee Hooker, Son House, Charles Brown and so much more. That band leader in Muenster asked me to front his band, which I did for three years as well as work with other blues groups in Germany. At the same time, I began to appreciate and know how much the blues profoundly influenced the best part the soul and R&B music I loved and grew up with.

Gigging with the blues and the study that happened alongside it laid the foundation for a journey of learning to express myself through this substantial medium and I ‘got’ it early on that it’s not a music to hide behind.  It’s a music to deepen my understanding of myself because it won’t tolerate a facade.  At least it didn’t for me. And all those gigs (100’s) performing this music made it clearer still. The blues has helped me be a more colorful and storytelling vocalist and deeply informs the compositions Jochem and I write.  It’s a fundamental part of my expression.

So why a blues record now?

In 2007, I was asked to perform a blues-based program at the WinterNights Jazz Festival in Marseille, France. Myself and Fay Victor Ensemble guitarist Anders Nilsson came up with an approach and used some material I performed when I lived in Europe, added new tunes and re-wrote the script for that event. We thought we’d open up the forms and tunes, leaving BARE the possibility for free improvisation to emerge, just like those singular Delta blues guitarists, we said. It worked, the audience told us. It felt good to connect with an audience that way again! So we went on to develop what started in Marseille and formed the ExPosed Blues Duo, melding blues forms and free improvisation.  As we gigged around town, the music got more organic, pure, languid and visceral. We felt that some strong music may come out of this. Let’s record this happening and take it from there.

Here we are.


More info:
Greene Ave Music
Improvised Communications
Media Contact: Scott Menhinick

BARE is available for download at CDBABY and I-Tunes.
The Street date for the physical CD is August 31, 2010



One thought on “BARE: How the Blues caught me by the jugular and never let go”

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