Home at the Long Beach Jazz Festival With Everette Harp and Michael Franks
2011-09-01 · By Melina Paris
The annual Long Beach Jazz Festival always delivers as a brief holiday, a respite, one last mini vacation with extended family before the end of summer. This year the tradition continued and all the elements came together; an exquisite summer day by Rainbow Lagoon followed by the full moon’s magnetic glow that evening blending with the live music’s energy. A recipe for rejuvenation of the spirit!
This beloved festival is a major part of the fabric of Long Beach culture while simultaneously drawing the spectrum of jazz music fans from L.A. and around the world. Every year the festival showcases Straight Ahead, Be-Bop, Contemporary and Smooth Jazz while adding a sprinkling of R&B, Funk and Soul. LBJF wants its attendees to know they want to offer them the music and experience “the way they like it”. Diversity in music was on Saturday’s menu. Artist’s performing were: winners of the Next Great Drummer Talent Show, Everette Harp, Amel Larrieu, Michael Franks, The Whispers, and Kim Waters and Kenny Latimore.
Serendipitously, I had the chance to interview two wonderful musicians on the line up — Master of verse, Michael Franks and the energy driven, Everette Harp. This presented two very different expressions of jazz and brought forth the beauty of diversity of style to this genre. One artist is more cerebral, the other quite physical yet each offering an emotive eloquence that is palpable.
Everette Harp and the Emotional Side of Jazz
Everette Harp opened with Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Goin On?” setting the tone for an energetic and sweet start. An enthusiastic performer, he moves about the stage expressing the passion of his notes through his hips and shoulders, at one with his sax – be it alto, tenor or soprano. Later Mr. Harp went into a number titled Central Park West, a tribute to Jazz legend John Coltrane from his latest CD First Love. If you could seethe music your eyes would follow melodies organically growing from the stage reaching to the sky and trickling down like soft rain. This artist really lets the sentiment come through to his audience.
I was so pleased to have the chance to interview Mr. Harp after his performance. I asked him about something he said on stage; that he remembered the first time he heard a Coltrane record when he was 8 years old. He said he didn’t understand the whole album then but knew he really liked it — his first musical connection was to Straight Ahead Jazz; it wasn’t until later that he fell in love with Contemporary Jazz. He responded that he works to be aggressive with his music and bring forward many variations of jazz, delivering contemporary sound while being funky and bluesy. Straight Ahead challenges him – in a positive way, sort of sparks him up but he loves the emotional side of jazz also, which is showcased on his First Love CD.
That side of jazz is authentic for him, he so eloquently explained; “Music is the last bastion that is protected, it can’t be jaded. You can tap into it if you leave your emotions vulnerable and feel it. You can harden your heart to a lot but not to music. Hurt me if you want to, that’s what we say as musicians – we are vessels.”
Saturday’s audience was definitively treated to Everette Harp’s authentic emotional interpretations.
Michael Franks is in His Groove
Right after this great conversation Michael Franks graced the stage. So charming to see and easy to listen to, this lyrically brilliant singer songwriter tickles your senses and your intellect at once. Listening to the beautiful number “Now Love Has No End” sweeps you up in the most perfect visual of romance, sugar dusted by Mr. Franks’ vivid lyrics. Watching him on stage I was taken back to the distinct jazzy grooves of his early albums. Lucky for us he has always delivered the emotionally intelligent verses with an infectious light heartedness. His number “Now That Summers Here” from the new Time Together CD transports you to a fixed summer state of mind. Willingly, I caught this fever and the antidote is his new album.
Having the amazing opportunity to interview Michael Franks I discovered some extremely interesting information. He majored in English Literature in college and studied poetry. He told me that he “admired lyricists who utilize the full potential of the English language and studied them closely”. His Master’s Thesis was on a Pulitzer Prize-winning, obscure German poet named Theodore Roethke. Following his parent’s cues he got a “real job” – as a teacher. He taught at both the UCLA and Berkley Extension Programs but really wanted to be a song writer. Eventually some musicians he knew from his class put him in touch with some old Blues guys. He ended up writing for them and went on tour – glad to get out of teaching he reminisced, he felt lucky to get into the business.
Regarding inspiration now, he says his writing mostly germinates from an autobiographical perspective, with some poetic license. He’s been doing this for a long time and says he feels like he’s in a groove. Here is to this groove’s continuous play!
These two talented artists were genuinely humble, open and remarkably friendly; both happy to be back in LB at Al Williams’ jazz festival on a picture perfect summer day. Quite honestly during that moment in time nothing could have been more familial, jovial or rejuvenating than sharing in this Long Beach tradition with my jazz loving brothers and sisters.
Thank you LBJF! Until next year, much love.