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Bermuda Music Festival

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I love working on these “music festivals in exotic locales” stories, which are frankly not much more than promotional announcements with some random commentary thrown in, because I can fantacize about being there at least while I’m tossing the piece together. And who knows, maybe someone who reads them will actually be enticed to go, which I would most certainly do myself if it weren’t for such variables as work, money, children, and time.

So quite a few of these paradisiacal islands have discovered that music festivals are a grand way to entice people to their particular spec in the Great Blue, and Bermuda has been doing it now for nine years:

    Bermuda is pulling out all the stops for the launch of its ninth annual Bermuda Music Festival, Oct. 6 ­ 11, 2004 . Formerly known as the Bermuda Jazz Festival, the name change reflects a decision to broaden the scope of musical genres showcased at the event as well as attracts a more diverse audience to the island.

    Produced by BET Event Productions (BEP), the sensational line up of entertainers will feature performances by Gerald Albright, Babyface, Anita Baker, The O’Jays and Seal on the main stage, and numerous other international and native Bermudian artists. The above main-stage performances will take place at the Royal Naval Dockyard, Thursday through Saturday (Oct. 7 ­ 9) on a breathtaking, outdoor, over-the-water stage with the turquoise waters of the Atlantic Ocean as the backdrop. Other dynamic acts such as Elito Reve Y Su Charangon will perform at more intimate venues like The Fairmont Hamilton Princess (Wednesday, Oct.6), while the chic Fairmont Southampton Beach Club will offer al fresco dining to the soothing sounds of beloved singing duo Kindred The Family Soul (Sunday, Oct. 10).

Artist bios are here:

    Anita Baker
    With her classy, refined brand of romantic soul, Anita Baker was one of the definitive quiet storm singers of the ’80s. Gifted with a strong, supple alto, Baker was influenced not only by R&B, but jazz, gospel, and traditional pop, which gave her music a distinctly adult sophistication.

    At age 12, she began singing in a gospel choir, and by age 16 she was performing with several local bands. In 1975, she successfully auditioned for Chapter 8, one of Detroit’s most popular acts at the time. The group eventually released an album in 1979, but was immediately dropped when Arista Records acquired their label. In 1982, Otis Smith, an executive who’d worked with Chapter 8, contacted Baker about recording for his new label Beverly Glen. Baker flew out to the West Coast to record her debut album, “The Songstress,” in 1983. Though it didn’t gain quite enough exposure to become a hit, it did help Baker build a strong fan base through word-of-mouth and she was signed by Elektra in 1985.

    Baker released her major-label debut “Rapture” in 1986. It was a platinum hit and Grammy-winning smash, appealing to both urban and adult contemporary listeners and producing two all-time quiet storm classics in “Caught Up in the Rapture” and “Sweet Love.” Baker toured the world in 1987 and her guest appearance on the Winans track “Ain’t Got No Need to Worry” won a Grammy. Her equally stylish follow-up album, “Giving You the Best That I Got,” appeared in 1988, and won Baker two more Grammys. For her third Elektra album, Baker decided to handle a greater share of the songwriting, hence the title “Compositions,” which was released in 1990 and featured even stronger jazz inflections than Baker’s previous work.

    Following “Compositions,” Baker took a break from recording and touring. After having her first son in 1993, she returned to the studio to craft “Rhythm of Love,” which was released in 1994. In addition to touring nationally, Anita was back in the studio again this past spring and is slated to release a new eagerly awaited album early this fall. Anita Baker’s new album, “My Everything” will be in stores September 7, 2004.

    Gerald Albright
    Beginning in the late ’80s, saxophone master Gerald Albright recorded numerous successful solo albums when he wasn’t busy assisting an impressive, and mammoth, roster of popular R&B artists. Growing up, the saxophonist idolized James Brown and took much influence from Maceo Parker and Cannonball Adderley. He first made a name for himself within the music industry during the 1980s, when he became a highly requested session musician. His revered reputation resulted in a solo contract with Altantic Records. His first album, “Just Between Us,” introduced him to the masses in 1987, and numerous albums resulted, including a best-of collection in 2001.

    Albright’s fame peaked in the early ’90s, around the time he released “Live at Birdland West,” a brave album for the saxman showcasing his ability to play jazz, as well as R&B. Five years later, he released the album “Groovology,” and continued to maintain his busy schedule as a sessionman. Some of the more well-known artists he assisted during his career include Anita Baker, Quincy Jones, the Temptations, Phil Collins, Whitney Houston, and many more.

Isaac Hayes [this one is mine because I rule] Another man with Isaac Hayes’ credentials – musician, singer, songwriter, producer, actor, humanitarian, radio personality – would be called a chameleon, but Hayes has always been resolutely, undeniably himself. As a sideman at Stax, then co-producer and co-writer (with David Porter) of the great Sam & Dave hits (“Hold On I’m Comin’,” “Soul Man,” “I Thank You,” “When Something Is Wrong With My Baby”) and others for Otis Redding, Carla Thomas, Johnnie Taylor, William Bell, Judy Clay and the Bar-Kays, Hayes helped define soul music in the ’60s.

Then, as a solo artist Hayes stretched the boundaries of soul adding strings and social themes; with Sly Stone, Gamble and Huff, Curtis Mayfield and Norman Whitfield, he helped move black music from a singles to an album format. On albums like Hot Buttered Soul, The Isaac Hayes Movement, To Be Continued, Black Moses, and especially the Oscar and Grammy-winning Shaft, Hayes took his brand of elegant but funky soul to a huge new audience.

Isaac Hayes was born August 20, 1942 in Covington, Tennessee. He lived on a farm until he was 7, then moved with his maternal grandparents (who raised him) to Memphis. The family was musical and active in the church, school and community. Hayes’ first public performance was a duet with his sister at church when he was 3. Already the musical perfectionist, Hayes halted his sister mid-performance when she made a mistake.

In high school Hayes won a singing contest, noted the attention his performance generated, and said “Hmm, this is what I want to do.” He took a year of band (tuba then sax) and began singing with a variety of combos: rock ‘n’ roll, doo wop, blues, gospel, jazz.

“I loved it all – this adventure into music – I was sucking up everything like a sponge,” he says.

“With the blues band we played the juke joints of Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas. We didn’t make much money: it was all the corn liquor you could drink and enough money to get back home. If the owner didn’t feel like paying you, he didn’t pay you and you didn’t argue because he had a .38 pistol on his hip,” he laughs darkly. “With gospel it was all the food you could eat, and then maybe a collection was taken up for expenses.”

Eventually he “learned enough piano to get along,” and wound up on the staff at Memphis’ Stax Records by around ’63, having been turned down three times by the label as an artist. An old friend from his doo wop days, David Porter, was already with the label and said to Hayes, “You play music and I write lyrics, let’s team up and start writing and producing like Holland-Dozier-Holland up at Motown.”

“When we started writing,” Hayes remembers, “guys around the city would tease us: ‘Hey hit men, how many hits did you write today?’ But we kept our noses to the grindstone and we finally clicked with Carla Thomas’ ‘How Do You Quit’ in ’65.

Then they chose David and I to write and produce for Sam and Dave, and after we had a big hit with them, more people around town wanted to write songs. We organized a writer’s workshop and everything,” recalls Hayes. Their writing for Sam & Dave was typical of their approach. “We would come up with a good subject or a good hook. For the meat of the song you have to ask yourselves some questions: If you want this girl, why do you want her? If you get her, what would you do? People have to able to get what you’re trying to get across. As far as music is concerned, you’ve got to come up with a groove with changes and things that keep the emotional content in it.

“Usually our songs came from personal experiences,” he continues. “For instance, with ‘When Something’s Wrong With My Baby,’ David and I were working and working and working, and we just couldn’t come up with anything. So we gave up and each went home. After about 30 minutes, he called me: ‘I got it, I got it, I got it.’ I said, ‘What do you mean?’ He had just written it on toilet paper or something, and said, ‘When something’s wrong with my baby, something’s wrong with me.’

“He came over and we started going over the lyrics. I sat down at the piano and started playing something slow. We got the changes and the melody and put it with the first verse, and the rest was easy. Sam & Dave were in town – we would usually work on their songs when they were around – sometimes we’d have them sitting there while we wrote to get a good feel for them.

“‘You Don’t Know Like I Know’ was originally a gospel song: ‘You don’t know like I know what the Lord has done for me.’ Well, a woman can do some good things for you too. We just switched it around,” Hayes says with a chuckle.

“‘Soul Man’ came about during one of the riots. I was watching TV and they said something about businesses being bypassed when ‘soul’ was written on the door. That reminded me of Passover in the Bible. So I thought about this ‘soul’ thing: there’s a lot of pride in it. I didn’t look at the rioting as destroying. I looked at it as frustrated people taking out their frustrations on whatever got in their way. I told David about it and we started working on it. Everything just clicked.”

Hayes recalls the Stax studio. “We only had a one-track recorder at first. [Label-owner] Jim Stewart was considered the king of one-track. If anybody screwed up, we had to start all over again and [trumpet player] Wayne Jackson’s lips would fall off. Eventually we got two-track when Tom Dowd came in and installed it for us.

“Regarding arrangements, we did them in out heads, where Motown may have had them written out. We went on feel. I continue to do that. Otis [Redding] would come in sometimes with just an idea. He would get behind the microphone and say ‘work up a groove’ and start doing lyrics spontaneously – [singing] ‘I can’t turn you loose.'”

Though deeply in the groove, Hayes was always a thinking man with a conscience as well. “I was active even in high school in marches and things. I was afraid but I thought it was the right thing to do. When Dr. King was killed [in ’68] I went through a period when I couldn’t write, couldn’t create. I just went blank. I was so hurt by that and I had so much bitterness and hatred for racist attitudes. Then one day after about a year I cognized: ‘Hey man, the only way you can make a change is to do what you do.’ So I got busy again.”

Hayes had recorded a very casual album in ’67 that received a fair amount of critical praise and was given the opportunity to record again in ’69. This time he took the affair more seriously, but still felt no particular pressure to succeed as an artist. That album became Hot Buttered Soul, and it established the recording career of Isaac Hayes.

Hayes was shocked by his solo success. “I couldn’t believe it because I had been behind the scenes so long. When David and wrote together, we wrote for other people so we had to match their personalities. I had a background in blues, jazz, pop, even classical and I wanted to get it all out. I had a funky groove underneath, but those strings on top. I was happy with it for myself, but a few million other people got into it too,” he laughs.

For Shaft, Hayes had the powerful image of a tough but vulnerable black screen detective to inspire him; he found his all-time resonant grooves for the title track and long instrumental passages that achieved a perfect balance between the funk and the sweet. Hayes has released almost two-dozen (mostly) successful albums since. He remains humble. “I never took myself too seriously. Each time I cut a hit record I would say ‘Whew, I made it again.’ I was honest with my music and said ‘if I hurt, I cry.’ A lot of men liked it because it said what they wanted to say but didn’t know how to. Women liked it because it showed sensitivity in a man, and that’s what they were looking for.”

Hayes could get away with sensitivity because of his tough, forbidding image in the way that Nixon could go to China. Some TV stations wouldn’t let him on because they thought he was militant. “The image was my security blanket, especially the shades (tough on the outside, sensitive on the inside),” he confides.

That image – shaved head, chains draped over muscles – led to an acting career. Hayes has appeared in over a dozen films and in recurring roles on TV. His favorite role so far is that of Gandolf Finch in James Garner’s Rockford Files TV series from the ’80s. Hayes’ most recent album is the notable Raw and Refined from ’95. He also did a Shaft parody for the Beavis and Butthead Do America soundtrack; and is the star of the Isaac Hayes and Friends radio show on “KISS-FM” (WRKS) in New York, playing “classic soul and today’s R&B” weekday mornings. He is also the voice of “Chef” on the Comedy Central hit animated series South Park. But most of all, he is Isaac Hayes.

    Karen Briggs
    Karen’s unique sound combines the rock of Jimi Hendrix, the soul of Aretha Franklin, the swing of Charlie Parker and even throws in a little Latin rhythm for good measure—all on the violin. With every piece, Karen brings classical technique to this eclectic and soulful mix.

    Born in Manhattan to a musically inclined family, Karen began violin lessons at the age of twelve. Over time, she became a passionate violinist of gospel, jazz, classical, pop, and Latin music. This diversity would come to define her music. Karen has been featured internationally as a soloist everywhere from the legendary Apollo Theater to the Taj Mahal.

    Karen made her Carnegie Hall debut in the 1994 production, “Fiddlefest,” which later became the theme music for the motion picture, Music of the Heart. She has recorded and performed with such notable artists as Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder, Soul II Soul, Chaka Khan, and Kenny Loggins. Yet it is her work with keyboardist/composer, Yanni, that has brought her the biggest following. As Yanni’s single most featured performer on tour, TV and video, Karen has won the resounding applause of both critics and audiences around the world.

    A resident of California, Karen continues to both record with Hidden Beach Records and is featured solo artist with the Unwrapped Band. Her standout violin performance is featured on the CD, “Unwrapped Vol. 2,” as well as a cover version of the #1 hit, “It’s Hot in Here.”

    Keiko Matsui
    Fusion/new age keyboard player Keiko Matsui grew up in Tokyo, and took her first piano lesson at the age of five. Influenced by Stevie Wonder and Rachmaninov as well as early fusion masters Maurice Jarre and Chick Corea, Matsui began composing while in junior high, but studied children’s culture at the Japan Women’s University (Nihon Joshidaigaku). She moved to the Yamaha Music Foundation in Tokyo after graduation and formed Cosmos, recording four albums with the new age group.

    Her first album as a leader, 1987’s “A Drop of Water,” was released in the U.S. two years after the fact. The LP also featured her touring partner and husband, Kazu Matsui, and was financed with their honeymoon money. A contract with MCA that year resulted in two albums, “No Borders” and “Under Northern Lights.” In 1992, Matsui began charting in the contemporary jazz charts. Her 1995 album “Sapphire” hit number one on the charts, and its follow-up also reached the Top Ten the following year. “Whisper From the Mirror” followed in 2000 and “Deep Blue” appeared a year later.

    Kindred the Family Soul
    For singer/songwriters and husband/wife Fatin Dantzler and Aja Graydon, the message is definitely in the music. The Philadelphia-based R&B duo performs music that includes poetic lyrics and soulful melodies, with jazz and Latin influences. Drawing on the legacy of Ashford & Simpson, they sing about love, life, stresses, the challenges of parenthood, and following one’s dreams.

    Their debut album, “Surrender to Love,” serves as a soundtrack to the everyday lives of everyday folk, who happen to have the gift of song and a willingness to share their love with the world. The spirit is perhaps best captured by the lead single “Rhythm of Life” where the couple sings in the song’s chorus “Loving you is a dance / The rhythm of life / And if there’s a chance / I want you ’till I die.”’

The O’Jays [this one is mine also] I spoke with legendary songwriter Leon Huff, of Gamble and Huff, about their salad days in the ’70s with the O’Jays and Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes.

By ’71 G&H were tired of moving their tent from label to label and approached CBS president Clive Davis about a deal for an imprint of their own, to be distributed by CBS.

Recalls Huff, “Clive was blown away by our talent, and it was a great move for us and them. Our company (Philadelphia International) really took off after we signed the O’Jays.

“I remember flying into Cleveland – a disc jockey had called to say ‘Man there’s a group in Cleveland that’s raising hell’ – so we took a flight out to Cleveland and went to see them at a club. They had lines around the corner. Those guys were tearing that club up. We stayed in Cleveland until we signed them. We took them back to Philadelphia and recorded and recorded and recorded.”

With the O’Jays, and Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes, the world of Gamble and Huff came together. In the ’70s G&H scored ten No. 1 R&B and nine Top 40 pop hits with the O’Jays; four No. 1 R&B and four Top 20 hits with Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes.

But more importantly, all the disparate elements of the G&H sound coalesced into something new: music with rhythmic muscle, melodic sophistication and orchestral leavening, combined with a newfound social and interpersonal awareness, all funneled through the great pipes of the O’Jays’ Eddie Levert and the Bluesnotes’ Teddy Pendergrass.

Recorded at G&H’s Sigma Sound with engineer Joe Tarsia, the roll began with the O’Jays’ “Backstabbers,” a remarkable combination of shimmering strings, Latin percussion, post-modern paranoia and a palpable sense of “this is it – there is nothing any of us could or should be doing other than making this music.”

G&H weren’t following Motown (where Norman Whitfield was making parallel strides) or anyone else (Curtis Mayfield and Isaac Hayes were independently exploring some of the same terrain) – G&B were leading.

In addition to making hits, G&H allowed house band MFSB to stretch out in the grooves of the songs, laying a funky foundation for the extended disco remixes of the later-’70s. Album cuts of such uptempo masterworks as the Bluenotes’ “Bad Luck” and “The Love I Lost”; MFSB’s “TSOP” (The Soul Train theme song) and “Love Is the Message”; and the O’Jays’ “992 Arguments,” “I Love Music” and (best) “For the Love of Money” reached lengths of up to 10-minutes of dance floor ecstasy.

“Money” is Huff’s all-time favorite “for the [anti-greed] message and for the song. I used to go the O’Jays concerts and they would drive people insane when they would close the show with that song.”

    Pinky Steede
    As a singer, actor, and Caberet star, Pinky Steede’s career has spanned the globe along with every facet of performing. Born in Bermuda, she has performed everywhere from Portugal to Thailand to Northern Ireland, including a three-month tour of South Africa. She was the featured female vocalist with the Ted Heath Concert Band and has appeared throughout the Island at venues such as the Dorchester Hotel and The Empress Club.

    Pinky holds the distinction of being the only artist from Bermuda to appear on stage in the West End of London. She was a member of the original cast of “Bubbling Brown Sugar.” Afterwards, Pinky headlined the prestigious Bermuda Festival of the Arts, the highest honour bestowed upon Island performers.

    Seal
    Seal emerged from England’s house music scene in the early ’90s to become the most popular British soul vocalist of the decade—creating a distinctive fusion of soul, folk, pop, dance, and rock that brought him success on both sides of the Atlantic.

    The son of Nigerian and Brazilian parents, Seal was raised in England. After graduating with an architectural degree, he began singing in local clubs and bars. He joined an English funk band called Push and later a Thailand-based blues band. Upon returning to England, Seal met Adamski, a house and techno producer. Seal provided the lyrics and vocals for Adamski’s “Killer,” which became a number one hit in 1990. After “Killer” became a hit, Seal signed a solo record contract.

    “Crazy,” the first single pulled from his self-titled album, became a number 15 hit in the U.K. and reached number seven in America upon its release in 1991. In the summer of 1994, he released his second album, which was also titled “Seal.” The single “Kiss From a Rose” became a number one pop single in America and spent a total of 12 weeks at the top of the adult contemporary charts.

    After a five-year hiatus, Seal released his third self-titled album, “Seal IV”. He actually wrote and recorded a whole other album in that time, but felt it just wasn’t good enough. He then returned to his London roots and long-time production partner, Trevor Horn, to rediscover what he loved about music and how to best express that love. The result is the singer-songwriter’s most sophisticated effort to date.

Pretty good lineup, I especailly dig the sophisto-soul of Baker, Hayes, the O’Jays, and the eletro-soul of Seal – might be a good excuse to check out Bermuda. Isn’t that the point?

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About Eric Olsen

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