Plus the Album of the Week, Drew Toonz, and this weekend's Jazz Vespers salute to Art Blakey, featuring Keith Hollis.
'The Last Holiday
- A Memoir'
When the late Gil Scott-Heron set out to write another book in the 1990s, he didn’t intend to write a memoir, especially one that would be published posthumously. But with the legendary singer-songwriter, poet, performer, activist and musician’s death last year, the hundreds of pages, scribbled notes, and other thoughts he was compiling and putting in order and feverishly revising and revising some more for his publishing company during the last years of his life, were finally edited into a book, which was just published by Canongate Books of the U.K. (the U.S. publisher is Grove Press) in time for this weekend’s celebration of Martin Luther King’s birthday. You see, originally, Scott-Heron had wanted this book to document the Hotter Than July tour that he was a part of, opening up for Stevie Wonder in 1980 and 1981, right around the time Wonder held a rally in Washington DC calling for King’s birthday to be celebrated with a national holiday. In 1986, legislation was finally passed making King’s birthday a holiday. And that’s where Scott-Heron’s book, The Last Holiday, his last work so to speak, ends pretty much. Although he left out big chunks from his life, including his later years when he came back from battles with inner (and outer) demons, releasing two solid albums (Spirits, I’m New Here), while spending time behind bars, dealing with drug and probation violation troubles, and finding out he was HIV positive, the memoir is full of Scott-Heron’s wit, profound observations, humor, love, and takes the reader behind the scenes of Stevie Wonder’s campaign for King, as well as many ultra-personal episodes in Scott-Heron’s personal life, including the death of his mother. If you ever heard Scott-Heron talk, you can hear that very voice pouring out of the pages of this book, which also includes some unreleased poems. And that's one of the reasons this book is so magical and important. Aside from endless spins of his classic albums with either Brian Jackson and the Midnight Band or Robert Gordon and the Amnesia Express (especially Bridges, 1980 and Real Eyes, this writer's all-time favorites) or watching Robert Mugge's great documentary Black Wax, this book, with Gil's astonishing honesty, humor, poigancy and perceptivness screaming out of every last word, will keep Gil Scott-Heron alive forever. A celebration of King’s life this holiday weekend can only be enhanced by reading this book. (Listen to the late Gil Scott-Heron read a chapter from the book here.) — Jeff Schwachter
Jazz Vespers Salute Art Blakey
It’s one of the more unique religious traditions played out in various churches around the country where The Word becomes the music in a Jazz Vespers concert. The idea took hold in New York more than 40 years ago when Rev. John Gensel devised a late evening service to accommodate the many musicians in his area who didn’t exactly work nine to five. The musicians were invited to “perform” the service though music. Southern New Jersey offers up two jazz vespers programs, the Cape May Jazz Vespers at the First Presbyterian Church of Cape May (capemayjazzvespers.com) and the Jersey Shore Jazz Vespers at the Asbury United Methodist Church in Atlantic City. The Jersey Shore Vespers (third Sunday of every month) were reinstated in June and continue a long-standing tradition of Jazz Vespers at the Ventnor United Methodist Church. “We’re thrilled to be continuing this and we’ve honored [retired pastor] Clancy Wilson who kept this going for so long in Ventnor,” says Sandy Warren, a member of the Vespers board. “There is very little talking in a Jazz Vespers service. The music becomes the sermon and the tradition has always been to open it up to all musicians, regardless of their religious affiliation and also to open the service to anyone who wants to attend.” On Sunday, Jan. 15, the vespers service will feature local favorite Keith Hollis (pictured) and band in a tribute to jazz great Art Blakely. Warren, a long time Atlantic City and Ocean City writer, lived with Blakely in Northfield before his passing. “Actually, this wasn’t my idea at all,” she says. “Keith is a local favorite, of course, and other members of the board asked him if he wanted to do a tribute.” Along with Hollis, local singer Angela Burton will perform and Blakely memorabilia will be on hand. The performance is at 4pm and is free, though an offering is requested. Visit jazzvespers.com. — Mike Pritchard
‘When You Come Home’
For the past 20-plus years South Jersey resident and Philly music scene regular Pete Donnelly has been working as a musician, producer, touring bass player and, now, a solo act. A member of NRBQ since 2009, and having worked with Soul Asylum, Tommy Stinson (Replacements, GNR), Graham Parker and his band The Figgs — which will release its 11th studio album in 2012 — as well as numerous others, Donnelly has lived a prolific creative life that has taken him around the world. All of this informs his first solo CD, released last month, entitled When You Come Home. The 14-track album of rock songs with an edge of experimentation represents a life dedicated to music, a life dedicated to friendships and the long journey we all take to find our home in this ever-cluttered world. The music is extraordinary, with sensational guest appearances, the songwriting is mature and the songs stick with you like glue. Donnelly kicks off a six-week Wednesday night residency at MilkBoy in Philadelphia Jan. 25 with special guests. Find out more at PeteDonnellyMusic.com. — Jeff Schwachter
This year marks the 17th year of the Academy of American Poets’ launching of April as National Poetry Month.
Plus the fundraising Polar Bear Plunge in Wildwood for the NJ Special Olympics and an expanded Album of the Week
Rakim, Slick Rick, and Biz Markie, who will join Special Ed Friday, Aug. 24, at the House of Blues at Showboat in Atlantic City.
If you’ve never been to the Civil Rights Garden in Atlantic City, you should make it a point to drop by there and sit awhile. It is a contemplative place.
Atlantic City Weekly's Weekend Hot Tub Party is honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with a look back at the outcomes of the civil rights movement, some interesting facts you might not have known and a sweet playlist of songs inspired by Dr. King, some that were even performed at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom where King delivered his infamous "I Have a Dream" speech.
"We both knew in that initial meeting that we would always be bonded and it changed our lives forever," says Warren. "Especially my life. I can't imagine who or what I would have been had I not met Art because my life changed so drastically."
"Same way shit happens in [the record business]: you get a letter; you get a call. Someone calls and tells you that somebody’s been looking for you. I got a letter from him out there and he wanted to sit down with me and that’s the way shit happens. He said he wanted to meet up and that’s where I was so there was no chance of us meeting up any place else!"
Plans were in the works to try to get Scott-Heron to perform in Atlantic City this summer, for one of the city=sponsored concerts at Gardner's Basin. I also suggested to the organizers of the Dave Matthews Band Caravan festival coming to Atlantic City June 24-26, to reach out to Gil to have him as one of the dozens of artists on the bill.
On Gil Scott-Heron’s first new studio album in 16 years, I’m New Here, out Tuesday on XL Recordings (Radiohead, White Stripes), the rust-voiced revolutionary sounds as vital as ever. He’s been recording the haunting album—a mix of spooky futuristic blues; strange, drenched-in-synths soundscapes, poignant odes to his family and a few extraordinary covers—for the past few years with XL Recordings head Richard Russell, who first met Scott-Heron in 2006 when he visited him at Rikers, where he was serving 90 days for DUI.
Even these days, when poet-singer-songwriter-keyboardist Gil Scott-Heron, one of the greatest songwriters of the past 40 years, performs his song “95 South (All of the Places We’ve Been),” he prefaces it with a dedication to the woman who inspired the 1977 song, which is included on the album Bridges.