The Jazz Standard was sold out for the album release party for Charenee Wade’s CD “Offering: The Music of Gil Scott-Heron & Brian Jackson” (on Motema). There were two apparent reasons: the performance of rising-star vocalist Wade and the material she performed on the CD and at the club—a collection of songs by Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson.
Wade is the genuine article—a singer of distinction as well as a songwriter and educator. She cites Sarah Vaughan as an influence and Dianne Reeves seems to be part of her musical DNA, especially in her scatting.
Scott-Heron’s work remains timely as long as the racial divide exists in America. He was singing about black lives mattering before the expression was coined.
Scott-Heron (1949–2011) experienced segregation first-hand when, as a boy, he lived with his grandmother in Tennessee. He went to Lincoln University, which Langston Hughes, an acknowledged influence on his writing, attended. At Lincoln, he met keyboardist-flautist Brian Jackson, who was to become his most important collaborator.
Scott-Heron burst on the scene with the sardonic “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” a poem recited with a jazz background, as Hughes had done earlier.
With Jackson, Scott-Heron turned out a succession of significant albums during the 1970s. The songs combined his social poetry with a mix of R&B, soul, jazz, and blues. It dealt not only with race relations in the United States but in “Johannesburg,” also highlighting the struggle against apartheid in South Africa.
Often cited as the godfather of rap, Scott-Heron hadn’t been pleased with the moniker, describing himself instead as a “bluesologist.”
Gil Scott-Heron received a posthumous Grammy Award for a lifetime of achievement. Jackson is still active on the music scene, often working with young artists.
Wade’s voice is a more flexible and luxurious instrument than Scott-Heron’s. He put his songs across forcefully, but she is jazzier and injects more colors. She is more of a sweet-voiced singer and seems especially at home on his tender songs of brotherhood, such as “Peace Go With You Brother” and “Blow Wind Blow.”
For a reminder of how up-to-date Scott-Heron’s lyrics are, listen to “A Toast to the People,” which begins with the plea: “No more killing. Your sons and daughters won’t die in the hourglass.” The singer toasts Martin Luther King and all the black martyrs.
Wade does a commendable rendition of the painful “Home Is Where the Hatred Is,” a devastating portrait of a drug addict, made more wrenching by the fact that Scott-Heron eventually succumbed to the same condition.
Wade wails and scats on “Ain’t No Such Thing as Superman,” Scott-Heron’s call to collective action rather than waiting around for a savior.
“Essex/Martin, Grant, Byrd & Till” opens with a fiery alto sax solo (on the album and at the Jazz Standard, by Lakecia Benjamin). This is followed on the CD by Malcolm-Jamal Warner’s recitation and then Wade’s singing. Producer Mark Ruffin stepped in at the club to read the poetry and added some references to recent events.
The last track on the album, “I Think I’ll Call It Morning,” is the sunniest piece and Wade sounds suitably exultant.
Wade works with top-flight musicians: on the album, Stefon Harris on vibes, Marcus Miller on bass clarinet, Lonnie Plaxico on bass, Dave Stryker on guitar, Christian McBride doesn’t play bass but supplies a spoken word segment; at the Jazz Standard and also on the CD: Alvester Garnett on drums, Brandon McCune on piano, and Lakecia Benjamin on sax. Stepping in at the club and making a strong impression were Nikara Warren on vibes, Mark Whitfield on guitar (with some impressive wah-wah work), and Paul Beaudry on bass.
On the title track “Offering,” Wade sings “We have something to offer you.” Indeed, she does. Her next appearance will be July 17 and 18 at Summer Jazz Café, Jazz Arts Project in Red Bank, New Jersey.
Coming up at the Jazz Standard: on July 14 and 15, the drummer George Coleman Jr. and a superb octet: Jeremy Pelt on trumpet, Alexander McCabe on alto saxophone, Eric Alexander on tenor saxophone, Adam Brenner on tenor saxophone, Gary Smulyan on baritone saxophone, Harold Mabern on piano, and Leon Dorsey on bass. On July 16–19 will be tenor saxophonist Azar Lawrence with Steve Turre on trombone, Benito Gonzalez on piano, Essiet Essiet on bass, and Johnathan Blake on drums. The Mingus Big Band plays every Monday.
The Jazz Standard (116 E. 27th St., 212-576-2232) is one of those clubs that you could wander into any night and find wonderful music.