Tuesday, September 1, 2020

To Mom...In Loving Memory

Most of us have seen the full spectrum of the "circle of life"...We've welcomed new life into the world and bid farewell to lives with legacy. Losing parents will always leave an indelible mark on our lives...

As we grow, we continue to understand more about them, their struggles, and the memories that they left with us. 

The quietest day of my life: was when my mother passed away…The quiet was deafening, the reality was immediate and the loss: a myriad of quiet yet chaotic streams of thought swirling everywhere. I’ll never forget when I got the call August 4, 2010…I dutifully started to pack my things for the 5 hour flight back east.

Here I am, 10 years later, with a host of revelations and a ton of emotion. Having spent a good part of the last 10 years organizing memorials, writing obituaries and paying tributes, the tide of losses has somewhat, temporarily subsided. I am using these moments to express my grief and acknowledge the loss of my mother. 

Somewhere, the reality of this great loss does not surface for us until this- a reality it becomes. We know it will happen, but until it happens, we get lost in the surrealism of what we must accept. I understand the words "no more", yet my mother's soul is all encompassing. I feel her energy each and every day. 

My mother was "fair of face", "Monday's child", born March 7, 1921.  She was a beautiful woman  with a classic photogenic allure, poise and a winning captivating smile. Her tough as nails exterior concealed the squishy emotions that she kept protected behind a brick wall  reserved only for her own soul... To know her feelings one had to listen to the music that she enjoyed. It painted a canvas of her triumphs, defeats and challenges. 

So many people shared with me the wonderful things that my mother had done and what a purely generous and giving individual that she was. She never spoke of what she did for others... She just lived  her life's credo by the song she wanted sung at the celebration of  her life.

The thing that I most remember about my mom was her singing. Her range, mezzo soprano held a strong, educated vocal presence. When I was ten years old, she bought me a piano and then went through a search for the right piano teacher. Within a week I was playing…As time went on, I would accompany my mother as she sang. I spent most of my time practicing, writing and imagining, in the 60s, how I could possibly bring everything I heard in my mind to fruition with full production value. I don’t think if I even had a vision through a crystal ball that I could imagine, where music would go and how the technologies transcribing it in a listening form would change.

What I most remember was that my mother had a favorite song. It was the song that she requested be played for her memorial. I made sure that all of her end of life requests were met and especially her favorite song. I listened as the gentleman played and sang my mother’s favorite song… And the entire time I listened; I was wondering why everyone sang the song like it was a song of sadness. It isn’t…It is really a song of joy…It was then that I decided that I would commit myself to do an arrangement of the song that connected to the spirit of doing for others.

Alma Bazel Androzzo

My mother’s life song was written by pianist-songwriter and lyricist Alma Bazel Androzzo (1912-2001) in 1945. “If I Can Help Somebody” was written in Pittsburgh where the Tennessee born songwriter was raised. It is considered a great gospel anthem and has been covered inumerable times since it was first published from Tennessee Ernie Ford to Patti LaBelle.

Many Real Schoolers have said that this song was a favorite of their parents. Martin Luther King, Jr. first heard the song and was so inspired by it, that he encouraged his close friend to record it. That was the infamous recording that most of us grew up with released by The Queen of Gospel, Mahalia Jackson in 1963.

Exactly two months to the day before he was assassinated, King gave a sermon called, “The Drum Major Instinct.”. In a chilling self-proclaimed eulogy, he quoted the lyrics to Androzzo’s song at the conclusion of his sermon. 

It is odd that not much is written about Alma Bazel Androzzo, a writer whose most popular song has impacted so many worldwide. Music is our saving grace in trying times. 

Now, several months shy of what will be her 100th birthday in 2021, I celebrate my mother with thanks and love. Her buying me a piano and those piano lessons gave me an outlet to creativity. And now, I am able to accompany her soul with the arrangement of her favorite song.  I feel my mother smiling...

Click here to listen

So how did this wonderful group of people come together? We all had someone in common.  I know that had it not been for Tommy Thomas who was a brilliant gospel writer, I may never have connected to any of the people who are part of this effort. So here I am connecting the dots: I met Tommy Thomas (Tommy T) about 1979, Tommy had just come back from touring with Nils Lofgren. Wornell Jones also was part of the touring band. When Tommy returned to the states from the tour he created a gospel group called Tommy T and company. Both Wornell and I became part of the group...Little did any of us know that we would throughout the years become a family. To our family came a very young singer named....

LaVan Davis

Many years ago, back in the day, there was this kid barely out of his teens who had a powerful voice,  goals and dreams, and an infectious sincere spirit. That spirit has lasted to this day. I adopted him as my baby brother from another mother. Most people know him in his work with Tyler Perry, but the creative talent that he is has been long in the making. He was a singer before he was anything else with impeccable range. After Tommy T & Company joined the LA Mass Choir  in the late 80s. But few know that he received classical training where he met the other singer on this project, Debbie Dey.

He knows how to tell a story through his vocal work. LaVan expressed the core spirit of what the lyrics Alma Bazel Androzzo's lyrics really mean. He and Mo Beeks start a conversation as the song begins: each in his own way.


Mo Beeks

This guy from Chicago right here is one of the best vocalists to ever hit a stage! He is an unbelievable talent. I met him back in the day at a studio session almost 40 years ago. We have done many holiday and get-together hangouts enjoying conversations, food and just basic chill sessions.

What he has given to this project is not only his voice as the headliner with LaVan Davis, but  laid back key board chops that give balance: an underlying theme gives ground to a  contemporary jazz feel to a timeless classic gospel anthem.   He was initially a drummer but transitioned to keyboards. And he's been playing keyboards ever since. I call him the busiest guy in the business... 
He tells me he "hates the way his voice sounds." I'm incredulous-- are you kidding me?! Evidently, everybody agrees with me. He was nominated for a Grammy in 2015 with the group Blind Dog Smokin'. As a founding member of the group Himalaya in Los Angeles with guitarist Keith Andrew,  the group had a great run on the contemporary jazz circuit and built up quite a reputation, touring nationally in New York, Washington D.C., Memphis and San Diego and appearing at the Santa Barbara Jazz Festival.


Debbie Day

When I hear my friend Debbie Dey's beautiful mezzo-soprano voice, I hear my mother's voice. It really floors me every time I hear her sing. She sounds so much like her, I was moved when I heard her singing O, Holy Night...It were as if they had the same vocal fingerprint...Hearing her voice I knew that having her as part of the project would bring my mother's voice back to life. The contrast of classic vocals against a contemporary backdrop made time stand still for me. 

She is singing the line in the song that I most remember my mother singing. It is this part of the lyric which seems to define the conviction in Androzzo's lyric.

Debbie started her career as an Apprentice Artist with Opera Pacific where she sang the role of the Valkyrie in Wagner‘s Die Walkure. She also sang Valkryie at the Hollywood Bowl with John Mauceri directing the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. Singing as a resident artist with Repertory Opera Company based in Pomona she has appeared in many leading opera roles...

When I met Debbie it was as a colleague in the fitness industry. When she told me of her vocal career, I was captivated and have been a fan ever since. 


Lucius Parr

Talk about someone who's got it like that. I met him at the late musician Rich Cason's (Dyke & the Blazers) studio and we've been friends ever since...I had heard mention of him years earlier, like in the late 60s... Lucius is an awesome guitarist, who hails from Yoakum Texas. His style is everything that's earthy and grounded. His dad gave him a guitar when he was 10 years old and he's been playing ever since. I like to describe Lucius' guitar style as warm, sweet, country, blues and soulful...It's always a pleasure to work with him. 

Usually this time of the year, Lucius is playing as guest guitarist with Charlie Daniels and has been since 1997.  They've shared some great moments on stage ever since. Sadly, Charlie passed away on July 6th. 


Bobby Watson

Evidently there are a lot of people with the name Bobby Watson! The only one I know is the Grammy award winning bass player with the group Rufus who loves my cooking! He's played with everyone, had his own band and is a current member of The Cookies...It's always a pleasure to talk to Bobby and have him over for the hang outs...

Ten years ago I met him, through Wornell Jones when he came to the states for Tommy T's memorial.  Bobby asked if he could get his bass out and play on the track when it was in its infancy...It was a wet chilly evening in November, but a "gathering evening" with good energies always changes the climate.

Bobby is a down to earth guy who brought his Memphis Tenn roots with him on the song...Now that things have somewhat changed with our hangouts, we may have to have to do a virtual hangout before we have our live one with all the gang. 

Back in the day in 1975, this video is what the real school is all about. The musicianship back in the day was extraordinary. It was a great time for music...The RSPs of yesterday are still doing it today. 

Wornell Jones 

Sometimes when I'm canvassing Youtube, I see comments from listeners asking about what ever happened to Wornell Jones? Nothing happened! He's still around doing music and just released his EP Faster Forward a few months ago.  So if anyone asks me why I had two bass players on the song, the answer is ---because they were both there. In fact, they were the only two people in my studio who performed or played the same day...

Born in D.C., Wornell was a member of the group The Young Senators, the "it" group back in the day in the Nation's Capital. The Senators aka The Emperors of Go-Go were the back up band for Eddie Kendricks on his second album, People Hold On. 

Wornell released his self-titled album in 1979 and it is still going strong! We never knew we were both from DC until  a conversation years later. Then in the 80s he relocated, making Japan his home. He's writes, produces and has a successful music school: T.A.S.I (The Art of Singing Institute)

Wornell in 1979 on tour with Nils Lofgren. Tommy T on keyboards. 

Chey Renay 

My mother could have never imagined that one day her oldest
granddaughter would be one of the vocalists singing in tribute to her. 

Chey lends her voice to the project and definitely nails it, 
yet another layer from the voice of a whole new generation. 

She is a singer songwriter as well as a business professional with her successful online site for custom jewelry designs: 12th Summer


Me and my mom...

A lot of things I didn't understand then, I understand now. Our beginnings together were awkward. We grew in love. My mother had a daring sense of independence and gave me every skill that I would ever need to survive... "You are no less than anybody in this world" she would tell me..That will always stay with me...

I really thought my mother would be here forever, but as she has become an ancestor, her spirit lives in her grandchildren and great grandchildren and those moving forward who will come to know about her by the visuals left behind...We don't get to pick our parents. They are given to us by destiny...I feel the fortune in that destiny. 
To all the wonderful people who were part of this project, I cannot thank you enough...
My mom's favorite song...

Thanks for sharing the journey...


1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed reading your blog, Teira and hearing about your music connections. Well done.