Recently, I was asked by pianist Darrell Grant to be a part of his new project called Step by Step – The Ruby Bridges Suite.
Whenever I get the opportunity to play with Darrell Grant, I know that the music is going to be good, and I will have a great time as well. When he told me who would be performing, I could not turn this down. He mentioned drummer Brian Blade, vibraphonist Joe Locke, saxophonist Steve Wilson, and bassist Clark Sommers, some of the top musicians on the planet, and I knew I had to take this gig. Rounding out the band was Anthony Dryer who I have seen around Portland but never met, Marilyn Keller who I love to perform with, and John Nastos who always brings his “A” game to every performance he is involved with.
The crazy thing about this group is that I listened to a lot of these musicians growing up studying music, so in a way I was in awe at this position I was in as a musical peer. Everyone came to play Darrell Grant’s project, and everyone was in good spirits.
The first half of the program features compositions of Darrell Grant from various albums he has recorded over the years. The second half features music from his suite Step by Step. Just in case you aren’t familiar with the Ruby Bridges story, you can visit here to learn more. From the very first note, I quickly realized why these musicians are at the top of the call list of musicians locally and also worldwide.
Step by Step – The Ruby Bridges Suite was presented in conjunction with Reed College Black History Month, and not only did we get to perform on Reed College campus, but we mingled and ate dinner with professors from the school as well as the college’s president Colin Diver.
After hanging out with the band, cracking jokes especially with Joe Locke, we waited for the audience to file in Kaul Auditorium, and at first I thought that the place would be kind of full. To my surprise, the place was completely packed. People were sitting on the floor, standing up, and crammed into this place to hear some great music.
That first set with Darrell Grant playing his quintet inspired me so much to work on my next project. I also reached out to Brian Blade, Joe Locke, and Clark Sommers to see if they would be down in doing a recording with me. At first, I was kind of reluctant to ask these guys, and to my shock, they all were into the possibilities of doing a record with me for my next project. Now, it’s time to practice, write music, practice, put a business plan together, practice, maybe do another Kickstarter so that I can pay these great musicians, and practice some more.
During rehearsals and even soundcheck, I still hadn’t really heard the narration of the Step by Step Suite in its entirety. So we were now in the middle of the performance with a still-packed crowd and the words were sinking into to me and reminding me of the struggles that my elders, family and friends have struggled with as black Americans and for the freedom of equality. I wanted to just listen to the narrator Kevin Jones more and more, but I had music to play. The music took us on a journey of a young girl and how she sparked a national debate on equality of blacks, integration, and racism in America. It’s not just BLACK HISTORY; it’s AMERICAN HISTORY. During the suite of beautiful music intertwined with deep words, the audience was silent. Silent with the realization of how this country has made its name by oppressing, of how not that long ago blacks couldn’t use the same restrooms, enter a building the same way or even look at women the same as their white counterparts.
All of these things raced through my mind while counting rests and playing with musicians who I have cherished and looked up to since I was a teenager. I remember first learning how to play this rich music in Philadelphia High School for Creative & Performing Arts and hanging with fellow young musicians “Jaleel, Kwame, Daud, & others” checking out local greats Sid Simmons, Orrin Evans, Bootsy Barnes, Byron Landham, Tim Warfield, Mickey Roker, Johnny Coles, Byard Lancaster and my uncles Saxophonist Conny Murray and avante garde Sunny Murray. Darrell Grant’s music took me on a journey that night for sure.
I’m not going into all the details of the musicians’ personal playing at this concert because if I do I will be typing all night. Hopefully this group will record the Step by Step – Ruby Bridges Suite sometime soon but for now….I need to start planning on my next record.
Thanks Darrell Grant for letting me travel with you on this amazing journey.