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Wipe Away All Tears

Sunday, August 21st, 2011

This posting was to be an instructive piece about avoiding pitfalls of coordinating music for a unified series of events. I had to let that go, when I realized that I would be complaining about circumstances beyond the control of the music coordinator, Valerie Johnson. Valerie happens to be a capable violinist, who serves as Minister of Music at the Park Hill Seventh Day Adventist Church in Denver, Colorado, USA. She is also a strong tenor and a tremendous asset to any group with which she sings. Of course, she did a great job arranging for the music for the series of Evangelistic seminars focusing on the Book of Revelations, occurring 3 times per week for the past 5 weeks in Aurora, a suburb of Denver.

Having combined Divine Worship Services for the 5 hosting Central States Conference SDA area churches for 3 Sabbaths in a row at the Aurora Central High School Auditorium, where the seminars were also held, was an after-thought. However, except for having only 1 microphone for the singers at the first service, it worked out well. From Saturday to Saturday, the 3 predominately Black congregations provided music from their respective musicians and praise teams.

Yesterday was supposed to be the last of 3 combined services. However, the seminars have been extended 1 more week and have been moved to the Park Hill SDA church –right across the alley from McDonald’s. The series will culminate in 1 more combined worship service at the church this-coming Sabbath.

This past Sabbath, yesterday, worship began with a coupla songs from Park Hill’s Praise Team. Nathaniel Black was playing the 88-key Yamaha Motif digital workstation. It is interesting to note that only the “Power Piano” voice was used for the entire service. He likes to play loud –with confidence, but he is a very good keyboardist, who plays a contemporary gospel style with fat chords. A light-skinned Black man, he looks like a nightclub bouncer –with a disarming smile. Certainly, he is one of Denver’s best keyboardists and singers.

Since a single Roland KC-350 amp was used for this instrument, it was louder than the praise team and was breaking up pretty badly. This amp had served OK for the seminar in an auditorium that seated 1000 folks. But with a full band: drummer, bass, sax and another keyboard, clearly a KC-550 was called for –or the keyboard could have been connected to the main P.A. system. That would have fixed the terrible clipping distortion, but it wouldn’t have fixed over-balancing the singers. The fact that the sound man refused to use the on-stage monitor speakers for the singers did not help… Ouch.

Later, in the service, the praise team’s director motioned to me to turn down the other keyboard player’s amp. I was very apprehensive, because turning down another musician’s amp is treading on shaky ground. Yikes! The problem was that the amp was positioned in front of the player, downstage between the audience and the keyboard. So, only the audience got the full brunt of the sound. The drummer was upstage a bit behind the kybd player; so, only the other keyboard player and the praise team could hear the primary keyboard’s, the Motif’s, amp. This really took away from a marvelous performance of REALLY good singers and musicans. I can’t mention every singer’s name, but suffice it to say that these are a handful (6) of the best Black gospel singers in Denver! One of the songs they sang: Daryl Coley’s “Hallelujah, You’re Worthy to be Praised.” The other was Hezekiah Walker’s “Grateful.”

The next song was by the Ghananian Choir. Numbering about 15 and dressed in colorful African garb, they sang acapella, basically, but played a coupla rhythm instruments like African shakers. They immediately started with rich major chord harmonies with call and response and descants. This immediately brought tears to my eyes. Why was I crying? Although I am an American, I am of African heritage. Their singing and appearance touched my soul at the root.

‘Just wanted to mention the other talented musicians: Myself and Randall Conner – keys (we switched off on a Roland RD 700SX digital stage piano and played different sounds –organ, strings, etc. –to compliment the Motif’s piano sound); Myron Nealey – alto saxophone; Walker Groves – elec. bass guitar; Kenneth Boykins – Drums.

At the last of worship in the auditorium, 50 people, who had given their lives to God during the seminars, were assembled at the front and ushered to be prepared for baptism in the school’s swimming pool witnessed by the surrounding congregation. May God be praised!

Walking Up the King’s Highway

Monday, August 8th, 2011

‘Just got word this past Saturday from my piano teacher, Bill Alexander of Lakewood, Colorado, USA, that his father, Ted Alexander, had passed away in hospice at age 93.

Having taken 2 or 3 years of lessons from Bill in the 1980’s, I took another year of piano lessons from him a little over a year ago. As a church musician for mainly Black congregations, I was overwhelmed by the insatiable urge of singers to learn new contemporary songs. So, learning modes, progressive theory of chords, and to play them, as well as cadences, was extremely helpful. I highly recommend Bill Alexander as a piano teacher. He took jazz piano lessons from his father, as well as studying classical piano in college. Also, Bill is an ordained Christian minister.

During our brief conversation on Sat., I had mentioned that although the Holy Spirit was sure to comfort him, he would be grieving –off and on –for a long time (I have lost my mother and father. Bill had already lost his mother.) Bill told me an interesting story: After his father, Ted had been in hospice for three days with fitful breathing, Bill said that the Holy Spirit told him to tell his father that is was OK to let go of this life on earth. Right away, he bent over and spoke God’s message in the old man’s ear, “Dad it’s OK for you to let go and go on home!” Upon hearing the message, Ted exhaled for the last time. In 45 seconds his heart stopped. God cares for us in unpredictable ways, when we are obedient to Him.

I met Ted in the 1980’s. I went to see Ellen Rucker play at a bar, and asked her during a break from whom I could take jazz piano instruction such that I could play like her. She recommended Ted Alexander, from whom she had taken lessons. I set an appointment with him at his long-time home in Park Hill. It turned out to be an audition in his basement studio with a Baldwin Acrosonic spinet piano on which he gave lessons. A few months later, I attended a solo jazz concert that he held there in that basement, where he played that spinet. His son, Bill, recorded it. I believe I still have an audio cassette copy. (‘Better transfer it to digital before it fades too much more.) Anyway, Ted didn’t accept me as a student, but referred me to Bill for lessons. Ted did say that he would accept me, later, when I became more proficient. It was not to be. No regrets…

I saw Mr. Alexander play about 2 yrs. ago at the Dazzle Supper Club here in Denver. It was a special tribute to him with Eddie Gomez, bassist for the late Bill Evans. Ted said that he and Bill Evans were roommates in college… Although Ted only played a coupla numbers, featured were his former students, who mostly played moody songs with rich chordal progressions. One of his most celebrated students, Purnell Steen was not in attendance, but still plays at Dazzle at least once a month at their First Fridays Brunch –11:30am to 1:30pm. Wonderful! As a child, Purnell took lessons from Ted Alexander.

Around that same time, Daystar Studios engineer and Church in the City musician, Kirk Hutchinson, invited to me lunch with himself, Ted and Park Peters, owner and chief engineer at Audio Park Studios. This was the first time I had seen Park’s new studio on Wadsworth, since he had moved from 38th Ave. Park had a “new” Steinway concert grand piano, and Ted immediately walked over to it and played an incredibly rich and complex chord progression. I looked and listened in awe. In late summer 2008, Kirk recorded me playing “Walking Up the King’s Highway” (aka “Highway to Heaven”) at the Daystar Studio. Of course, I was inspired by great jazz pianists…

A believer in God, Ted occasionally attended Loving Saints Christian Fellowship church, when he was up to it. Denver Heath Center director Craig Burleson is Pastor there. Singer and pianist Mary Lassiter is choir director. Mary’s mother, the late singer and Youth Unlimited choir director, Rev. Mother Sidney Adams was the founding pastor. I’ve played there several times over the years. Although when the church was in the Holly Shopping Ctr. –which has since burned down –they had a beautiful Kawai MIDI baby grand piano, they now have a Casio digital piano at the new location –with a studio upright off to the side. I always wondered which piano Ted played in worship service, since he had a disdain for electronic instruments.

His memorial service will be at Fairmont Cemetery and Mortuary tomorrow at 10:00am. Bill asked if I would play “Blessed Assurance,” but because his sister is in charge of the arrangements, that I should only play if time is given in the service and musicians are requested to play… I think I will play a George Shearing arrangement of “Once in a While.” Yes, Maestro, after a long climb, you are finally at the top of Jacob’s ladder.

Added on Fri., Aug., 19, 2011:
Here’s a link to a remembrance in the Denver Post newspaper this past Mon.

Sunshine and Light

Monday, July 18th, 2011

Color photos of the F. Cosmo Harris Gospel Stage at the recent Black Arts Festival may be seen on Rev. Charlene Wisher’s facebook wall.

‎’Made it to the Black Arts Festival in Denver on both Saturday and Sunday. ‘Got eye contact with and a smile from Kelli Roberts, Gospel Stage coordinator.

All the while, Rayshun Walker was on stage with his new choir. I recognized a lot of faces but I could only name Donna Gatewood, a wonderful singer. The choir, about 25 strong, sang a capella on a vamp of Total Praise. Of course, they sang beautifully. Rayshun then bantered while the CD track was queued. Then the choir sang along with the CD track from Minister Walker’s latest CD, which can be found on his facebook page. It was just as well, because there was a shortage of mics. He noted that the choir rehearses every 2 weeks and that everyone is welcome.

I’m gonna leave it alone for Sat.’s musical offerings and say that this is my log, my thoughts –not journalism, per se. Generally, I can’t or won’t make up stuff or give opinions about stuff that I didn’t observe.

The Shields of Faith played on Sunday at about 1:30pm for more than 1 hour. They were in full force with saxophones, flutes, a trombone, a trumpet and a flugelhorn. The rhythm section consisted of drums, bass, electric guitar and your truly on my weapon of choice, the Roland RD-700sx digital stage piano. But this is not about me. (More later about this ax…) But I’m really glad that they invited me to sit in with them. I think the head count –all men — was 9. As usual, the horns and woodwinds were really good, when they traded solos in their own jazzy arrangements of hymns and spirituals. Their vocals, though sparse, were positively fascinating.

As the first act, we were not particularly well attended, but the 50 or so people listening from the shady sides of the stage, seemed to be blessed by the music. I promise to comeback soon with all the Shields’ names –which they never announced from the stage. Truly, they put God first.

‘Spoke very briefly with Kelli after leaving the stage. Although she took time to give heartfelt thanks to each participant, she was a very busy lady. Go figure.

Showing the Glory of God

Tuesday, July 12th, 2011

Wil and Laura Key are leaving Denver to go to Califonia within a week or so. I was out to their house on this past Friday for their weekend Estate sale. Yes, I got a few things: a really nice briefcase, some DVDs, an “artistic” CD rack and a ball of rubber bands about the size of a tennis ball –among other things.

Interestingly, choir director Todd Kelly was there to say goodbye to Wil and Laura, as well. ‘Certainly nice to meet him, because he was a previous choir director at Antioch Baptist. He currently works with the Male Chorus at True Light Baptist Church.

As an aside, on the way over to Wil and Laura’s house, I spoke briefly in person with Mark Boykins and his wife, Angie. He serves as staff musician and choir director at Park Hill Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) Church on Sabbaths (Saturdays.) He also serves as Minister of Music Sundays at Peoples Presbyterian Church. Although both sing well, Angie is a positively lovely soprano. When she sings, there are slight chills and tremors as the Holy Spirit breezes through the sanctuary. BTW – The SDA’s kickoff Evangelistic meeting will be on Sun., July 17th at 7:00pm at the Aurora Central High School Auditorium. Mark will lead the mass choir comprised of singers from several area SDA churches. ‘See ya there.

Wil Key and I met, when he so ably provided piano accompaniment for the Praise Team at Park Hill SDA church several years ago. I found out from drummer, James Wallace, that he had served as Minister of Music for Antioch Baptist Church for seven years. One of the most incredible things about Wil is that he transcribes music performances to chord charts. A lot of time and effort, and he does a really good job. Although he would never proliferate copies of copyrighted work, he has graciously shared chord charts of music in a very small circle. This has been so invaluable to all the musicians at Antioch. Thank you so much, Mr. Key. We are forever in your debt. Thanks be to God.

I met Laura on Sun. March 11, 2010. This was Wil’s last Sunday at Antioch Baptist, where I was then transitioning in as Minister of Music. As usual, Wil showed us how it’s done on keys, and, as I recall, his wife, Laura, sang “Order My Steps” so beautifully. Also, Laura is a successful Real Estate agent/broker. She likes to post positive and encouraging statements and quotes on facebook. Occasionally, she will post a super real estate opportunity or bargain.

With a Master’s Degree in Music from the University of Colorado, Will is also a recording engineer and producer. His CDs include “Satisfy My Soul.” He has equipped, configured and operated a professional music studio for years and has already produced other projects for various artists, including one of my favorite singers and musicians, Rev. Larry King.

Although Wil has gone on a world tour in the past year, he has also played at True Light Baptist, Park Hill SDA, Park Hill United Methodist, New Community SDA, New Hope Baptist, as well as other metro Denver churches and other venues with numerous singing groups, choirs, singers, such as Majestic Voices of Praise and True Colors.

I could go on and on about Wil and Laura, but I cherish the little time I spent with them. We all wish them well as they begin to enjoy even more of God’s blessings of great success in the Golden State.

A Day to Remember

Sunday, July 3rd, 2011

If one had a blog, today would be a good day to write something; in it.

Today, I had the great pleasure of meeting Brandon Garrett, age 26, from Kansas City, Kansas (USA.) What a time! At 11:00am Divine Worship Service at New Community Seventh Day Adventist Church, the colors were flying from the piano out into the sanctuary. What a praise was sent up!

It all started after I arrived for the second time at 10:30am for Praise Team Rehearsal. Pastor Mark Paris approached me as rehearsal ended and said that we had a visiting musician from one of his previous churches in the Central States Conference. As it turned out, except for one song, on which solo-ed, we did 2 keyboard duet accompaniments throughout the entire service. It was a longer one –even for us, due to communion. Except for one song, he played real piano.

Brandon has a lush, flowery style, and he plays beautifully and wonderfully –in spite of me. Although he was my guest, I am NOT Marion McPartland. The grand piano is slightly out of tune (with the Roland RD-700SX digital stage piano,) but we did fine. I mostly played left-hand bass on the digital piano and light accompaniment with my right hand. We played mostly old tunes. To play all these old church songs with a 26-year old man was extremely refreshing for me. I’m sure the congregation really enjoyed this special music, also.

We switched for the Doxology, and I had left the digital piano split with left-hand bass. When he played that keyboard bass behind, my piano, I thought I’d taken off and gone to heaven.

He did his solo right before the sermon, Your Grace and Mercy, accompanying himself. He had a spoken intro (banter.) Good job! I played along and brought the drummer, Kenneth Boykins, in on the second verse. Good times.

Mr. Garrett was in Denver to “Audition” for the position of Minister of Music at True Light Baptist Church in Montbello. We had a meal after church. I answered his questions about the church music scene in Denver. Of course, I could only tell what I know… Smile.

Other songs today:
We’ve Come This Far by Faith
Glad to Be in His Service
Glory, Glory, Hallelujah (Since I Laid My Burdens Down, Art Reynolds Singers version)
The Lord Is Blessing Me Right Now
Praise God from Whom All Blessing Flow
Jesus Loves the Little Children
Your Grace and Mercy
Falling in Love with Jesus
At the Cross
Down at the Cross
The Blood With Never Lose It’s Power
I Know it was the Blood (two separate versions –one minor)
A Perfect Sacrifice
Yes, Lord, Yes
What a Fellowship
Pass Me Not