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Doing the research for this project and looking back into my family’s history has been an absolute epiphany for me. Before, I went through life with the impression that I was an island standing alone in the world. I moved through life feeling like I was born into this world alone and I had to navigate my own ship, by myself to its destination. As an artist, I had to be different, independent, always on the outside of things. My family will tell you that I always functioned apart from the family. I would be missing from family gatherings, and absent from reunions.
Watching my sister Cleo’s never-ending unearthing of the family’s history inspired me to look back also. Look back not only to past generations but starting with my very own generation as well. Actually starting to see my very own son and his mother in a different light and the praise for whom they are. Also seeing my siblings and all we endured together, coming up in the foster care system, feeling alienated from the foster parent’s extended family, and in my case, learning later that we are all part of the same family. Through this all we somehow came out intact.
Looking at my uncle and his early research into the family; my grandparents and all the aunts and uncles coming through this nation called The United States America. Going back through the days of demonstrating for Civil Rights, Jim Crow, Reconstruction, and slavery.
Our family’s trek going through Chicago, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Kansas, Virginia, crossing the Atlantic in the Middle Passage, West Africa, traversing the African continent from South Africa, Madagascar, and South Asia.
These are all my gifts that my ancestors laid at my feet and said, “These lessons, these spiritual endowments are yours to carry our message into your day and into the future.”
We are all connected.
Presenting this program has been one the most challenging endeavors that I have taken on. The lesson from my washboard experience was to have faith and trust that the universe and my own highest self will provide me with all that I needed to deal with the unknown that lay before me each moment of my life. Playing that morning in the subway resulted in my learning to wait and see what happens, to respond to the moment rather than responding with my preconceptions on the moment.
Because I had no knowledge of playing the washboard, no knowledge of the music, no images of what I was supposed to do, no years of practicing exercises that I was expected to apply, I had to be in the moment, respond to what I heard, trust and follow my instincts. This was totally against the philosophy I was raised in. I spent 67 years living with distrust of my own instincts and judgement. I always felt that there was something wrong with me because I didn’t do things the way my father did. His way was the way. Through this magical experience, I discovered that my way was the best way for me. The more I followed my instinctual and intuitive responses the better the results. This new path has enabled me to look at the rest of my life as an adventure. 2/4/THREE is one of my adventures. I committed to doing it with full knowledge that I knew nothing about what I was doing. I was open to learning what I could and finding out what the result would be. I did not know that the process would include my dealing with bonds of personal baggage that I carried for 67 yrs. I guess the thought that I want to leave with you is: You can change your life no matter how old you are. By connecting to your wisest self with faith and trust, you can achieve marvelous things.
Here’s a shot by Wolfgang Daniel from the performance at Roulette.
2/4/THREE is a long-awaited birthday concert for three musicians born on February 4th—myself on French horn and pandeiro, Newman Taylor Baker on washboard, and John Stubblefield, on tenor saxophone. John died of prostate cancer in 2005.
2/4/THREE tells family stories too—ones rooted in genealogical research and DNA testing that Newman and I have undertaken with the help of family and friends. From Madagascar and the Mammoth Caves to Tulsa and Colonel Charles Young, I journey through a family largely unknown having been raised in foster care. It is the washboard that brings Newman to the writings of his grandfather, Reverend Dr. T. Nelson Baker, a 1903 Yale Ph.D. born into slavery. “He is talking about the way I feel today,” explains Newman.
Newman and I have invited Marvin Sewell on guitar; Bill Salter on bass; choreographer/dancer Maria Mitchell; Cleo F. Wilson, my sister and family researcher will narrate, and project organizer, Jeanette Vuocolo. A third musician and second spoken word artist are TBD.
Newman and I will compose segments, and shape the evening. We will perform solo and in variously-sized ensemble pieces punctuated by the choreography, text, and audio visuals. Many of the team have worked together before so our improvising will be rich. Newman and I are versed in many forms of music from jazz, classical, contemporary to improvisational forms. We are connected to Black string music, blues, R&B, and other popular music forms that grew from the African American community. 2/4/THREE will explore the music that has made us who we are as musicians.
Newman and I will share family story and fact. We will also highlight coincidences when our families align during Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and segregation.
For me, it will be the story of my father’s father, Albert Chancey, born in Choctaw Indian Territory (Oklahoma) to farmers who had migrated from Florida. And my dad’s tale of Mr. Cadillac, a wealthy black oilman who, before the 1921 Tulsa Massacre, would tape $100 bills to his car with people waiting and ready to pick the money off of his car. In reading “The Negro Woman” written by his grandfather in 1906, Newman was struck by the relevance of the Reverends’s ideas to the issues we face today. Similarly, the washboard was prominent when he grandfather lived, Newman sees a place for the instrument in 21st-century music.
While our careers are largely built on being in-demand sidemen for innovative projects, Newman and I are called to bring this project to stage. It is the first time that Newman and I create a project together. Perhaps it is the first time that two jazz musicians present a project on family research. Although the French horn and washboard are two unlikely instruments to lead a performance, Newman and I have never traveled the easy road. Together, with our creative team and our audience, we will celebrate a birthday to remember. Stubbs will be beaming down from above.
This work sample features an unpublished recording from 2016 of a piece I wrote for French horn and drums. Here I perform it with percussionist Jeremy Carlstadt.
This sample is from Newman’s research trip with his daughter to Pittsfield, MA where his grandparents were leaders in the Congregationalist community. At the gravesite, Newman meets his grandparents for the first time — the Reverend Dr. T. Nelson Baker (1860-1941) and Lizzie Baytop Baker (1865-1937). He greets them with this piece. Newman has also traveled to Yale and Dixon Church (New Haven) and has met with the retired archivist of Mount Hermon who authored a yet-to-be-published biography on the Reverend.
Start and End Dates
02/04/2018 — 02/05/2018
Brooklyn, New York