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Concert on March 27th To honor Frank Foster Will Benefit “Shiny Stockings”

Every now and then you get some priceless encouragement just when you’ve been wondering if you are out of your mind. I had that happen to me a few weeks back when I got an email from Todd Woodson, drummer and board member of the Central Virginia Jazz Orchestra. (CVJO) Todd had read a blog post I did a while back on Marc Myers blog JazzWax.

Frank is honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Richmond Jazz Society

The article brought a lot of kudos for my work on the film and creating a happy ending for its subject, Frank Foster. I received several congratulatory notes that meant a lot to me and certainly made me feel great. I even got a check for $50 from a reader in Michigan.

I never wanted to be one of those “Independent Filmmakers” pleading for finishing money, Perhaps I was a bit naive and optimistic when I embarked on this adventure. Then again, I may not have started or gotten as far as I have had I not been both naive and optimistic.  However, the truth be told, I’ve invested an awful lot of my own money into making this film to date. I knew it was a gamble and I recall telling a pessimistic (realistic?) friend that I knew my faith would be tested. I had been given an A-list of people that would presumably kick in some dough and use their entertainment connections to promote the film if I put together a great demo. That was all I needed. I dove headlong into the project as the economy collapsed and funds that may have been available somehow dried up as even the wealthy tightened their belt buckles. The wind to fill my sails has yet to materialize.

I didn’t give up. I still haven’t. And now, thanks to the generosity of the Jazz Orchestra in Richmond, and their dedication to their art and their appreciation of what Frank Foster has done for that art and, of all things, my efforts to bring his story to light, I have a new boost both spiritually and financially. On March 27th The CVJO will perform a benefit concert and tribute to Dr. Frank Foster. Thanks one and all, especially Frank and Cecilia Foster. I was told that the orchestra originally wanted to split the proceeds between the film expenses and the Fosters. They said, “No, give it all to Brian, he deserves the support”.

I had mixed feelings about that. I spoke to Cecilia on the phone and told her I didn’t think that was right, that it’s Frank’s work that created the opportunity and I feel a bit odd having a benefit done for my film. She said “Brian, you’ve done so much for us and put so much work into this thing. Your making a movie about Frank has done so much for his spirit, and now it has to get finished and shown and it will do more good that way than any money from this concert could.

Now THAT’s encouragement!

Please read the Article in the Richmond Times Herald

Jazz Foundation of America’s Jazz Loft Party

I recently did some pro bono work for the Jazz Foundation of America. It’s a great organization that more people should donate to. I had the honor of documenting their recent Jazz Loft Party which is an annual fundraiser. This year they raised over $275,000 in donations and Terrell Batiste, a trumpet player from New Orleans is going to get a pair of prosthetic legs. Wow! All in one night!
The Jazz Foundation has been dedicated to helping musicians in crisis for over 21 years. Despite the fact that they take on an average of 1600 cases per year administering millions of dollars worth of donations, very few outside of the organization know about all their great work.

In the relatively short length of time I’ve been closely following the New York Jazz scene I have heard countless testimonials from musicians that have been first hand recipients of their incredible works. So why haven’t more people heard about them? Perhaps it’s because their beneficiaries would rather you not know of the trouble they’ve seen. Perhaps it’s because their donors would rather take care of the musicians than attract the publicity.

I’ve been involved with the Foundation on a voluntary basis for a few years, providing video production services for their fundraising events. I’ve interviewed b0th of the above groups of people and from what I can gather my assumptions are true. I won’t betray the confidence I’ve earned but I will share one thing that is part of the story of my film Shiny Stockings.

When Frank Foster suffered his debilitating stroke he had no health insurance and no means to pay his mortgage. The JFA stepped in and took care of both.

You can visit their website ( ) for more information but here are some highlights of what the JFA does from the site:

Teaching Gigs
The Agnes Varis Jazz & Blues in the Schools Program creates performance opportunities for elder masters of jazz and blues.

Jazz Musicians Emergency Fund
In 1992, the Jazz Foundation established its first Jazz Musicians Emergency Fund to save musicians from eviction and provide emergency living expenses.

Emergency Housing Fund
The Jazz Foundation has been keeping elderly musicians from eviction and homelessness for over 20 years. In 2001, E*TRADE FINANCIAL became our first housing sponsor and made it possible, under the auspices of Jarrett Lilien, to do this for the past seven years, with over $1 million spent.

Pro Bono Healthcare
JFA started a network of dental care and dentists who either donate their services completely free or for the minimum amount to cover actual costs. These services are available to horn players and vocalists as the dentists’ time and case loads allow. Since 2001, this network of amazing doctors has grown to other states where we have found uninsured musicians who need help. These doctors have opened their hearts and their care to our musicians in times of crisis.

Since 1994, our Angel-partners at Englewood Hospital and Medical Center’s Dizzy Gillespie Memorial Fund have provided pro bono medical care – to date, worth over five million dollars – to over 1,000 of our uninsured musicians. Their amazing generosity literally keeps jazz and blues alive.

It all started when jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie passed away in 1993: one of his last requests was that any jazz musician in need of medical care be treated for free at Englewood Hospital and Medical Center. After Dizzy’s passing, trumpeter Jimmy Owens made a musical tribute called 100 Trumpets for Dizzy at Englewood. It was there that the head of Englewood hospital said that they would honor Dizzy’s last request.

He’ll Never Leave Me

Benny listens to fellow Basie-ite Frank Wess at a Jazz Mobile gig earlier this year.

I think about Benny Powell every day and I think I always will. I hope I always will. It’s still difficult and I still get the lump in my throat and the pain in my head. But it’s still worth it. I recall his ability to soothe. I recall his way of putting things in perspective. I recall his need to warm his mouthpiece on the way to a gig. I’d say something superfluous and he’d say “I can’t talk about that right now, I got too many notes running round through my head.” there would be a minute of silence and then he’d start singing.
“Blee doot…blah dah blah blee blah blee doot”.
I’d shut up and listen. A minute or two later he’d start talking about his daughter or his granddaughter. Or about how lucky he was to be doing what he loved to do, living where he could walk or take a taxi to a gig, or how he could do anything he wanted at the drop of a hat. He would add “And if it ain’t fun, I don’t have to do it”

This is a Joyful Music

My first interview with Benny Powell was at his apartment on 55th street. We had just met the week before when he had hired me to document a concert he was putting on at the New School where he taught an ensemble workshop. It was the first time I heard his original music and saw his easy going stage presence. I decided halfway through the concert I wanted to get to know him better and that I should interview him to supplement the concert footage. The interview and concert shoot resulted in a short we called Benny Powell Meets Count Basie.

During the interview we spoke about a lot of things and we connected as kindred spirits. We continued our talks on and off camera for 7 years. We had plans to make a more ambitious film about him. Other projects kept popping up and he would always tell me to work on them first. “We’ve got time, I’ll be here when you’re done with that” whatever that was.
This clip was one of my favorites.

WBGO Journal Spotlights “Shiny Stockings”

I was recently interviewed by Doug Doyle of WBGO Jazz88 for the WBGO Journal.

Listen to the interview on the Archive page available here:
WBGO Journal July 9th 2010

Final Triumphant Scene of “Shiny Stockings” is Captured

A series of Stills from the final scene of Jazz Legacy Film's "Shiny Stockings"

We recently shot the final scene of the film in a hotel room in Newark NJ when Frank and Cecilia Foster were in town for the Hank Jones Memorial service.

The ”Happy Ending” was captured when Frank signed a termination notice which will set in motion his reclamation of the title song and a few other compositions of the same era. The Community Law Clinic of Rutgers School of Law- Newark has been working on the process that will allow Frank to republish his signature tune under his own publishing company in the near future, resulting in his receiving 100% of his royalties directly.

See NPR’s blog entry on the subject.

On the saddest note possible I was driving away from Newark, headed to a friend’s house when I got a call from Bill Saxton, one of Frank’s protoges.

“Did you hear about Benny?”

Trombonist Benny Powell was in the hospital for back surgery and I had spoken to him the night before. He was in good spirits, his back was feeling better than it had in 2 years. I thought Bill may have just found out he was in the hospital and was worried about him. He knew I was good friends with him because the last time I saw Bill just 2 weeks earlier I cut our conversation short because I had to pick Benny up and take him to his gig at the Lenox Lounge.

“Benny’s cool, I spoke to him last night. He’s in the hospital but he’s recovering and he’ll be out in a few days” I said.

Bill sighed. “Something happened early this morning brother, Benny’s gone”.

I pulled over to the side of the road and cried like a baby.

Frank Foster Takes Back his Shiny Stockings

Press Release June 26th, 2010-Please share!

Frank and Cecilia Foster with Filmmaker Brian Grady

Composer and arranger Frank Foster, who penned one of the Count Basie Band’s most popular tunes, “Shiny Stockings,” has initiated a contract termination process with the help of faculty and students in the Community law Clinic at Rutgers School of Law–Newark. The Clinic, under the supervision of intellectual property rights attorney Clinical Professor John Kettle, has sent notice on Foster’s behalf to the current holder of copyright that Mr. Foster will be exercising his rights in accordance with a little known provision of The Copyright Act of 1976.

As a young composer, to have a piece of music you’ve written appear on a recording by a well known bandleader in return for a small share of the residuals is very appealing. Often a young artist will sign a poorly negotiated contract without understanding the long-term ramifications. A song like “Shiny Stockings” becomes part of a catalogue of songs that are “owned” by a publishing company that can be bought and sold as an investment. Eventually, parties that had nothing to do with the creation of a work can collect the lion’s share of royalties and license fees throughout the life of the property. “Shiny Stockings”, considered an “evergreen” property has been recorded hundreds of times over the years and continues to be used in films and television shows. This represents significant potential earnings. The Copyright Act of 1976 provides for the opportunity for authors and composers to terminate prior agreements regarding the use of or transfer of rights of a copyrighted work.

A young Frank Foster at a recording session with Sarah Vaughan circa 1957

Having had a long career of recording and touring and recognized by his peers as one of the greatest Tenor Saxophonists of all time, Mr. Foster suffered a stroke in 2001 that left him partially paralyzed and unable to play his instruments. Mr. Foster’s economic situation grew bleak in the years following his stroke as reported in an interview aired on National Public Radio in 2005. If not for the residual income from his earlier published works and what he earns as an arranger he would be in dire straits.

Mr. Foster’s life is the subject of a documentary film by Director Brian Grady and produced by Mr. Grady’s company Jazz Legacy Films. The song was selected as a hook for the story as it was Mr. Foster’s best known piece of work. As part of his research for the film Grady looked into the history of the song and found it to be one of the most popular tunes of the Basie repertoire. Coincidentally, a friend who is a copyright expert in the music industry had told him of the Copyright Act and its obscure detail.

“My friend Bill Stafford explained that agreements entered into prior to 1978 can be terminated 56 years after initial vesting of copyright, and that there is a 5 year window in which an author or their descendents have to act.  They must serve notice of termination at least 2 years in advance. “Shiny Stockings” was published in March of 1956.  That meant that in order to take full advantage of the composition’s shelf life, this had to be acted upon as soon as possible.”

Professor John Kettle of Rutgers School of Law- Newark, discusses Frank Foster's copyright issues with members of the Community Law Clinic at The Rutgers School of Law.

“Frank taught in the Jazz Studies program at Rutgers–New Brunswick back in the 1970s. Rutgers–Newark is now the home of The Institute of Jazz Studies, the largest Jazz archive in the world. I made contact with Professor Kettle to see if he was interested. He was, and assigned the project to the Community Law Clinic whose students, among other activities, provide legal guidance on copyright, trademark and related IP issues. Under Professor Kettle’s supervision they identified several pieces of music that fit into the timeframe and could potentially generate a significant revenue stream in the future.

The movie “Shiny Stockings” has been awarded a Sponsorship from The New York Foundation for the Arts. Mr. Grady is now seeking grants and corporate sponsorship. He hopes to have the film completed by year’s end and to premiere it as part of Black History Month in February 2011.

A Partnership with PBS Station WHRO

Frank Foster shakes hands with fans.

I seem to waver between being incredibly organized and slipping into complete chaos. Somehow it seems to work out. It ain’t easy being your own admin, PR guy and fundraiser. I’m new to all these things.

So I’m filling out yet another application for a funding opportunity and of course under a tight deadline. I get to the 80% completion mark of the application which needs to be mailed out for an overnight delivery on the west coast.  Of course you’re supposed to read the entire application guideline manual prior to starting but who has time for that? Whoops! The grant is matching funds based on how much in-kind support I have from my PBS partner station. PBS PARTNER STATION?!? uhh, I don’t have one of those.

Not one to give up easily I email the funding organization and explain that a serious family health issue has set me back a week on the application. They graciously agree to an extension. Now I just have to find a partner right?  That would be nice. I came up with the bright idea of looking up a public television station near Cheasapeake VA where Frank resides. I was lucky enough to find WHRO in Norfolk on the PBS website. Using my mad Social Networking skills I look for people that work at WHRO in LinkedIn. I find a Barbara Hamm Lee, Chief Community Outreach Officer. Sounds like a good candidate. Searching her name in the online telephone directory I found her work contact and took a chance at calling her directly at her office. Did I mention this is happening at 5 pm on a Friday afternoon? Barabara wasn’t at her desk but was nice enough to have her cell number on her outgoing voice mail message. I dared calling her on her cell at 5:15 and left a message there. I hang up and decide to throw in the towel. To my astonishment she actually called me back within 15 minutes. I explained to her the project, which I had summarized in the message I had left and as I was telling her about Frank Foster’s contribution to music and his being local to the station she politely interrupted by saying “Oh I know about Frank Foster, I just emceed the Frank Foster Scholarship Fund’s Annual Gala, I LOVE Frank Foster!”

I nearly collapsed. I sent her a link to our demo of the movie and our Facebook moviepage. Barbara quickly worked her internal connections at WHRO and by the end of the following week I was working out a partnership with the station’s Chief Enterprise Officer, John Heimerl.

Did I get the app in on time? No. A partnership requires having the station commit to not only airing the program but as I mentioned, In-Kind donations. A letter of committment is required by the funding organization and that requires some discussion with management that would be rather difficult to get done in a matter of days.  It would be unrealistic to expect to get that all in place and make the deadline. My contact at the funder suggested I apply for another round due in August and if I want I can apply for the partnership matching funds next year. OK I will!

BUT: We now have a commitment with WHRO for In-Kind contributions of up to $50k and to air Shiny Stockings on Frank’s local PBS station. I suspect it will be a little easier to ask for funding now that I know Shiny Stockings will be aired on a PBS station. SO, I continue the hunt for funding and by hook or by crook I will finish this film amd people will see it.

Man I love it when things come together!

A Jazz Pilgrimage


A Jazz Pilgrimage
by Brian Grady 

  Baalbeck, Lebanon—“Wars are God’s way of teaching Americans geography.”
The voice, with a soft Arabic accent, came from somewhere in the dark as I entered the Temple of Bacchus. Sounds a bit condescending, doesn’t it? Ok, where’s Baalbeck?…Anyone?

Has anyone in the United States heard of Baalbeck International Festival? 

Baalbeck is in the center of Lebanon’s Bekka Valley. It’s the home of the largest and best-preserved Roman ruins on earth. It’s about an hour and a half’s drive from downtown Beirut. 

Somewhere along the highway that leads to the ancient temples, the red and white Lebanese flags are supplanted by the green and white Hezbollah flag. You might recognize it with its image of a raised arm holding a Kalishnokov rifle in the air. Roger, our driver, aged far beyond his 40 years but still capable of witty exchange, sensed my surprise when they first appeared. “You see the flags? He grinned slightly. “You’re in Iran now.”
We weren’t really in Iran. We were in a part of Lebanon that was under an Iranian influence. Part of the Baalbeck Temple site is home to The Museum of Lebanese Resistance, which is actually a gallery dedicated to Hezbollah’s efforts to “secure” the region. The tourist shops sell Hezbollah t-shirts bearing the same image as the flag, sizes toddler to XL.
I was in Baalbeck to witness a wondrous historical event. The Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band, the standard bearers of Bebop, were going to play two nights on the steps of the Bacchus temple. I had traveled with the band and their film crew from Beirut where they had held a press conference. Great conversations over fabulous meals, Arak (the local anise-flavored libation) and late nights with a hookah; it was a world-class hang.  

Jazz, an icon of Western culture, that original American form, a nomad from half way around the world, would be delivered live to a region thought to be one of the least stable in the Middle East. The U.S. State Department has issued warnings over the past several years urging Americans not to travel to Lebanon, specifically mentioning the Bekka Valley. International intrigue hit a high note when former Prime Minister Farik Harriri was assassinated in February. Many Lebanese, and the U.S. government, pointed fingers at neighboring Syria, which had maintained 20,000 men under arms in Lebanon for more than two decades. This prompted demands for Syrian military forces to leave Lebanon. 

The Bekka Valley is a beautiful, exceedingly fertile basin that lies between Lebanon’s two towering mountain ranges. Every imaginable fruit thrives there alongside vast vineyards and olive groves. Plums, pears, peaches- name your favorite, all bursting with such sweet fragrance my salivation glands spasmed painfully. Pyramids of watermelons lay stacked 10 feet high in the hot sun along the roadside, scenting the air. The locals, I understand, also raise a hefty crop of quality herb used as the main ingredient in hashish. This however was not on the tour. 

Iran actually lies much further East than Roger implies. It’s the territory north of the Bekka Valley that the State Department considers dangerous. To the immediate north and east lies Syria, just one origin of many a Lebanese woe. Roger let me know that until they were expelled back in March, the Syrians operated armed checkpoints every 200 meters on the road we now traveled. Not to be out done, the Lebanese army did the same, so you’d have to stop every 100 meters for something like 10 miles. The checkpoints are now all empty and merely collecting the dust blown across the road by countless trucks moving those fruits and vegetables out of the valley to markets throughout the country.   

The Baalbeck International Festival is an annual cultural event that runs on weekends through the summer. In 1956 Jeane Cocteau presented the debut of his landmark production Le Machine Infernal at the inaugural season. Each summer, as part of the festival an international pastiche of entertainment is presented at the ruins. Miles has played here, Ahmad Jamal appeared recently. Not limited to Jazz, the festival has presented the Bolshoi Ballet, and other international cultural troops. A very heavy history.  John Berks Gillespie (1917- 1993) had played Lebanon twice that I am aware of. Once in Beirut and once on the stage at Baalbeck before the festival was preempted by a civil war in 1975. 


 The Stage at BaalBeck with The Temple of Bacchus as a backdrop

For more than 20 years, the Festival lay dormant like the treasures in the National Museum. During the war, some wise archeologists had the presence of mind to cast the collection into blocks of cement, looting and pillaging being expected. At the end of the war, they had a celebration and a ceremonious cracking of the blocks. Like the relics interred in those blocks of cement, the festival was brought back to life in 1996. The mission of Baalbeck is to raise awareness of Lebanon’s rightful place as an international destination for cultural tourism. Not an easy job for a country characterized as “unfriendly” by western governments. 

When invited on the gig I have to confess a slight hesitation. With the war in Iraq super-charging anti-Americanism throughout the Arab world, it didn’t seem timely for a week in the Middle East. 

 Nevertheless, I knew this formation was landmark. Three generations of Gillespie alumni and acolytes on the stage at one time. Slide Hampton, legendary trombonist and arranger, is the musical director and lead conductor. Living treasure James Moody, celebrating his 80th year on this planet, plays saxophone, flute, and vocalizes and verbalizes like no other human being. With Brazilian trumpet legend Claudio Roditi, the reigning king of Cubop, Pacquito D’Raviera and Argentinian Andres Boirarsky on Sax, this is a dream band. Do you like trumpets? We’ve got Roy Hargrove. More Sax? Antonio Hart is here.  

In general, we can say that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity; this band, this venue. 

Islamic extremists, we are told, live to target symbols of western ideals and have no problem murdering civilians to make their point. Why would the band risk their lives delivering Jazz to the Middle East? 

John Lee played bass with Dizzy for 8 years. He’s also executive director of the band.  We spoke by phone back in April. He asked if I was in. I asked if he was worried about security for the band. He didn’t hesitate. 

“We were in Israel when a suicide bomber blew himself up in a mall. We talked it over at breakfast the next day. “Dennis (Mackrel, drums) said somebody shot up a mall near his home. Another cat on the gig had some shit happen in his local high school.” 

My mind took over from there…I was stung with the memory of my own family’s loss to a nut with a gun in Pittsburgh. And there was that shooting in front of the Lenox Lounge last time I went there. Am I going to avoid the Lenox Lounge?  Violence can happen to anyone anywhere. And despite what the State Department tells you, it’s probably more dangerous for an American in America then in Lebanon. 

“I don’t let people like that determine my schedule.” John continued. “If I did I wouldn’t be able to do half the things I do….think about it, man, and let me know” 

I hung up. I googled Baalbeck.  I hit the link. I called John back …. “I’ll see you in Beirut.” 

Charm, karma, bravado, divine intervention, positive energy… love on the bandstand; are these protections from bombs and bullets? Not in any physical sense, but perhaps in a political one. This group didn’t actually represent American Interests abroad. This is an international organization. A thick slice of a layered culture that’s bigger than the geographic restrictions of any one nation, more influential in some circles then banks and energy companies. This is the culture of Jazz. 

Is it corny to think that a Jazz band can change the world? With the amount of love and mutual respect that emanates from this band, I don’t see how it can’t. Have you ever seen James Moody perform? Have you ever seen Moody and Slide together? Just those two guys alone have so much affection and admiration for each other it oozes from them, covers the stage and permeates the audience. Add to that the immense adoration that the younger players have for these stalwarts, and witness how much they love playing together.  Look at the audience, leaping to their feet at the end of every tune. 
I was at the bar in the lobby of the Bristol Hotel in Beirut when a curious man, an obvious local sauntered up to me quite comfortably, leaned in close, and asked “which one are you?” His eyes darted around the lobby, just over my shoulder. 

I wasn’t used to the idea that there weren’t many westerners in Beirut and had no idea how obvious I was to him. My immediate impression was that he had me confused with someone he was supposed to meet. Then I decided to go with it. 

“I’m the writer.” 

With that I received a tight hug and then a kiss on each cheek. 

“I am Dr. Sinno…you take sin, and I don’t sin, so you put NO on the end of Sin, S-I-N and you get Sin-No. That is me. Now, I should tell you that I do sin… this is just a way for me to explain my name.” 


Dr. Sin, as I preferred to call him, was a local representative of another aspect of the global Jazz Culture. He is one of the Jazz Advocates. An international brother/sisterhood of people that get it. They imagine everyone would get it if they gave it a chance. They have been touched by the music or, perhaps the spirit of the music. Something, somewhere has told them; move this music and this culture forward – this is something important that must be promoted, preserved, and given a new life. I found out later his more official role was as one of the organizer’s of the festival and particularly involved in the Dizzy All-Star performances. 

“I am so honored to meet you sir” he said sincerely, after kissing me. 

I don’t think anyone had ever said that to me in my life.  I got back to thinking he had the wrong guy again. Was he supposed to take some author on a book tour or something? I wondered. 

“We are so pleased that you have come all this way to write about our festival, to leave your home, and come to our country is truly a wonderful thing that you have done.” 

Don’t sweat it Doc, it’ll be a gas. 

Dr. Sinno would prove himself to be an irrepressible bundle of energy. I would find out later that he was one of the several Lebanese people I met on the trip who gave up success in a foreign country to return home to help their country survive the war and to reconstruct. A surgeon by trade, he spent the war sewing up wounds and healing tattered bodies. Dr. Sinno had met Dizzy on one of the earlier gigs and clearly he was struck for life.  This gentleman was like a child the night before Christmas for an entire week. A huge fan of the music, the Doctor’s enthusiasm and energy is contagious. While I wouldn’t speak for a group of jet-lagged musicians, I found him effervescent but never overpowering. At the end of a long week of late nights and endless entertaining Dr. Sinno announced at breakfast “Look at me! Dizzy had puffy cheeks, I have puffy eyes,” pointing at some serious Gillespie pouches that hung below two blood shot orbs. 




Some members of the band had arrived from the airport in a bus that first afternoon. They checked in and grabbed a few minutes before heading out to the press conference. John had been detained on his way through immigration. It seems there is an international criminal wanted by Interpol that also goes by the name John Lee. He shares John’s middle initial as well and believe it or not, he was born within a few days of our John. Annoyed but still in good spirits, He got off the bus. “There’s got to be a million and one John Lees running around this world, I’m the only one that’s not Chinese.” 

In a few minutes we were on our way to a Jazz club in downtown Beirut. 

The downtown area is often compared to Paris and New York. With trendy watering holes and some high end eateries it felt like SoHo before it turned into a shopping mall. Bar Louie is a classy little bistro and pub that has live music on a small stage. With its stone walls and towering arched windows it’s not unlike a gothic abbey. 

Late arrival Roy Hargrove (hat) receives a warm welcome from James Moody (scalp) amidst the chaos at the press conference at Bar Louie in Beirut. 

The seasoned members of the band sat in typical fashion for a press conference. John took the center of the dais and was flanked by Slide, Claudio, Pacquito and Moody. Vocalist Roberta Gambarini and her road manager, the illustrious Larry Clothier sat at the far right end. John introduced all, with each getting a chance to make a comment. 

Slide set the tempo.  “We are honored and consider ourselves so lucky to be here, to have a chance to honor Dizzy Gillespie’s music and to play for you in your beautiful country.” 

A member of the press asked John the same question I had several weeks earlier… “Were you worried about traveling here? What were your thoughts?” Mr. Lee emphasized the fact that he was not intimidated by pointing out that he brought his family along so they could “see Lebanon for themselves.” 

He told another story I hadn’t heard. Dizzy, the man who played EVERYWHERE was once asked, “What is the most beautiful place you’ve been to?” He thought for only a brief moment before responding, “Beirut.” 

Once the intros were done John asked if there were any questions. The room went silent for a moment. 

“Yes Ma’m” said John, pointing to someone over my shoulder. 

“Well, it’s not a question so much as a request” came the soft-spoken voice from the center of the throng. “You are making a film of this experience?” 

“Yes we are, we thought it was a once in a life time proposition and we felt it should be documented.” 

“I understand, I just hope that the message of the film is not to be the same old story of a war ravaged country with so many problems…that is all I ask, there is more to Lebanon than just this.” 

Everyone wants to direct. 

Mr. Gillespie left an indelible imprint on the psyches of all his band members. Like other great bandleaders in the Jazz tradition he not only drove the sound emanating from the bandstand, he also set the tone for how the members interact with each other and how they would go on to develop and showcase new talent. Like Count Basie and Duke Ellington, Diz had a very deep, warm, nurturing side to him. In turn, senior members of this band were key in the development of the next generation. 

When visiting a High School in Texas, Dizzy was told there was a 17 year old local talent that thought he could hold his own with the band. The story goes that Dizzy loved to give young cats a chance to prove themselves, but if they had the nerve to ask to play with his band he’d call the toughest tune possible. Roy Hargrove was announced for the first time that evening not knowing what to expect. Fire works commenced. Roy passed the test. 

When Trombonist Andre Hayward was in school years later, he had a chance to play for Roy who was running a workshop there. Andre often plays with his eyes closed. When he and his ensemble class started to play Roy and his entourage were across the room. When the tune was over Andre opened his eyes to see Roy standing next to him, eyes closed, smiling. They exchanged phone numbers. A few weeks later they were playing together in Milan on Andre’s first professional gig. 

Frank Green, (trumpet) Douglas Purviance, (bass trombone), Jason Jackson (trombone) 


Roberta Gambarini recalled her introduction to the band. “I was nine years old when I saw these gentlemen play in my own town of Turino. My mother took me to see them. It changed me… immensely.  I wanted to be a part of this music; I wanted to do whatever I could to be involved in such a beautiful thing. To sing with them now, to be on the same stage with Moody and Slide and everybody, … my god, you have no idea how it makes me feel”. Where words fail, the music succeeds.   

Another aspect of the Dizzy Gillespie legacy was his untiring effort to spread the sound around the world. The State Department tours that brought this music to distant shores opened Dizzy’s eyes, his mind, his heart and his ears. He truly became a cultural ambassador. And, like any good Ambassador, he not only brought his culture to the world but also was able to incorporate other cultures into his own. Anyone familiar with the man’s music is well aware of the Afro-Cu-bop synthesis for which he is famous. Fewer are aware of his ability to incorporate Middle Eastern influences into his music as well. Dizzy traveled the world seeking out interesting, inspiring rhythms. He was anxious to share with his musical compatriots, enthusiastically demonstrating them with his hands; slapping, sliding and knocking them together to imitate the different sounds he had heard. 

It’s been said that Dizzy so well understood his position as an ambassador that he began to wonder if music was the means to a higher goal; bringing people together and transcending politics, religion and economics. 

Does anyone remember the United Nations Orchestra? 

The power of good music to soothe, inspire or depress is accepted in all cultures to one degree or another. The simplest example is the catchy pop tune on the radio that makes you happy for a few fleeting moments.  Protest songs certainly can inspire like-minded people to unite for a cause, but the cause is against something or someone.  I see Hiphop crossing barriers and bringing folks together, I just worry about what they’re going to do once they get there. 

Dizzy and his descendents know of a deeper effect music can produce.  Those that have experienced it acknowledge its power to reach deep into people and to bind them together in a way no other force is capable of. It’s not the words alone, as might be said of the pop tune. There aren’t a lot of lyrics in a Gillespie set. It’s vibrational. 

Front row:  Justin Robinson, Antonio Hart, James Moody,  Second row: Steve Davis, Jason Jackson, Andre Hayward. Roberta Gambarini seated, behind Hayward. Dennis Mackrel looks on. 

The attention that virtuosity demands from an audience leads to deeper understanding. When you are in the room with live Jazz played by the people that do it right, you can not help but to be drawn into the vibe.




Andres Boiarsky and Claudio Roditi

You don’t have to be a musician or even an aficionado. You just need to listen. Close your eyes. It’s even more engrossing. Be consumed. Open your eyes. Watch the audience feel what you feel. Watch each musician as he or she works through the tune, enjoying various licks and runs, surprising each other with new twists in the delivery. Watch Roy Hargrove; when he finishes his solo he hugs his horn to his chest and closes his eyes and listens to  the
next passage. He is enraptured. Watch Slide snapping his fingers, swaying about the stage. He smiles with his tongue out, licking the corner of his upper lip.  A quick nod or a wink to the soloist and it’s arms aloft to conduct the coda. They’re playing for each other as much as they are for you. The appreciation they show of each other is contagious. 

When politicians make speeches they have constructed their statements to appeal to their support base. The desired effect is polarization. Although most of the world’s religions may preach togetherness and love as goals they are speaking to their own flock, not necessarily encouraging the understanding of others. 

Jazz is different. Jazz is universal. You need to be open to it of course, but if you are hit with it at the right moment, especially at a live performance, odds are you will be converted. It’s like Slide Hampton says; “You just have to listen; it’s all there.” 




The politics of unity are a common topic of discussion in this country. The atmosphere is a dichotomy of hopefulness and insecurity. Harriri, the late prime minister, was loved and respected by both the Christians and the progressive-to-moderate Muslims who dominate Lebanon. He had instituted a “Rapid Reconstruction” initiative that was able to accomplish an amazing amount of work in the relatively few years following a long and brutal Civil War. He did what he could to unite Lebanon and was reasonably successful. As a reward he was blown up. Tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets shortly thereafter demanding the expulsion of Syrian military and intelligence forces, generally thought to be responsible. 

Graffiti in Martyr’s Square, Beirut 

His death sparked new life into the pro-democracy movement that has been smoldering in the country for years. 

There is an air of sophistication to nearly everyone you meet here, from the taxi drivers to the DJs at a bars we hung out at, or the corner convenience store owner. In addition to the native Arabic they all speak French and most speak English. There is also an air of underlying desperation. Not the kind you might think. A desperation to be understood, to communicate what Lebanon is really all about. When I got out and about on my own that first morning in Beirut I stopped into a corner newsstand for a bottle of water. The trio of elder gentlemen hanging about smoking and the smell of freshly brewed coffee reminded me of the parallel universe of Hoboken. The Arabic proprietor greeted me in English. After the standard corner store exchange he asked me where I was from. I had rehearsed the word “Canada” the night before when I couldn’t get to sleep, just to keep things smooth with any disgruntled Islamists. 

“United States” came out of my mouth before I could think. I was never very good at lying. 

He smiled at me and extended his hand. 

“Welcome to Lebanon. You are a very brave man.” 

Again I had the feeling of being mistaken for someone.  I shook his hand slowly, half expecting him to take out a dagger and stake mine to the counter. 

“What?…why?” I was going for nonchalant. What, me worry? 

“Don’t they tell you in America this is a dangerous place?” He sounded almost disappointed. I guess I sounded authentically naive. 

“Yeah I guess so, I just don’t believe anything they say anymore.” 

With that his mustache stretched out across his face until it nearly touched each earlobe accommodating his broad grin. “You are a wise man as well.” 

The day after the press conference we were to head out of Beirut and on to the valley. We were scheduled to stop at Dr. Sinno’s house for refreshments and then on to Zahle, a resort town 30 minutes from Baalbeck. 

Sinno’s house and hospitality were both resort grade. His home is on the upper rim of a mountain range. The house was surrounded by trees heavy with plums and pears. The center hall, which would be the living room area of an American home, was open to the air. It was like having your front porch in the middle of the house. Everyone was in thrall to the expansive view from both the main hall and the balcony. His wife greeted us with cold drinks and ushered us into a kitchen where a table was laden with every Middle Eastern pastry you’ve ever seen. There was enough to feed a big band and they were, as yet, only a septet.  


Dennis Mackrel takes in the view from Dr. Sinno’s house while the crew takes in Dennis

From the looks of things, the doctor has got it made. I asked him if this was his retirement home. It was at this point he told me about his service in the war, and that he actually did have it made before he returned. “If I stayed in America as a doctor I would be retired by now. Here in this country things are a bit different.  I’ll probably never get to retire.”                                     

When we reached Baalbeck we were all treated to a tour of the ruins by the resident docent. We walked from level to level, temple to temple, as he explained what each was used for.  

“This was the temple to Bacchus,” we were told. “The priests and priestesses, and those in training, would celebrate Bacchus who is well known for being the God of wine and of course Bacchanalia as it is called. These priests had a very deep interest in the spirit world as well, and of course life after death. In order to experience the very real sensation of resurrection, they would imbibe in opiates to achieve the feeling of death and then rebirth. You can see the poppy flower motif carved in the stone. Bacchus was also known as the god of fertility, which meant that in order to really impress this god and incur blessings, such as a good crop or healthy offspring, you needed to really celebrate the spirit of fertility.  To this purpose these priests and priestesses would imbibe in the wine, ingest some form of poppy product and then have an orgy.” 

“Does this happen after every show”? Claudio cracked from the back of the crowd. 

The whole gang burst into laughter. 

I’m no archaeologist, so I won’t bore you with the full run down, but I will tell you that the temples were originally built for the Roman gods in the second century. It was the place to go to do a burnt offering to your favorite deity. It remained a pilgrimage site for both clerics and the faithful of a succession of religious franchises and, well, here we are with the high priests of Bop. 

It was at this point that I began to really grasp how blessed I was to be here, with these gentlemen, in this place. I’m on a pilgrimage baby, drinking the wine, propagating the faith. I skipped the opium and the orgy but I still feel transformed. Do the specifics of the faith matter as much as the hang? Is it the place itself that brought this altogether? For what purpose? Was it for the pilgrims to worship James Moody? That might be it. All 900 members of the audience came to sing Happy Birthday to Moody. Would you believe they did? Believe me, at the request of Dr. Sinno they did. 

The sun was setting, casting amazing shadows across the landscape and the structures. With the official tour over the band and their new Lebanese friends broke off into small groups discussing what they had heard and seen. I hung back and listened in to a few conversations.  

Moody was running a tour of his own. He gazed up at the wall of massive blocks lined with the towering columns. As I approached he gently put a hand on my shoulder. 

“You know who built this place?” Still looking up, his eyes were full of wonder. 

 “The Romans?” I asked, knowing there was a better answer he was about to hit me with. 

“No, not the Romans.” He looked at me waiting for another guess. 

“Hhmmmm…Oh yeah I know – the Roman’s contracted it out to the Phoenicians.” 

“Naaah! Not the Phoenicians” 

“OK, the Phoenicians designed it but it was all built by slaves.” I was sure I nailed it. 

“No, it wasn’t slaves either.  Do you know there isn’t a single machine on this planet that can pick up one of those rocks?  To this day they can’t build one. No. This place was made by the aliens.”  

Looking at the wall I nodded. As good an explanation as any I’ve heard. 

We had a brief exchange on extraterrestrials and the cosmic origin of man. 

He headed down the temple stairs and gestured a little sign language that for some reason I understood meant “I’ll see you in a little bit”.  

The sun was nearly set when I saw a small group enter the main chamber of the temple. I followed to see who it was and catch some more conversation.  I was looking up at the amazing stones that rose up around me. 

“Wars are God’s way of teaching Americans geography. They didn’t know where Afghanistan was until they bombed it. They didn’t know where Iraq was until they bombed it.” 

Sadly true. 

Wouldn’t it be nice if we learned our geography by following the Dizzy Gillespie All-star Alumni Big Band? If only it were Moody, Slide or John Lee that people thought of when the topic of America came up, rather than Bush or Rumsfield. 

They would be onstage soon and this entire dream would be over in a few days. 

I headed back to the stage area where I would be operating a video camera that would be trained on the band as they walked out on stage. They call it the hero shot. I followed them with the camera as they emerged from the dressing room. I felt like my whole life had been building up to this moment. It was epic. They took the stage to thunderous applause. 

William Burroughs said, “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” I’m not going to run down the show for you. You should buy the DVD when it comes out. From what I saw and heard it will be Divine.

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