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We Got It (the Jazz)

 May 12, 2023 at 12:00 AM PDT

S1: Hey , I'm Parker Edison , host of the Parker Edison Project , a podcast that explores black culture and lifestyle. In our latest episode , me and some friends , including my dad , sit and chop it up about the history of jazz in San Diego. You know , the.

S2: White club owners , they would bring the black musicians in. And like this. You've heard him talk about the Savoy. You've heard him talk about the the Cotton Club , You know , well , you know , those were not owned by black people , but they the musicians were in there. And and a form of integration started.

S1: That's up next on the project.

S3: You are now tuned to the Park Edison Project and Project.

S1: Good morning and welcome to season three of the Parker Edison Project. America is responsible for two art forms everything else we borrowed or stole from someplace else. The first is quilting , which specifically gave African Americans a safe place to document their lives and create an identity way deeper than you thought. Right ? The second thing we invented jazz , which essentially did the same thing. It documented the early 1900s booking agents called San Diego the Harlem of the West. Venues like the Creole Palace on Third and Market , where a buzz with top entertainers like Billie Holiday , Duke Ellington , Count Basie from the 1930s to the 1970s , South Southeast Imperial Avenue was the center of black nightlife.

S2: But the Great Migration in a nutshell , is when African Americans saw opportunities outside of the South because of what was happening with industry and mainly up up north in the Midwest , areas like the Chicago area with steel. And they just saw ways to get away from the Jim Crow rules that were going on in the South , the sharecropping disadvantages that was happening across the board. How it impacted jazz most is because , I mean , you know , we all kind of know what New Orleans looks like now. You know , they you know , they describe it as a melting pot. The music has always been diverse and so have the people. But like getting back to this period , New Orleans began to experience what some of the other southern states were experiencing the racism , the violence , and and it was impacting the musicians , too. They couldn't play the places like they used to. So it was kind of like pushing them out. And when the Great Migration came and like in this particular case , people from Arkansas , Louisiana , they moved up to Chicago. Gary Ultimately into the New York area. So I'm over to Kansas City , Saint Louis , Michigan , because of the the car industry and stuff. It was about a 70 year period , 1900 to around 1970. But when we look at the musical , the jazz area in there would probably be more like from the late teens into the the 20s and 30s. I think that's where the real influence started. You know , the white club owners , they would bring the black musicians in and like this. You've heard him talk about the Savoy , you've heard him talk about the the Cotton Club , You know , well , you know , those were not owned by black people , but they the musicians were in there. And and a form of integration started , you know , it went from the music to the singing and it went to the dancing. Then it went to the poetry , and ultimately it went to fashion and style. Of course , we know that it impacted , you know , the civil rights movement. That's exactly what.

S1: I came to digging into it with San Diego in particular , they were saying they have the Creole Palace out here is like Cotton Club of the West.


S1: Wrote this down. Hold up. I said. They were nightclubs that flourished in the Speakeasy era , catering to black and mixed race or tan patrons. We had one in San Diego. We have one on Imperial in southeast San Diego. Who was the other cut out here in San Diego or out here on the west side ? Should get to.

S2: Other than Leon. Well , Leon is not Leon Alexander. He's. Yeah , yeah , definitely.

S1: I reached out and Leon was kind enough to agree to an interview.

S4: I am Leon Alexander Jr and I am a drummer percussionist. My first. My first area of music is jazz. Right ? Of course. But I am a jack of all trades as far as being a musician. So not only do I play with big jazz artists , I play with R&B , pop , classical rock groups and orchestral too. So I play in some of the symphony orchestras as well. I grew up in Washington , DC. This area is very , very rich in musicians and arts and style of music and things like that. Right ? When I was a kid , I grew up , they had something called the Washington DC Youth Orchestra program. There was no other programming United States like this. It was started in 1963 that kind of jumpstarted a lot of young musicians where I grew up , because you got to go to school and you got to learn in the street to My father was really big on that. And like , we have a music called Go Go in DC. Yes , go , go Chuck Brown and you all these all these groups I grew up in that. That's what that was. That was here , right. And so that's how I really started playing drum set , playing go go right in the parks here in DC. They used to have drummers used to come out on the weekend , bring their stuff and just play right , whether it was the West Africans or whether it was the Puerto Ricans or the. Cuban. So I would go and that's how I learned like got into Latin percussion. I would go to the park and play with the cats in the park. Right.


S4: Probably about 7 or 8 years old.

S5: You're getting it in the parks , right ? Okay.

S4: Okay. Right , Right. Yeah. It was both. So especially for the African-American community and music and art , we had to kind of learn it in the street sometimes. A lot of stuff right handed down through the oral tradition , all of that stuff. Right. Because , well , a lot of times we weren't allowed to do it in a lot of instances where it was really great. We weren't allowed to be a part of that.

S1: What made you want to be an artist.

S4: That was sort of born into it , right ? Basically , my sister was a child prodigy , my late sister. She was a she's a child prodigy. You know , she was playing Chopin when she was five and six. And my dad was the assistant commander. He retired , but he was the assistant commander of the United States Army band in Washington , D.C. And so that was my foundation , you know , of growing up.

S1: Who's the most influential musician in your development.

S4: As a little boy ? There's a great drummer , Papa Joe Jones. He played with Count Basie , all the Cats. Well , when I was , uh , I don't know , probably about about 6 or 7 years old because my dad knew all the cats in the Basie band. Back then. Papa Joe was still alive , and I got to meet him and had a little impromptu lesson with him as a little boy. And I never forgot. I mean , he was so amazing. It was just unbelievable. He was my first first one. And then Max Roach. Max Roach was a big influence on me as well. I went to undergrad. I went to Oberlin , Oberlin College Conservatory of Music in Oberlin , Ohio. They had sort of a program where they were starting to build a jazz program there. When I was going there , they didn't have one then , so you kind of had to work at it and make things happen for yourself. Well , I hooked it up. So once a month I would go to Massachusetts because Max Roach was teaching at the University of Mass at that time. And I would take a listen to him once a month , starting in my freshman year of college. I did that for two years straight. That blew my mind. And this just made me think in such a way of of not only playing drums , but just music and music history and why we do what we do. There's a reason why we play things the way we play it from our ancestors. But those two cats had the most lasting influences on me as a young person and what I do as a drummer and a percussionist.



S5: He's the goat. I've met him.

S4: I played in his quartet when I was a student at UCSD. My straight ahead jazz career as a drummer really took off after playing with him. My first gig in San Diego was at Croce's in the Gaslamp Quarter with Daniel Jackson. He was sort of on my other university in straight ahead jazz. He was one of those cats that brought the young cats up and put them in his trio , his quartet , and made you learn how to play , right. That's when sort of Croce's was new. She first opened the place. Yeah. And it was it was just people came all over to see him , you know , to play. And it was just phenomenal for me.

S1: Jim , Jim Croce's wife opened that venue. Yes. Correct.

S5: Correct. Right.

S4: Ingrid Croce. Yes , right , Exactly. Exactly.

S1: Do you remember any other venues that were prominent at that time ? You know.

S4: Okay , So you had the whole big smooth they didn't call it really the smooth jazz then ? They sort of did. But that was really big there to Humphreys and the backing out , something like that. And then there was , um , oh , yeah , Charles McPherson too. Um , yeah , he , you know , he's from San Diego and lived right. And they had property right on La Hoya his mother had and from the 30s or something. So that's , that all got me started and whole San Diego music scene back in the day. Then there's a reggae world group from San Diego , Big Mountain. I don't know if you heard that group. Big Mountain. Yeah , I played in that group. I was in that group from the start as well. But it all started in San Diego. All that stuff was happening in San Diego , you know.

S1: Always having this conversation with one of my good homeboys about how that's what San Diego is. He's saying San Diego isn't like comparable to the New York's the Baltimores , the in terms of that for art. And I will argue with him you're right but we're this weird springboard.

S5: Yeah , it's really interesting.

S4: Right ? You're right. Yeah , that makes sense. You're right. It is. It has been a springboard and kind of still is. And there are people that people don't even realize they're there.

S5: Right ? Yeah.

S4: You know. Yeah.

S1: Two more quick questions. Right.

S5: Right. I'm a I'm a.

S1: Huge fan of rap.

S4: There's a way to use it to enhance music. And I think enhancing music , just like anything that technology does as time goes on. We may be able to enhance and make things better , like when we record all the technology that we use to record now , but the things they do enhance the sound. Now , when you try to replace right , when think when you want to replace the singer or the musician with a sample. That's where I get into problem with. And I've been in this situation where they've wanted to sample for bars and me playing a beat and they sample the sound , my sounds , then that's it. And they use that sample for the whole thing. When you do that , then you've just knocked out somebody's job in some ways , right ? Then they're cats that want to sample but still want you to play and they want the sample to enhance what you're playing and add to it. So I've had both situations , you know , I haven't really decided if it's terrible or not , but I know that actually some samples have helped me because I'll take that sample and then I'll layer another sound on it and another sound on it , and I create this whole new sound that I'm , I'm looking for.

S1: And I want to ask you this next question because you're feel like I'm as deep in rap as you are in jazz , But jazz is definitely rap's predecessor. Jazz is often regarded as sort of a cautionary tale , though , of what happens when we lose control of the art.

S4: Because if the young ones , whatever color they are , if they don't know the history of it , then it will get lost in a certain way. And this is this is a discussion I have with all of my my my educator friends and whatnot , you know , in education , especially university level. Right. So there are a lot of schools now that have jazz programs. Right. Okay. And and I'm just going to say that initially teaching the music of African Americans in a lot of these programs , not all , but most of even the big ones , there's not an African American teaching on the staff. And I have a problem with that. How is someone going to teach me about my history who doesn't have that experience ? Because our experience in music comes from our life experiences. I personally get more out of a person that I know has had that experience even now. I think in some ways we have certain control over that , and the way we have control over that is making sure that we know and we pass it down and we tell them what's what , right ? And we're involved in that. You know , you notice some there's a bunch of rap artists getting together with jazz musicians and they're doing their thing together. Right. And I find I think that's phenomenal , right ? Because you're hitting it in two different ways of our oral tradition and getting it , getting it out there. And it's coming from us , you know ? Yeah , man. Yeah.

S5: Yeah.

S4: So that , you know , that's my take on all of that.

S1: We touched on the subject of sampling for a sec. Sampling is when someone reuses one piece of a sound recording in another sound recording. It's a foundational tool of classic hip hop and an infamous double sided sword. On one hand , some jazz acts efforts can go uncredited by rap producers. On the other hand , an artist can have a second life as crate diggers rediscover them. Bob James is a good example of this. It's quite possible his song Nautilus sold more copies as a sample in rap tracks than it did in its initial release. It's fascinating. Let's get a few more examples of classic jazz samples with my guy , King Dice on a new episode of Msme.

S6: Howdy , y'all. This is music millennials should music. I'm your host , King Dice , musician , social commentator and connoisseur of the finest of cheeseburgers. And it is my pleasure to introduce our guest.

S7: Shawn Kantrowitz. That is my name. Well , Shawn.


S7: But I guess first and foremost , I am a music lover. I am a musician , music producer , television producer , podcaster and author. The co-creator. And. Host of the Questions Hip Hop Trivia Card Game , which was published earlier this year for the 50th anniversary of hip hop through Penguin Random House.

S6: How did you come up with the question ? Hip hop trivia game.

S7: The questions hip hop trivia started as a live event that we were doing in Los Angeles. It was myself and a few DJs local to the scene. We wanted to create a trivia night that spoke to the sensibilities of hip hop heads and also provide perhaps a new element to events. As people reach a certain age , perhaps they no longer want to go to events that start at 11. Myself definitely included. So that was definitely part of the MO of the questions when we originally started doing it and we would hold live events in Los Angeles , started doing other events around an area. COVID halted plans for us to do a live tour. We were starting to get offers to take it to other places in the country , so we pivoted and I began hosting episodes of what would eventually , I guess , become a podcast but live trivia on Instagram , live with some of the practitioners of hip hop. So where is it started ? Is something that fans and audience members were playing now. They were watching some of our most beloved emcees rappers , producers , DJs , journalists , media figures test their hip hop knowledge in a live format that eventually became a podcast. And then that podcast has now and game has now been adapted into a card game.

S8: Okay , Well.

S6: It's not what you know , it's who you know. And you kind of gave us a little hint that , you know , some some people. So I have a list of people. How about I go through the list and you tell me how you know that ? Sure. All right. Let's start off with Murs.

S7: So I was a fan first , and then I met him through a TV show that we were both actually working on. And we sort of struck up a friendship , realized that we had some mutual connections. And I've had him on the questions I've had him on Can't Knock the Shuffle , another show that I was doing , and he and I actually last year put out a lot of music together. I produced five singles with him , and I also produced a bunch of songs on an album that he did under the moniker These Hands , which is a group that's him , The Grouch from Living Legends and Reverie , and Missy from East Los Angeles. It's surreal for me to say , but like Merce is my friend , which like 20 years ago that was like Merce was , you know , my most listened to artist. But he's a great human being and definitely a great person to have worked with.


S7: Through some of the work that I was doing at the time , I wound up playing instruments , guitar and bass on a song on Dr. Dre's Compton album that came out as the soundtrack to the Straight Outta Compton film in 2015. Don't have Dre on speed dial , but , you know , he's definitely I can confirm that he is the legend that we all think he is.

S6: How about Jenny from the Block ? Jennifer Lopez.

S7: Jennifer Lopez. I actually don't know. I've never met her. I've not been in a room with her. I did wind up contributing to record that she put out in 2022. That was also a soundtrack that she did for her movie Marry Me. It came out in 2022. My voice is on the beginning of the record. It is a song called After Love , and it starts off with an acoustic guitar and a little captain , and that voice is mine. If I ever see her , I'm going to whisper. One , two , three , four.

S6: Let's get into the meat of this segment. It is called Music Millennials and Music. We're going to introduce the youth to rap music they should get familiar with. And today our category is jazz samples. Shawn , do you want to lead the way ? Absolutely.

S7: I mean , the first one that came to mind for me has got to be Q-tips. Let's Ride , which is produced by J. D , J Dilla , as we all know him now. And it samples Joe past the guitarists , his cover of Coltrane's Giant Steps. It's jazzy is all all can be mean. Obviously you have that very jazzy Joe bass guitar interpolating you know , one of the titans of jazz , Coltrane and Giant Steps , which is just such a distinct song , and yet it's also so hip hop. You get those , those knocking drums and the way that the samples come in. Let me just be clear. J Dilla is my favorite and track like. That's right by Q-Tip is hands down and an incredible example of his his prowess behind the boards.

S6: That's a great choice. And it is our custom that we give our selection a rating out of five using emojis.

S7: Well , I mean , the song is called Let's Ride. It's all about Q-Tip driving around in his car talking about the music that he listens to in his car. So we got to go with the car emoji for that. And I mean , five cars.

S6: That's a great choice. Great choice. The first beat that came to mind for me was from the Mecca and and the Soul Brother album 1992 is Pete Rock and CL Smooth when they reminisce over you. And that to me , is just the epitome of the jazz sample. Like that's that's a sample that I grew up on. The song is dedicated to their close friend Troy Dixon , Trouble Troy of Heavy D and the Boys who passed away in 1990. You know , for such a quintessential song , I was actually surprised to find out The song only peaked at 58 on the Billboard Hot 100. But it's just it encompasses , I think , everything right about sampling. Jazz to this day is one of my favorite song. I'm gonna give it five of the prayer hands. Yeah. R.I.P. Treble , Troy.

S7: Hip hop. That is sort of the hub for all things the questions. We're also on Instagram at the questions hip hop and on Twitter at questions , hip hop. And then I'm Sean damn it on all things SCA and DA Emmett. Find me out at these events if you're in the Los Angeles area and maybe I'll be coming to your neck of the woods soon too. We got some cool things we're going to be announcing this year. So yeah , I'm out here once again.

S6: My name is King Dykes. I am your host , musician , social commentator and connoisseur of fine cheeseburgers. This has been music millennials should music.

S1: Fighters who study old champions. Writers who've read the classics , Politicians who stay up to date with international news. That big picture point of view yields more impressive ideas. When we come back , we'll hear from an artist who does just that.

S3: Stay tuned for more of the Pep Pep EP.

S7: In 2023. Hip hop is turning 50 years old , and there's no better way to celebrate this monumental anniversary than by playing the question's hip hop trivia game. Based on the acclaimed live event turned online show and podcast of the same name. The questions hip hop trivia features 300 cards to challenge and entertain everybody from casual listeners to the most diehard liner note reading rap nerds. The questions , hip hop trivia available wherever you get games and books or order yours at Questions Hip Hop.

S2: And now back to the Pepe. The Pepe.

S1: My next guest is very much an amalgamation of live instrumentation , jazz trap and a foundational sound that's just now getting its recognition. HBCU Marching Bands.

S10: I'm a musician , mostly multi-hyphenate in a lot of different areas , so I can make sure I get paid. I arrange music , I compose music , orchestrate music , and also research. I'm an academic. I write about music , specifically things about black culture. And also I perform conduct. I play my horn , I play French horn. I even choreograph stuff. The movie Little I choreographed the dancers , the kids doing the dancers. They were doing HBCU style dance stuff. So when it comes to black culture , I like to depict it through a musical lens.


S10: Exact question. Like , you know , our inner city school didn't have any French horns in my case. I had to go to Florida. I started playing horn when I went to college at Florida A&M. So that's where I felt like that was a musical Mecca. And so that's when I was like , Oh , what do they need ? What can I guarantee ? And French horn was just that because just like you said , it's not black people don't play French horn.

S5: Super rare space.

S10: Our lips are often too big for the mouthpiece is made. There are very few horn players with our unique genetic makeup as it relates to that instrument. Just because the mouthpiece is so small on our lips.


S10: For me , that's how I was thinking of it , like , so when I was a kid , that's when , you know , YouTube was coming out and and I would go on there and I would just watch him and then I'll be ready. So , you know , seeing those videos , even now , I watch Marsalis Carnival of Venice and then go watch and play jazz and justify me. You know.

S11: Let me ask you this.


S10: You got the horns from from burns , from fat burning , some sustained burns. And that's where I got the idea to orchestrate trap music or any electronic process. Listen to Southern rap all the way back to juvenile and music in America , period. Nobody don't want to hear this , but music in America , period , can go back to that second line band , which goes back to the junker.

S1: NU was the was the junker nu.

S10: The junk news out of the out of the Caribbean. You know , those bands that are marching down the street with that deep , deep , deep , deep and whistle , you know , and half naked people just dancing. And it's just it's it's beautiful. These bands are imitating the black band is imitating the Japanese , which is , you know , is imitating the second line band , which is imitating the Japanese. Oh , everybody's just always gone back to , oh , John Philip Sousa , you know , the American military bands. That has nothing to do with me , respectfully , because it doesn't feel anything like what we're doing.



S1: Tell me about the big film energy tour.

S10: There was a concept that I was talking to the people who reached out to me on behalf of Live Nation , and they kind of wanted this thing that was very similar to what basically what would be a classical symphony concert , but from the black perspective. And so their goal when they approached me was to build a scenario that would be for us and also by us. You know , everything doesn't always happen just because budget and things of that nature , how you want it to. But thankfully we were able to salvage a great , you know , the core of that idea and just make this down to earth yet sophisticated venue where people of color or people who are considered themselves as minorities or whatever could come and just let their hair down while also getting some wine , wearing their pearls , you know , wearing , you know , just nicely. But I still feel like the cook out like that.

S5: I'm here for that.


S10: In prioritizing what deserves the most energy at any given time. What realistically can even handle enough of that energy ? What I noticed from when I was a child is that a lot of the stuff that I create or manifest in life happens mostly up here in my head. So as much as I can do up here , I do. But it comes with this deeply studying. And that doesn't mean getting degrees , I mean just studying , staying a student of the game and respect the limitations or , you know , the lack thereof or not. And knowing yourself just self-awareness helps to , you know , I know how I know how I am. I'm self-aware. I'm aware of myself. You know , just a lot of things that help me to manage.

S5: What role. Does.

S12: Does.


S10: YouTube. Oh dear. There was really no way for you to just put yourself out there. I don't know anybody that's come out in the last ten years that hasn't utilized some sort of application to assist them. For me , it puts this stuff in my hands and gives me more control over. Yes. You're still releasing the bird out into the wind to fly away , but like as far as the art is concerned. But and people could like it or dislike it , but the fact is , somebody's going to see it. What it also does for the modern composers , help them and bypass the system. There are some composers who have been systemically inhibiting , you know , just the system isn't conducive to their success. It wasn't considering the things that they would have to deal with when it was being created. So it was like we're getting the chance to , first of all , rightfully claim things that are.

S1: What is it Grammy nomination mean for you.

S10: Checks off a bunch of boxes that have ever happened in my brain. Just being in proximity to a Grammy nomination means that you tend to deal with high quality projects and things like that. And , you know , it just adds credibility to your name , if nothing else.

S1: One last question.

S10: And certain composers before me had to do a lot of things that were , you know , you know , things that depicting black people and black culture in a way that certain individual wanted them to do it because that's what they believed about that culture , not because that's what the black person was experiencing or , you know , because it's not a monolith. We just all have a similar skin tone and some of our hair curls are same. But for the most part , you know , many of us are so different. I want black composers to be able to write about whatever they want to write about in music , and no one's expecting them to write about stuff that they maybe don't even identify with. And , you know , you get called on for different things. And I'm blessed to be called on for anything. But , you know , sometimes , you know , people will pigeonhole you and put you into a box where , okay , well , we call on this person during Black History Month. Mm. I hope for the future black record can be seen as more than just black. More than just a perspective feeling. Just because I'm black doesn't mean I don't know different genres , just freedom and expression and going beyond what someone sees them out.

S1: Marie Douglass is the evolution of jazz music. She's the expansion that happens when we blend what's new with what's worked. It's inspiring to see all the ground she's covering. There's a lot of cats with impressive catalogues. Here's seven people you should get familiar with. Sean Hick , Michael Steele. Julian Cantwell , Matt Hall. Anastasia Corral. Ryan Ebert. The Mattson two. You want three more ? Nathan Hubbard. Gilbert Castellano. Rebecca. Jade. Get busy on those. Hey , Sean , take us out.

S7: Hey , this is Sean Kantrowitz , and this is a stuttery , buttery jam off my missing socks EP.

S1: Thanks for stopping in. The Parker Edison Project is produced and hosted by yours truly , Parker Edison , and of course , the good people at platform collection. Be sure to subscribe and catch the next episode on Apple , Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. If you have any comments or questions , visit the Parker Edison Project or hit us on Instagram at the PE project. Kris Reyes is head of audio production. Liza Jane Morissette , his operations manager , and John Decker is Associate General Manager for Content. This programming is made possible in part by the KPBS Explorer Content Fund. I love saying that because it reminds me of Sesame Street. Y'all stay safe out there.

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Artwork by Anne McColl
Artwork by Anne McColl
A discussion of Jazz as an original American craft, it's evolution and roots in San Diego.

In this latest episode, I dig into San Diego’s quiet legacy of Jazz music, percussionist Leon E. Alexander Jr speaks on his journey and composer Atlanta composer Marie A. Douglas shares what inspires her.

Music: Sean Kantrowitz

Episode artwork Anne McColl

Show credits: Parker Edison (Host), Chris Reyes (Head Editor), Angela Rogan (Writer), Prof Robert A. Saunders (Geo-Political Consultant), Adrian Villalobos (Media Production Specialist), Lisa Jane Morrisette (Director of Audio Programming and Operations) and John Decker (Senior Director of Content Development)