CULTURAL WORKINGS

Welcome to THE CULTURAL WORKER, a blog dedicated to arts of the people, from the radical avant garde and free jazz to dissident folk forms, punk and popular arts . The Cultural Worker celebrates revolutionary creativity and features a variety of essays, reviews, fiction, reportage, poetry and musings through the internet pen of this writer, musician and cultural organizer. Scroll straight down and you'll also find an extensive historical Photo Exhibit of cultural workers in action, followed by a series of Radical Arts Links. The features herein will be unabashedly partisan---make no mistake about that. The concept of the cultural worker as a force of fearless creativity, of social change, indeed as an artistic arm of radicalism, has always been left-wing when applied with any degree of honesty at all. No revolutionary act can be truly complete in the absence of art, no progressive campaign can retain its message sans the daring drumbeat of invention, no act of dissent can stand so strong as that which counts the writers, musicians, painters, dancers, actors, photographers, film and performance artists within its ranks. Here's to the history and legacy of cultural work in the throes of the good fight...
john pietaro

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

feature article: REGGIE WORKMAN, UNSTOPPABLE


A slightly edited version of this article served as the April 2018 cover feature of
“the NYC Jazz Record” under the title ‘Reggie Workman, Working Man’


REGGIE WORKMAN, UNSTOPPABLE
By John Pietaro

Reflecting on a legendary career spanning six decades, Reggie Workman speaks with subdued restraint. Not one to dwell on past accomplishments, he tends to angle conversations toward the future—both the immediate and distant. Adding to an unparalleled resume, Workman’s history of mentoring young jazz musicians led to a long-standing Associate Professorship of the New School, yet, staring down 80, he’s as busy as ever. “Yes, there’s a lot going on. There always is”, he mused. And considering the discography cast, there always was. The bassist’s quietly prideful career remains nothing short of profound.

Born in 1937, just outside of Philadelphia, Reggie Workman’s early years were ingrained in musical activity. “Many musicians lived in that community”, he explained. “Lee Morgan and I grew up together. Archie Shepp lived around the corner”. Others in his immediate purview were Benny Golson, C-Sharp, Kenny Barron, Mickey Roker, Donald Bailey and Bobby Green. Workman’s father, a chef, owned a restaurant frequented by musicians who often visited the family home. The addition of a piano in their living room brought about an array of jam sessions. Jackie McLean was a regular when he played the area and after John Coltrane moved to Philadelphia, he too was drawn to the scene. “And Philly Joe Jones was a conductor on the trolley that passed the house”, Workman said. “He sometimes stopped his car, faking mechanical problems, just to come in and say ‘hello’ to the fellows”.

Through the visceral drive of the music, Workman’s role became increasingly active. “Archie (Shepp) went to college at Goddard to study drama and I continued playing the streets. We didn’t have universities to teach this; we sneaked into clubs. The Showboat and the Aqua Lounge hosted Charlie Parker, Billie, they all came through. The bouncer at one of the clubs would let us in; he’d give us fruit punch and sit us in a dark corner”. But by 1956, upon high school graduation, he began organizing performances. Once Workman took over the hearse his father used for restaurant deliveries, he could get to gigs out of town and transport the players with him. A first taste of success occurred when Workman joined the quartet of popular pianist-vocalist Freddie Cole, brother of Nat. “The music took me out of the brickyard and around the country. For me, this was also an education on the art of the ballad. Some years later, I worked with Aretha Franklin and Nina Simone too”.

Performances with Cole centered on New York, so Workman moved his base to Harlem. “My evolution happened in New York. Many of the greats lived there. Gigi Gryce started hiring me regularly. He was a really well known studio man who ran his own publishing company”. Calls too began coming in from Sun Ra, James Moody and Roswell Rudd. “I also played Minton’s with Chick Corea and George Coleman, and Babs Gonzales started hanging out uptown”, which led to gigs with the be-bop vocalist. “Then in 1958 Frank Gant and I went to San Francisco to work with Red Garland. It was a two-week gig we couldn’t turn down due to his Miles association. Red wouldn’t pay for plane tickets so we traveled by train”. Quickly, Workman became established as a first-call bassist within the music’s highest order. “Thelonious Monk was very particular about what happened on the bandstand, and he expected the bass to be in a certain place, at a certain time, regardless. It was like school. That was difficult for me because I was used to a more open setting. The band’s saxophonist Paul Jeffries was a great help to me, and Ed Blackwell too”. George Benson and Dinah Washington were also among the leaders reaching out to the bassist.

Increasingly busy--and aware of the rigors--Workman became a founder of a musicians’ support and referral organization which met at Warren Smith’s studio, however, the shadow of Jim Crow invaded the solidarity. “The group had conflicts because the Black musicians had different problems than the white ones”, Workman recalled. “The classical musicians were getting the Broadway pit work, not us. We needed to do our own thing”. Collective Black Artists grew from this reality. Though concurrent to the AACM, unlike its Chicago counterpart, CBA remains woefully overlooked. Artists including Amiri Baraka, Jimmy Heath, Jimmy Owens, George Benson and Don Moore became central members. “We renovated a store front to make an office and organized classes taught by Leonard Goines and Owens. Our newspaper, ‘Expansions’, was filled with articles and poetry”. CBA also recorded an E.P. dedicated to Muhammed Ali featuring Babs Gonzales’ vocals, and ran a concert series at Town Hall with Ornette Coleman, Max Roach and Herbie Hancock among their features. Workman was elected to pitch the artists beyond the others’ reach, with Miles Davis as a primary target. “I was nervous, but went to his place and knocked. No answer. I knocked again and the door opened a crack. I hear (imitating Davis’ paint-scraping voice): ‘Who is it?!’ I told him who I was and he cuts me off, says he’s heard of me. Then: ‘What do you want?’ I said, ‘Miles, we have this series and…’, and he cuts back in: ‘Look man, I know your work, but you motherfucker, you’re comin’ here to ask me to play for NO money?!’”. Workman next approached Thelonious Monk: “Since I was playing with Monk at the Vanguard, I planned to ask him when I arrived, but he was dancing in the kitchen with a glass of wine in each hand. After the set he was in back again, dancing around, drinking brandy. I tried to talk to him but he kept dancing, so I start dancing with him—there’s no music but we were dancing to something. I finally bring it up. He’s not really listening, just keeps dancing and so I’m dancing and talking and he’s dancing and nodding. Then I say the series is at Town Hall. Monk stops suddenly and shouts, ‘Town Hall? I’ve done that!’”. The stars were hard to come by.

Within Workman’s tapestry, John Coltrane stands out as a luminary. “It was 1961 and the band included McCoy, Elvin and Dolphy. I was working with Jaki Byard and Roy Haynes, down the street from Coltrane’s band, and invited Eric to check us out. He brought John, but they left soon after, so I thought nothing of it. However they were going on the road and John called to ask if I wanted in. I said: ‘Is the Pope Catholic?’”. After stateside shows, Norman Granz paired the band with Dizzy Gillespie’s for a European tour. “We boarded the plane together but John, Dizzy and Norman sat in first class. The rest of us rode coach. Lalo Shifrin was in Dizzy’s band, Bob Cunningham, Mel Lewis and James Moody too. Bob and I were tight. Elvin and Mel were tight, so this was like a family trip. But the salary was miniscule and we had to pay for our own hotel rooms. Meanwhile, Granz got a suite”. However, the gig cemented a powerful relationship with Coltrane, then on the cusp of ascendency. “We recorded ‘Africa Brass’. So many great musicians were in Van Gelder’s studio. Dolphy wrote voicings for the horns. Cal Massey did orchestration too. He was sleeping on the bench waiting for us to get to his tunes”. ‘Ole Coltrane’ was out next, and within a year, ‘Live at the Village Vanguard’ and ‘Impressions’ hit record bins. But for the bassist, it wouldn’t last. “This was a wonderful experience until my father got sick and I started going back and forth to Philadelphia. I couldn’t commit, yet leaving John is one of my saddest memories”, he said in pensive lament.
But by New Year’s Eve 1962, Workman was on a Japanese bandstand with Art Blakey. “That version of the Jazz Messengers was historic: Wayne Shorter, Curtis Fuller, Cedar Walton and Freddie Hubbard. Everyone worked hard and Blakey made sure of that. ‘Sgt. Blakey’, we called him”. The master drummer was dogmatic, but not as disciplined in his own life. “Buhaina (Blakey’s African name) would direct us to be at Blue Note’s rehearsal room on 84th and Broadway at 6pm. Then 8pm came; no Bu. He’d sometimes keep us waiting four, five hours. He was having problems and as his marriage fell apart, so did the band”. So moved were the Messengers by their combined instrumental strength that they made several fruitless attempts to remain together.

Workman joined Archie Shepp and Bill Dixon’s politically revolutionary ensemble for their eponymous album. Commenting on the natural connection between the music and the rising Black Liberation Movement, Workman states: “music means politics. Archie later wrote “Poem for Malcolm”, “Scag”, “Rufus” and “Attica Blues”. But we all spoke up. We had to. You can’t put your head in the sand; that leaves your ass sticking up in the air”. True that.  In 1964 the bassist toured with Yusef Lateef’s combo, hitting California during the Watts Riots. “We were being shot at as we drove from the highway so had to stay in the hotel. It was the Vine Lodge Hotel—where Sam Cooke was staying.” Herbie Mann, then holding noted commercial success, next hired Workman. “The Middle East conflict was going on and Herbie became increasingly involved in this. He tuned his music to his own roots, but the Israeli-Palestinian conflict touched me differently as a Black person. I became very vocal. It may have hurt my career, but artists shed light”. Workman then joined the New York Art Quartet, an ensemble which sonically and politically realized radical culture in an urgent time. Baraka was a common addition to the line-up, threading spoken word through streams of improvisation. “I don’t like the term ‘avant garde’”, Workman clarified. “It’s about the music, not about boxes people put it in. We are Sound Scientists. With this band, every gig was beautiful”. Workman relocated to the East Village with Lee Morgan, whom he was regularly recording with. “Due to low rents, the area became a haven. Cecil Taylor lived nearby. 6th street was filled with music. Tootie Health and Don Cherry lived there. Elvin lived on 11th Street. There was a gay bar where Jaki Byard was playing standards. I had a gig opposite Rodney Dangerfield. There was the 5-Spot, Slugg’s, St Mark’s Place…”

In 1970 Workman became musical director of the New Muse Community Museum, an organization of African American arts. And with the fall of the Collective Black Artists, he founded Artists Alliance, a network wielding a Village Gate concert series. However, in the harsh economic decline to follow, Workman experienced recession fallout of his own. He took a day job with a Black-owned oil company and also with Crown Heights Community Service, guiding at-risk teens to college and Muse Arts Studio. In the 1980s, he hosted a jazz radio program on WBAI-FM and led record dates with the likes of Julian Priester, Sam Rivers and Andrew Hill, before forming Top Shelf, a band sporting David Murray, Arthur Raines, Steve McCall and others. “I’d been doing so many other people’s music and decided to finally perform my own. Top Shelf played the Tin Palace, the Cooler and the 5-Spot for months at a time”.

A natural teacher, the bassist mentored young artists through the African American Legacy Project and various colleges for years, focusing finally on the New School’s Jazz and New Music Program, which he’s currently immersed in. Trio 3, with Oliver Lake and Andrew Cyrille, a long-term project, will be performing later this year, and Workman also anticipates the release of a ‘70s recording by WARM with Rivers, Priester and Pheeron ak Laff. He’s also working on his biography and playing a variety of local concerts. “There aren’t enough hours for me to stop”, he offered. ‘Besides, who’s counting?”

***
Epilogue: Reggie requested the following information about the New School’s Jazz program be added to the article. It wasn’t possible to fit this into the NYC Jazz Record, but it’s all here in this unedited version:

This list of names I consider to be quite important since they represent students who have graduated from our program, and are now doing significant work in the Music community
 RoyHargrove - Trumpet
BradMeldau -Piano
JazzmiaHorn - Voice
RoseBartu Violin/Voice
LyndonAchee –Vibes/Steel Drums
MelanaeCharles = Voice
BeccaStevens – Voice/Guitar
Bilal– Voice
JoseJames – Voice
RobertGlasper
MollySkuse – Voice
CaseyBenjaman – Alto Sax/ Voice Keyboards
LukeciaBenjaman – Alto Sax
JamesFrancise – Piano
ChrisPotter – Tenor Sax
TomAbbot –Alto Sax
SteveBlum –Guitar
KevinRay – Bass Viol
JoelRoss – Vibes
GeremyDutton – Drums
MikeMareno –Guitar
MarcusStrikland
Enoch(EJ)Strickland
YayoiIkawa – Piano
JohnBeaty – Alto Sax/Rap
JoeBeaty – Trombone
JonnathanFunlason – Trumpet
RobReddy – Alto Sax
AndyBemky – Piano
ChrisWalker – Electric Bass
BrianSettles – Tenor Sax
JessicaBoykin – Voice
ThomasFujowara – Drums
SatoshiInoe – Guitar
GregKurstan – Piano (3 Grammys/Producing
WalterBlanding – Tenor Sax
LemarGillary – Voice
LarryGolding –Piano/Organ
JohnMedeski – Piano/Organ
TakyuaKurtado – Bass
BriannaThompson – Voice
BenFlocks – Tenor Sax
AlexanderClaffey – Bass
WalterBlanding – Tenor Sax == Moved to Isreal and started effective “Jazz Workshops”
JessieDavis – Alto Sax
***********ADDEDNAMES   addendum to previous listing***
JurmaaneSmith – Trumpet
CoreyCox – Drums
JackGlotman – Piano
BarryCooper – Trombone
SamuelMortellaro - Piano
MiriBen- Ari
ManuelVelera – Piano
AlanHampton – Bass
OtisBrown – Drums
TommyCrane – Drums
DameonReid – Drums
JamareWilliams – Drums
KeyonHarrel – Trumpet
EmanuelHarrel – Drums
StephamMutal – Tenor Sax
KennyBrohoowski – Drums
AdamCruz – Drums
EriYamamoto – Piano
AuthurTravers – Drums
AndrewHadro – Baritone Sax
YotamSilberstien – Guitar
NicoleGillian – Voice
AmitGolan – Piano == Returned to Israel and developed a Jazz School  `
LyndonAchee – Vibes / Steel Pan ********3/26/18
AlexeyIvannikov - Piano
 GregoireMarrete - Harmonica
JamalHanes – Trombone
ChrisTordinni – Bass
StaffordHunter – Trombone
PeterBurnstien – Guitar
VirginiaMayhew – Saxophones
AliJackson – Drums
CarlosHenriqez – Piano
**John I’d like to restate that students mentioned in this list are out in the “Jazz” community doing significant things, and the list of mentors who have been teaching them is really important to be mentioned as well.**
 MaryHalverson – Guitar
ChadTaylor – Drums
Thana Pavelic”  - Voice
AlexSkolnick – Guitar
Alexi                   - Piano
RioSakairi  - Voice
Catherine Henry - Voice
MathewJorgenson – Drums

-Reggie


Monday, January 29, 2018

Performance review: James Chance & the Contortions, Brooklyn NY, Jan 26, 2018


JAMES CHANCE AND THE CONTORTIONS, January 26, 2018, El Cortez, Brooklyn NY
by John Pietaro

James Chance (right) with two Contortions, El Cortez, Brooklyn NY (photo by John Pietaro)

If Dada represented the destruction of art as we knew it during the first World War, then No Wave was its latter-century counterpart, and James Chance our own Marcel Duchamp. Cabaret Voltaire may be lost but bits of it are apparently sprinkled on the streets of Bushwick.

Brooklyn’s El Cortez was filled with an audience in anticipation of the No Wave auter’s first New York performance billed as James Chance and the Contortions in many years. Chance experienced a rush of attention early on when, in 1978, his band was heard on the iconic album ‘No New York’. In the decades since, he survived a myriad of turbulence, starting with the 1981 death of significant other Anya Phillips as well as a series of professional disappointments. Through it all, he’s managed to release music which foresaw the rise of the avant-punk movement, embraced free jazz and formulated a brand of funk weaned on Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time that pointed the way forward for Defunkt. He garnered attention with onstage contorted dance moves, but more so, with the unique practice of slapping audience members braving the front row. Chance would later say that his moderate violence was but a means to awaken the crowd, but some responses to this saw the outbreak of throw-down fisticuffs, bloody noses and busted chops. But he kept playing, regardless of the wounds. Tours in the 1980s and ‘90s included noted members of Ornette Coleman’s coveted circle in a reformulated Contortions; here Chance was able to fully realize his vision in a way impossible with the original band. Regular European gigs led to a second home in Paris where he increasingly came to spend most of his days. Even there, the music was permeated by various periods of silence.
Adding to the excitement at El Cortez was an opening act of note: Martin Bisi, founder and producer of Material. While Chance was subject to the punk ghetto, Material became downtown darlings in the arts community, then Bisi scored big by producing Herbie Hancock’s massive hit “Rockit”. The house appeared well versed in his lore and filled the front area, rollicking to the raw electronics, digital delays and Bisi vocals run through effects. By the time this explosive set ended, all were ready for the main attraction (a full review of Bisi’s set can be found in an upcoming column by this writer).

As club staff re-set the stage, deliciously edgy ‘80s sounds tore through the PA, up from out of the time and space underground. The already crowded house began packing tightly. With nowhere to leave coats, audience members either wore them or held onto the bulky winter wear, and within moments the area anywhere near the stage was inflamed with body heat and anticipation. The thickening crowd mixed hipster youth with 60- and 50-somethings old enough to recall when Ford told New York to Drop Dead. Contortions, as the case may be, were up onstage prepping: Richard Dworkin, Chance’s talented drummer since ‘85 (also a founder of the Microscopic Septet), tenor saxophonist/keyboard player Robert Aaron who has also been a long-time member, and a truly swinging trumpeter that may or may not have been Mac Gollehon who’d added powerful lead lines and solos to Chance’s latest album. Most unfortunately, the band's bassist canceled with scant notice.

The leader walked toward the stage, head angled downward with his signature pompadour ever present, though a bit worse for the wear. A pinkish sport jacket hung a bit uncomfortably over a gappy green shirt, and, characteristically, he acknowledged no one in the crowd. After wriggling to the front, Chance made his way onstage and sans any fanfare the band kicked into a Latin-tinged dance piece. Chance, walking the very edge of the stage, offered just a hint of the spastic-styled dancing he’d crafted years prior. But as the piece throbbed and pulsated, it became clear that, though not lip-syncing, the band was playing along with its own recorded instrumental tracks. This practice lasted for several numbers during which Chance crooned in a voice matured to somewhere between David Johansen and Tom Waits.

Once the recorded tracks were dropped, the absence of a bassist and guitarist became all too obvious. Aaron moved to the keyboard but stood shakily before rapidly declining into overt staggering and stumbling. As Chance exchanged his alto for a seat at the keyboard, he painstakingly tried to continue the performance. But the spectacle of a teetering band member under some heavy influence, unable to play anything, was all too obvious. Such adverse conditions might have driven other performers to simply end the gig, but this leader’s skin was well thickened by life on the burnt-out, abandoned Lower East Side of old. As a member of the club’s staff struggled to keep Aaron safely in a chair, Chance attempted to draw the audience’s attention back to his performance. “I’d like to play my favorite song from 1962 when I was nine years old”, he said as the band cast a deconstruction of “I Left My Heart in San Francisco”, riddled with broken rhythms, inadvertent shifts of meter, and discordant harmonies. The piece was generally unrecognizable but very No Wave in both reach and spirit.

The music continued as the felled saxophonist lay crumpled in a corner of the stage. Suddenly, an old biker-type, all wooly grey beard and leather, pushed through the thicket, shouting: “Get outta my way, I’ve gotta get him---ROBERT! ARE YA ALRIGHT?!” The trio kept playing, sort of, as the harried club employee now attempted to hold back Hell’s Aged. Gruff shouts of “Lemme through!” over-powered the band and then after telling someone to hold his cane (really), the big ex-biker and a pair of friends stumbled onstage and tried fruitlessly to lift Aaron as he fought his way back to his feet---all this as Chance was playing a solo alto piece. The performance came to an obvious conclusion as Aaron, in a state of apparent blind drunkenness, ham-fisted the keyboard before Chance walked over and tore the cable out of the instrument angrily. A woman, heard from within the audience, shouted “That did it, we’re out of here” as the band looked away.

It can be said that this Contortions appearance was simply James Chance delving further into the absurdist realm than any of the earlier slap-fests could have achieved. If so, then the prone Robert Aaron served as the embodiment of Duchamp’s “Fountain” sculpture. No Wave, like Dada, was born of struggle, a creative opposition to nationalism, bias and violence. Admirable, but in the destruction of art as we know it, the populace is left with a painful emptiness that would leave us all staggering.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Essay: THE SINGULAR SYLVIA BLACK

THE SINGULAR SYLVIA BLACK
By John Pietaro


Photo courtesy of Sylvia Black

“I didn’t know there were two 7 o’clocks”. Forgive the use of an old Pearl Bailey line in response to a morning record date, but it’s all too appropriate here. As per a Facebook event page, the January 15 performance of Lydia Lunch at City Winery was running from 4PM to 7PM. This time slot seemed as wrong for Ms. Lunch as the early call did for Ms. Bailey, but I scheduled my day around seeing the show and scoring even a brief interview. The no wave maven, underground poet, caster of downtown’s guttural cry was a must-see. Carrying my critic’s journal book, I left Brooklyn extra early and made my way into Lower Manhattan.

City Vineyard sits on a precipice at the edge of the Hudson River, a direct target for the gusts blowing vigorously off the water. Entering the club, the priceless water view so welcome on a summer evening seemed an ominous reminder of winter on West Street. But the cold dissipated as Lydia’s opening act, Sylvia Black, engaged in her sound check. The throbbing of her electric bass emoted throughout the room, a thick, droning line plucked percussively, cutting through spare harmonies and rhythm like a hot knife through ash. The bassist’s eyes were shut tightly as guitarist Avi Bortnick carefully dropped open, ringing chords into the sonic spaces, then alternately played unison with the bassline to create a massive soundscape. Drummer Aaron Johnson, making due with just snare drum with brushes and a conga drum on the tight stage, painted the air with a swirling shimmer, locking the pulsations subtly but with a firm solidity. Ms. Black leaned into the microphone with a deep audible breath, releasing a smoky alto laden with reverb. The kind of voice that long stays with you. Music writers of a certain age are reminded of Angelo Badalamenti’s brooding yet beautiful score to the original “Twin Peaks”; the overall effect, in both cases, is atmospheric, dark and utterly compelling. It was just about then that City Winery’s manager clarified that the show wasn’t scheduled for afternoon at all, but 8:30PM. I guess Pearl Bailey was right. She apologized for the error, heartily, especially when I said that I could not stay for the show as I had other commitments. But the sound check was so appealing, I chose to hang around at least for this.

Sylvia Black’s career has been varied and multi-faceted, split within genre, location and even personae. Residing now in LA, she had for some years performed in New York under the name Betty Black, holding court Friday nights at the Roxy Hotel. “It was a lounge act”, she explained. Perhaps, but rthis wasn’t one for the piano bar in a polite hotel, it was built on the raw energy of downtown. “I love standards, but am also very influenced by 1980s new wave, dance and punk songs too. So I began arranging all of this music in a new way”. Huey Lewis’ “I Want a New Drug” was dramatically stated when performed in a plodding, slow tempo as were pieces by the Ramones, Van Halen and Psychedelic Furs. And the old chestnut “Jezebel” was infused with changes of feel and vocal range. Such adaptations shared the bill with swing, R and B and originals. According to press on Betty Black, the Roxy shows, apparently echoed the heat of the moment, tagged ‘Blue Lounge’: diva kitsch theatrics and raunchy stage wear coupled with a powerful band of jazz musicians, guitarist Bortnick and drummer Johnson among them. Her bands always include a vibraphonist too, often horns. Bortnick has been working with John Scofield for the better part of the last twenty years, now preparing for an Asian tour; Johnson is just about to embark on a series of concerts with David Byrne. In the company of such musicians, Black has been recording the Blue Lounge repertoire for an album to be released soon, so those gigs were far from wasted on her. And of course, the Roxy is where she first encountered Lydia Lunch, one of Black’s iconic sheroes. The two have since become friends and are currently collaborating on an album. “Lydia heard my music at the Roxy and she said we must work together. My single “Walking on Fire” was released already but she heard it and recently overdubbed a vocal part”. Both the original version of the song and the no wave reimagining are available via Sylvia’s website. “But the album is a partnersip of new songs we are both writing. Lydia is headed to Europe after this and I’ll be working on the material in that period”. The new songs includes an array of music that swings and rocks with free improvisation, beat-driven spoken word and pop. The first taste of the album is “Sin City Salvation”, currently available as a download. The piece straddles no wave rawness and dance cool as it recalls a downtown lost to the passage of time.

The singer-bassist-songwriter now performs under the name Sylvia Black but current credits include both monikers connected by a slash. She insists that her actual first name is neither of the two, but no matter that. It may not make for good copy but adds a mysterious point of interest. Black was trained at the Berklee School of Music in Boston, the highly coveted college of jazz studies, graduating in 1999. In New York, she quickly became a part of the nightlife, moving easily through styles and sounds. She affiliated with the noted Black Rock Coalition and performed with the likes of Muzz Skillings of Living Colour before taking on the Roxy gig. As a composer Black wrote songs for high-level acts including Moby and Black Eyed Peas, and as an artist in her own right, recorded the 2016 album “Valley Low” as well as a variety of video releases. Concurrently, Black has been doing session work for the celebrated British producer Tony Visconti (David Bowie, Iggy Pop) who has called her “one of the most powerful bass players I’ve worked with” and “a groove master”. As a member of Telepopmusik she’s done a world tour and with Kristeen Young’s band she will be opening for the Damned in London next month. There has been critical attention, but still, she struggles. “It’s very exciting, yet I have a day job waiting for me in LA”, she stated. “I’m not marketable because I don’t have a singular style”, she explained in a tone of ironic resolve. “Music industry people have tried to get me to be one thing, but I can’t. I’m me”.