|Date||CD information||Distributed by|
|January 2007||LIL GREENWOOD AND DAVID AMRAM: BACK TO MY ROOTS
In November of 2005, my series of 75th birthday celebrations around the country took me back to North Beach in San Francisco. I never dreamed that night when I played with and for old friends at the Purple Onion that a few months later, I would meet Lil Greenwood in Mobile Alabama.
Lil began her storied career at the Purple Onion in 1948, the same year I first frequented that neighborhood as a seventeen year old kid, working as a carpenter's helper and part time musician in nearby Los Gatos for the summer.
Whoever plans all these coincidences in life did a good job, because when Lil and I met for the first time in Mobile in February of 2006, we realized that we had shared roots in our respective journeys, from the Purple Onion in 1948 through making music around the world with many of the same musicians over the past fifty-eight years.
The night in Mobile, where I was conducting a small string orchestra, Lil had been invited to join us in a version of Summertime, which I had orchestrated years ago for my jazz ensemble, whenever they could perform with me during my classical concerts.
I had heard Lil's recordings with Duke Ellington, and when we spoke on the phone a few weeks before we met, we both sensed that whatever happened that night, we would somehow end up creating something on the spot that would be memorable. That's what happened.
Since the chamber orchestra was on tour and had the rest of the program prepared, we had no time to work with Lil prior to the concert. I was able, during the soundcheck, to get about four minutes to rehearse part of the piece, so I made up a piano introduction similar to the one heard on this recording. And when Lil began to sing at the concert, the musicians as well as the audience all were transported by her magnificent way of taking the music to another level.
At the end of the concert, after her amazing performance of Summertime, she rose from the audience to join us when we played my version of Deep River. At that moment, I knew that we were destined to work with one another again, and we decided that February night to make a recording in the summer of 2006. I gave Carmen Brown, the keeper of the flame of jazz in Mobile, my phone number and met Buzz Rumell, who wanted to help Lil to record some of her repertoire.
In July of 2006, we got together in Mobile and with a group of Mobile's finest musicians, joined by my 22 year old son Adam playing congas, and we went to Dogwood Studios where we made the entire CD in two days.
Almost every tune was done in one take. All the musicians were steeped in the Southern tradition, and knew just what to do. As the musical director and arranger for the recording, I simply did what all of us learn to do to make the best music possible, wherever you are and whoever you are playing with. Duke Ellington, with whom Lil and I were blessed to know, stated how to do it best.
When Duke was asked what advice he had for young musicians, he said "Listen."
During the two days of recording, we all listened to each other every second and tried to honor Lil's creativity and spirituality, as if we were playing a live concert, with ourselves as the audience. We wanted this recording to document the essence of spontaneity and capture the celebration of that mysterious power that makes it possible to deal with the moment and always find the right answer. After two days, we all felt we had done our best to honor Lil and started packing up our instruments.
Just as the musicians were about to leave the studio, I was asked to make up a song on the spot, as a souvenir for all the people in Mobile who had been helping Lil to gain the audience that they knew she deserved.
Everyone unpacked, and I improvised all the lyrics for the song "Going to Mobile."
Lil's scatting was so amazing, and what we did turned out to be so much fun to do, that we decided to use it as a bonus ending for the CD.
"We did what i've dreamed of years for doing" said Lil. "I want this recording to be like a jam session and paint a picture of what it's like ot be at one of my shows. I want people to hear all the kinds of dif-ferent things that show my roots in this music. This is the best time I've had since I worked with Duke. He used to call me One Take Lil. We just did it, without talking about it, and like the last two days here in Mobile, we did it right. this is music of the spirit. I'm a preacher's daughter. I want people to hear that part of my life too. It's all about where jazz comes from."
As my son Adam and I flew back to New York the next day, I realized what a blessing it was for him at the age of 22 to be part of a once in a lifetime experience that celebrated Lil's roots in the sanctified church, as well as her roots in blues and jazz, which together have created the precious heritage of music that continues to uplift all the world's people.
"In the year 2060, when you are the same age as I am now, you can tell some young people about what you were part of when we recorded this CD with Lil, and what we did together. And you'll have a recording to prove it really happened."
I told him, as I have often told all my three kids and generations of other kids about how, in the Fall of 1942, when I was 12 years old, we moved back down south from our farm in Feasterville Pennsylvania to Washington DC to a neighborhood where this music was played and sung day and night, and how it has remained a source of strength and inspiration for everything I have done and continue to do each day of my life.
Whether I am composing or conducting a symphony, or jamming with different musicians around the world, the love and devotion to music and to those who play it, which Lil personifies, remains my guideline for true musicianship.
I hope, as does Lil, that the music we made and captured on this recording will inspire young people, in whatever they do in life, to honor their own heritage and their own community, to follow their hearts, to work hard, and to express themselves joyously in their own way, each and every day, while always paying attention to and respecting others. And to rejoice while they are doing it.
And to always remember, as Duke Ellington himself reminded the world, "It don't mean a thing, if it ain't got that swing."