Sunday, April 22, 2007

More Jazz on Oprah? Greg Thomas's Plea

Jazz broadcaster Greg Thomas wrote an "open letter" to Oprah, on her website.
Below is what Greg had to say, in a note posted to the JPL (jazz programmers list).
Nicely stated, and I hope that Oprah has a chance to read Greg's words, and directly respond, by bringing some of the below-mentioned jazz artists and others on to her show, to talk AND play.

Here's a letter that I've posted to Oprah Winfrey's message board.
Please support this attempt to get Oprah to feature jazz musicians as part of her (hopefully to-be-continued) "After Imus: Now What"town hall meeting, which aired on Monday and Tuesday of this week. Consider posting your own message therealso.

An Open Letter to Oprah Winfrey: A Jazz Alternative

After watching your two-part town hall meeting: “After Imus: Now What?” I’m compelled to reach out to you.

I’m a native New Yorker with southern black American roots and an abiding devotion to the greatest music produced in the U.S.A—jazz. As a teen in the late ’70s, when hearing the scratching of LPs in the Park Hill section of Staten Island, I scratched my head in puzzlement.

Other than the infectious dance beat and a few catchy hooks, I didn’t get caught up with rap since my mind was being blown by the sounds of Charlie Parker, Clifford Brown, Benny Carter, John Coltrane, Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald and so many other great improvisers, vocalists and band leaders of jazz. Perhaps it’s the old soul/old school in me, but to my ears rap sounded like child’s play compared to the mature, sophisticated, earthy and sublime jazz music that I immersed myself in as a teen and since.

As an American concerned about the direction of our culture, and as father of an bright and beautiful 11-0year-young daughter, I implore you, Oprah, to add the voices of jazz musicians to the discussion of “NowWhat?”

There are many articulate, learned and passionate jazz musicians whose views will add dimension and insight to the discourse, and whose music provides an alternative, and even perhaps an antidote to the destructive tendencies that we find in the more popular music of today.

For instance, there’s the splendid bassist Christian McBride, 35, a young giant of jazz who’s played with the elder statesmen of jazz, with artists such as Sting, David Sanborn and Pat Metheny, as well as with DJ Logic and Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson of The Roots (his homeboy from Philadelphia.)

Another example is the superb tenor saxophonist Joshua Redman, 38, who graduated summa cum laude, Phi BetaKappa with a B.A. in Social Studies from Harvard University in 1991. Like McBride he has performed and recorded with his jazz elders, as well as artists and groups such as The Dave Matthews Band, MeShell Ndegeocello, Big Daddy Kane, The Rolling Stones, and Stevie Wonder. He was featured in the late Robert Altman’s film, "Kansas City ."

Of course there’s Wynton Marsalis, 45, artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center, whose latest recording, "From the Plantation to the Penitentiary"confronts many of the same social and cultural issues discussed in your post-Imus town hall meeting. He’s been vocal about these matters for over 20 years.

Queen Latifah, 37, an extraordinarily talented artistof music and film, would be a wonderful addition to adiscussion among these artists, as Dr. Maya Angelou might agree, since she named Ms. Latifah as one of the hip hop artists she respects and admires. As one ofthe most successful female hip hop artists, and a verygood songstress of jazz and classic R&B, Latifah’s point of view should be heard. Her father owned a jazz club in Newark, New Jersey, which in part explains her jazz chops.

These four are the tip of the iceberg of potential guests on a follow-up program to continue this needed dialogue, but, in my opinion, as a good a group of artists to continue it with as any. But instead of just talking about the issues, perhaps they could also perform together on the show, demonstrating the power of jazz music to bring together those of differing viewpoints and styles.

Just as Jesus was not accepted in his own town of Nazareth , jazz is shunned by most Americans not exposed to its true glories, yet many in Europe and other places in the world recognize it as a fine art representing the best of America and black American culture.

By doing a show with the likes of those above, my beloved sister, you can continue to turn the tide, raise awareness of, as Abraham Lincoln once said, the“better angels of our nature,” and continue to bring exposure to the cultural excellence from which we as apeople spring.

Sincerely,Greg Thomas


Greg Thomas said...


I just came across your posting of my open letter to Oprah.


Greg Thomas

Philip Booth said...

Greg - Glad to do it. Thanks for reading.