Friday, 10 June 2016 15:04 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

Croker_-_side_profileTheo Croker is talking to SJF while in a cab on his way to the airport. The 30-year-old trumpeter is shortly to catch a plane back home to the USA after a whirlwind press tour of Europe. After press junkets on the continent, he's been in central London - where he was interviewed by Gilles Peterson for the broadcaster's BBC6 radio show - doing promotion for his new album, 'Escape Velocity,' which has been earning good reviews on both sides of the Atlantic.

Along with Robert Glasper, Kamasi Washington, Christian Scott, Terrace Martin and others, Florida-born Croker - whose grandfather was the legendary New Orleans-style horn-blower, Doc Cheatham - is a leading light in a new wave of American jazz that is attracting younger listeners and blurring the boundaries between itself and other genres. There's a deep spiritual vibe to Croker's music plus plenty of soulfulness and traces of hip-hop too.

Croker, who studied at the world-renowned Oberlin College in Ohio under such illustrious  tutors such as the late Donald Byrd, Marcus Belgrave and Gary Bartz - all legendary names in the jazz field - went on to hone his skills in Shanghai, of all places, where he worked as a jobbing musician for several years. After a couple of indie albums, Croker caught the attention of singer, Dee Dee Bridgewater, who was impressed by the young man with a horn and promptly signed him to her own imprint, DDB Records, via Sony's reactivated Okeh label.

His debut for Dee Dee's company was 2014's 'Afro Physicist,' a promising platter that proved the launch pad for this year's 'Escape Velocity,' which looks likely to put the Leesburg native into a whole new orbit. Here he shares his thoughts on his new album, the state of jazz, working with Dee Dee Bridgewater, and his experiences living and working in China to SJF's Charles Waring...


Last Updated on Tuesday, 14 June 2016 07:03



Monday, 30 May 2016 09:55 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

Alan_light_nina_bookIt only came to light recently that Nina Simone suffered from bipolar disorder, which for those that knew or worked with the singer, went some way, perhaps, to explaining her abrupt and inexplicable mood swings and seeming emotional instability. Indeed, Simone, is generally perceived as a deeply troubled and volatile character who was not only fighting against the racism and sexism that confronted her every day as she strove to forge a singing career but also battling with her own inner demons. Appearing imperiously strong one moment and yet vulnerable and helpless the next, she was defined, it seems, by contradictions.

She was, then, a complex character and though she died thirteen years ago, her music and life continues to exert a fascination for the public. Her life has been the subject of three films recently - one is a movie called Nina with Zoe Saldana cast as the singer - which has engendered controversy due to its casting and purported inaccuracies - while the other two, What Happened, Miss Simone?, and The Amazing Nina Simone, are both documentaries. Following in the wake of those comes a new biography of the North Carolina singer by Alan Light, whose book, What Happened, Miss Simone? A Biography is a tie-in with the recent acclaimed documentary of the same name.

The author, who's also written books on Prince and Motown, recently talked about his latest project with SJF's US writer, John Wisniewski...


Last Updated on Monday, 30 May 2016 10:07


HIGHER ELEVATION - The S E L Interview...

Friday, 27 May 2016 10:16 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

ElevationsleeveS.EEMMA LOUISE HARRIS is a North London soul singer but she's known to the soul cognoscenti as S E L (Soulful Emma Louise.... geddit?). Those same soul cognoscenti are predicting that by the end of the year S E L will be out there, known and recognised in the mainstream. The evidence? Well, it's there on a recently released EP – simply titled 'UK Soul EP', and the lead tune, a shuffling 'Elevation' is winning plenty of airplay and filling lots of DJ boxes. The cut has just a hint of Soul II Soul about it, hardly surprising since S E L is currently working with Jazzie B and his Soul II Soul review. With such a buzz about Emma, we felt it was about time we found out more. After tracking her down we started, logically, by asking how she got into the crazy world of soul music in the first place....

My dad was a soul music lover and you could always hear Curtis Mayfield, Otis Redding and Marvin Gaye playing in our house. I fell in love with Luther's voice when I first heard it. Having said that, the first time I really heard Soul music that spoke to my soul. The first time I knew it was going to be a major part of my life...Well, when I heard Soul II Soul's 'Back to Life'. I was glued to Caron Wheeler's voice and I loved the whole flava! They were not afraid to be different, which is what I loved about them. Plus, it was the first time I heard soul music that I could relate to as a black British person - It was very British!

You've called your new release 'UK Soul EP" ... why?

I decided on 'UK Soul' because I wanted the listeners to know what to expect from the EP...taking that authentic UK Soul sound back to its grass roots.

Last Updated on Friday, 27 May 2016 10:26


FEEL THE POWER! The Rasheed Ali interview….

Wednesday, 18 May 2016 15:31 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

2016-1One of 2015's most acclaimed albums was '1968 Soul Power'. The provocative long player was crafted with passion by Rasheed Ali, a native New Yorker who wanted to explore , through, his music, issues that affected Afro-Americans in the late 60s/early 70s. For his soundscape Rasheed authentically replicated the sounds of 1968 and in doing so he made the message in his music that much more relevant. We were told that '1968 Soul Power' was part 1 of an ongoing trilogy and the second instalment ... '1968 Black. Power' has just won release. Its messages are just as hard-hitting while the music offers many of the same flavours... the funk of James Brown, the complexities of Norman Whitfield, the sensitivity of Curtis Mayfield and the ingenuity of Sly Stone.

We recently caught up with Rasheed to learn more about his remarkable music odyssey and we began, logically, by asking did the critical success of '1968 Soul Power' create real sales or, indeed, did the success create a new confidence in what he was doing....

I'm really not sure how to answer the first part of this question, I'm not sure I can determine what "real sales" are in your mind! The album has produced sales and I am thankful. I don't have any idea about the threshold for realness though. Sales in this big United States have been small, since I remain mostly an unknown commodity here. Did the combination of critical acclaim, international radio airplay and sales give me more confidence? Surely! For the first time in my life I felt like there would be some anticipation for the second album in The 1968 Trilogy. That engagement creates more than just confidence though. It creates a mandate for me to be as good or better next time out. Even though the three parts of the work already had their respective 'lanes' in place, I still had to make sure that my new audience didn't feel as though it was a repeat of 1968:Soul Power! To me, art should always evolve and hopefully gain clarity and depth as it evolves. For me, this is a kind of contract between artist and listening public and I must hold up my end of things.


LIVING THE HIGH LIFE - Martha High talks about her new album and her experiences with James Brown!

Thursday, 12 May 2016 12:17 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

Martha_main_2'The Hardest Working Woman' is one of the song titles on Martha High's new album, 'Singing For The Good Times.' It's an apt description of the Washington DC-born singer, herself, now seventy-one, who has been toiling in the music business since the early 1960s when she was a member of a group called The Four Jewels.

High's strong work ethic was something she picked up from her longtime former boss, funk and soul legend James Brown, the man who described himself as 'the hardest working man in show business.' It wasn't the only thing she learned from the man they dubbed 'Soul Brother Number One,' though. High confesses that like Mr Brown (as she still refers to her ex-boss), she rehearses constantly and is a hard taskmaster when it comes to directing and drilling her musicians. "I don't want to do anything without the best rehearsals that I can get out of the band and they have to pay attention and keep their eyes on me when I'm on the stage," she says. "I don't fine anybody like Mr. Brown did but I let them know that I know when they make a mistake - and the reason they make mistake is because they don't have their eyes on me."

Like James Brown did, the singer says she'll change something up at the drop of a dime during her performance and therefore likes to keep the band on its toes. "Mr Brown never did a show the same way twice," she reveals. "The songs weren't in the same order all the time. It's the same with me. I don't know what song I'm going to do even though I give the band a set list but sometimes I might want to change it because of how I'm feeling my audience. So, I learned that from him." Fortunately, it seems, the softly-spoken and affable Martha High - who laughs a lot and sees the humour in life - doesn't have Mr Dynamite's explosive temperament though she does confess that "I have a few other ways of his, like handling business."

Perhaps that's why, then, she's survived and continues to work while many of her peers and contemporaries have fallen by the wayside. Admittedly, she spent many years cocooned in James Brown's soul revue but elected to leave in 2000 to see if she could go it alone. It was a brave move but sixteen years on she has no regrets. She has some fine albums under her belt - including 2009's 'It's High Time' and 2012's 'Soul Overdue' (with Speedometer) - and now unleashes a new long player, recorded in Rome with songwriter/producer Luca Sapio.

Here she tells SJF's Charles Waring all about her latest project and also recalls her early years, and, of course, her experiences working for a certain James Brown...


Last Updated on Sunday, 15 May 2016 07:58


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