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A Tribute to Jazz Women of Courage

The fact that in the year 2024 we should need another standalone event to exclusively honor women ought to tell you how far away we are from acknowledging that civilized society was a matriarchy long before it became a patriarchy. Cheikh Anta-Diop in his pathbreaking dissertation The African Origin of Civilisation: Myth or Reality (Présence Africaine, Paris 1955) tells us that was an incontrovertible truth. As does the historian Gerda Lerner in The Creation of Patriarchy (Oxford University Press, 1986)

And yet, here we are, again. Kudos to The Central Brooklyn Jazz Consortium (CBJC) for honoring women jazz enthusiasts who offer a supportive structure for the presentation of jazz programming. This is a tribute to women who have demonstrated courageous commitment in supporting and promoting jazz. Their contributions are the backbone for performing artists and fans.

Consistently, this group of jazz lovers invites musicians and fans to gather in their living rooms for jam sessions, or opens neighborhood clubs and eateries that feature jazz artists. Other women convince their churches to host jazz programming.

Then there are organizations whose mission is to fight for programming and funding to keep jazz alive and fill the airwaves with this triumphant music, referencing its history in publications dedicated to the music, documenting the careers of important ancestral figures and tracking careers of younger artists.

“The artists are key,” says CBJC Board Chair Clarence Mosley. “They are certainly deserving of the acknowledgement they receive. But this time we want to highlight another segment of supporters of jazz, America’s original art form.”

Thus, as part of Jazz: The Women’s Viewpoint, the CBJC Board is proud to announce its 2024 Jazz Women of Courage awardees:

Roberta Allaway, Harlem Jazz Producer and “NYC Jazz Hero”

Tamara Clement, Volunteer and Financial Supporter

Marjorie Eliot, Host of Harlem’s Parlor Jazz

Lezlee Harrison, Host, Jazz Radio Station, WBGO and Jazz Vocalist

Bertha Hope; Jazz Ensemble Educator and Pianist

Joan Watson Jones, Host, The Jazz Room Live, Jazz Singer and The Mistress of Ceremony

The program will also feature music by the woman’s jazz band, Sage, who will perform a special tribute to the awardees.

Dion Parson


Grammy Award–winning drummer and composer Dion Parson has been leading the 21st Century Band for more than two decades. The outfit’s innovative sound bonds Virgin Islands traditions, such as Quelbe, and Caribbean expressions — reggae, calypso, soca, mento, ska, zouk, steel pan, chutney, and funk — with New Orleans and African influences. Whether you’re new to these sounds or they’re integral to your musical narrative, come hear their fresh and dynamic interpretations from Parson’s ensemble.

PERFORMANCE LINEUP

Dion Parson, drums
Melvin Jones, trumpet
Ron Blake, tenor saxophone
Carlton Holmes, piano
Reuben Rogers, bass
Victor Provost, steel pan
Alioune Faye, percussion, sabar drums

Antoine Roney

Heart Music

Where does music come from? We are, indeed, speaking of the realm of the platonic, the realm of the spirit. We are talking of each note that goes to form a string of ineffably precious and beautiful pearls that, in turn, forms a proverbial necklace that adorns the melody of a song. From a black dot on a line or the spaces between the lines of a staved paper? Certainly not where Antoine Roney comes from.

In the case of Antoine – as in the case of the spiritual ancestors of the horns from whom he has descended: Dexter Gordon, Hawk and Bean, Charlie Parker, Jackie Maclean, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Wayne Shorter, Pharoah Sanders – it pulsates from the beat of his heart.

The heart – more than the head – speaks through Antoine’s horns. It is something he always knew from listening to music at home with his musically noble family. “Of course, technique is important,” he says, “but what’s in the heart determines the sound of your voice.” We all breathe the same air, but what you make of it aurally is what counts.

It is one of those unforgettable lessons you learn when your early mentors are Wayne Shorter and Jackie Maclean. “Jackie and [his son] René always said, ‘focus on telling the story… sing the blues.’ Sure, structure – the 12-bar structure of WC Handy – is important, but ‘composition is storytelling.’”

Antoine says, “I believe I have a story to tell. That, and because music has the power to heal. It’s why I make music.”

Antoine tells a poignant story about this, which he learned from Jackie. “I rented a room two doors down from where Jackie lived,” Antoine says. “He would knock on my door with his horn on his hand and he would tell me to get my horn. Jackie would take me to a park across the street from his house. We would walk through the park without horns, and he would stop along the way to feed the stray dogs on the way to this hill that overlooked the whole city of Hartford.

“He would play a note and we would hear the note echo back to us from the distance,” Antoine says. “He would say, ‘Let’s play, and the notes will go out into the city and change peoples’ minds and heal their souls.’ He would say, ‘Heal peoples’ souls, heal drug users from using drugs. Change peoples’ minds to positive thinking.’ And how right he was. He still is.” Antoine may as well have added, “Jackie is a saint.”

If you think that sounds facetious, then you have not heard Antoine play his horns. For Antoine Roney, music is conceived in the beat of his heart, each of which is propelled in great mouthfuls of air from his powerful lungs. It is these mouthfuls of air that become the kinetic energy of every molecule of sound as it is transformed into leaping and pirouetting balletic moves, melting into the air around you.

In one of his greatest, most promethean acts of artistry entitled Controlling the Uncontrollable (Enoit 2021), Antoine can be heard taking this act outdoors, in Seneca Village, with his trio comprising his über-gifted son and drummer, Kojo, and contrabassist Saadi Zain.

Channeling not simply traditional elements of melody, harmony and rhythm, Antoine and his super trio are invoking the power of the human spirit to speak to the triumph of human endeavor. The saxophonist is, in fact, attempting to penetrate the secrets of his art, for that and knowledge – as Ludwig van Beethoven put it in another time – “would lead men to the divine.”

Antoine Roney adorns our world of music having been born of rich pedigree. His family – both maternally and paternally - had music pulsing through their veins. Antoine’s childhood home echoed with the blues. His father, Wallace Roney Jr, was a U.S. Marshal who imparted an early admiration for Miles Davis, and encouraged jazz be supported in the US Congress' Black Caucus. “Wallace Roney Sr. (our grandfather),” says his sister, “was a founding member of one of the largest black churches in Philadelphia, Bright Hope Baptist Church.”

The Church was an indelible part of the Civil Rights Movement. When Antoine attended, growing up, it was not unusual normal to see Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, Mahalia Jackson, Joe Frazier and even Muhammad Ali (then Cassius Clay) - the latter came to the church before he went to jail (for refusing the draft) and after he was released. Antoine’s mother, Roberta Sherman was the daughter of the brilliant Roosevelt Sherman, the brass player and guitarist in the Frankie Fairfax Band, whose most famous member was John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie. It has been jokingly (or not-so-jokingly) stated that Dizzy earned his nickname thanks to Grandpa Roosevelt, whose wife Lillian McCoy Sherman was a celebrated sculptor and visual artist whose works – created at an incredibly young age – were commissioned by the City of Philadelphia.

The black nobility of the Roney’s also attracted more famous talent. The incomparable organist Shirley Scott often played on “Aunt Josephine’s piano.” “I cannot remember a day going by without being reminded of – and listening to the blues, and stories of the blues,” Antoine says. But the most important lesson he ever learned, he says, is knowing that the stories about life grew out of the blues.

Of equal importance was the fact that every story, every narrative of every story, every note that was sung and listened to was shared – had to be shared – by the community into which Antoine was born. “Our music – the blues – didn’t happen overnight,” he says. “It grew out of the experience of each generation. Ancestry only has true meaning if it is passed down from one generation to the next. I learned this in my family, from my grandparents, my parents. My siblings – especially my brother (the late, great trumpet-playing Wallace Roney) and I always counted our blessings.”

“Mentorship,” Antoine says, “It is a privilege that works both ways – for teacher and student.” And so, Antoine takes that part of his musicianship very seriously indeed. “Young musicians surround me, just as I once was in my family – both my blood relatives as well as my musical brothers and sisters. I feel that what I learned from Jackie and René… it is my duty to pass it on as I mentor the next generation.”

He has poured his heart – and experience - to a burgeoning songbook. “Probably more than three dozen (or so) songs by now,” Antoine says. Modesty forbids the mention that he was music director of his (late) brother Wallace Roney’s band. One album, Village, features the composition – “Anaakba” – based on authentic African rhythms and melodies and features the inimitable Michael Brecker who played a heart-rending solo on that chart.

Antoine continues to draw young musicians to whom he imparts knowledge like a Zen-master. His masterful drummer and son Kojo, nephew and incomparable trumpeter Wallace “Little Wally” Roney, Saadi Zain, and Malik McLaurine – members who often adorn his long-standing trio (and quartet with the trumpeter) are just three of the many young musicians of his son’s generation that Antoine mentors. They come to him like bees to honey because even at sixty-one years of age Antoine is carries the weight of the ancestors stretching by far beyond even the illustrious Roneys.

He also has some distinguished friends across the spectrum of music. “Mos Def…,” he muses, “I loved playing in his big band with my brother, Will [Calhoun], Robin [Eubanks], Don [Braden], Orrin [Evans], and others. I never heard Def stretch so magnificently as we… and we did on that recording.” There is also the long and deep friendship with Lenny Kravitz. “I’ve known Lenny for a very long time,” he says, amused by (the fun fact) they are so close that their daughters are born on the same day, “And their names both begin with the letter ‘Z’,” he says, adding that it “was not planned."

What was planned, however, was the introduction of another friend, Cindy Blackman Santana, to Lenny. “Yeah,” he muses, “Lenny called me from the west coast and said he was looking for a drummer. So, I immediately thought of [Hartt School alum] Cindy.” The drummer also remembers Antoine saying, “I’ve got Lenny [Kravitz] on the line, and he says he needs a drummer… interested?” So, Cindy played a 10-minute session over the telephone, packed for two days, and flew west. “And that,” says Antoine began a 12- or 13-year musical relationship.

These may sound like sidebars, but they are all intimations of the stress that Antoine puts on relationships. “It is what you learn from growing up in a family like mine,” he says. It makes for unforgettable storytelling and, most importantly it makes for character. “My story, my character, if you wish, began an exceptionally long time ago, when I took to the stage at the age of ten to play with my older brother. It strengthens our spiritual bloodline,” he says. No wonder his mentees see him as being a guru.

“This is why it is important – indeed imperative – to understand that the music created by Black Americans is born of blood. It was – and is – the cry for freedom, the cry from the escape from fear, the shout of joy… in other words, the sound of the blues. You cannot manufacture this sound,” Antoine opines, quite rightly. “It is in you. You are the channel. You listen to the beat of your heart, and you allow that sound of that song come forth from your lips.”

And so, now, do you understand why Antoine makes music outdoors, surrounded not only by avid listeners, but also by the sound of the wind, and the rustling of leaves on trees? Because songs such as “Deities,” “Night of the Glowing Trees,” “Warriors/Forward Motion,” “Bird Blues, and “Star Gaze” are evocative of the echo of the earth itself.

The Antoine Roney Trio is challenging its audience to join in its titanic effort at Controlling the Uncontrollable with music made with every beat of the heart. The Antoine Roney Trio featuring special guest, Kojo Odu, and others brings heart music to Jazz at Peir 84, June 12.

TYREEK MCDOLE

“Singing his Way into the Hearts of Jazz Vocal Fans” By John Zaff

Tyreek McDole is a rising star jazz vocalist who’s generating buzz among critics and fans of jazz vocal performers. At the tender age of 24, he seems ready to join the ranks of the top tier jazz vocalists. In 2023, Tyreek was only the second male vocalist to win the Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition. Tyreek’s vocals stand out not just for their pure quality, a prerequisite for any great vocalist, but more so for how well he uses his voice as an instrument. A sonorous, rich-voiced baritone, Tyreek has a fine-tuned control of vocal nuance and phrasing. Listening to him articulate a song can bring to mind some of the great vocal stylists of the past, such as Johnny Hartman, Nat King Cole or Joe Williams. He has clearly done his homework studying the great vocal masters, but ultimately Tyreek is on a journey to forge his own unique style and brand.

Tyreek was born in Suffern, NY and moved to Florida with his family when he was young. Growing up in the suburbs of Orlando with a Haitian mother and a father from New York who was into hip hop, Tyreek was exposed to a wide variety of music from both parents. “Haitian music folklore was something I heard a lot of as a child,” says Tyreek, “but I was the one who brought jazz into the house.” When Tyreek first saw the trumpet playing alligator in the Disney movie, The Princess and the Frog, he fell in love with both the instrument and with jazz. “I felt a connection to that kind of music. I got into Louis Armstrong initially, and then began listening to other trumpet players like Miles Davis,” says Tyreek, who was soon playing trumpet with the school marching band. He was also learning to play percussion instruments like the vibraphone.

One day, while playing percussion for the high school musical, Into the Woods, the actor who played the wolf was out sick, and the other kids were complaining that they couldn’t rehearse properly without vocals. Tyreek knew the songs and volunteered to sing for the rehearsal. “I started singing and began to notice a lot of heads turning,” he says.“‘Oh, he can sing and play percussion!’ The teacher for the jazz band happened to be in the room, and he asked me afterwards if I wanted to join the jazz band as a vocalist, and I did.” That year the band appeared at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Essentially Ellington competition. During the summer, Tyreek continued to progress as a vocalist. “I was in Rodney Whitaker’s Jazz Camp. He taught me so much, even though it was just two weeks. I got the foundations of showmanship, of how to tell a story and how to sing in a jazz context,” he says.

The next year, the high school band once again found themselves at the Essentially Ellington competition. “I sang the song ‘Every day I have the Blues.’ I got the award for Outstanding Vocalist, and it was presented to me by Wynton Marsalis. That was a pivotal moment.” he says. “I started thinking, 'Yeah, I can do this.'” Tyreek continued his studies at Oberlin Conservatory of Music, where his professors and mentors included Eddie Henderson, Gary Bartz and Sullivan Fortner, who he says taught him to look at music both analytically and intuitively.

Speaking about the process of learning and honing vocal skills, Tyreek says, “We have multiple teachers. There are your literal instructors, your peers who you play with, and yourself also, because you are your own filter of all the things you can and cannot do and what you want to do technically and spiritually. Can vocals be taught? I would say yes and no, because you can’t just learn it by listening to records.”

Winning the Sarah Vaughan Vocal Competition may prove to be a pivotal event for Tyreek. Asked about the experience, he says, “I sent in a tape with absolutely no expectations. I got this email back saying I’m in the competition. I was like, ‘What?’ When it was time to perform, I was super nervous, being around all these vocalists who I was a big fan of. But once I got on stage, I just surrendered to the energy of the room and to what the music demanded.” And the rest, as they say, is history.

Tyreek seems poised for an exciting and successful career. He is being discovered by new fans, he is growing by leaps and bounds as an artist, and he will record his first album this summer. He is keeping busy with club dates, music festivals and tour dates that include an upcoming stint with his quintet in Mexico. “I grew up in a small house,” he says, “and always wanted to see the world, so I’m excited that I can do that through my music.”

Tyreek has a purposeful approach to his music. “I like to pick music that has a story because it can be impactful,” he says. “And I love great melodies and harmonies and that can make or break me selecting a song, but I also need to have a vision for recreating the song, because what’s the point of doing it like someone else does? The material has to have substance and artistic integrity.”

For Tyreek, connecting with the audience is everything. He says, “In the end, the music is and always will be about people, so I feel it’s important to create a space and have a personal experience. I like to make my audience feel that they’re just in a living room with me and I like to talk and connect with them.” And from the looks of things, Tyreek has been quite successful in singing his way into his fan’s hearts.

Tyreek has a number of New York area appearances over the next several months, including the Jersey City Festival June 1, the Django June 21, Club Room June 28, Blue Note with Joey Alexander July 1, Birdland on August 18 and the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival on August 24.

TOMOKI SANDERS

IS EXPRESSING THEIR SELF By Joyce Jones

Tomoki Sanders has always been interested in playing music. Their first introductions to music were with their father, the great tenor saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, and their mother, music loving Yuko Abe, in their birthplace of Woodside in Queens, NY. Tomoki would check out the music of their father, John Coltrane and Gary Bartz. Tomoki picked up a lot of Japanese traditional music from their mother.

Tomoki’s earliest memory of the magnitude of their father’s footprint to Black music was during a concert in Central Park. Their father was wearing a long blue satin shirt and a blue kufi with William Henderson on piano, Alex Blake on bass, Hamid Drake on drums and Badal Roy on tabla. Another thing that was clear was the gathering of diverse people to witness Pharoah Sanders and ingest great vibes.

Tomoki has become a multi-instrumentalist and started teaching themself clarinet until they received their first alto when they were ten. In addition to playing tenor and alto saxophone, Tomoki plays drums and percussion. They also play piano, but it’s mostly for composition. This is what lead them to Berklee College of Music in 2014, where they were “very appreciative that the college offered me to learn about the diversity of so many genres and cultures. All students from all over the world sharing culture and music had really opened my mind and inspired me.” Tomoki felt extremely fortunate to have been able to count the late drummer Ralph Peterson Jr., alto/soprano saxophonist/flautist Tia Fuller and drummer Billy Kilson as mentors. Tenor/soprano saxophonist George Garzone was their private instructor in the last two years at Berklee. Tomoki enjoyed ensemble classes with drummer Neal Smith. “Each professor has their own story and experiences to tell and share, which was a blessing to learn and play the music,” they say.

While attending Berklee, Tomoki was also making beats, making remixes and sampling jazz recordings, so they wanted to focus on production as well. “I don’t think I would like to be fully known as a ‘Jazz’ saxophonist,” they say. “I feel like my heroes are the likes of Kassa (Overall), Kareem Riggins, people like Thundercat and Flying Lotus. Of course, Terrance Martin, Mtume or Norman Connors literally musicians who were also producers.”

Tomoki has a vision for jazz music and the community and believes “the goal is to find a healthy congregation for all human beings to come together. I learned that from my dad’s concerts. It’s the most diverse audiences that [they’ve] seen to this day.” Tomoki felt a “responsibility to find a way to diversify the audience to welcome everybody, especially Indigenous people, to find a safe space for their own culture. That’s the one thing to build a whole new culture.” In the jazz environment, Tomoki has encountered a lot of competitive male musicians who have “big D energy” and male chauvinism. “A lot of the masters also had, but, miraculously, [they’re] grateful [they] had a father who wasn’t that. He was like Mufasa (from the Lion King).”

Tomoki sees their “mission in the time as a queer ‘jazz’ musician, I need to make sure that I need to mellow down the toxins that would still engrain. It’s like trying to get out porcupine poison in your system.”

“We need people to pave the way to ensure the younger generation that it’s okay to be who you are when you’re swinging with this music,” they say. “I think my response would be to say that it doesn’t matter what’s between your legs or how you’re built. It’s a matter about are you’re willing to swing with this music or not and also embrace the spectrum of masculinity and femininity that even people like Ben Webster, who’s notoriously known as a pretty aggressively masculine person, but when he played a ballad it’s the most vulnerable, feminine sound on a saxophone. Even people like Miles, we can talk about Miles Davis, but when he plays a ballad, my favorite is ‘It Never Entered My Mind.’ It’s my absolute favorite of his. It’s like seeing a ballerina by herself and just expressing and embracing in the moment spontaneously. I think that’s an important message for me to give out and give guidance to the younger generation, that it’s okay to be yourself and then play this music as beautifully as you can.”

Tomoki doesn’t have anything around town this month, but they are presently touring with Kassa Overall and providing safe spaces for expression of one’s true self.

AC Lincoln

In Tap- Step with Ancestral Spirits by Raul da Gama