This has been a relatively rough year for Memphis, and yet one of the more uplifting things I have noticed has been the spreading of neighborhood-based outdoor artworks and murals. While this has been going on for several years, it has virtually exploded this summer. I was not pleased with the demolition of the historic W. C. Handy Theatre in Orange Mound, but it did cheer me to see the orange-and-white public art on the bricks that remain from the foundation at the site. The slogans emphasize pride in the Orange Mound community and its high school, Melrose. A brightly-colored mural a few blocks away carries a timely message: “Dreams Matter, We Matter”. Just north of the railroad tracks, the historic Beltline neighborhood is celebrated in a building-length mural on the wall of a grocery store. In Binghampton, the artwork near the basketball courts celebrates the game of basketball, for which The Hamp is known, being the neighborhood of Anfernee Hardaway. But perhaps the most striking effort was the long series of murals on the inside flood wall along Chelsea between McLean and Evergreen in the Evergreen neighborhood. The different panels celebrate many different aspects of hip-hop culture or Memphis culture, with the word “REVIVAL” prominently featured in the first one. It is an appropriate slogan for a city that is long overdue for renewal.
The Rebirth of Jazz on Beale Street at The Blue Note: A Tribute to Emerson Able
Jazz is the forgotten piece of the Memphis music puzzle. People who are familiar with Isaac Hayes, Al Green or Otis Redding have likely never heard of Frank Strozier, Booker Little, Joe Dukes, Jamil Nasser, Sonny Criss, Charles Lloyd, Harold Mabern or Phineas Newborn Jr. Yet the histories of jazz, blues and soul are interwoven in Memphis. A young Phineas Newborn Jr played on some of the early Sun blues records. Free jazz saxophonist Frank Lowe played with Con-Funk-Shun in the early 1970’s. Isaac Hayes’ first LP was a jazz trio record with Duck Dunn and Al Jackson Jr, and elements of jazz would be present in all his career. Much of our city’s jazz history springs from one particular high school, Manassas High School in North Memphis, which was home to Jimmie Lunceford, Jimmy Crawford, Frank Strozier, Booker Little, Harold Mabern and George Coleman, and much of that great legacy was the result of an incredible musician and band director, Emerson Able, who recently passed away. So when Johnny Yancey told me that there would be a jam session at the Blue Note on Beale Street in honor of Mr. Able, I decided to head down there, and found the club filled to overflowing. An all-star group of musicians was on stage, including Bill Hurd on saxophone, Sidney Kirk Sr. on piano, Sidney Kirk Jr on drums, Ralph Collier, Johnny Yancey and Mickey Gregory on trumpets and others. At least part of the purpose was to raise funds for instruments for the Manassas band program, and if it proved nothing else, the amazing Thursday night of music proved that Memphians will turn out to support authentic jazz in an accessible, welcoming environment. The jam sessions will continue to be held on the first Thursday of each month.
Blue Note Bar & Grill
341 Beale St
Memphis, TN 38103
Remembering The Fallen In Hyde Park
Majorettes and Drummers at Manassas High School
I knew there was to be a massive majorette jamboree at the Manassas High School gym on Saturday afternoon (February 7), so I rode over there to see if I could capture any last remnants of the old Memphis majorette and drummer tradition. As usual, most of the performing groups involved were using prerecorded compact discs, but there were three contestants that used the traditional drumline instead, the Millennium Maddness Drill Team and Drum Squad, the Crump Elementary Majorettes and Drummers from Hickory Hill, and the Martin Luther King Jr. Diamond Divas and Drumline, the latter being the new name for the former Frayser High School now that it has been taken over by the state and turned into a charter. While I am thrilled that there are still a few groups who uphold the old tradition of dancers and drummers, I miss the old jamborees of my teenage years when everyone did their routine to drummers lined up against the wall of the gym.
Memphis' Own @SnootieWild At The @BMI Showcase at @EARL_EAV @A3C
Snootie Wild first came to my attention a couple of years ago at a record pool meeting in Memphis, as an amazing rapper from North Memphis with the unusual ability to command a Jamaican accent at will. This might not be unusual in a lot of cities, but there is almost no Caribbean presence in Memphis whatsoever, and Snootie has no island background When he released the single “Yayo” a few months later, he became the biggest artist in Memphis. Not long thereafter, he signed with Yo Gotti’s Cocaine Music Group, which has since been renamed Collective Music Group, and began to tour the country with Gotti. More recently, he has followed up the success of the earlier single with a new single called “No Kissing”, which blew up the streets of Memphis and other Southern cities all summer. So his appearances at A3C garnered a lot of attention, and his appearance at the BMI Showcase in East Atlanta Village was especially good. Despite his youth, Snootie Wild seems calm and in complete control, enjoying himself and bantering with crowd as if they were old and trusted friends. The young Memphian has great things ahead of him.
Keep up with Snootie Wild:
Tweets by SnootieWild
Joshua McCain and the Soul Seven Getting Funky at The Spot Bar & Grill In North Memphis
Memphis has a number of neighborhood clubs, bars and hole-in-the-walls, but it’s not all that common for them to book live bands, so when I heard that Joshua McCain & The Soul Seven were playing at a place called The Spot on Jackson Avenue in the Mitchell Heights area, I was intrigued. I had driven past the little sports bar many times, but had never imagined there being live music there. And while I had heard the Soul Seven before, it had always been a stripped-down three piece version of the band, but on this particular Friday, the larger ensemble was crowded into a corner of the tiny club, playing an incredible jazz/soul instrumental, complete with saxophone. During the rest of the evening, the band featured a number of tunes with their male and female singer, including covers of Frankie Beverly’s “We Are One” and “Happy Feelings.” The venue was tiny, with walls painted with every kind of Dallas Cowboys decoration imaginable, since the owners seem to be Cowboys fans, and the small crowd of neighborhood regulars grew bigger as the evening progressed. It was actually a lot of fun.
Decatur Street Mural in North Memphis
Authentic North Memphis Blues with the Memphis Bluesmasters at Wild Bill’s
Memphis’ music reputation was built on blues long before gospel or soul, but authentic blues in an authentic setting in Memphis is not so easy to find. A few juke joints still exist in rougher Memphis neighborhoods, and one of the most long-standing is Wild Bill’s, a North Memphis institution on Vollintine Avenue that had a long run of popularity before closing abruptly last summer. It reopened under new ownership in December, and I read that on weekends, the Memphis Bluesmasters play there, often with Memphis blues queen Ann Hines.
So even though we were under a winter storm warning, I drove down to the rather tiny juke in a non-descript strip shopping center not far from Northside High School. When I arrived, there was already a good-sized crowd in a jovial mood. Despite the new owners, Wild Bill’s still has the funky juke joint ambiance that I remembered from my previous visit a couple of years ago, and the only real difference is that they have added a hot-wing menu and have started opening for lunch.
The Memphis Bluesmasters are a seasoned group of Memphis musicians with years of experience playing blues and soul music, on Beale Street and elsewhere, but here in North Memphis, they can let their hair down and play to the local crowd, some of whom come up and make a small dance floor in front of the musicians. Ann Hines wasn’t singing with the band on this particular night, but the female vocalist was called Miss Nickki, and she was an attractive singer with a fine and powerful voice. The material was largely taken from the standards of southern soul, with covers of Tyrone Davis, Shirley Brown and O. V. Wright songs.
At the end of the band’s first set, it was 1 AM, and I walked outside to discover that the whole neighborhood was draped in a coating of white snow that was still falling. The music would continue until 3 AM, but I decided it was best to make my way home.
Memphis rapper Snootie Wild (@snootiewho) Live at @PurpleHazeMEM during On Location Memphis (@olm_trailer)
Snootie Wild Live at #TMXMemphis
Snootie Wild performs at the Music Exchange at the Sahara Cafe and Grill in Hickory Hill, Memphis, 2/27/13