Letters to Dinah: A Tribute to the Late Great Dinah Washington

Dinah Washington, Queen of the Blues, is my first true love in terms of Jazz singing. Discovering her album, “For Those in Love”, absolutely changed my life.  When I was little I would listen to her and her alone; until I had completely absorbed nearly all her music, from her early blues recordings, her straight ahead Jazz albums, her early R&b hits, and her crossover pop recordings of the early 1960’s. I loved them all. As I became more infatuated with her music, I began to learn more about her career and personal life, asking friends of mine who knew her (Clark Terry, Junior Mance, etc) and reading what books I could find. Learning more about her, I became more and more in love with her music.

In the 20 years of her recording career and with her unprecedented cross-genre hits, she became one of the most commercially successful female black performers of her generation, all while never changing the artistic approach to her music. You’ve probably heard her renditions of “What a Difference a Day Makes,” “Unforgettable,” and “Evil Gal Blues” (her first hit, from 1943); and you’re likely to hear her music on the TV and in movies even today. Besides winning a Grammy in 1959 for her recording of “What a Difference a Day Makes”, she was awarded 3 posthumous Grammy’s (1998, 1999, and 2001) and inducted into the Rock and Rock Hall of Fame in 1993.

She has long been my hero, the voice I turn to when I’m happy and when I’m sad and so I am very pleased to announce my  new project, “Letters to Dinah”, a new show which features songs she has taught me to love. You’ll hear some blues, some standards, some country, and some R&B too. I hope you’ll join me in this celebration of Jazz and Black American Music, by following along here on the blog and by attending a show:

The International Premiere of the show will be in Israel as part of the Hot Jazz Series (February / Details here) and the US Premiere will be at WNYC’s The Greene Space (February 18), where you can attend the show or watch via the live broadcast. (Details here) More concert dates to be announced soon.

Right now, I am picking out songs for the show! Which ones should I include? “Salty Papa Blues”? “TV is the Thing This Year”? Let me know what you think in the comments.

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“Change Partners” CD Release Party & Dedication to Frank Wess

Thanks to everyone who came to Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola last week to celebrate the release of my new album, Change Partners. It was so nice to see so many friendly faces in the audience; I am so flattered that so many of you traveled so far to attend the party.

As you can see in the pictures below, the backdrop for the stage is a beautiful view overlooking Columbus Circle and Central Park. It was really something to watch the full moon appear on the horizon and continue to rise throughout the entire evening of our performance! I loved being able to play some selections from the record and to talk a little bit about each tune, especially Frank Wess’ composition “You Made a Good Move” (the opening track for the CD).

I know some people will find it odd that I chose an instrumental to be the first song on the album, so I want to tell you a little bit about it. This tune was written by the great Jazz saxophonist Frank Wess, who was also an Oklahoman, like me. Frank was one of the first people I met when I moved to NYC, and we became friends and eventually neighbors. I heard him play this tune a million times, and to me it represents the legacy of his music and his contribution to the legacy of Oklahoma Jazz. It’s the kind of tune that puts everyone in a good mood: it’s swinging, bluesy, and in the “people’s key” of F (haha). Frank passed away last year and I wanted very much to honor him on this record, though I didn’t want to call it a “tribute album” or anything like that. I just want my music to show that I loved him and his music, and I hope to be a continuation of his legacy.

Here are some great pictures from that night, and if you want to share your own here or via other social media sites, please do! Use the hashtag #ChangePartners so I can see them!

Thanks for reading!!!

(In case you’re wondering why you can’t find it on iTunes or amazon: the official international release date of Change Partners is October 28, but if you want a copy right now you can order an autographed copy via my new website –> www.champian.net/shop)

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My Time with Clark Terry: The Clark Terry Institute of Jazz Studies

I first met Clark Terry when I was 6 months old. I met him because my father, Stephen Fulton, and he had been friends since the late 1970’s. It would take me a long time to understand he was famous, in my childhood he was simply like my Grandfather. I drew him pictures for his birthday and holidays, spoke to him on the phone (probably to talk about Barbies). He would let me play with his charm necklace (which had a wheel of cheese charm that he was always trying to convince me was Pacman) and then give me treats from Europe and sometimes money to buy Mommy and Daddy a present as a surprise. I understood he was important, successful, even wealthy – but it was many years later, as I started to become a Jazz musician myself, that I would understand how significant he was in the music.

Little Champian and CT.

Little Champian and CT.

In 1994, my family and I moved to LeMars Iowa so my father could become the director of the Clark Terry International Institute of Jazz Studies. Jazz Education was always an important part of Clark’s career, he taught all over the world, but this was the first and only time he would have his own Institute that would teach the music as he wanted it taught. As the Artistic Director he helped design the curriculum by choosing the tunes the students would learn, the solos they would study to learn theory, (such as Coleman Hawkins’ solo on “Body and Soul”) and by insisting that the “visiting artist series” be a required course for credit.  He chose my father, Stephen Fulton, as the director; the other faculty included Cliff McMurray (drums), Mark Nelms (bass), Morris Nelms (piano), and David “Bull” Stewart (saxophones). The institute would stay open only until 1997, when the university (Westmar University) would begin to go bankrupt and eventually close its doors.

I was 8 years old at the time the institute opened, and just beginning to become seriously interested in being a Jazz musician. Those 3 or so years were truly an idyllic time for me, to be totally surrounded by the study of Jazz. Clark visited the campus a few times during each semester to teach classes, private lessons, and also to perform in a concert with the students, and he also sent his friends like Red Holloway and Butch Miles as “visiting artists” to give clinics to the students while he was away.

Many of the people who taught me lessons, both faculty and students, were kind and generous with their time, but only a few truly took the time to treat me seriously as an aspiring musician. Clark was one of them, Red Holloway another (and of course, my father). Once Clark realized I was serious, there were no holds barred when it came to my musical education. Often we see him smiling and being encouraging, and he often was, but he was also extremely serious and wasn’t afraid to show it. There’s no crying in baseball and no crying in Jazz either, and I learned to take my lumps early on.

It was during that time that I first performed with Clark in public, and it was also during those years that Clark gave me my first paying gig. I had formed a band, “The Little Jazz Quintet” (we were all under the age of 12), and we played mostly Clark’s original tunes as well as some standards. We were young, but we worked hard, and Clark hired us to play his 75th Birthday Party. The party was at my family’s house, and we played a set towards the beginning of the party. Afterwards Clark paid me and explained how to pay my musicians, so that I would be a good bandleader. He counted the money ($50 bills) out on top of my Barbie playhouse.

There are so many stories from this time, and I want to share more of them with you, but for now I will close with some pictures. And please, feel free to comment (especially if you were at the Institute), and share this with your friends! Clark Terry is an extraordinary musician who should be loved, cherished, and thought of often.

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Are CDs Old Hat? Nick Hempton Explores a New Way of Releasing Music

A few days ago I told you about my new CD. It will be a traditional release, meaning there will be physical CDs as well as downloadable tunes on iTunes etc., but these days quite a few artists are choosing alternative ways to release their music. I’ve heard of albums being released only on vinyl and only as downloadable tracks, but one of the most interesting experiments I’ve come across is Nick Hempton’s Catch and Release

Nick has released three traditional albums (check them out on his website NickHemptonBand.com) but he wanted to try something different to further engage the public. The idea behind “Catch and Release” is that the audience will follow Nick’s process for writing the tune, rehearsing the tune, recording the tune, and then releasing the tune. This process will happen every 6 weeks for a year. (Note: Nick isn’t seeking crowdfunding. He just hopes if you like the music, you’ll download the song for $1)

Here he is describing the project:

In the face of a music industry that is rapidly changing, I think this is a bold idea. Many artists and people in the industry claim the CD is on the way out; that people would rather download a tune from the internet than purchase a disc. At the same time, more and more people are releasing music, meaning it is harder and harder to discover independent artists amidst all the noise. With that in mind, I think Nick’s project is a good way of making his music stand out: allowing the public to engage in the artistic process so they feel more connected to the finished product. 

Do you like Nick’s idea of sharing his artistic process? Do you prefer digital downloads or CDs? Let me know in the comments! 

PS – I have it on good authority that if you subscribe to Nick’s Blog, he will send you a tune for FREE. 

PPS – I’d like to be your Facebook Friend

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Subtle Sexism: Don’t all Female Musicians know eachother?

Whenever I meet someone from Chicago, I immediately say, “Oh, do you know my friend so-and-so from Chicago?” Similarly when I meet a musician I ask him about other musicians; if I meet a tenor player, then I ask him about tenor players, or if I meet a really swinging bassist, I ask him about other really swinging bassists. Then, if we don’t know any of the same people, I ask about records, books, movies, locales, even food. It’s a natural human response to meeting a stranger. I want find out about them so they are no longer a stranger. I want to find if we have anything in common.

Usually when people meet me, whether they are music fans or musicians, I am always asked the same question. “Do you know so-and-so?” And so-and-so is always a girl. Not a girl who plays my same instrument, or a girl who is from my same town. Quite often we don’t even play the same style of music or even run in the same circles. We’re just both female musicians. And if I don’t know the first female so-and-so, they ask about a second and sometimes third. But ONLY about other female musicians, not any male musicians.

Strangely enough, it is the older musicians (age 65+) who can sometimes be the exception to this rule by asking me about other pianists or musicians to whom I am stylistically related, regardless of their sex.

I know I am a woman in a field that is dominated by men. When I hang out at a club, most people assume I am dating someone in the band, and when I tell them I am a musician they are shocked that I play an instrument and don’t just sing. After all that, I still get funny looks when people realize I am the bandleader, and not just a sideman. Even though there are more women in Jazz everyday, I know being a female Jazz musician still makes me an oddity, and that’s the problem. Often, when a female musician is seen, she is seen not as a musician who is a woman, but as a woman who is a musician.

Just sharing my thoughts, what are yours? 

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