The Most Fun, but Most Challenging Genre in Music:
An Interview with Lon Ivey at the AirTrain Jazz Festival
Last Thursday, the Airbar at the JFK AirTrain terminal offered an escape from the LIRR station’s typical chaos. Travelers and businessmen slowed their rushing steps to stop and listen to the sounds of Lon Ivey’s 4th Millennium Band. The third annual AirTrain Jazz Festival hosts jazz artists on Thursday every week through May. Lon Ivey’s band is made up of musicians who have lead groups of their own and performed with top artists spanning the entire globe. Our World on Sutphin had the opportunity to interview the talented band leader Lon Ivey.
Vocalist, drummer, and band leader, Lon Ivey, has been practicing his art for about thirty years, getting his start in music by singing and playing piano at a young age. His passion for percussion blossomed when his father took him to a concert where a man named Max Roach was banging the drums. The 13-year-old Lon Ivey was inspired by this fantastic drummer who was “one of the guys who changed the whole dialogue in music” according to Ivey. After the concert, Lon Ivey describes telling his father to “get rid of this piano and clarinet, and get me some drums!” He finds truth in the notion that “we stand on the shoulders of giants,” and Max Roach was one of them for Ivey. Other influential figures for Lon Ivey were his teachers like Tony Williams, Roy Brooks, Walter “Baby Sweets” Perkins. He says “you also have got to love Buddy Rich, Bobby Mason, Steve Gadd—there’s so many great musicians, and I’m considered one of the best in my field.” His lively performance on the drums and vocals was evidence of his experience and standing in the world of music. Lon Ivey now has students of his own and teaches them about the deep roots of jazz music which stretch back into the blues rhythms that originated from West Africa.
Though the AirTrain Festival centers on Jazz, Lon Ivey takes pleasure in playing many different styles of music, including R&B, Hip Hop, Funk, Metal and Classic Rock. He’s also been playing contemporary gospel as a drummer at the First Baptist Church of Glen Cove (attended by Grammy award-winning singer, Ashanti) for five years. Despite his love for playing everything, his opinion on jazz is that it’s “the most fun, because it’s the most creative.” Apart from it being the most fun, he mentions that it’s the most difficult kind of music to master. His explanation is that “jazz is a discipline. There are some definite ensembles you play together in a group, but its variations on a theme. You take a core theme and you improvise around that core, central idea. That’s really what makes it so great, and so challenging. You almost have to sculpt air. When you play pop music, or heavy metal, you play a repetitive form. The difference in jazz is that it allows you to completely deconstruct and reconstruct the piece of music. No other style of music does that.”
With hit movies like “La La Land” bringing up the discussion of jazz music’s relevance in our society, it spurs the question: Is jazz dying? Does it need to be saved? Lon Ivey’s response is “I don’t think so,” and continues to explain, “Jazz has always traditionally had a smaller audience, but a very loyal audience. Most of the major universities have jazz pedagogies. I teach at a school called mind builders in the Bronx, affiliated with Julliard and JALC. So jazz is not dying—we would like to see more outlets for it, of course, and we play a lot of it.” Another factor that may contribute to the difficulty of being a jazz musician and the perception that the craft is dying is that it isn’t as easy to earn a living by playing jazz music. Even when a musician plays as much jazz as they do R&B, funk, or gospel, a greater reward is usually offered to those who play the latter.
Lon Ivey’s 4th millennium band will be playing events all over the city. They often play festivals like the AirTrain Jazz Festival and the past eight Fort Green Jazz festivals in a row. He plays with four other groups as well, and you can catch him playing venues such as Cleopatra’s Needle in the city, and other locations in the outer boroughs. There’s an open mic Jazz series at Rustik on 478 Dekalb Avenue every first Tuesday of the month where Eric Fraizer, who was on the conga drums with Lon Ivey’s band at the AirTrain Festival, has played with Eric Fraizer’s Trio for 12 years.
These are only a few of the wonderful jazz events you can attend when you’re in need of a little relaxation after a long day. Mark your calendars, because the next AirTrain Jazz Festival will take place from 6pm to 7pm on Thursday October, 19th, and it’s an event you won’t want to miss.
THE 2018 AMERICAN BLACK FILM FESTIVAL HONORS WAS A NIGHT TO REMEMBER
LOS ANGELES, February 26, 2018 — Last night, ABFF Ventures hosted its annual American Black Film Festival (ABFF) Honors at the Beverly Hilton in Los Angeles. The ceremony, hosted by actor and comedian Cedric the Entertainer, honored director Ava DuVernay with the Industry Visionary Award, legendary actor Billy Dee Williams with the Hollywood Legacy Award, comedian Tiffany Haddish with the Rising Star Award, actor Omari Hardwick with the Distinguished ABFF Alumni Award and the writer and cast of “Martin” (Martin Lawrence, Tichina Arnold, Tisha Campbell, Carl Payne II, Bentley Kyle Evans) received the Classic Television Award.
Regina Hall, Lena Waithe, Armie Hammer and Snoop Dogg made special presentations to the honorees and Harrison Ford made a surprise video tribute to Billy Dee Williams.
Black-ish (ABC) and Insecure (HBO) were announced as winners of the Television Show of the Year (Comedy) category, presented by actor and comedian Lil Rel Howery. Tracee Ellis Ross, Deon Cole, Issa Rae, Jay Ellis and Yvonne Orji accepted their awards on behalf of their show, cast and crew.
For the second year in a row, Queen Sugar (OWN) took home the coveted Television Show of the Year (Drama) award. Ava DuVernay, along with the cast (Dawn-Lyen Gardner, Dondre Whitfield, Tina Lifford, Bianca Lawson, Timon Kyle Durrett) accepted their award.
Additional winners of the night included Get Out (Universal Pictures), for Movie of the Year. Jordan Peele, Lil Rel Howery, Betty Gabriel and Marcus Henderson accepted the award.
“Some of you know that I did not enter this industry as an artist. I came into this business as an advertiser with a profound love for art, and the ABFF became my canvas, says Jeff Friday, ABFF Ventures CEO. “It has allowed me to show my love of “all things Black,” by curating experiences that promote our culture and support young creative people who are now changing the world,” Jeff continues.
“It is a privilege and honor to be granted a seat at the table to watch my collegiate friends’ stellar organization (The American Black Film Festival) grow and consistently groom, honor and recognize creative black genius,”
said Dawn Kelly, Howard University graduate, co-owner of Metropolis Group/Global Connect and CEO of The Nourish Spot, located in Jamaica , Queens, NYC.
Ronnie Devoe’s 50th – Bell Biv DeVoe and Friends performance
An Evening with Paula Atherton- A Powerful Female Figure in the Jazz Genre
Travelers making their way from Jamaica to JFK airport were mesmerized by the talent of Paula Atherton and her band, comprised of Ron Monroe on bass, Bill Heller on keyboard, Lou Gimenez on guitar, and Tony Lewis on Drums. Paula Atherton has been busy touring the country, stopping everywhere from the West coast in California to the East in South Carolina and many more destinations. Nothing could exhaust her so much that she’d miss playing the Air Train Jazz Festival for her third year. Her strength translates through her performance, leading the group with powerful vocals, saxophone and flute. She is a versatile, self-made artist—boasting four albums with a fifth on the way—and is an example for women especially, and men alike. Our World on Sutphin was lucky to get an interview with this inspiring musician.
At the very beginning, in grade school, Paula Atherton aspired to play drums, however her superiors warned that “little girls don’t play drums, they like to play flute.” So she went with the flow, learning to play flute and working on her vocals. As a teenager she found her niche in jazz. Growing up, her peers were mostly interested in playing rock music. Though she liked rock, she couldn’t find a place in that genre for her voice and talent for wind instruments. When she started studying jazz, she realized that it was a genre her talents could fit into. However, she felt the need for an instrument that had more colors than the flute if she wanted to play jazz. That’s when she picked up the saxophone. It was an obvious choice, as the saxophone and flute are in the same family and have similar fingerings. In jazz music, improvisation is a huge factor. Since Paula took interest in singing early on, she studied with a proper vocal teacher for a long time and learned the art of improvisation. She would sing along with Billy Holiday and study the solos performed by Johnny Parker, Lester Young, and Roy Eldridge. Practicing the styles of these artists really helped get the art of improvisation ingrained into her brain. Listening to these sounds showed her the pattern of where a solo can go. She also sees an importance in learning the technical side of music—knowing the notes in a chord, and comparing what one note might sound like against another chord. When watching a professional musician improvise it may seem like an act of pure passion, but it’s easy to forget that there is theory behind that impromptu creation. Paula puts it best when she describes improvisation as “the marriage of the creative and the technical.” Though many talented artists have learned to play by ear, Paula’s understanding of music is that it can be better to know exactly what it is that you’re doing. It’s especially important to have that knowledge when you’re a woman. Too often, she’s noticed how people will pre-judge female musicians, assuming they won’t perform as well. “That [knowledge] is your confidence,” Paula explains, “Knowledge is power.” An artist can have a lot more sway in their profession when they have the technical theory to back up their creative expression.
Paula has faced her fair share of hardships in life, like having to leave home and start working for herself at the age of 17 and dealing with her mother’s passing due to breast cancer. She has risen above it all and now has her music playing on the radio across the nation, and is even featured on the album “Girl Talk” by Holly Cole which climbed to the number two spot on Billboard. She has a degree in music therapy because she truly believes that music can heal. “Music is the key to world peace,” Paula declares, “people don’t have anything to live for, and if there was greater access to the arts and music, they might not be so focused on blowing people up.” It provides the outlet that people need to help distance themselves from their negative energies. Paula uses her music for therapy with Alzheimer’s patients and plays charities to raise money for good causes like cancer fundraising. She finds it very rewarding to see the impact her music can make, hearing fans express the way they can relate to her lyrics. It’s very important to Paula that she gives back to society, and she does so through her music.
If anyone is looking for advice on self-starting as a music artist, she is the perfect person to turn to. Her first two albums were self-made with a good distribution deal that got her music onto the shelves of popular retailers at the time like Tower and Best Buy. Finally she was getting noticed, and had her following albums signed on record labels with the assistance of her producer, guitar player, and husband Lou Gimenez, whom she met during one of her many gigs. Paula notes that sometimes it feels like you’re working so hard to put your music out there and nobody hears it or cares, but it’s important to have patience. When looking to sign her fourth album Ear Candy, an album drawing inspiration from Philly soul tunes from the 70’s, Lou reached out to Kalimba records. The next morning Lou received a call from the label asking him to send the album over right away; it turns out they had heard Paula’s preceding albums and were absolutely in love with her sound. It goes to show that sometimes the fourth, fifth, or even tenth time may be the charm. What’s important is to keep producing your best work. In order to do that, it’s crucial to find your own voice as an artist. Paula Atherton wrote her album Enjoy the Ride after going through a period that taught her to live in the moment and not be so focused on what tomorrow will bring. “All you got is right now,” she says, “Enjoy the process. The process is the whole thing.” Finding your voice as a musician isn’t done overnight; it can be a long process that takes years. In the end, the sound that an artist develops is as individual as the human fingerprint. Many musicians make their money by forming tribute bands. It’s certainly a craft to perfect another musician’s style, but Paula stresses the importance of establishing your fingerprint as an artist—especially if you want to make money producing original music.
Keep watch next January for Paula Atherton’s fifth album, Shake It, if you’re looking for some up-tempo, funky dance tunes. All of her music can be found on amazon, I-tunes, and Spotify. Also, check out her website http://paulaatherton.com to see her upcoming shows. Be sure you don’t miss the Air Train Jazz festival next Thursday from 5-7 to hear more jazz music from talented artists like Paula Atherton.