Friday, March 31, 2017
6:00pm - 7:30pm
Photo: Bob Hsiang
Hitomi Oba, tenor saxophone • Natalie Cressman, trombone • Jon Jang, piano • Gary Brown, double bass • Deszon X. Claiborne, multiple percussion
More Motherless Children
Excerpt from Can’t Stop Cryin’ for America
Prayer for Melvin Truss
An Offering to Sandra Bland
Meditations on Integration
The Ballad of the Great Wall
Liu Shie-Un/Francis Wong
Flower Drum Song
Yank Sing Work Song
Butterfly Lovers Song
Chen Gang/He Zhan Hao/Jon Jang
More Motherless Children is one of the excerpts from Can’t Stop Cryin’ for America, a work in progress by Jon Jang that will premiere on June 18 at SFJAZZ Center during the 30th Anniversary of Asian Improv aRts in 2017-2018 season. Can’t Stop Cryin’ for America pays tribute to the Black Lives Matter Movement based on my initial response to the one year of legal lynching of black people by white police officers and a white supremacist that began with Eric Garner in July 2014 and ended with Sandra Bland July 2015. Other black victims include John Crawford III, Michael Brown, Laquan McDonald, Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray, 9 black victims in Charleston, South Carolina.
Specific to More Motherless Children, this is a work that memorializes the 9 black victims who were murdered during their Bible study session at their church by a young white supremacist young man in Charleston, South Carolina. Because 6 black victims were women and some mothers and grandmothers, the work is based on the black spiritual Sometimes I Feel like a Motherless Child. The theme, Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child pays tribute to two important black mentors in my life: the great Max Roach (1924-2007) and Professor Wendell Logan (1940-2010), who served as the chair of the Afro-American Music Department at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music for over 35 years.
In 1971, Max Roach recorded Motherless Child (dedicated to Marcus Garvey) that was based on the aforementioned black spiritual. Dr. Wendell Logan argued against white American musicologist George Pullin Jackson who believed black spirituals are based on white hymns. Dr. Logan refuted Jackson’s statement by offering the example of Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child. The Motherless Child theme changes from a different tone of sorrow to a celebration of coping and survival at a faster tempo applying the compositional technique of John Coltrane’s use of whole tone scale substitution for minor chord progression in George Gershwin’s Summertime that Coltrane recorded in 1960.
Prayer for Melvin Truss is the first recorded composition by Francis Wong that was on the Jon Jang’s The Ballad or the Bullet?, the first recording on Asian Improv Records co-founded by Francis Wong and Jon Jang in 1987. The work is in reference to the legal lynching of 17 year old black teenager Melvin Truss by a white undercover police officer in San Jose in May 1985.
The composition opens with the bass figure of ascending 5ths that was inspired by Benny Maupin’s composition, Neophilia, recorded on Lee Morgan’s Live at the Lighthouse. In contrast to the ascending 5ths bass figures (C-G-Eb-Bb), the tenor saxophone figures (G-F-Eb) descends stepwise. While the tenor saxophone performs a mournful melody, the double bass suggests a journey or process of coping and hope with the ascending 5ths. The fundamental design of Prayer for Melvin Truss has three parts: Part 1. Prayer Part 2: Passing. Part 3: Pursuance. It bears resemblance to Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln’s Triptych: Prayer, Protest Peace, from We Insist! Freedom Now Suite, a recording by Max Roach in 1960. Prayer for Melvin Truss is a tone poem that can be reimagined as a musical example of the Sisyphus Syndrome, a phrase coined by W.E.B. Du Bois to describe the “upward” (ascending 5ths in the bass) and “downward” (descending steps in the saxophone)’ motion of struggle of black people in United State.
During the making of Prayer for Melvin Truss, I suggested to the composer Francis Wong the musical idea of adding a section that would feature Eddie Moore on multiple percussion, to pay tribute to multiple percussionist Max Roach, one of my black mentors who named one of his recordings, Chattahoochee Red, in reference to the more than 20 dead black teenage male victims found near the Chattahoochee River in Atlanta, Georgia.
An Offering to Sandra Bland is a new work by Hitomi Oba
Meditations on Integration, a multi movement tone poem by Charles Mingus, made its official premiere at Town Hall in New York during a benefit concert for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1964. Before performing the work, Mingus presented a spoken introduction:
“Eric Dolphy (multi woodwind performer in Mingus’ ensemble) explained to me that there was something similar to the concentration camps once in Germany now down South … and the only difference between the barbed wire is that they don’t have gas chambers and stoves to cook us in yet. So I wrote a piece called Meditations, as to how to get some wire cutters before someone else gets some guns to us.”
According to Jaki Byard (pianist in Mingus’ ensemble), “That depicted his (Mingus) feelings for the 60s, what was happening then and what happened previously … He used to talk about slave ships … and you had to play something to depict the relationship between the struggle and the slaves.
The Ballad of the Great Wall composed by Liu Shie-Un is originally the theme song from Guanshan Wanli (Thousand Miles of Mountains and Forts), a film made in China in 1937. The film tells a story about how a Chinese folk song reunited a father and his daughter separated by war. Francis Wong’s arrangement places this Chinese song simultaneously with a bass figure informed by Pharoah Sanders music during the earl 1970s.
Flower Drum Song (Fengyang Hua Gu) has been considered among the most well known Chinese traditional songs that originated from the Anhui Province, an area in east-central China known for its long history of poverty during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 A.D.). The Flower Drum Song featured a husband and wife duo that “begged” and earned money by performing the Flower Drum Song and dance. The husband also provided accompaniment on a small “flower” drum and the wife on gong. Similar to the African American game of the “dozens,” the song featured a playful exchange of insults.
During the early 1930s, the communist party recontextualized the Flower Drum Song into a music theatre work called Lay Down Your Whip (Fangxia nide bianzi) to recruit illiterate peasants in the rural areas. On March 15, 1945, highly prominent film actress Wang Ying, who joined the Communist Party in Shanghai in 1930, and her troupe were invited to perform Lay Down Your Whip (Fangxia nide bianzi) at the White House during the final weeks of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s life (1882-1945).
When I was five years old in Los Angeles in 1959, I first heard this song on the classic 1941 recording, Chee Lai! Songs of New China, featuring the collaboration of the great singer Paul Robeson and Liu Liang Mo and his Chinese choir. A couple of years later in 1961, my family and I gathered around the television set with excited anticipation to view the Hollywood film version of Flower Drum Song which was based on Rodgers & Hammerstein musical. Flower Drum Song was based on the dramatic adaptation of an American English language novel by Yale M.F.A. graduate CY Lee who was almost forced “to go back to China” before he landed a job writing articles for a Chinese language newspaper in San Francisco Chinatown. Thirty years later after Flower Drum Song, the next major motion picture film about Chinese American life was Wayne Wang’s Joy Luck Club (1993), based again on an American mainstream novel.
Commissioned by the San Francisco Friends of Chamber Music in 2016, Yank Sing Work Song composed by Jon Jang pays tribute to Chinese immigrant workers and social justice activists who a 4 million dollar settlement victory in November 2014. The work is based on Shuangsheng hen (Double Voicing of Bitterness), a plaintive Cantonese melody featuring the fa and ti notes.
Butterfly Lovers Song (The Legend of Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai) is one of the most popular legends and music from China. The Legend of Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai takes place at a school in Hangzhou during the Eastern Jin Dynasty (317-420 AD). Long before Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, The Legend of Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai is about two young star-crossed lovers who fall in love, then separate because of the arranged marriage customs, die of tragic circumstances and then return to life as butterflies.
The primary musical theme of “The meeting of the two lovers, is associated with the “Butterfly Lovers” Concerto for Violin and Orchestra composed by Chen Gang and He Zhan Hao in 1958. However, the traditional melody originated from the work, Liang Zhu, created and performed by the Shaoxing Opera from the Zhejiang Province. The Shaoxing Opera is the first all-women company which came to Shanghai in 1923. For many centuries, only men were allowed to perform the women roles in Chinese opera. Ironically speaking, Zhu Yingtai, who is the female lover from Shangyu, Zhejiang Province in the legend, disguised herself as a man because women were not allowed to study at school.
When I was an “artist in residence” for the Chinese Progressive Association (CPA) in San Francisco Chinatown in 1988, I discovered the Butterfly Lovers Song. During the 1980s, Jesse Jackson became the first presidential candidate to speak in San Francisco Chinatown and he often supported many issues and concerns that were specific to the Chinese of America. One time, Francis Wong and I were asked to perform Cannonball Adderley’s version of Josef Zawinul’s Country Preacher because it represented an anthem that pays tribute to Jesse Jackson that dates back to the Operation Breadbasket gathering event in 1969. Around the same time, longtime CPA leader Mabel Teng requested that I learn to perform Butterfly Lovers Song for the CPA anniversary banquet. The birth of my interpretation of Butterfly Lovers Song is based on the merger of Chen Gang and He Zhan Hao’s Butterfly Lovers Song with Cannonball Adderley’s Country Preacher.
Jon Jang wishes to thank the San Francisco Friends of Chamber Music and all of you for joining him in this special celebration of the 30th Anniversary of Asian Improv Arts founded by Francis Wong and Jon Jang.
Trombonist Jeff Cressman was a member of Jon Jang & the Pan Asian Arkestra (1988-1994) and a featured soloist on Never Give Up!, the 7th recording on Asian Improv. Tonight Jeff Cressman’s daughter Natalie is performing for the first time with Jon Jang