By Terelle Jerricks, Managing Editor
Many artists, who are practicing musicians, hold debts that are never paid off.
It’s why they pay dues to get to where they are. But what about a fan’s debt? It seems that all too frequently, fans, American ones particularly, walk away from that debt, causing artists to disappear from their consciousness.
That was my epiphany after talking to the producer of the “Peace Go With You, Gil” a celebratory tribute concert in honor of poet and spoken word artist, jazz musician, and cultural icon Gil Scott Heron at the Grand Performances. The concert is on July 20.
On this day, Rudnick intends for this show to reflect on Gil’s versatility and depth through music, spoken word (including his own original work of poetry), as well as a visual narrative projected onto a large screen.
To pull off this show, Rudnick brought on Heron’s closest collaborator, Brian Jackson who worked with Heron for 10 years after meeting in college. They produced notable albums such as Free Will (1972), Pieces of a Man (1973), and Winter in America (1974). Rudnick wanted to bring a number of others who have worked with Heron over the years, mainly from New York, but he wasn’t able to make scheduling and logistical issues work.
“We are delighted that Brian is on there and I think pretty much everyone else in the line up are incredible players and are huge fans of Gil and his work,” Rudnick said. We are all just really humbled to be able to just celebrate Gil in this way.”
Rudnick notes that though he doesn’t have superstar roster performing at Peace Go With You, Gil, and all of them are crazy-talented with a reputations spreading globally. And, that’s no exaggeration.
“LA right now is like what New York used to be in the early 1990s,” said Rudnick, noting the line up that is performing on July 20. “It’s not as obvious here as it is in New York, where the energy all around you,… The level of talent of musicians and artists in general, in LA and California, … is mind blowing.”
Among them is Los Angeles-based Miguel Atwood Ferguson, a multi-instrumentalist, DJ, arranger, composer, music director, producer and educator. He’s performed with hip hop duo Outkast, Rihanna, Christina Aguilera, John Legend and Kirk Franklin.
Dwight Trible, performs with his own group, the Dwight Trible Ensemble, but is also the vocalist with the Pharoah Sanders Quartet and vocal director for the Horace Tapscott Pan Afrikan Peoples’ Arkestra in Los Angeles.
Writer, songwriter and singer, Nia Andrews, has sang backup for artists such Lauryn Hill, Mary J Blige, Common and many other. She stepped out on her own as soloist in 2010 and has been making waves ever since.
Rich Medina dj, producer, and spoken word poet has been making club dance floors shake the world over from New York to Los Angeles, and from London to Tokyo. In addition to his own events, Rich has performed in front of crowds of thousands, DJing shows with artists like Lauryn Hill, De La Soul, Erykah Badu, Seun Kuti, Tony Allen, Nathan Haines, Roy Ayers, Gil Scott-Heron, The Roots, Jill Scott, Antibalas, Zap Mama, and Femi Kuti.
Even Gia Heron, daughter of the legendary spoken word artist, will be there. Though a product Gil Scott’s genes, Gia has been making her own way on her own terms making publishing poetry books and recording music.
“Twenty years later a lot of these young artists were inspired and still are inspired by these legends,” Rudnick said. “And companies like Giant Step help show how all the dots connect since 1988.”
Which brings me back to my original point about debt and dues paying and the importance of fans supporting their musical heroes. Giant Step was built by two music fans, Jonathan Rudnick, who grew up in South Africa and his former partner Maurice Bernstein, a native of England. They met in 1988 and discovered they shared a similar vision on how music should be presented and what people weren’t being celebrated (but should be) in New York at the time which was where were the funk and jazz heroes.
“We both grew up listening to all of these artists and there we were in this supposed music mecca of the world or rather jazz or rhythm and blues mecca and none of these artists were available or performing,” Rudnick explained.
“So on a purely naive-selfish in a good way reason, we were like there’s stuff being done in England, there’s stuff being done in France and Germany… and a lot of other places that have huge respect for American music. There’s something wrong here. Where are these artists?”
Rudnick found that these artists weren’t working regularly and if they were, they were doing it over seas. Rudnick and Bernstein essentially stepped into a vacuum and created a space and marketing machine that reintroduced the likes of Heron, Bootsie Collins, George Clinton, Roy Ayers, Maceo Parker, Isaac Hayes and The Ohio Players– artists that they revered as teenagers.
“It was just a matter of starting to make phone calls,” Rudnick explained. “Maurice had met with people working with Ted Wesley, Maceo Parker. And, so few people knew who they were as opposed to places like London, or Paris.
“The only way people knew any of these artist was through Kool and the Gang, The Roots, P-Funk, the whole hip hop generation only knew these artist as a sample in a song.”
Groove Academy was the first company or the first sort of identity that tried to bring back classic rock and R&B artists for a generation that grew up with live instruments. And sure enough, Gil was playing the drums, the piano, singing, poetry and again being celebrated much more in Europe than in the states.
For Rudnick, a show like Peace Go With You, Gil, is a process that came full circle.
“To be able to do stuff like Peace Go With You, Gil or that so many more hip hop bands work with live bands and vinyl is back at the fore. There’s much more understanding of where the music comes from and where it’s going,” Rudnick said.
At the end of the day everybody is involved because of Gil.