Interview: Camara Kambon, pianist and composer

Camara Kambon, pianist and composer, has performed for Jazz Pensacola both at our Jazz Jams and Jazz Gumbos. Many of our members and guests do not have knowledge or appreciation of the extent of his talents. Imagine jamming with jazz greats even before entering high school and winning an Emmy Award at age 23!

Camara Kambon—unusual name.  What’s the background?

Camara Kambon is an African name, full name Camara Yero Kambon, which, in Swahili translates as “teacher, warrior of the people.”  I guess you could say I definitely grew into my name.

Riff a bit about your schooling. I know your home was Baltimore and that you were enrolled in Peabody while in high school.  How did that work? How did you get to Berklee?

I was born in Northwest Baltimore. From an early age, my education was twofold, attending one school for academics and another for music. My studies at the Peabody Preparatory of Johns Hopkins University began at age 10. Although my high school years started at St. Paul’s School for Boys, I transferred in my junior year, accepting a scholarship and graduated from Friends School and Peabody with honors in both musicianship and classical/jazz piano. I received several scholarships to subsidize my academic and musical studies, namely the Eubie Blake Scholarship. 

Besides piano, what instruments are you proficient on?

Piano is my main instrument, but I am also a percussionist.

Were you in a band or other musical group during youth and schooling?  Riff a bit about Berklee, inspiration, drawbacks, your fellow music students.

I was in my first band at age 6, playing at local fairs, skating rinks, etc. around Baltimore. At age 11, I performed with several musicians, Dizzy Gillespie, Gary Bartz, Greg Thomas, Max Roach, as well as local musicians, but I performed as a soloists more during my grade school years. Ever since being introduced to Berklee as the alma mater of many of my musical heroes, I was convinced I’d also attend one day.  In fact, when it came time to apply for colleges, although I’d visited several, I only applied to Berklee. I was the recipient of the Jesse Stone Scholarship, sponsored by Atlantic Records and funded my schooling by composing music for documentaries.

How did you get started in working for films, composing?

I’d been composing music since I was 5 years old. I attended Peabody for musicianship, theory and performance. During the summers in my middle school years, I attended The Walden School for Young Composer’s camp, which was a wonderful platform introducing me to the music of Roger Fripp, Brian Eno, John Cage, Penderecki, George Crumb, Steve Reich, Keith Jarrett, Pat Metheny, and the list goes on. My first experience writing for TV was on the NBC TV hits, “The Cosby Show” and “Living Single,” starring Queen Latifah, while I was a high school student. After moving to Boston to attend Berklee, I began writing music for documentaries.  

Give a couple of examples of your work with films/composing. For example- one really challenging project and another which is more routine—just busy-work.

In the fall of my senior year in college, I was contacted by HBO Sports, after producers heard my score for the Emmy-winning PBS documentary, “Malcolm X: Make it Plain,” to compose the score for a film entitled, “Sonny Liston: The Mysterious Life of a Champion.” I composed this score while completing my last year in college, so life was quite hectic between senior projects and deadlines. I would later receive an Emmy Award for this score, becoming the youngest composer to have received a national Emmy Award at age 23.

After moving to Los Angeles, I’d always questioned how to embark on my career as a film composer. Although I had credits on my resumé, I didn’t have the credits needed to turn heads, so I hoped I would cross paths with someone who recognized my potential and acknowledge my track record as proof of reliability and ability to deliver. That opportunity came when Oliver Stone was producing and directing his film, “Any Given Sunday,” starring Al Pacino, Jamie Foxx, LL Cool J, Dennis Quaid, Cameron Diaz, James Woods and many others. It was during a conversation with Oliver that he expressed the importance of “living” because of its influence on how the artist expresses himself.  This was a concept I would hold onto as I maneuvered my way through the business.  Oliver is known for adopting a process that is extremely unpredictable, playing off of the daily interactions of creative minds. During this project there was a composer cattle call in a sense, and each composer had to prove his value through the work he produced. Composers were eliminated left and right. Attending screenings was a bit uneasy, never sure if my music was still in the film, constantly uncertain whether it had “made the cut” just like a football player in a game. I realized Oliver’s process was conceptual and applied to every aspect of his filmmaking. Nevertheless, I kept producing music, never knowing if it was “right” or “wrong.” Oliver was really excited about Macy Gray at the time (she was also an acquaintance of mine), so I pitched the idea of bringing her on to write a song for the film.  So, I co-wrote and produced a song for the film entitled, “Dinosaur.” At the end of it all, there were five composers credited in the film and I was one of them. It was such a liberating feeling to see my name on the silver screen of a studio film. When working with such a filmmaking genius, people will always have varying experiences with Oliver Stone, but I can truly say, mine was awesome. Although the process was ambiguous at times, Oliver was never wishy washy about whether something was working or not. It either was or wasn’t so there weren’t any gray areas with his opinion. So, I knew where I stood in all the ambiguity that defined my experience. This approach of brutal honesty allowed me to present not what I thought Oliver was expecting, but what I thought was best to give him. This was an experience I will treasure for a lifetime.

How did you get to Pensacola? Your statement:  Now I can work anywhere.  So tell me about that and how you spend your time at Pensacola Beach.

Ironically, my work as a film composer actually brought me to the Pensacola area. And the fact that I can perform my work and have since the beginning of my career makes it easy to work anywhere. As technology has developed, it’s also made the ability for film composers to create on-the-go just as easily as in a home studio. This also gives the composer the chance to experience different environments during a process that can be very insular and isolating at times. 

Remembering Laurindo Almeida, a musical giant

September 2, 1917, was the birthdate of jazz and classical guitarist Laurindo Almeida. So, on the occasion of his birth, it is appropriate to share some wonderful personal recollections. As a jazz fan and amateur guitarist, I was familiar with some of Laurindo’s recordings on Capitol and Concord Jazz.

Laurindo Almeida with Harvey Etheridge at the Pensacola JazzFest, 1985. Photo by Norman Vickers

The first Pensacola JazzFest was held in spring of 1983 and was held under the auspices of the Pensacola Arts Council with radio station WUWF-FM and newly formed Jazz Society of Pensacola. Our only out-of- town jazz artist was guitarist Chuck Wayne, who was playing his last year with pianist/ composer George Shearing’s Quintet. The rest of the performers were local professional and amateur jazz musicians and local high school and college jazz bands.

Laurindo Almeida. Photo by Norman Vickers

For the second year, the Arts Council Committee elected to bring Chuck Wayne back and to invite harmonica/guitarist Jean “Toots” Thielemans and classical/jazz guitarist Laurindo Almeida. I was designated the contact person for both Thielemans and Almeida. The committee was working on a tight budget so our artist budget was necessarily small. I called Thielemans and Almeida, introduced myself and asked if they’d be interested in coming to our young festival for the relatively small fee which we were able to offer. Both answered in the affirmative. It was a wonderful festival. When Wayne or Toots was the leader, he’d invite the other one as a guest and the fact that Toots was also a chromatic harmonica player, it didn’t seem that we had too many guitarists. Laurindo played from charts, usually with a drummer and bassist, so we used our local artists, drummer Jim Servies and string bassist Harvey Etheridge, as Almeida’s back-up musicians.

Laurindo and I became friends and over the years he returned to Pensacola three more times to perform for the Jazz Society and, during those visits, performed at St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church for two special concerts. I visited in his home a couple of times in Northridge overlooking the San Fernando Valley. My last visit to his home was Labor Day weekend 1994. His home had been damaged by the previous earthquake and, because he had foresight to have appropriate insurance, he was living in another home while his was under repair. The earthquake had damaged his five Grammy awards and he’d just gotten replacements from the academy — much larger and elegant than the original awards. I encouraged him to take one out of the case so we could photograph him with it.

Laurindo Almeida. Photo by Norman Vickers

Laurindo performed music behind the opening scene in Clint Eastwood’s western movie, “Unforgiven.” The reviews of the movie were mixed in that there was considerable violence. However, because Laurindo told me that he’d done the long guitar theme, I attended the movie. That opening pastoral scene was lovely — horses, blooming meadow in a Canadian spring and the classical guitar piece was appropriately beautiful. However, in watching the movie credits, Laurindo’s name didn’t appear. I later mentioned it to Laurindo and he replied: “Yes, Eastwood requested that I play for that scene, walked through while I was recording and gave me a ‘thumbs up,’ and then sent me a BIG check!”

He succumbed to a malignancy July 26, 1995, at age 77 but he was teaching, recording and performing until a week before his death. Laurindo’s archives are at the U. S. Library of Congress. He had composed more than 1,000 separate pieces including 200 popular songs. His legacy lives on in recordings and music books. Any piece he recorded, he published the score for sale. There are also multiple YouTube offerings that I encourage you to sample.

CD Review: ‘Nothin’ But Love,’ Kathy Lyon

Pensacola jazz activist and vocalist has just recorded a CD entitled “Nothin’ But Love — featuring Houston Person.” This was recorded in April 2019 in studios in Teaneck, N.J.

Kathy tells us that tenor saxophonist Houston Person was helpful in getting this project to completion. Her other artists include pianist Lafayette Harris, Jr., guitarist Peter Hand, bassist Matthew Parrish and drummer Vince Ector.

Kathy is featured on all 12 numbers but all the musicians all have their opportunity in the musical spotlights. Veteran saxophonist Person, of course, is strongly featured. All the tunes likely will be familiar to even the casual jazz listener. Kathy’s vocalizing will be familiar to Pensacola jazz fans, of course. But for those who are not, she delivers the vocals in a precise, delicate and melodic way. Some of the selections: I Remember You; Come Rain or Come Shine; Good Morning Heartache and Everything Happens to Me.

Kathy will be a featured performer at the Roswell, N.M., Jazz Festival Thursday-Sunday Nov. 17-20. And I understand that she is to be a featured performer on a Jazz Cruise later in the year.

For Kathy’s local schedule, see her website KathyLyonMusic.com. There, one may sign up for notification for her upcoming engagements. Kathy appears locally approximately monthly at the Seville Quarter Sunday brunch. To purchase a CD, contact Kathy through her website or directly at her gigs. This CD soon will be available for check-out at the Jazz Room in downtown West Florida Public Library. A previous CD of Kathy’s, “Here’s to Life,” already is in the collection.

CD Review: ‘Keep Talkin’,’ Yoko Miwa Trio

YOKO MIWA TRIO
KEEP TALKIN’
Ocean Blue Tear Music—www.yokomiwa.com

This is the eighth album Ms. Miwa has recorded as leader. It is in standard piano trio format with Yoko on piano, and husband drummer Scott Goulding and bassist Will Slater on all tracks except Brad Barrett on final track. It is a lovely mix of 11 tunes, more than one hour of delightful music—with about half original tunes and the rest by Monk, Mingus, Lennon & McCartney, Marcelo Camelo and Joni Mitchell.

At least some readers will be, like me, unfamiliar with Ms. Miwa’s background; perhaps a brief biographical sketch is in order. She was born in Kobe, Japan and was classically trained on piano. Her interest in jazz was initiated when she studied with Minoru Ozone, late keyboardist, educator-club owner and father of pianist Makoto Ozone. She subsequently enrolled in Koyo Conservatory of Music, a Berklee affiliate school. She later auditioned for a scholarship to Berklee. To her surprise, she won it! On moving to Boston, she met and married her classmate, drummer Scott Goulding.

The tunes selected are varied in tempo and quality but are always listenable. It is apparent that this group has worked together harmoniously for some time as each performer contributes to the quality of the whole.

One mild drawback, from this reviewer’s viewpoint, is the lack of extensive liner notes. This, I believe, would enhance the appreciation for this excellent CD. There are, however, good examples of her work on YouTube and a bio on the internet. It is recommended that the reader sample some of Ms. Miwa’s work on the internet.

Song list:
Keep Talkin’–Yoko Miwa
In Walked Bud—Thelonious Monk
Secret Rendezvous—Yoko Miwa
Sunset Lane—Yoko Miwa
Boogie Stop Shuffle—Charles Mingus
Golden Slumbers/ You Never Give Me Your Money—John Lennon & Paul McCartney
Tone Portrait—Yoko Miwa
Casa Pre-Fabricada—Marcelo Camelo
Conversation—Joni Mitchell
If You’re Blue—Yoko Miwa
Sunshine Follows the Rain—Yoko Miwa

Pensacola residents will find this recording at the Jazz Room of the downtown West Florida Public Library.

Book Review: ‘Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond,’ Doug Ramsey

Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond
By Doug Ramsey with foreword by Dave and Iola Brubeck
Parkside Publications, Inc. Seattle

There was a sign in our hospital medical library which read: “Any book is new until you’ve read it.”

Certainly this can also apply to Doug Ramsey’s elegant biography of saxophonist Paul Desmond (11-25-1924 to May 30, 1977). The book has been out of print for several years and I obtained my copy through interlibrary loan. It is an oversized book, clothbound at 10” x 11”. The paper is high-quality and the photographic illustrations, some two pages, are equally elegant.

Ramsey and Desmond were friends for a long period. After Desmond died, the editor of Parkside Publications sought out Ramsey and persuaded him to write the book. Ramsey has a musical background and was a writer, so it was a fortuitous fit.

The book details how Desmond was only child whose father was a musician-composer in the San Francisco area. His mother had some psychological issues such that Paul was sent off to live with relatives from elementary school age until his late teens. His father suggested that he switch from violin to clarinet. Then it was a logical move to alto saxophone.

Of course, the author goes into detail about Desmond’s long association with Dave Brubeck and family. Most readers likely are familiar with that musical combination and recordings.

Lesser known, however, are the personal traits of Desmond. Whereas, Brubeck was a dedicated family man, Desmond was a very private person. There was an early marriage for Desmond but for various reasons, it didn’t work out. There were no children by that marriage and long thereafter Desmond was the man-about-town with multiple romances, some serious and some extremely casual. In this area, Desmond was a private person. For example, many of his acquaintances never knew that he’d been previously married.

Desmond made the move from the San Francisco area to New York where he spent his remaining years. He enjoyed his friendships with both musicians and writers, sometimes telling casual acquaintances that he was a writer. And, in fact, he was a prolific correspondent, carrying his Olivetti portable typewriter with him even on his foreign trips. There are several photos of Desmond in Europe carrying the portable typewriter case.

There was a period of time when Desmond left Brubeck and performed with small groups. Interestingly, usually these were with guitarists—notably Jim Hall and Canadian Ed Bickert.

Desmond was a heavy smoker, several packs a day, as well as a drinker who could play well while “in his cups.” Lung cancer accounted for his decline and death at age 52.

Although this book is out of print, there are occasionally copies available in the used book ads, some priced at $100 or more. I read that the electronic version is available for around $15.

Thanks to Parkside Publications and author Dave Ramsey for this “labor of love.”

Dave Bartholomew, New Orleans Trumpeter-Composer-Arranger, dies at 100

Likely Dave Bartholomew will be remembered by most as the composer of the song Blueberry Hill (1956), which Fats Domino made famous.

He was born in Edgard, Louisiana, and his parents later moved to New Orleans where he took music lessons from Peter Davis who had also tutored Louis Armstrong. As a teenager Dave was performing with various bands in New Orleans.

In 1949, he co-wrote The Fat Man with Fats Domino in 1949. His first hit was Country Boy in 1950. He was associated with various record companies — Trumpet, Mercury, Liberty — and his own record company, Broadmoor in 1967.

In addition to Domino, his compositions have been recorded by Elvis Presley, Pat Boone, Ricky Nelson and others.

Bartholomew died of heart failure at age 100 at East Jefferson Hospital in Metairie, La., on June 23, 2019.

From left, trumpeters Nicholas Payton, Doc Cheatham and Dave Bartholomew at the Louis Armstrong memorial stamp release party, New Orleans, 1995. Photos by Norman Vickers

My only encounter with Bartholomew was in 1995 for the memorial stamp release of the Louis Armstrong stamp. After the ceremony, there was a celebration at the Blue Room of the Roosevelt Hotel in downtown New Orleans. Three trumpeters performed that night — Bartholomew, Doc Cheatham and a much younger Nicholas Payton.