Sunday, April 15, 2007

Interview: Jeffrey Winston and World Stage Stories

Jazz musicians Dizzy Gillispie, John Coltrane, Billy Higgins and others are displayed from wall to wall at this historic landmark, "The World Stage".

Musically speaking, jazz exemplifies short stories. Character roles interchange rhythmically through the saxophone, piano, drums, bass, and other instruments - evoking listeners to the exclusive autonomy of improvisational text. I sat through this musical journey recently, closing my eyes as notes and then chords were taken to further degrees of complexity, orchestrating an exchange beyond what most would consider conceivable. While caught up in this experience, I felt a tap on my shoulder. Opening my eyes, a tall and distinguished gentleman stood above me smiling. It was Jeffrey Winston producer of the "World Stage Stories".

Daood: Hello, Mr. Winston. Can you share with our readers the origin of World Stage Stories?

Jeffrey Winston: About three years ago, Clint Rosemond, the Executive Director of the World Stage approached me with an idea that he had in mind. We met and designed a format that would document the evolution of jazz from its inception through the various eras such as ragtime, swing, bebop and avant garde, etc. Our intent is to chronicle the careers of some of the innovators who were so influential in this genre's development.

Typically, we have allowed others to define, dilute and distort our art. We must become and remain the gatekeepers of our own culture. Jazz is truly universal but its early roots are derived from blues and gospel music. It transcends mere entertainment because it poignantly speaks to our ongoing struggle for dignity and freedom.

My close colleague and fellow producer, Chet Hanley has played a vital role in World Stage Stories because he shares the same passion for this project. Chet hosts, Jazz in the Modern Era, a weekly show on Channel 36. We are all trying to reach our youth, so they can fully appreciate this indigenous art form and the masters who create it. This is our way of honoring the legacy of Billy Higgins, who along with poet and activist Kamau Dáaóod, founded the World Stage in the early eighties.

Daood: Provide for us some of the artists you've had the pleasure of interviewing?

Jeffrey Winston: In 2004, we began with the legendary bassist Al McKibbon.

We have completed over three dozen interviews since then, including the likes of Gerald Wilson, Buddy Collette, Fayard Nicholas, Clora Bryant, Howard Rumsey, John Heard, Oscar Brashear, John Levy, Charles Owens, Nate Morgan, Henry Franklin, Herman Leonard, Tootie Heath, Justo Almario and Bennie Maupin, among others. The artists reveal their unique journeys, in their own words, before they field questions from the audience. The evening culminates with a brief clinic, solo or interactive demonstration.

Daood: As a young man growing up what was your introduction to Jazz?

Jeffrey Winston: At the tender age of four, my father used to play Lionel Hampton's classic rendition of Stardust on an old Webcor reel-to-reel tape recorder. It was a live session that was produced by Gene Norman at Pasadena's Civic Auditorium in 1947. It featured Charlie Shavers, Slam Stewart, Willie Smith, Barney Kessel and a few others. My dad was even there that night.

Obviously, I was too young to fully appreciate the music but the seed had already been planted, so I've been hooked ever since. Later, during the late fifties and early sixties, I listened to Jai Rich, Chuck Niles and Rick Holmes on KBCA. Radio was the real deal, back then. At the University of Washington, I became a teaching assistant for Joe Brazil's jazz history class. Joe was an alto saxophonist out of Detroit who was a tireless advocate for jazz in the Seattle area.

Daood: How significant is World Stage Stories to the overall objectives of the World Stage?

Jeffrey Winston: An oral history series of this nature is ideal because we firmly believe that our heritage should be properly preserved. It is imperative that children, older youth and adults alike, raise their level of awareness. This format provides a vehicle for doing so. Such an intimate setting is conducive to establishing a genuine rapport between the artists and a captive audience. The project is very consistent with the original vision of Billy Higgins.

Daood: Currently, What artists are scheduled to appear during World Stage Stories?

Jeffrey Winston: We've been producing this series for three years. The response has been overwhelming. I want to thank both the village in Leimert Park as well as the greater community for their support. Diverse audiences have also come from throughout Southern California. We present twelve interviews every year. Our Spring Series will begin on March 30th with tenor man Azar Lawrence. I've also booked Playboy Jazz Festival Producer Darlene Chan, bassists James Leary and Louie Spears as well as drummer Donald Dean. For a modest $10.00 donation, folks have a rare opportunity to rub elbows with and hear world-class musicians.

Daood: After many years of listening to legends such as Miles Davis, have today's jazz musicians remained truthful to the art form?

Jeffrey Winston: In my opinion, not enough of the new players have paid homage to the masters. There are obviously some exceptions such as Edwin Livingston, Lorca Hart, Ryan Cross, Willie Jones III, Richard Grant, Derrick Finch, Tony Austin and Isaac Smith. They are poised to take the baton. Innovators like Bird, Dizzy, Max Roach, Miles, Trane, Sonny Rollins, Mingus and scores of others were uncompromising as they pushed the boundaries to lofty plateaus. Many sacrificed dearly to remain true to their craft. A few have enjoyed lucrative careers in the studios while others had to sell CDs out of the trunk of their cars because they didn't get adequate promotion or distribution. A lot of cats are forced to take day jobs just to survive and support their families. America does not value its artists unless their work has commercial value. Conversely, Europe and Japan have always displayed integrity and a genuine respect for jazz.

Daood: Thanks for answering the questions and I look forward to attending the next segment of World Stage Stories.

Jeffrey Winston: Please come as my guest. It's been a real pleasure, thank you.

For more information about the World Stage and the World Stage Series, visit

-Daood, Contributing Writer

No comments: