As people begin considering ways to honor that special lady in their lives, SkyDiamond Productions presents the “Bridging the Gap” Mother’s Day Show,” taking place May 12 from 7 p.m. to 12 a.m. at Penn’s Landing Caterers, Washington Avenue and Columbus Boulevard.
Hosted by 1360 AM radio personality King Arthur, also of Cruisin’ 92.1 FM, the show features The Delfonics Review with William “Poogie” Hart, Phyllies Intruders and The Destinations.
These esteemed veterans have made music history with hits such as “La La Means I Love You,” “Didn’t I Blow Your Mind This Time?” “Somebody Loves You,” “Cowboys to Girls” and “I’ll Always Love My Mama,” and hoping to add to Philadelphia’s musical legacy will be 16-year-old Rabiyah, an up-and-coming jazz/R&B artist who cites Phyllis Hyman and Dianne Reeves as her chief influences.
Now causing quite a stir in venues throughout the city, Rabiyah, who is currently a junior at the Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts (CAPA), began her young career as a student of Sherry Butler at the Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz, and made a serious commitment to the idiom after seeing Dianne Reeves in concert.
“I just like that jazz is so laid back and calm. Everybody calls me an ‘old soul,’” Rabiyah said during a recent visit to the Philadelphia Tribune. “I’ve been doing a little Philly Sound and some R&B, but it still mixes with jazz — not that I force it to. Like, I’ll do an R&B song and it still has some jazz themes to it.”
At the upcoming Mother’s Day concert, Rabiyah will be performing with a 7-piece band featuring Robert Kenyatta (percussion); Dave Lacour (guitar); Kem Pedro (drums); Immanuel Wilkin (saxophone); James Cooper (bass); Kendrah Butler (piano) and Zoe Hillengas (flute), and her set will include familiar songs such as “Better Days” and “Is It the Way?” as well as an original composition titled “Driven.” However, she is particularly captivated by the life and music of the late Phyllis Hyman.
“I’m doing ‘Meet Me on the Moon,’” Rabiyah said. “I feel like when she sings, I feel what she’s talking about, and her story. After I learned about her life, I feel like she brings everything that she’s feeling, and she makes the audience feel the song.”
Between her schedule at CAPA and her professional engagements, Rabiyah maintains a busy schedule. However, her grandfather, Wali Hamid, who has been guiding his granddaughter’s artistic path since she was 11 years old, said that a recording contract may be in Rabiyah’s future, but her education is top priority. The polite, soft-spoken singer is interested in entertainment law and hopes to attend the University of Pennsylvania or Howard University.
“I actually want her to go to college and do her thing, and there will be something on the business end waiting for her,” Hamid said. “Whatever she wants to do after she comes out of there, it’s all right, but right now, she’s into the music, and this is what she wants to do. As long as she does it, I’ll be there. If she says, ‘Grandpop, let’s give it up,’ I’ll give it up. It’s that simple.”
As Rabiyah hones her craft in the hopes of perpetuating Philly’s tradition of creative and artistic excellence, she believes that music continues to be a unifying force in the City of Brotherly Love
“It is a Mother’s Day show and the main concept is ‘Bridging the Gap,’ so we have young artists and older artists. That’s our main idea, bringing people together,” she said.
For tickets and information call (267) 984-0340 or (215) 829-1600.
Yesseh Furaha-Ali, a 16-year-old jazz saxophonist, is spending his summer at the Berklee College of Music Performance Program on July 7 through August 10. During this prestigious five-week program, Yesseh will study under Berklee percussion professor, Terri Lyne Carrington, who has toured for more than 20 years with Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock and Dianne Reeves. Carrington was also the house musician for the Arsenio Hall Show, Quincy Jones late night TV show and VIBE hosted by Sinbad.
Recommended by his teacher, Lovett Hines of the Philadelphia Clef Club, Yesseh was accepted to play with other young musicians from across the country and from 70 countries around the world. He will also have the opportunity to audition for the approximately $3.5 million in scholarships that are awarded to the five-week students.
“We have a partnership with Berklee,” Hines said. “Each year there is a search from all the partners around the country to recommend students who are persistent in our program, shown a steady growth and development and have strong improvisation skills. Yesseh met all those criteria. He takes lessons here on a steady basis, he’s a part of our ensemble program and over the years he has developed.”
The summer program—which is in its 26th year—offers a comprehensive study of performance in jazz, pop/rock, funk/fusion and pop/R&B instrumental and vocal styles.
“I just want to learn how to be more independent,” Yesseh said. “I want to know the business of music. And as a person who wants to pursue music as a career, I want to know how it will take me even father in my career.
Yesseh is a 2012 recipient of the Young Artist Study-Grant Program—which is a partnership of The University of the Arts and The Marian Anderson Award. In May, he was selected for membership to The National Society of High School Scholars.
His musical interests began at home. While his mother jammed to the large collection of jazz tunes in the house, his father played the djembe drum, flute and harmonica, and his siblings participated in the school band playing drums and other woodwind instruments.
“All the musicians I knew, I introduced him to,” Nashid Furaha-Ali, Yesseh’s father said. “He’s been around music all his young life.”
“My first influence was jazz,” Yesseh said. “The first jazz recording I listened to my father hooked me onto it. John Coltrane’s ‘Love Supreme.’ ”
As the youngest of seven children, Yesseh is an avid jazz enthusiast. He said his favorite musicians include Coltrane, Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, Benny Webster, Dexter Gordan, Sunny Stit, Sunny Rollins, Charlie Parker and Cannonball Adleigh.
“I used to listen to a lot of Ray Charles when I was little,” Yesseh said. “And what really got me playing the saxophone was that I saw the movie ‘Ray’. I saw the saxophone playing. I thought it was a beautiful instrument to play. I thought that sound was really mellow.”
At eight-years-old, Yeseeh picked up one of his brother’s saxophones and began playing. Now as an 11th-grader at Upper Darby High School, Yesseh plays the soprano, alto and tenor saxophone, bass and B flat clarinet and piano. He also sings and writes music.
“He plays a little bit of funk, but his specialty is jazz,” Nashid said. “From my perspective, jazz is the African American classical music. If you’re going to play music, you’re going to play the classical music. He can play other genres, but jazz is what he likes.”
Yesseh has played at LaRose Jazz Club, Tuttleman School of Music, Kimmel Center for Performing Arts, Chris’ Jazz Café and West Oak Lane Jazz Festival.
Upset by the canceling of the West Oak Lane Jazz Festival this year, Yesseh said it was his favorite venues.
“It meant a lot to me because I started playing at the [festival] when I was 11,” Yesseh said. “And ever since then, I’ve been playing at it every year. How many places in the city have a good jazz vibe? To not have the West Oak Lane, it breaks my heart.”
He has also traveled to several venues in Washington, D.C, Baltimore, New York and New Jersey.
With plans to attend Temple University, Manhattan School of Music, New York University or Oberlin College, Yesseh encourages other young musicians.
“Be patient,” Yesseh said. “If you’re trying to keep going, you can’t rush things. Just do you and feel you. Just stick with [music] because at the end of the day, it will help you out and it will take you somewhere.”
Dianne Reeves is the pre-eminent female jazz vocalist in the world today. A stunning contralto, Reeves is one of the best jazz-based singers to emerge from the late 20th century. As a result of her virtuosity, improvisational prowess and unique jazz and R&B stylings, Reeves received the Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Performance for three consecutive recordings — a Grammy first in any vocal category.
Reeves’ biggest hit, "Better Days" (a.k.a. "The Grandma Song"), is her 1987sing-along standard and ode to her beloved ancestor, Denverado (a name that reflects Reeves’ family home of Denver, Colorado).
But, it was the East Coast that first gave boost to the West Coast singer’s success when “Better Days” became a radio hit in the Delaware Valley market.
“It was because of Philadelphia that that song broke, and also the Chestnut Cabaret and performing there,” said Reeves. “I didn’t even know I had fans on the East coast until I performed in Philly and I was like, ‘Wow, this is amazing!’”
Reeves hails from a very musical family. Her father, who died when she was two years old, was also a singer. Her mother, Vada Swanson, played trumpet. Her uncle and aunts introduced her to the music of jazz singers.
“They played the piano and sang the most low down blues you ever want to hear,” recalled Reeves. “I remember growing up and we would have these family gatherings, and everybody would get by the piano, and my uncle (Charles Burrell) who was with the Denver Symphony for many years, would play. Folk would be laughing and I didn’t know the double meanings of the songs, I’d just be laughing because they were. And I would be running around singing these songs and folk would be cracking up. When I was about 20, 21 I realized what I was singing about. All of the music was just floating in the family.”
Burrell also played with the San Francisco Orchestra and was influential in not only her Reeves’ life, but that of her cousin, jazz legend George Duke.
“I didn’t really get to meet him until I was a senior in high school and I went to visit him in California,” explained Reeves. “I ended up making music and going to hear a lot of music. He has always just been there and is just an extraordinary presence.”
Duke would go on to produce three of her Grammy-winning albums: 2001's "In the Moment,” 2002's "The Calling," and 2008’s “When You Know.”
“When You Know” concludes with Reeves' sole original offering, honoring her 87 mother, who passed earlier this year. In the lyrics to "Today Will Be a Good Day," Reeve's clearly channels her mother's words of wisdom and delivers a power-punch message on how she lives her life. With an equal helping of sass and piousness Reeves points out that her Mama Vada upbeat philosophy of life has helped her tackled breast cancer and emphysema.
“One of the things that I learned from my grandmother and my mother’s generations is that thing of preparing children for the world,” Reeves noted. “It’s really, really important, and you don’t know it but you are being prepared. And then after that, the praying over you constantly for wisdom and to find the things that you don’t even know are out there for you, but to recognize them and so forth…I really, really respect and love those who came before me because not have they tried to prepare me for this life, but they keep praying for my life. And I think it is important to prey for one another. That’s the thing that keeps me close to them. When people carry you in their heart, it’s a very powerful thing. So, it’s just important to not allow that link to be broken.”
Diane Reeves will perform on Saturday, Dec.1 at 8 p.m. at the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts-Zellerbach Theatre, 3680 Walnut St. For more information, call (215) 898-3900 or visit AnnenbergCenter.org.