CREATIVE SPACE #17 of 2021 (uploaded August 18th 2021)
CREATIVE SPACE is a series spotlighting local (Antiguan and Barbudan/Caribbean) art and culture. As a brand, it dates back to 2009, published in LIAT’s inflight magazine. It was revamped in 2018 and ran to 2019 on Antiguanice.com. Its publishing partner, as of 2020, is the Daily Observer newspaper. It continues to expand across other media platforms (e.g. AntiguanWriter on YouTube). CREATIVE SPACE is created, owned, and written by Joanne C. Hillhouse – Antiguan-Barbudan/Caribbean author, journalist, producer, and freelance writer, editor, and trainer.
This week’s column is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. Also, respect copyright.
Here’s a link to the issue as it appeared on August 18th 2021 in the Daily Observer:
Here’s a link to the full video interview:
Below is the extended online edition (not a duplicate of the edition with publishing partner Observer Media) with extras.
If you would like to be featured in a future CREATIVE SPACE or to pay for a (web only) sponsored post (on jhohadli.wordpress.com exclusively), BOOSTing your BRAND while boosting Antigua-Barbuda Art and Culture, contact Joanne.
CREATIVE SPACE: Not Nat, But Cool Like That
For my latest CREATIVE SPACE I sat with jazz pianist and vocalist Foster Joseph to discuss current and future projects, and the creative crooner’s process. Foster was born in Nevis to Antiguan parents, came here when he was five, grew up in a musical family, and now divides his time between the New York jazz scene and home. You can view the video on my YouTube channel, AntiguanWriter (linked here – and above). Some highlights.
His pending project is a big band, in this case 9-piece, release which was actually recorded in 2015 at Lincoln Centre, a milestone for him, and produced by American alto jazz saxophonist Sherman Irby of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. This fuller band is not Foster’s usual speed – though he usually plays by himself when playing here at home, his sweet spot is a trio or quartet. And you can hear those intimate stylings on his recent release Foster (To Love) an EP with James Hurt (called James don’t hurt them) on piano, Gerald Cannon on bass, and Willie Jones III on drums – the latter two, part of the rhythm section of the late great American jazz trumpeter Roy Hargrove.
It’s a COVID project, not unlike others covered in CREATIVE SPACE in the past year (Arianne Whyte’s weekly online concerts, Heather Doram’s pandemic paintings series, House of Argent’s latest fashion line, for instance). “COVID came and I decided I’m going to do something. I need to record. Everyone was like, ‘you’re going to record at this time?’…it’s a good time, in time of crisis people always need music.”
Speaking of sweet spots, Foster lit up when asked about being in the zone as a musician. “That is an incredible feeling!” he said. “If I’m playing in a group, and the rhythm is right, everything…locked in, I will start to feel that way. You start to feel nice. (It’s an) out of the body experience…(and) you play at a level that you normally would not play.”
Foster, who is the last of 7, was very young when he started finding that feeling. His father was a musician, as were his siblings, and music, all types of music, sheet music especially, was all around; and the kind of mentoring and criticism and access that helps a young talent grow. With his siblings playing the piano, he initially gravitated to the clarinet, until at 7 he was told he’d never get any work on that instrument, and switched briefly to the tenor sax, before finally embracing destiny and picking up the piano.
“In my household, if you made a mistake, there were so many people there to correct you…and you have heard all the music before.”
In terms of exposure, there was the man Foster describes as the father of modern music in Antigua, Arnold ‘Sugar’ Williams. “He took me under his wing, he gave me all the books, and most important thing he gave me all the recordings…he used to live in the United States and he brought back all the major recordings of the major jazz artists…that is my university because I would sit down in the afternoon and listen.” He would go on to play in a trio with Williams in the 70s at venues like Brother B’s and Shorty’s Beach Bar.
There was a lot of variety, he remembers, a lot more than now, on the radio, in the late 60s and early 70s. His own sound calls to mind the Cool era of jazz, early to mid 50s – smooth melodic phrasing, unhurried, intricate. No surprise then that the person who turned him on to jazz, iconic trumpeter Miles Davis is identified with this era, this sound, as is a vocalist he has an affinity to (in sound, though not mimicry) Nat King Cole.
“In New York, when people come to listen to me, they think of that era.”
In fact, it was more specific than that. “One of the problems that I encountered, people always compared me to Nat King Cole. (Growing up) I never had a Nat King Cole record, my neighbor had Frank Sinatra …so on Sundays they would play some of his recordings…Nat King Cole I never had a recording of him until I went to New York. A gentleman heard me performing and gave me all of Nat King Cole’s recordings. …in New York, they used to call me little Nat. I’ve had opportunities with people come and ask me to do projects because they want a sound-a-like Nat King Cole and I refused those projects.”
He’s especially happy then with the response to the new EP. “…it’s me, but on my EP, surprisingly people didn’t say I sounded like Nat King Cole on that (they said it sounded like Foster Joseph)…that’s all I wanted.”
This is CREATIVE SPACE and one of the things I try to explore is how artists create; so I asked Foster to talk me through the creation of one of his songs. He said,
“I was walking along Popeshead Street and there was a young lady, she was some distance away, and I was walking, walking behind of her. We ended up in the same bank and I started to talk, you know, we started a conversation and from the conversation, it inspired me. So I went home and everything started to flow. I started to think of the way she walked in front of me going in to town and the conversation that we had. Immediately I got on my keyboard and started writing.”
He does things over and over to find the right phrasing, recording himself while he’s practicing, and by the time he gets to the studio it’s two takes at most, usually, and done.
Lyrics and music work in tandem, and in this case worked to produce a ballad, ‘Now You’re Mine’:
“a smile from you is like the sunshine
after a cold and rainy day”
Did the lady ever get to hear the story? “I told her…we became friends…I told her this song is for you.”
Foster has become involved in a project born out of long conversations with fellow Antiguan jazz musician Khadijah Simon; it’s called the Wadadli Music Scene, a website that so far includes profiles of popular music artists like Toriano Onyan Edwards and forgotten legends like Clarence Profit, a short-lived American-Antiguan jazz pianist and composer from the swing time era.
About Antiguan-Barbudan masters of song, Shelly Tobitt and Short Shirt
“Shelly Tobitt and Short Shirt, that combination was beautiful; that was to me our best era. …Those songs are difficult; for the lyrics and music to match, it takes a master to put it together and Short Shirt is a master.”
The father of modern music in Antigua
“Arnold ‘Sugar’ Williams… he had a tremendous effect on my life…he taught me about modes…when he started talking about modal music in Antigua no one knew what he was talking about. So he took me under his wing, he gave me all the books, and most important thing he gave me all the recordings…he used to live in the United States and he brought back all the major recordings of the major jazz artists…that is my university because I would sit down in the afternoon and listen.”
To be a musician you must be…
There’s no egos…when you reach at a certain level…they trash talk and things like that but not in that setting, when they get on the bandstand, it’s business.”
Other Milestone Moments
I mentioned his recording at Lincoln Center in the main article. But also, the opening of a new club in 1994, when the top 30 jazz singers in NY were invited to perform and not only was he invited but he got to sing three times. Also, in Antigua, in the 70s, when he played in a trio with Arnold Williams at Brother B and at Shorty’s Beach Bar (two pretty iconic establishments of their time) – “we were dynamic, we had the crowd, people used to think it was a recording…that was magical”.
That time he played to an empty hall
“There was a club just to the west of All Saints Police Station and Sugar asked us to play. It was a holiday, I think it was Labor Day. …we went there to play and nobody showed up…and the gentleman said well, I already bought all the drinks and everything, guess you’re going to have to play for me, and it was that aha moment that we realized the trio was good…that day everything clicked and that’s how we became a trio.” That trio was Foster, Arnold Williams on bass, and Jerome Joseph on drums.
Selections from the new EP
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