Recalling pieces of Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson
A new show based on Scott-Heron's themes is not a 'tribute' but a furthering
Posted: September 4, 2013
The veteran jazz musician and producer Brian Jackson joins with a multi-generational collective of musicians, first-class rappers and an up-and-coming DJ-producer to revisit some of the music that Jackson recorded with the late Gil Scott-Heron in the mid 1970s. Billed as Kentyah Presents: Dead Prez, Brian Jackson and the New Midnight Band, it is a night led by the spirit of the late Gil Scott-Heron and a return to a more accessible protest music for our revolutionary times.
Kentyah Fraser, the presenter of the show, is careful to point out that the music project is not merely a tribute to Scott-Heron and his musical collaborator Brian Jackson. "It is instead a 'furthering' of the Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson catalog," he told The Prague Post.
The material on the soon-to-be-released M1, Brian Jackson and New Midnight Band album called Evolutionary Minded, which the show is promoting, has new compositions that are based upon musical and, at times, the lyrical themes of classic Scott-Heron and Jackson works. "Brian replayed parts that he conceived of and played on songs he and Gil wrote together. And I took the material and went from there," he said. The album comes out Sept. 10 on the Moterna Music label.
"We are picking up on the fundamental intention that Gil and Brian held during their most potent collaborative period and applying that to now, today, with all of the issues, struggles and difficulties that folks are facing globally. Economic issues. Political inequalities. Racism. Fascist police actions, etc.," said Kentyah, who is from Oakland, California, and was part of the Occupy movement last year.
When: Sept.10 at 7:30
Where: Palác Akropolis, Kubelíkova 27, Prague 3
Tickets: 400 Kč seated, 350 Kč standing
"Also, we try to inspire hope and a sense that collectively people can draw upon the wisdom of previous generations of liberation minded 'doers' and thinkers to learn what worked and what didn't work, as well as to know they are not alone in the struggle," he added.
"These are all ideas that Gil was both a symbol of and a voice for, in his finest hours, and so by doing this project we are not 'tributing' him but instead moving his soul's work forward and thus paying the greatest honor to him, because by doing this, we are ensuring that that which he was most passionate about continues to breath and have relevance today," Kentyah said.
Scott-Heron is praised as the god-father of socially conscious rap and hip-hip; initially a politically minded poet from New York City; his 1970 debut recording of raw, quickly delivered spoken-word and bongos was titled A New Black Poet-Small Talk at 125th and Lenox. But it was his next record, Pieces of a Man (1971), which stood out due to its upbeat jazzy-soul grooves and just as importantly, his deep baritone voice with a delivery that is seductive and unsettling at once.
"The Revolution Will Not Be Televised," is the opening track on "Pieces of a Man," and to this day, it is unmatched in its indignation of the American political scene, but delivered with a flowing swing, and most importantly, an elegant dignity. With this track alone, he reset the bar for protest music in the era.
Music-wise, Pieces of a Man features, among others, jazz bassist Ron Carter of the Miles Davis Quartet, and keyboardist, flautist and singer Jackson. With this recording, he became a crucial collaborator of Scott-Heron's, and ultimately for a number of other significant recordings in the '70s.
By 1974, Scott-Heron and Jackson were releasing albums as a partnership, with a musical collective who were calling themselves the Midnight Band.
Their landmark recordings "Winter in America" and "The First Minute of a New Day" bridge avant-garde jazz, funk, and pop usually with a political or socially conscious sting, as if Martin Luther King Jr. had gone all funky and mellower backed by a free-form jazz-soul band, hanging out with Black Panthers instead of Southern Baptists.
Kentyah said that Scott-Heron's voice is only used sporadically in the current set of concerts, and is not used at all on the group's new recording. "I am the DJ in the band and his voice will make an appearance here and there in the set. We have a vocalist that we work with depending upon the show. So for our Prague date, Brian Jackson will be singing and M1 (of Dead Prez) will be MCing. Mixed in will be Gil's vocals at times, as will samples from co-founder of the Black Panther Party Bobby Seale," he told The Prague Post. Seale's voice also appears on Evolutionary Minded.
Tragically, Scott-Heron died in 2011, desolate after a too long bout with crack cocaine. His death was not headline news, nor was it announced on American TV shows like Entertainment Tonight. But he was, of course, too complex for all of that.
The Legacy of Gil Scott Heron & Brian Jackson concert in this respect, finally also provides a chance for old and newer fans of the music that these two musicians produced to gather in honor of the passing away of Gil Scott-Heron, with Brian Jackson and his new project to keep the music and spirit living on.
Tony Ozuna can be reached at