NYU Black Renaissance Noire Fall 2013 - Page 12

PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF RICHARD DUNCAN. m Richard Irving III at the piano. “That’s good Bobby,” he said, looking at me and smiling. “It’s important to have an appreciation of classical music. Its like a gold mine, with certain composers, you know what I mean? Like Ravel, Schoenberg and some things of Rachmaninoff. I mean, he and so many of those Russian composers were a motherfucker when it came to harmony… counterpoint, you know, implied harmony.” “Wow,” I said, truly impressed. “I’m not aware of all of them, but I definitely wanna check’um out. I’ll have to write down the names.” “I’ll give’um to you later, I just wanted to say that Bobby, but go on.” “Yeah, his contemporary style turned me on to keyboards and so I begged my dad for an organ and he got me a little Emenee toy pipe organ. It sounded more like an accordion with a two-octave range. The first melody I taught myself to play was the most familiar song I knew, “The StarSpangled Banner.” Eventually I figured out the bass part to add to the melody. I guess this began my theoretical sense of how the bass tones defined chords, without really knowing how to explain what I was doing. So, I began to pay more close attention to organ players and soon discovered Jimmy Smith. He completely blew my mind… but, his technique was way over my head at that time. “Oh yeah Bobby… shit, they must have made the Hammond organ just for Jimmy,” Miles said smiling. “Jimmy Smith was a motherfucka, man! “Yeah, I loved him, too. But when I first heard him he was way over my head. But I remember once, my grandmother, on my mother’s side, took us to this old dingy church where the minister, Elder Bacon, played a heavy-handed bluesy piano style. I tried to copy him, but I couldn’t figure out what he was doing. Then there was St. Paul Church of God in Christ around the corner… they had two musicians, Samuel Hawkins, an older gentleman who played organ and piano in a more traditional southern style, and Stevie Harrison, in his early twenties, who sounded exactly like Jimmy Smith. I asked him to show me some riffs. He wasn’t much help because, you know, what he did was like breathing to him. And he didn’t have the language to explain it so I could understand. He’d say, ‘Like hey, just do this and this...’ His fingers moved in patterns I could see but it was too fast to hold on to. Anyway, Mr. Hawkins saw my interest and invited me to come join the Robert Taylor Park District Drum and Bugle Corps. He was the director. Most kids wanted to play drums, but beating on something with a stick didn’t turn me on.” 10 “Well, the first song I remember singing in glee club was ‘Put On A Happy Face’ from the musical Bye Bye Birdie. I started to become more aware of the variety of different music styles. Just across the street from our apartment was Omega Baptist Church, where my mother liked to go on some Sundays. Jessie Dixon, the famous gospel singer played the Hammond organ there.” “Oh yeah? I know who is.” Miles said, recognizing who Dixon was. BRN-FALL-2013.indb 10 9/13/13 12:47 AM