I’m about to throw you a curve here. I’m sure it’s going to strike you as beyond curious that during these dire political times that I would be writing about music. But mark my words, I’m discussing much more than simply music here. This article describes an auspicious event that’s taking place in the world of jazz, which, for over a hundred years has always signaled a significant change in our political environment. So please don’t confuse this with a music review. Music is just the backdrop. My actual intent is to allow you to become a witness to history. Let me explain what I mean:
For over a century the developments in jazz have always been a harbinger of things to come. It was jazz that made the Roaring Twenties roar, with people like Louis Armstrong and Fats Waller. It was also jazz that sustained us through the Great Depression of the thirties, with the driving big bands of Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Chick Web, bringing along great ladies like Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday. Later, jazz bolstered our troops to defeat fascism during WWII with people Benny Goodman and Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey. Then after the war, the celebratory sounds of bebop appeared on the scene, with Charlie parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and the fabulous Sarah Vaughan to usher in an era of the most sustained prosperity that this country has ever known. Then during the fifties and sixties Miles and Trane took over the reins to signal the emergence of a new Black consciousness, and the birth of a generation of Black people who were unwilling to “take their place” on the back of the bus.
Now, due to the harmonic complexity and sophistication of jazz, it’s certainly not the most popular music in the country, since much of it is beyond the easy grasp of the masses. But that doesn’t make it any less influential in shaping the thinking of the people, because due to the musical innovations that continue to take place within its insulated world, jazz invariably defines the course of the music that the masses can understand. Thus, over the years, jazz has unfailingly defined the tenor of our times, and so it is again.
One day a musician friend of mine approached me and said he wanted me to hear a CD. I’m an old school musician–Charlie Parker, Dexter Gordon, Mile Davis, etc.–so I’m not very big on today’s commercialism, but since he was a friend and fellow sax player, I agreed to take a listen.
The CD was the work of a lady by the name of Rita Edmond, a name that I hadn’t ever heard before, but before this sister got to the bridge of the first chorus of the tune, I knew this wasn’t just another singer. It was clear to me that this woman was a talent on the level of Ella, Sarah, and Dinah Washington. So when my friend saw my reaction, he started telling me that he could get me a copy of the CD, but I told him, “No, I want this one,” and I literally SEIZED the CD from the brother. I threw some money on the hood of his car, and went to the park and spent hours listening to this fabulous lady, and I found every tune on the CD to be just as good or better than the one before. Thereafter, I broke my policy of only writing about politics, and plunged into an article about this very special lady.
Ms Edmond is not just an entertainer, she’s a harbinger of a new era, so her discrete and unheralded arrival on the jazz scene is indeed ironic. She should have been welcomed with blaring horns, because her very presence signals the end of an era of gross mediocrity in the country, and in modern jazz
Perhaps that’s why in spite of the fact that she’s getting the accolades of flawless reviews, invited to open Dodger games, and being sought out to sing at celebrity weddings, the industry as a whole is doing its very best to blot her out. You see, the industry is a step ahead of us. They understand what Ms Edmond represents–a frontal assault on the forces of mediocrity.
Rita Edmond looms as a serious threat to both the business and the political interests of those who have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. If the masses begin to embrace Ms Edmond as the standard that defines talent, excellence, and class, the millions of dollars that the industry has spent to promote mediocrity will go for naught. And on a political level, Ms Edmond’s style, professionalism, and focused pursuit of excellence is absolutely toxic to the media’s attempt to dumb-down America.
Rita has produced two CDs so far–“Sketches of A Dream” and “A Glance at Destiny,” (which she certainly is). And she came out the gate jumping in with both feet. On both CDs she tackles standards and signature songs by some of the best singers who ever lived, and she didn’t come up short once. Every song she does is either comparable or better than the version that made it famous–and any song on either of the two CDs could serve as the title song of the CD itself
Of particular note on “A Glance At Destiny,” Ms Edmond does Here’s To Life.That song has been done by some of the greatest singers in the world, both living and dead, but Rita has made that song her own. I challenge anyone who’s ever dedicated their life to fighting the good fight to try to get through that song with dry eyes. I’ve listened to it hundreds of times now, and I haven’t been successful yet.
So yes, Rita Edmond is far from just another entertainer. This lady is the consummate artist. While she has a four octave range, unlike lesser singers, she never uses it frivolously just to say to the audience “look what I can do.” She never over-sings, and she never under-sings. She always puts the music first, and only dips into her formidable resources when the music demands it. In fact, every time she sings a song, it serves as a tribute to the composer
Yet, she puts her undeniable stamp on every song she sings, but again, not with frivolous and over-the-top embellishments, but with pure passion, and the power of excellence. The emotion in her ballads drip like honey, and she swings with the effortless finesse of a Bentley cruising down Pacific Coast Highway.
Clear evidence of my assessment of Ms Edmond can be found in a YouTube video of her appearing at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. She does”Embraceable You” with Harold Land, Jr. on keyboard. Her performance is simply flawless. The only thing missing is the melodic tones of Charlie Parker in the background. Bird would have loved her, because even as a relatively young woman, she belongs to his world.
I realize that I’ve made a series of grandiose assertions here, and as an objective journalist I don’t expect you to simply take me at my word. So take a minute and go to YouTube and listen to this lady for yourself. Listen to ‘Here’s to Life,’ ‘Embraceable You,’ ‘It Might as well Be Spring,’ ‘Gentle Rain,’ and ‘You Don’t Know What Love is.’ I’m sure that when you’re done my credibility will remain firmly intact, and you’ll agree with me, that I’ve provided you with … a glance at destiny.
Eric L. Wattree
Citizens Against Reckless Middle-Class Abuse (CARMA)