A Musical Journey Through Black History

If you were to learn about Black History through the lens of jazz, there would probably be no better teacher than Lance Bryant.

At the February 4th Jersey Jazz LIVE! concert at the Madison (NJ) Community Arts Center, the veteran tenor saxophonist and educator, supported by bassist Tom DiCarlo and pianist James Austin, Jr., took his audience on a musical journey that began with the African-American spiritual, “Hold On” (aka “Keep Your Hand on the Plow”). It also included Lil Hardin Armstrong’s “Struttin’ With Some Barbeque”, Edgar Sampson’s “Stompin’ at the Savoy”, Eubie Blake’s “Memories of You”, Bud Powell’s “Bouncin’ With Bud”, Charles Mingus’ “Fables of Faubus”, and John Coltrane’s “Alabama”.

“Fables of Faubus” mocked Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus, who, in 1957, defied federal orders to undo segregation in public schools by directing the state’s national guard to block nine Black students from entering Little Rock’s Central High School. In 1963, Coltrane’s “Alabama” was written in reaction to the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, which resulted in the deaths of four African-American girls.

Bryant, who is Music Director and Principal Arranger of the Lionel Hampton Orchestra, spent several years playing with Hampton. One of the tunes Hampton played every night, he said, was the Jimmy McHugh/Dorothy Fields song, “On the Sunny Side of the Street”, and, added Bryant, “Lionel Hampton sang it every night.” After Hampton passed away in 2002, Bryant took over as the vocalist on this song, a talent he displayed with great zeal in Madison.

Later this month, Bryant will be participating in two additional Black History events at the Union County Performing Arts Center in Rahway. On February 22, he will be playing with the Bob DeVos Quartet and on February 25 he will be a special guest at the New Jersey Youth Symphony’s Black History Month Celebration. The next Jersey Jazz LIVE! concert, on Sunday, March 3, will feature vocalist Lucy Wijnands performing a tribute to Sarah Vaughan, who would have celebrated her centennial birthday on March 27.

PHOTO BY MITCHELL SEIDEL

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The New Jersey Jazz Society (NJJS) is a non-profit organization of business and professional people, musicians, teachers, students and listeners working together for the purpose of advancing jazz music.