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Sunday, November 9, 2014

“Optimistic” (In spite of all the tragic news)

"Optimistic" photo by Pheralyn Dove
Everyday is a
beautiful awakening,
awesome to behold.

In spite of all the nasty realities that plague us, I treasure these days and times. Awed to be alive to witness this day.  Grateful to be living and breathing. Humbled to be healthy and whole. Reduced to tears by nature’s awesome autumn beauty. Just to feel the breeze chilling the air. To witness the sun set. To rise early enough to catch day break. To look up in the night sky and realize a wonderfully round moon is winking at me. To celebrate my birthday with family and friends. To stop long enough to realize golden blooms and crimson leaves are whispering messages meant just for me. Meditating in a hushed meadow, aware of the faint splash of water rushing over the rocks in the brook right below is a breath-taking experience. Now this is what I call living. 

Yes, this is my truth.  But I am also ever aware of so many other truths that surround me: Depression. Hopelessness. Poverty. Homelessness. Deadly fires. Demonic assaults on pubic education. Broken criminal (in)justice system. Racist backlash. Evil politics. Escalating wars. Germ warfare.

Think about it. Six months ago, Ebola was a distant, dormant and presumed dead virus, not the ravaging global health threat it has become today. Six months ago, the videotape of Ray Rice punching his wife in the face, rendering her unconscious in the elevator of an Atlantic City casino had not surfaced and gone viral.  Indeed, six months ago I had never even heard of a place called Ferguson, Missouri. Michael Brown was in the spring of his life, graduating from high school and planning to move on to college in the fall. Never did anyone fathom he would become an international symbol of injustice.  Just six short months ago, no one could have ever fathomed that this Black boy, this young, 18-year-old- African American male by the name of Mike Brown, would be shot down, unarmed -  like a rabid dog in the street by a  Caucasian police officer. Yes, shot down like a dog in the street, his corpse left to decompose for hours, uncovered in the blazing Missouri heat, while police forcibly prohibited the community from removing and respecting his body.

A neighbor’s family dog would have been treated better.

And here we are, three months after the August 9, 2014 slaying and no charges have been brought against the police officer who pumped at least six bullets into Mike Brown as he held both hands up and blurted his last words: “I don’t have a gun, stop shooting!”

Yes, my heart hurts, my anger swells and my blood boils when I think about all the injustice in this world. And then to be forced to swallow the bitter truth that the brutal killing of Mike Brown at the hands of a white police officer is juxtaposed against the reality that Black-on-Black crime is absolutely devastating the African American community. No one will dispute that we have reached an unacceptable rate of fratricide.

But when my blood rages and my heart races, I have trained my mind and emotions to come back to this present moment. What am I doing,in my personal life to find a solution to the problem?  What is going on with me, right now, in this moment? What am I doing in my own sphere to help this world be a better place?

When I neutralize my thoughts and emotions, I am humbled to think about my God given talents, gift and abilities. I am humbled and grateful to know that by using them, I am doing divine work. This point of gratitude and praise helps ease the pain of being Black and female in America. This point of gratitude gives me reason to redouble my efforts toward liberation.  Bringing my blessings into focus prompts me to ramp up my efforts to outflow uplifting and inspiring information and images. Just as I encourage myself to live life to the fullest, to “give it all I’ve got,” I pray and encourage you to do the same. Find your piece of heaven right here on earth. And cling to it.

Yes. I have the audacity to be optimistic. I have the audacity to think God gave us the collective talent and ability to solve the problems of this world.  I have the audacity to think that even a smile on my lips directed at a stranger can help make this world a better place. I have the audacity to envision peace and love and happiness. And yes. I have the unmitigated gall to feel optimistic about the future in spite of all the tragic news.  What about you?
Asante Sana. Peace and Blessings Always.


Friday, October 10, 2014

"Affirmation, Confirmation, Validation"




I love myself more
than yesterday, yet not as 
much as tomorrow.
Who am I, you might ask, to make such a bold proclamation?

I am a word warrior. I poet you. I serenade you. I act for you.  I speak for me. I am at once invisible and on full view. I am seven-year-old Little Girl Blue  -  one of the 17 characters I portray in my one-woman multi-media show about a Black woman’s painful, yet victorious journey across the urban American frontier. I am Pheralyn Dove.  I am a word warrior, a conjurer, a healer, a virtual dream –maker. I explore broken, disconnected, circumstances and conditions. I am a word warrior, a soldier in the war of injustice, fighting on the battlefields of racism, sexism, classism, disease, poverty and lack. I am a word warrior.    

On the battlefield of political violence. On the battlefield of violence against women, violence against children, violence against men, violence against the environment. I am a vessel.   Pouring forth emotions that range from sad to happy, from rage to pity.  From the horrific to the sublime, from tears of sorrow to explosive laughter. From desperate to hopeful, from hopeful to triumphant. I bring my pain and my healing to you, my beloved voyeur. I stand naked before you.  Held up for your scrutiny are my words on paper, my words from the stage, my words from broadcast and film mediums. I am a word warrior.  I am a peace warrior.



I survey the battlefields of my beloved Philadelphia. During my sojourn across the Serengeti that is Illadelph, I happen upon a sidewalk memorial for a gunned-down teenaged Black male, candles still burning, pouring shadows and sacred light over photos of tender moments from an abbreviated life. I stop. Pay my respects. And write down this Haiku that is summoned from the ethos, an offering from the universe:

Somebody’s heart is

wrenched. Killed boy’s blood flows no more.

Yet his light still shines.



Back in the early 1990’s, I produced some of my first multi-media shows at the now defunct Jazz Loft at Mill Creek, which was in West Philadelphia.  I have been the artist in residence, teaching artist and writer for public schools, recreation centers, churches, the Clef Club, Freedom Theater, Philadanco, & John Coltrane Society. The cultural community is my village. Through the years, thousands of people have blessed me with their presence at my performances in such places as the Kimmel Center in my native Philadelphia, the juried International Fringe Theater Festival, and the Vision Festival (both in New York City), as well as Jazz a la Villette in Paris. I am humbled and awed to say that Max Roach, the legendary drummer, wrote the foreword to my volume of poetry, “Color in Motion.” As a cultural worker, I am a healer. My perseverance and activism, especially my 15 years of service teaching continuing education to adults in the Pan African Studies Community Education Program  at Temple University, has helped transform and improve the lives of hundreds of students, their families and immediate communities. 

Emotional healing, cultural affirmation, building confidence, serving up inspiration and promoting self-esteem are inherent themes in all of my work, across audiences, genres and platforms. “Education for Life,” and “Let your life do the singing” are words that still ring in my head, as I cling to the often repeated mottos I learned at Hampton, my beloved alma mater, which is an historically Black college in Virginia.



Yes. I am Pheralyn Dove:   Lover. Loner. Spectator. World traveler. I am the author of the fictional “Little Girl Blue.” But I am also the all too grown up mother, daughter, sister, friend, warrior, healer, conjurer. Yes, I am Little Girl Blue. Yet I am also the true life seven year old Pheralyn, on my way home from my piano lesson at Strawberry Mansion Center. Savoring my walk up 33rd Street.  Picking up leaves and sticks along the way. Fairmount Park is my playground.  Past the tennis courts, I climb the hill and look through the chained link fence over to the reservoir. I roll down the hill one last time, stand myself up, gather up my precious music book and decide against carrying my collection of rocks, sticks and leaves any further. Now I’m on the sidewalk. I look both ways and zoom across the gigantic street.



I round the corner. Finally, I am on Clifford Street. Running. Running.  Running.  Determined to catch up with my two older brothers, who – by now – are way ahead of me. Running. Running. Running. It is a cold, windy day.  My double-breasted tan wool coat with its dark chocolate velvet collar and matching cuffs is draped over my shoulders like a cape.  The arms of the coat flap, flap, flap in air like they are my wings. In my mind I am a bird in the sky. Because truly -  in my heart -  I believe I can fly.            

Asante Sana. Peace & Blessings Always                   


Thursday, September 25, 2014

“John W. Coltrane - Happy (Belated) Birthday”

John William Coltrane was born on the Autumnal Equinox - September 23, 1926. He passed away on July 17, 1967, at the age of 40. The landmark album “A Love Supreme” is highly regarded as his seminal masterpiece. (Photo Credit - Cover of Impluse! Record Album)
John Coltrane Haiku:
The "Equinox" marked
Coltrane's birth. "A Love Supreme"
was his Masterpiece.


Although John Coltrane was born in Hamlet, North Carolina on September 23, 1926, he is esteemed as one of Philadelphia’s most prolific native sons, due to the time he spent there during his developmental years.  It was in the City of Philadelphia that the preeminent innovator perfected his game-changing approach to playing the saxophone. Indeed, Mr. Coltrane was a card-carrying member of Local #274, the historic union and its social arm, the “Clef Club,” which was home to many of Philadelphia’s leading Black musicians during its hey day including other standouts such as Dizzy Gillespie.  So today, I would like to “acknowledge” the 88th anniversary of Mr. Coltrane’s birth.


Most people, if they’re old enough, remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when JFK got shot. Ditto for years later when the world was stunned by the brutal assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  And true enough, die hard aficionados like me remember precisely where we were and exactly what we were doing the first time we heard the unforgettable sounds emanating from John Coltrane’s amazing saxophone.


Personally, I maintain (along with many others) that Mr. Coltrane’s seminal masterpiece was the recording of “A Love Supreme.” The album, released on the Impulse! Label, was recorded in one session on December 9, 1964 at the Rudy Van Gelder Studio in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. At that time, the John Coltrane Quartet consisted of Mr. Coltrane on tenor and soprano saxophones, McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass and Elvin Jones on drums and various African percussion instruments. The music from “A Love Supreme” (divided into four suites), as well as the liner notes written by Mr. Coltrane himself, resonate with a profound spirituality deeply grounded in the “acknowledgement” of the Creator. Those four groundbreaking tracks are:

1.  Acknowledgement

2.  Resolution

3.  Pursuance

4. Psalm

Below, I share with you a poetic tribute I wrote for “A Love Supreme.” This verse is excerpted from the “Story Poem” called “Reminiscing,” which is included in “Destiny,” my forthcoming volume of poetry. Here goes:


“...I remember back during middle school - when my oldest brother -  Sammie Jr., took me to the side one day and said ‘Hey Sis, you’re not ready for this yet, but I want you to listen anyway.’

“Then he pulled the shiny black vinyl disc out of its sleeve, placed it on the spinning turntable and introduced me to the monolithic genius of John Coltrane for the very first time -

“I was in Love…

“A Love Supreme, A Love Supreme, A Love Supreme, A Love Supreme...”


Asante Sana.  Peace and Blessings Always.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Farewell Joe Sample: 1939-2014


Joe Sample was a prolific musical innovator, known for criss-crossing genres.

Joseph Leslie Sample was born in Houston, Texas on February 1, 1939. 
He passed  away in Houston on September 12, 2014 at the age of 75. He made his mark on this world as a renowned pianist, composer, arranger, band leader and prolific innovator.
Farewell Joe Sample. We will miss your magic touch.


Haiku Series for Joe Sample
#1 Mighty Joe Sample,
our fearless “Jazz Crusader,”
fought his last battle.


#2 Joe Sample went through
“Hard Times” and expressed them with
musical prowess.



#3 He wore “Old Socks” with
his “New Shoes,” creating a
fresh and unique sound.


#4 Joe and Randy used
a hip and funk-filled tune to
warn about “Street Life.”


#5 Gorgeous music was
inevitable when Joe
and Lalah teamed up.


#6 Their magnificent
songs immortal now that Joe
joined the Ancestors.

Asante Sana. Peace and Blessings Always.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

“John Coltrane Tribute Attests to the Healing Powers of Music"

Kenny Garrett Quintet, Ruth Naomi Floyd Quartet

Right Tyme Players & PACE Youth Band Bless the Stage
Kenny Garrett headlines John Coltrane Tribute 
(Pheralyn Dove Photo)

Music nourishes
my spirit,  feeds my soul, heals
me, and sets me free.

It was the first Sunday. The worshipers danced, shouted, testified, witnessed. Confessions were made. Sins were forgiven. Souls were saved. Bodies were healed and Communion was served. However the elixir the congregation drank was not poured from a vessel, nor was the service held inside.  The pulpit was actually a stage set up right in middle of the 1800 block of Diamond Street in North Philadelphia. Stirring “sermons” emanated from the musicians who blessed the gatherers at the “Jazz Tribute Celebrating the Life of John Coltrane,” held outside of the Historic Episcopal Church of the Advocate.  It was presented on Sunday, September 7, 2014, by "Art Sanctuary" a nonprofit whose mission is to use "the power of Black art to transform individuals, create and build community and foster cultural understanding." The musical celebration featured the Kenny Garrett Quintet, the Ruth Naomi Floyd Quartet, the Right Tyme Players and the PACE Youth Jazz Band from Camden, New Jersey.  Credit goes to  Joey Harrison, the producer who curated the awesome talent for the festival. All the performers preached up a storm on that memorable day.



The festival opened with an immensely heartwarming and highly skilled set by a group of  teenagers who proudly wore “Made in Camden” graphic tee-shirts. The “PACE” acronym stands for “Preparing Artists for College Entrance Youth Band.”   Their collective spirit, combined with their technical prowess, maturity and yes - downright grit – spoke volumes about the efficacy of implementing arts in education as a model for excellence and achievement on platforms that resonate from far beyond the performance stage or art studio. I was especially impressed with the enchanting young woman who doubled on trumpet and vocals. She played along and sang a convincing rendition of Herbie Hancock and Bennie Maupin’s lilting "Butterfly." It came as no surprise that by the time the PACE band's set was over, an orange, rust, black and gold butterfly actually alighted about a foot away from the stage. The fluttering beauty was the perfect omen to introduce the next act, the Ruth Naomi Floyd Quartet.

 
The captivating and poised trumpeter doubled on vocals
(Pheralyn Dove Photo)

With their neatly bound charts in tow, the Ruth Naomi Floyd Quartet displayed a caliber of musical scholarship and virtuosity that is all too rare in this day and age. I loved watching the way musical director and pianist Aaron Graves commanded the musicians, while the very capable and confident mezzo soprano projected her deeply profound lyrics upwards toward the fluffy white clouds floating in the cerulean blue sky.

 
Ruth Naomi Floyd's Set was Spiritual & Ethereal
(Pheralyn Dove Photo)

Mixed in with spirituals and jazz standards, Ms. Floyd featured original tunes she composed about “Responsibility” and “Freedom,” transforming her "pulpit" into a classroom lesson on activism and social consciousness.  “I’m a huge Ruth Naomi Floyd fan. I think her music is so relevant, especially here on Diamond Street. So to have Kenny Garrett and Ruth Naomi Floyd on Diamond Street, it doesn't get much better than that," said J. Michael Harrison - host of “The Bridge” which airs on WRTI-FM. He added, "Congratulations to Art Sanctuary." It was just amazing how Ms. Floyd's vocals were powerful enough to be juxtaposed against the pulsating rhythms of G. Calvin Weston’s drums. Believe me, that cat can really play! I was delighted that he was featured on an extended solo. His energy was totally infectious. Honestly, I felt that Ms. Floyd chose all of her sidemen wisely.


It was a real treat to see and hear Lee Smith holding it down on the bass. Another treat was experiencing a live performance by the multi-talented ethnomusicologist, Dr. William E. Smith. He demonstrated verve and authority as he flawlessly alternated between the tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone and hip-hop infused spoken words. In direct contrast to the ethereal loveliness of Ruth Naomi Floyd, the “Right Tyme Players” brought on the funk. And they did so in a major way.  Crowd pleasers for sure, the band – all residents of North Philadelphia -  turned the place upside down. All of a sudden we were at a block party, reminiscent of a bygone era.

 
The Right Tyme Players brought on the funk
(Pheralyn Dove Photo)

They got everybody up dancing - literally had folks dancing in the street, doing the Cha-Cha and the Bop.  A male vocalist who goes by the name "Show Tyme" fronts the “Right Tyme Players” who also consist of a female vocalist,  alto saxophonist, organist, guitarist, bassist, percussionist and drummer. They saturated popular rhythm and blues songs with their own unique originality. I mean, they just made you feel good all over. After a while, the "Players" slowed down the pace. The female vocalist poured her heart out on Phyllis Hyman's  “Somewhere In My Lifetime.” She did an excellent job of making it all her own.

 
Dancing in the Street
(Pheralyn Dove Photo)

Closing out the festival was headliner Kenny Garrett on alto saxophone, joined by his venerable sidemen - Vernell Brown on piano, Corcoran Holt on bass, McClenty Hunter on drums and Rudy Bird on percussion. Despite having to follow such a tremendous amalgam of locally-based talent, Kenny Garrett -  master saxophonist that he is  -  did not disappoint. Before it was all said and done, his Quintet had the people out of their seats, testifying, singing, dancing, moving and grooving. Yeah baby!  Truly, the Kenny Garrett Quintet was possessed. They were on fire!

Don Gardner, Managing Director of The Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz & the Performing Arts, said the event was “Beautiful…..just beautiful.” The weather was sunny and hot on that picture perfect day.  Stephanie Renee, (Program Director of 900 AM WURD)  and Cherri Gregg, (Community Affairs Reporter for KYW News Radio) served as MC's.  During her remarks, Art Sanctuary Executive Director Valerie Gay noted that the festival was made possible by the largesse of a generous anonymous donor. Other supporters included the Church of the Advocate, WURD, WRTI and Temple University.

 
MCs Cherri Gregg & Stef Renee 
(Pheralyn Dove Photo)

Dr. Diane Turner, Curator of the Charles L. Blockson AfroAmerican Collection, which is housed at Temple University, said she was blessed to witness the spectacle. “This music is very spiritual. And whenever there’s an opportunity for people to come together and show unity, especially African Americans, it’s a beautiful thing.” All praises to the Creator. All praises to the Ancestors. This sacred block on Diamond Street was a particularly appropriate venue to host a festival celebrating the musical genius of John Coltrane. During his fertile developmental years, Mr. Coltrane walked these very same streets. He lived a little more than ten blocks away at 33rd and Oxford.  It is worth mentioning that during the latter part of the 20th century, two separate nonprofit organizations were established in North Philadelphia to perpetuate the legacy of John Coltrane. "The John W. Coltrane Cultural Society" was co-founded by Mr. Coltrane's cousin, Mrs. Mary Alexander, who is the subject of the immortal Coltrane composition, "Cousin Mary."  She operated the organization out of the North 33rd Street Coltrane Family Home. "The Trane Stop" was co-founded by the late Mr. Arnold Boyd, who had a long association with Temple University. His office was located on the campus, a few blocks away from the Church of the Advocate. Sadly, both institutions are now defunct, however their good works are remembered by many cultural stalwarts who remain in the Greater Philadelphia area.

Right in the shadows of the performances stood the majestic Church of the Advocate  - where, for many decades - the late Father Paul Washington served at the helm, the place where Father Washington, Sekai' afua Zankel, and a lot of other brave soldiers hosted the Celebration of Life Cultural Festival during the 1980s and 90s.  It’s where the historic first Black Panther Party Conference was convened; it is the repository where the stunning murals occupy the sanctuary’s walls – murals created in the early 1970’s – which are still poignant, still revolutionary and still prophetic to this day. Even though the music was enthralling, I did not forget to step inside the Church to view the artwork, say a silent prayer and pay my respects to the Ancestors. As soon as I walked in, I noticed that magically, Richard Watson, one of the Advocate's famous muralists from back in the day, was there as well – apparently with the same reverent notion in mind.

 
Picture Perfect Clouds Evoked the Spirits of our Ancestors. Ashe!
(Pheralyn Dove Photo)

I attended the John Coltrane Tribute with my friend, Dr. Debra V. Irvin, who also happens to be my dentist as well as my classmate from Germantown High School. We couldn’t have picked a better opportunity to get together, catch up, shop and mingle amongst the vendors set up in the style of a traditional African marketplace. Indeed, the entire afternoon felt like a reunion, as I greeted a plethora of friends and acquaintances  - many of them representatives of Philadelphia’s vibrant artistic community. One such artist was bassist Warren Oree, the impresario who leads the Arpeggio Jazz Ensemble. During one of the breaks he brilliantly summed up the atmosphere:  “This music is medicine!” 

Medicine indeed. The “Jazz Tribute Celebrating the Life of John Coltrane” was definitely a powerful healing force. Not only did it give everyone in attendance a chance to soak up a strong dose of Vitamin D from the beaming sun rays, the experience also inspired yours truly to write this review, share these photos and pen a Haiku:

Music nourishes
my spirit, feeds my soul, heals
me, and sets me free.

Asante Sana. Peace & Blessings Always.



Monday, September 1, 2014

“Beauty Right Here In Our Midst”

"Sunny Blooms" photo by Pheralyn Dove
Look around. There is
so much beauty on this earth
to appreciate.

Writing poetry is a soothing, soulful part of my day, a time when I meditate and reflect – sometimes on the status quo but more often, a time to reflect on beauty. I pause, grasp my pen, clear my mind and think about something beautiful, positive and inspirational to write about. Sure, there are enough heavy realities any conscious Black poet feels a responsibility to expose, and believe me, I address these issues with all due respect. But in the mornings, when I’m starting my day, I feel this tremendous need to reflect on the positive and seek out beauty. These sojourns have worked themselves into a practice I refer to as my “Daily Haiku.”

Another daily ritual is taking a long walk (often as a warm up before my jog.) I always carry my camera along during these moving meditations and take nature photos, which I combine with my Haiku and post to my blog.   I also spend some time each day working on my personal development. This may take the form of reading, repeating affirmations, listening to a podcast, tapping on the meridian points on my body or concentrating on my thought patterns. Peace and calm result from these rituals. So even if I experience moments of angst and frustration as I go about the business of my day, I can bring myself back to a place of solace by simply going over these rituals in my mind, reminding myself that there is an immense well of gratitude that always resides in my heart. Asante Sana. Peace and Blessings Always.

Friday, August 15, 2014

"Wings For John Blake"

John Blake, Jr.
July 3, 1947 - August 15, 2014

Master Musician and Educator - John Blake, Jr.
Passion strings pierce the
air. John Blake's violin is
soaring in Heaven.