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Soul and the City 3 | Soul and the city



Soul and the City #3 - "Mr. In Between"

There are times in our lives when we are faced with situations that don't make sense. We find ourselves on paths that appear to be heading in the wrong direction and we don't understand the struggle that may exist. The harder we try to fight or control the situation, the more uncomfortable we feel because nothing seems to be going as planned. This is where the great mystery lies, because what appears to be may not be the case at all.

This soulful brutha had an experience very similar to this over the past week, but let's go back a bit first.

Some time in the spring of this year I was asked to audition for the Dance Theater of Harlem-no, no, no, as much as I would love to be able to cut a step with grace and beauty like the bruthas and sistahs in DTH, that is not where my talent lies. Singing is my thing and before I knew it I was heading up to Harlem to sing for Arthur Mitchell, artistic director and founder of Dance Theater of Harlem, and also the first Black man to dance a principal role for the American Ballet Theater.

Mr. Mitchell had decided he would create a ballet based upon the 1940s musical, St. Louis Woman, written by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer. This ballet would be different because it would include singing along with dancing in order to create a unique interpretation of movement and song.

Well I was fortunate enough to be cast as the male vocalist, and to participate in the New York City world premiere at Lincoln Center! It was all very exciting, fun, and different because it was a chance to be a part of the theater world-ya know, see how things are done in that arena as opposed to how things flow in R&B/Soul and Pop, a space that I am a little more familiar with.

Well, St. Louis Woman was well received and in September I was asked to perform again with the company in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Being that I could use the money to help finance my own project (as well as pay the rent), I said yes and was on my way to Arkansas-home of our former saxophone-playing president, Bill Clinton, and the famous Walmart family, the Waltons.

This would be a lot of firsts for me, some I was aware of and a few that kind of snuck up on me. I knew that there would be a new female vocalist (there are two female vocalists in the cast), jazz singer Lenora Zenzalai Helm. I was very excited about Zenzalai being on the gig because she and I are great friends, actually more like brother and sister. Zenzalai is stunning, the kind of beauty that stops men and women in their tracks, and her singing ain't bad either. She was very excited about singing this role and of course wanted to do a good job. Zenzalai had never met the other vocalist Talise Travigne, a gorgeous sistah with a beautiful lyric soprano, so I was curious to see how the jazz diva and the opera diva would get along.

There was also a musical change that centered around me-I had been given a solo piece which put me front and center! It was a wordy version of "Accentuate The Positive." This was definitely a first because I am a soul singer who ain't too 'shamed to say that I can swing a mean jazz standard as well, but selling a tune center-stage in a ballet was a whole new thing. But what else can you do but step up and take the challenge, right?

Well, after a few days of rehearsing and making sure I knew all of the lyrics to my new song, I got to thinking: If one is faced with a series of firsts, how does one accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, and never mess with Mr. In-Between?

I figured it would be a first for Soul and the City to have an opera diva and a jazz diva share their thoughts, so my first stop was room #201-Diva Travigne. Talise has about 7 or 8 auditions coming up when she returns to NYC and she has recently moved to London, so I was curious to hear how she deals with auditioning, living in London with her husband, and just staying away from that mean Mr. In Between. She tells me: "I focus on what brought me to the first obstacle and work it out. I focus on what is true to me, never trying to be anything other than that. My goal is to try to break down the stereotypes, break down the walls. In order to do that I have to feel comfortable and open, bringing who I am to the artistry. After all life is an audition."

I thanked Talise Travigne for taking the time to sit and vybe with me and made my way to room #139 where I could hear Jason Moran's new CD setting the stage. Zenzalai greets me in peaceful fashion, warm smile and a hug. When I ask Zenzalai about the negative, the positive, and the in-between, she takes center stage and begins to drop science... " I find the ego is Mr. In Between, it is expectation of the outcome, ya know we want it to be great...although the outcome we have little to do with. Staying in the now is the ultimate struggle, the enigma. We have the benefit of spiritual lessons every moment as an artist. I think letting go is accentuating the positive and eliminating the negative. Holding on is Mr. In Between. We get stuck because of this sense of appropriation, defining who we are...we forget about the precious moment of now. As artists we have the power to bring everyone to the ultimate wisdom in the present moment. The magic is like something good to eat".

And finding something good to eat was what this brutha wanted to do, so the three of us along with DTH's djemba player/percussionist Don Eaton find some grub and throw down while Don shares about affirming that which is divinely and soulfully ours-not worrying about any results, just focusing on the affirmation. As the night closes, I am left with two words that Don says to affirm: "Create Success".

While in Fayetteville I not only had to focus on the job at hand, but I also had to dedicate time to the Enter My Mind project. This was definitely a challenging week in terms of working out future tour dates with Chioma, Vanessa, and Michael (the posse at Black Honey Records), making sure we had the musicians ready to go on the road, setting up press and radio to correspond with the tour, and of course remembering to step-toe-ball-heel (I had a few moves to remember during my solo). However, the gift remained and showed up each night in the lyrics of the song. No matter what happened, it told me to accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, and never ever mess with Mr. In Between. With that affirmation I was able to do what was required of me, receive all that was meant for me, and always affirm that soulful part of me...Peace

More Soul and the city:
Soul and the city #1 - Stand clear of the closing doors
Soul and the city #2 - The Turkey adventure
Soul and the city #3 - Mr. In Between
Soul and the city #4 - Cold Industry
Soul and the city #5 - Reminiscence
Soul and the city #6 - Big Ole Nap
Soul and the city #7 - The Good Life
Soul and the city #8 - Tortured Soul
Soul and the city #9 - A Change Is Gonna Come
Soul and the city #10 - Spring In NYC
Soul and the City #11 - "Luther"

More info about special crew member Marlon Saunders:
SaveOurSoul interview with Marlon Saunders
Jazzhole SaveOurSoul artist of the Month
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