Former Black Jazz Records musicians Henry Franklin, Calvin Keys and Carl Burnett will be joined by George Harper and Bobby Pierce in the “Heroes of Black Jazz, a Tribute to Gene Russell” on July 14 at the Barbara Morrison Performing Arts Center in Leimert Park. Russell founded Black Jazz in 1971 to provide artists the opportunity to play alternatives to traditional jazz like funk, free jazz and soul jazz. The label closed its doors following Russell’s death in 1976.
Los Angeles native Franklin recorded his first album, “The Skipper,” on Black Jazz in its first year and played bass on many subsequent albums.
“I loved him (Russell),” Franklin said. “He got me my first record deal and we did a lot of recording on Black Jazz Records.”
Guitar player Keys also recorded his first album, “Shawn-Neeq,” on the Black Jazz label in 1971.
The show is the creation of Tucson radio host Jake Feinberg, who was inspired after interviewing Franklin and Keys on his show.
“It’s Jake’s invention,” Franklin said. “I did an interview on his radio show and so did Calvin and it kind of blossomed from there. Jake wanted to do something to honor Gene Russell and I said, ‘Let’s do it.’ Carl Burnett had played drums at Black Jazz and he agreed to do it. Doug Carn was our original piano and keyboard player and his wife Jean was an original vocalist, but they’re in Europe. We were fortunate to get Bobby Pierce for keyboards and George Harper for the sax.”
Feinberg will be the show’s Master of Ceremonies.
“I thought ‘The next best thing to interviewing them would be to get these guys to play live,” Feinberg said. “I already had relationships with Henry and Calvin and they were on board and they gave me the numbers of George, Carl and Bobby. They were all free and we decided to do it at Barbara’s (Morrison) place. It’s really more about love and connection than anything else.”
Franklin rose to prominence playing with Hugh Masekela, first at the Monterey International Pop Festival in 1967 and on Masekela’s No. 1 hit “Grazing in the Grass” in 1968. He has recorded on more than 100 albums. The artists he’s played and recorded with include Al Jarreau, O.C. Smith, Freddie Hubbard and Steve Wonder. Franklin’s latest CD “The Soul of the World” was released last November.
Keys began touring with sax player Little Walkin’ Willie at the age of 17 and also played with the Jimmy Smith Trio and Ray Charles in addition to continuing to record his own albums and CDs, including “Calvinesque” in 2005.
Burnett has recorded with Freddie Hubbard and Patti Austin, Harper with Herbie Hancock, Jimmy Smith and Ray Charles and Pierce with Etta James, Benny King, Dionne Warwick and Joe Williams.
“We’ll take couple of tunes off my CDs like ‘The Skipper” and ‘Little Miss Laurie’ and a couple of tunes off Calvin’s CDs and go from there,” Franklin said. “We’ve all played together. I’m looking forward to doing this tribute to Gene Russell and I’m always looking forward to playing.”
Morrison’s Performing Arts Center is located at 4305 Degnan Boulevard, Suite 101.
Discount tickets for “Heroes of Black Jazz, a Tribute to Gene Russell” are $10 and available at www.Goldstar.com. Tickets are also available for $20 at www.BarbaraMorrison.com or at the door. For more information, go to www.bmpac.org.