Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Cynthia Scott's Dream for One Bright World

I love discovering a new artist, in this case one who not only sings the songs spectacularly, but who wrote them as well. After listening just once to Cynthia Scott’s new CD, Dream For One Bright World, it was clear to me why it was the first all-original female vocal recording to hit the JazzWeek Chart, making it the first time JazzWeek had included a singer performing all new material rather than classics. With its blends of jazz and gospel, it’s soul stirring.

Right from the first number, “If the Shoe Fits,” I was in love with her voice and her superb accompaniment -- thrilling Etienne Charles on trumpet. “You’re caught up/in self pity./ Release you pain./ Let it go./ Set it free.” I love her no-nonsense delivery.

A former Ray Charles Raelette, she pays tribute to that great artist, who gave her her big break in 1972, in the song “Shades of Ray,” and to others who came before her and left their mark on the jazz world -- Sarah Vaughan, Carmen McCrae, Peggy Lee, Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington -- in “Just A Singer.”

Scott’s roots as a preacher’s daughter prompted her to create ”Vision on High,” a song about looking into our hearts to avoid the same mistakes of wars and lies.  “Listen to the heart/of a child that can see/. . . the visions of love from on high.”  She also pays homage to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in “I Have a Dream,” a bonus track of a song written by her late brother-in-law, the Rev. Clifton Levert, Jr., right after Dr. King was assassinated.

Her songs also consider the darker side of contemporary life. “The Man in the Street” is about encountering the homeless and “Did I Know You?” is about trying to talk to an elderly loved one who no longer knows you, something I can relate to now that my mother no longer recognizes me. Scott knows this too -- mother suffered from Alzheimer's -- but what is special is that she wrote it from the perspective of the person who suffers from this disease.  Scott knew what she felt, but wondered what her mother was going through and feeling.

My favorite song is the title track, in which she is backed at the end by third, fourth and fifth graders from PS32 in Brooklyn, NY. They sing of a better day and a desire for unity. “There’s a new day dawning./ The time is now./ The world is ready for a change.” It made me feel the joy and hopefulness I felt the night Barack Obama was elected president. She asks us to teach the children to work together, the children who never had a chance, but whose time is now “to share a dream/for one bright world.” “Can we shift from serving war/to the brotherhood of man,” she asks. “Oh, children of the world,/your voices will be heard.”

As soon as I heard this song I thought how appropriate it would be for my church, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, with our message of love and inclusiveness. I’ve proposed Scott sing it for our annual New Year’s Eve Concert for Peace. I hope it happens!
Scott was inspired to create the song “Dream” because of the difficulties children have in understanding the decisions made by adults. She wanted to write a piece that would speak for the children that allowed their voices to be heard, including the child in her. She has traveled widely as an artist and as a jazz ambassador and has observed children all over the world.  She believes they should be allowed to just be children, knowing that adults are making the right decisions on their behalf.  The song conveys the children’s pleas to make a positive change. This song speaks for them, that one day they can wake up to a beautiful world.

She is accompanied on the CD by such great musicians as Lonnie Plaxico on acoustic bass, John di Martino on piano and keyboard, Bill Easley on tenor/alto/soprano saxophones and flute, Yoron Israel on drums, Jeff Haynes on percussion, Wayne Escoffrey on tenor, Andrae Murchison on trombone and Etienne Charles on trumpet.

A native of Arkansas, who developed her love of music early on while singing in church, Scott talks about being a jazz ambassador. “My goal is to try to lift the world with my music and to encourage and inspire all of us to treat each other as equals, trying to connect soul-to-soul to audiences worldwide.” 

She said she recently received a phone call from the owner of a funeral home. He had finished a service and was driving back in his hearse when he heard her song “Did I Know You?” on the radio. He said he had to pull over to the side of the road and cried like a baby.  “I knew then that the stories were getting through, being heard and felt,” she says.

“Dream for One Bright World” is a blessing of a CD. Order one for yourself, and get copies for holiday presents. It is truly a gift.

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