DENNIS BELL "One of the greatest producers arrives! A phenomenal composer and musician of all time."
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Disilgold: How are you Dennis? What have you been up to lately?
Dennis Bell: I'm doing well Heather. Family is good and I'm at a point in life where I can do what I want when I want to do it. I still teach, guess it's in my blood. It's at the college level now at Mercy College's Music and Music Technology Program in White Plains. I left Truman in '93 and taught at my Alma Mater LaGuardia HS of Music & Art and the Performing Arts in Manhattan til '96. Musically I am still quite active producing (www.cityslickerproductions.com) and running my record label (www.guavajamm.net).
Disilgold: You've worked with a lot of top artists and enjoyed several well deserved awards. Which artists stood out to you and why?
Dennis Bell: Whoa missy! That's very complimentary. There are Gold and Platinum records on the wall but no Grammy's. Been in the NARAS nomination process but that's as far as it got.As far as the artists I liked working with I guess I would say, in the old days, U2 with my choir New Voices of Freedom. The artists I work with now on my label Jazz Singer/Sister-in-Law Lynette Washington, Guitarist John Cariddi and of course I enjoy writing original modern dance/ballet scores for my youngest daughter choreographer Sidra Bell (www.sidrabelldanceneyork.org). I also enjoyed working, professionally, with former students from Truman R&B singer Stephanie McKay, the fabulous Julia Garrison and from LaGuardia Jazz/R&B artist/saxophonist Casey Benjamin (Heavy, Stefon Harris) and drummer Lucianna Padmore. I enjoyed these artists the most because they are real people, great musicians and arte not self-absorbed people.
Disilgold: Which instruments do you play?
Dennis Bell: My primary instrument is piano. I was trained first as a classical pianist. In high school I turned to Jazz and later played piano and keyboards in the R&B, Rock, Pop and Gospel styles. I have dabbled on the flute, trombone, baritone horn, bass, trumpet, guitar and vibes. I would honestly say that i am not very good at any of those. I also have conducted orchestras, choirs and Broadway shows.
Disilgold: Do you feel that a lot of music today is lacking respect for real instrumentation? Just the other day, I was able to master down a loop with digital equipment and young producers seem to be getting by with the same technique which I am not downing at all, but how do you feel about music today as a veteran professor of music?
Dennis Bell:My musical vision has always been looking at the collision of African and European music and seeing the unique art forms that came cascading down the centuries as a result of that collision. Blues, Spirituals, Jazz, Gospel, Rock n Roll, Disco/Club the Caribbean styles (of which there are so many) all are children of that collision. The influence on this music from a variety of African musical cultures can never be underestimated. It is the very essence of our current and past American Music and Culture.
Because of the prevailing racial attitudes, in the history of the Americas, the musical styles had a difficult time being taken seriously..at various times being called "race music", "pop music", "commercial music" and the like. Our American music pervades the entire globe and is the equal of any of the music created at the height of European "Classical" music in the 18th and 19th centuries. However it had great difficulty being recognized for its importance (especially in our secondary schools and colleges) for reasons I'm sure your readers understand all too well. I did a CD/Video/TV show for BBC/Virgin Records in the early 90's entitled "One World, One Voice". It featured everyone from Afrika Bambaataato Sting. It is so apparent that the music of the world is our music.
My connection to jazz in my teens gave me the opportunity of being exposed to our music in a very personal way. My Dad was a pianist in his youth, was a band leader etc but only played by ear. I was fortunate enough to hear artists like Basie, Nat Cole (when he was just a pianist), Fletcher Henderson etc playing in the tiny 3 1/2 room apartment I grew up in, in the Bronx. We formed bands early because my friends were also exposed to the music. My best friend Larry Rosen later became the CEO of GRP Records (the Major Jazz Label) and now is doing the Jazz Legends series on PBS.
We all learned instruments and were trained to sing in choruses in those days before the scourge of TV, the internet and cell phones melted our brains. We learned them in school, private lessons on our own etc. Some of the greatest artists in the history of American Music came out of the NYC school system. That's where they learned their craft. We practiced, we listened to one another and to the great artists of the day. It's not a far fetched stretch to say that the progress of American music, in all it's forms, kept developing until the mid-70's. Then came the downward spiral.
Changes in music often happen because of upheavals and changes in all areas of a society. Well in the mid 70's (I was a music supervisor for the NYC Board of Ed in Brooklyn) I watched the city enter the worst budget crisis since the great depression. In the school system there were huge layoffs. The first to go? Music & Art Teachers. I feel we have never recovered from those years. As a result of not finding the teachers to teach the culture and to keep the musical tradition alive on real instruments and voices the learning of instruments and training singers gradually dissipated until the schools were almost a silent mausoleum.
However, people will always try to express themselves musically and artistically and find a way to do it so the formal training was replaced by turntables, rhythmic rhyming (which was nothing new in our tradition in our culture eg The Last Poets etc) and graffiti. The rest is history. Sorry to be so long winded but I have lived this experience up close and personal and have been sad to see it's decline.
Disilgold: Do you think this is why music sales have decreased over the years as far as support for a variety of music because folks tend to be desensitized to quality music in exchange for strong hooks and beats?
Dennis Bell: Well Heather there isn't any one easy reason to explain the drop in sales. There are a variety of reasons. I think your point about being desensitized to quality music is right on. However, I think the de-sensitivity spreads to a lot of other areas such as TV/Movie violence etc.
In a way, I am happy about some of things that have happened as a result of the concepts ofmajor record labels crumbling. My son is marketing director of itunes and has his finger on the pulse of music sales etc. The biggest seller in the itunes world and the ones growing the most are classical and electronica. That tells you something. I am glad that most any musician, group etc now can get their music heard without some A&R person at a label standing in their way. The Internet has been great for increasing the variety of available music to the public. However it also exposes us to a lot of trash as well as "good" music. In any case it is now the public's choice not a radio programmer or label exec. The problem then of course is how to market and find music in the bin of millions and millions of songs. The person who comes up with the successful idea of marketing digital download sales of music on the internet will be the next Bill Gates. Everyone has been trying to figure out how the new music sales paradigm will work. The music will never go away but we can never predict where it will go and how it will sell. Dennis Bell:
Disilgold: You have seen music transform from soul jazz to funk, disco to techno house to gangster rap, and Hip Hop to pop? As a master of music and sound, which era do you think was the best representation of quality music?
Dennis Bell: I'm not a big believer in picking and choosing eras as being the best representation of quality music. To me it's simple. Listen to one album by Louis Armstrong, one by Charlie Parker (the two major geniuses of 20th Century American Music) and then follow it up by one album each from Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Bill Evans, Stevie Wonder, Earth Wind & Fire, Aretha Franklin and Marvin Gaye and you will die happy.
Disilgold: I have 15 of your albums Dennis and I can pop any of your cd's in my car and feel satisfied where some cd's have top singles, but the rest of the album just doesn't fly. How are you able to master down albums with consistent tracks produced with high quality?
Dennis Bell: Well as I said before I do what I want when I want to do it so I only produce, write stuff and work with who I want to. I can take as much as two years in the writing, producing, performing, mixing and mastering of an album. I try to make each song important. Most people don't realize it but, as I teach my college music classes, the most important element in the music business is THE SONG. You have a great song with a mildly bad singer or a great singer it will make people react positively. Some of the biggest selling records have been done by not great singers, poorly recorded records, amateur performances etc I always start with the song and I hope our albums reflect a consistency from the first to the last song. I know I'm not going to sell millions of albums so my final satisfaction comes from the question: "Dennis do you like what you just did?" If it's "yes" then I am happy. The rest is out of my hands. Sometimes I'll listen to an album and it's like I don't even remember doing any of the things I am hearing. The act of creation is very special. Once it's completed a weird detachment from the process takes place. My daughter says she has the same feeling when she finishes a piece of choreography. Dennis Bell:
Disilgold: I was listening to this artist whose single I really liked, but his performance was awful as far as live presentation. I lost all respect for this artist because in my opinion, and entertainer is 100% quality from mastering down lyrics, arrangement, mixing, editing, producing a track, vocals and performance. How do you know when an artist has this appeal that of course leads to longevity and which artists out there do you think have longevity?
Dennis Bell: Live performance is a different art than recording. We got trix in da studio.
If we knew the answer to who will have longevity in this business we could sell it and also be the next Bill Gates. A lot has to do with genre. Fans in different genres have differing loyalties to artists. I remember seeing blocks of fans lined up around MSG to see the Grateful Dead decades after their last hit. Same for the Allman Brothers etc.
Jazz singers and players can go into their 90's and not lose fans. I went to see the late great Oscar Peterson and one of my biggest influences as a teenager Horace Silver at the Blue Note. The last time i saw Horace was at the Village Gate in the 50's and I still love him. Rachelle Farrell, one the world's great singers, has a following which never ends. Went to see her at the Blue Note also. She may not sell tons of albums and really hasn't even even recorded many. But the fan base will follow her to hell and back.
Earth, Wind & Fire is like that also. We never missed a concert from EWF in the 70's and always took our kids to see it because we wanted them to share the mythical musical/performance experience. Country music, Hip-Hop, Reggae, Dance all have there own loyalties. Some are very short and some last for decades.
Once again it comes back to the fact that these great artists who made great records and then sounded as good or better in performance are a dying breed. The last artist I saw who held his own in performance was Maxwell (Hey kid release another album already!!!!) What bugs me are the minimal artists who have the nerve to cover another great singer's song and then try to stand next to them and sing it along side them. To me it's hysterical. I saw someone do that next to the inimitable Chaka Kahn and said "she's got nerve". It was pitiful. Studio? sounds ok...Live? oops..
Disilgold: When I saw you at a restaurant once, I was shocked. Dennis, you are still that blue-eyed soul everyone marveled over in all respect and I bet folks are shocked to know your wife is black and you are as hip as you want to be? Tell us what its been like in an everlasting relationship? You guys tour and sell out cd's.
Dennis Bell: Hey Lady my eyes are Grey/Green you just didn't look close enough!! hahaha. I don't consider myself "hip" because of my marriage of 29 years. We are just two people making their way through life together. It was like that in our parent's generation. Through thick and thin. Divorce was almost unheard of. We have been together almost 35 years and shock from other people, feeling hip are not part of our family's modus operandi. We have 4 great kids, 6 wonderful grandkids and a big extended family of former students, musicians and colleagues. That's all that really matters.
Touring? Not anymore. Going on the "Road" is a tough life. The first time I went out touring was in the early 60's. The trip was to North Carolina. The South was still segregated and it was my first trip through the Mason Dixon line. The group was a well know big jazz band and was mixed. We did that a few times and I vowed never to go on the "Road" again. It was shocking and very ugly and had a big effect on me. That's when I decided to complete college and teach music. it would allow me lots of free time after 3PM and during all the vacations to continue my professional music career. The first year I hated it but it slowly grew on me.
Most of the time I spent teaching in the NYC school system was in the Bronx. I didn't want to teach in the special schools M&A, Performing Arts because I felt there was so much great talent in the regular schools and I wanted to be a part of developing that. I have never regretted it. I did in the late 70's try the tour again when I was musical director/conductor of the international tour of "Jesus Christ Superstar" and that was it. Tough Life...still didn't love it. I did, from time to time, go out with a fairly well known rapper I was managing and producingin the 80's but that turned out to be not much fun. Dennis Bell:
Disilgold: You were instrumental in launching many new artists and groups, but are a top performer yourself. What are some of the locations where you have toured, awards and honors. I get the news from your pr rep, and have been wanting to announce to the community. Your work is phenomenal so I don't expect to run down all of this, but just give our readers a glimpse of who Dennis Bell is.
Dennis Bell: It would be easier for folks to visit www.guavajamm.net, www.cityslickerproductions.com and see my professional life.
Disilgold: If you could work with an artist you have never worked with, who would it be?
Dennis Bell:Maurice White.
Disilgold: Dennis, what does it take to produce an album from beginning to finish. I hope you don't mind me asking you to run it down. I once asked Spike Lee's editor for most of his movies the same question and I was shocked to find out the amount of time it takes. I am sure some young producers just want to get motivated?
Dennis Bell:I teach classes at Mercy in Producing, writing, midi etc so I am always giving advice.
As I said before I spend a year or two on each project from the songs to the mastering. I always ask my "kids": Are you here for a music career? How long would you like it to last? Everything looks so simple on MTV Cribs, BET but really watch VH1's "Behind the Music" the stories of the FEW people in this business that reach stardom and even less who have Heather's "longevity" and then pay attention to the stories of how they blow it.
I never wanted to be a "star." I loved my music and did everything i could to make sure my career lasted more than the 1 hit wonder average of "3 years" (and that's the tiny percentage of those made it...remember the #1 record in the whole world by the Hues Corporation back in the day? What happened after 1974?). I wanted 30-40 years of musical career. It looks so easy now...a beat...a sample...a rhyme...a vocal etc and I don't blame kids for wanting to get it easy. But the reality is so much different.
Get as much musical/technological training as you can so if someone calls you to do a commercial jingle, conduct a broadway show, write a song for a country singer, a movie score blah, blah, blah you never have to say NO. I always say YES of course let's get going. (If I don't currently know how to do it I go home and learn how to do what they ask). Everyone who is going into the business go back to taking music lessons "old school" style..set aside a few hours a day to work on your craft. Don't get sucked in by beats, samples, power chords and computers.
Disilgold: I am enjoying Champagne Sunset. It is one of your cd's that helps me kick back at Disilgold. I feel grown and in charge. Folks need to really know how to get your albums. What is the fastest way for readers to acquire your music Dennis?
Dennis Bell: Thank you Heather. A compliment from someone with as keen a musical ear as you have is appreciated. We are just releasing the second re-mix single from the album. "Acapulco". The re-mix was done by one of my former students who graduated from Mercy College DJ Victor Sanchez. All the songs on that CD, including the name of the group, Infinite Embrace (once again some former students) come from names ofmixed drinks. The songs were co-written by former Truman Chorus member Julia Garrison who is herself a phenomenal singer and has continued to pursue her musical career.
All our tracks and CDs are available from iTunes (Lynette Washington is an iTunes essential Jazz Artist), emusic, napster,amazon,cdbaby, audiolunchbox, musicnet, rhapsody etc and from our own store http://store.yahoo.com/guavajammstore and samples of all the songs etc on the main site http:www.guavajamm.net and of course http://myspace.com guavajammentertainmentinc.
Disilgold: What are your immediate plans for your production company and what is the full name and site so producers can attend your mentoring sessions?
Dennis Bell:We are releasing, tomorrow June 1, two new albums "Musique Pour La Danse Moderne" which is a double CD set of all the music I have composed for Modern Dance/Ballet and include the scores I wrote for my daughterSidra (www.sidrabelldanceny.org) which were debuted and performed at the Sacramento Ballet, Ballet Austin, CCDT, Perry Mansfield and LaG ARTS. I will be writing all summer for the Ailey II Company and the Juilliard School for which Sidra will be doing the choreography. The music is an eclectic mix of classical techniques, electronica, r&b and jazz. A few tracks feature students from LaGuardia, Mercy and my son Chris. The other is an EP from a Rap/Comedy track (All Trumanites) called "The Yuppie Rap". July 1st comes the debut CD from Jazz Guitarist John Cariddi "Come Together". This summer in addition to the dance scores I write, we will be recording Lynette's new album. For information about private lessons in production/midi etc you can contact me at email@example.com. For the Mercy Music/Music Technology Degree Program you can contact firstname.lastname@example.org and mention my name.
Disilgold: Is it possible some day for us to work together on a children's book with a sound track like Lion king? I have this vision and I want you to be a part of it? You know I am pushing all buttons because I still remember the no nonsense professor who would make us practice 200 times before we all got it right. You actually turned my fashion shows into a Broadway runway if I must day that brought out the house. I remember the song, Body Electric, Fame and all of those scores. Dennis, you are bad my brother.
Dennis Bell:Thanks again Heather for your kind words...I actually have had an idea for children's book with music running through my head for over 10 years...I got as far as the recording, the text and the first illustrations and I lost the Illustrator so I never completed it. It was going to be a series the concept of which I have to keep under my hat...but we can gab about it during the summer some time when both of us are not up to our ears.
Disilgold: So many of your students have been inspired by you and I thank you for joining the Disilgold Soul family. I have found the world's greatest music producer. I don't think folks understand your talent until they see you perform. When is the next big concert?
Dennis Bell: Dag missy you are gonna blow my ego up too far!!! I think I'm good at what I do but so are so many other talented people and I am happy to be part of that great musical tradition and your Disilgold family. You do great things.
My students...well I can't get rid of them.. I get calls from kids I taught my first year of teaching, have worked with a lot of them professionally and one even married into my family so that's how it goes...I have so many great memories of my "gangs" of kids ...thousands of them.
Disilgold: is there any advice you want to give to the youth as well that we can take on the road with us. I quote folks a lot and am a good listener who never forgets quotes, but I forget names. Giggles.
Dennis Bell:"Don't take the easy route! Keep challenging yourself and you'll be surprised of what you are capable of doing!"
Disilgold: Well, we are delighted to have you as a feature guest of Disilgold Dennis. Thank you for stopping by and are there any other sites we should check out and artists or music. Plug your top ten Dennis.
Dennis Bell: www.sidrabelldanceny.org other than that there are just too many thousands to fit in my top ten...
Disilgold: Before I let you go, what are you reading right now?
As in music Heather I have eclectic interests and am a voracious reader. I try to read 1-2 books a week relaxing before sleep.
The Mysterious Montague-Montville
The Power Broker-Caro
The Music of Black Americans-Southern
America's Hidden History-Davis
Jazz In the Bittersweet Blues of Life-Marsalis
If The Creek Don't Rise-Williams
Rising From The Rails-Tye
The Looming Tower-The Road to 9/11-Wright
The Neo-Conservative Revolution-Friedman
Ellis Island interviews-Goan
John F Kennedy-O'Brien
Legacy-Paying the Price for the Clinton Years-Lowry
Eyes on the Prize-Williams
Days of Infamy-Gingrich
The Rosetta Key-Dietrich
Disilgold: Awesome. Thanks Dennis again and please let us know all you're up to so we can keep the community informed. God bless.
Dennis Bell: If you wish to join our newsletter/mailing list please feel free to send your email and request to email@example.com and we will let you know about all the upcoming releases and concerts. Thank you Ms Covington...you have always been such a creative supporter of great things...keep up your good works and I am looking forward to seeing you soon...it's been too long.
COMING THIS SPRING! SIDRA BELL! THE WOMAN BEHIND THE MAN!
Disilgold Media Advisory: August 20, 2008- (Bronx, NY)- Not very often do we get to witness a protege' of the late Nina Simone, and an award winning music concert mogul herself take center stage to pay homage to the late music of Nina Simone.
Music lovers of the great Jazzmobile's Harlem International Jazz Festival winner, Lynette Washington will get a chance to hear music inspired by Nina Simone on September 11, 2008 at Harlem Stage/Aaron Davis Hall,Gatehouse, 150 Convent Avenue at West 135th St. New York, NY 10031.
A very intimate stage setting where you may recall Disilgold SOUL Magazine candid interview with the late Sekou Sundiatta actors and performers before he passed away after an appearance on the Literary Living TV Show, this elaborate theater brings the sights and sound of music, poetry and stage productions to life in New York City. It is going to be some show when Lynette Washington performs, sister -in-law of Dennis Bell. Her melodic and sultry toned voice melts and soothes the crowd as it did during the Jazzmobile, the standard for New York crowd approval of the best music and jazz artists. It's going to be a full house.
Show time begins at 8:10pm and piano accompaniment is provided by Dennis Bell, Bass by Alex Blake, Saxophones by Casey Benjamin, and Drums by Victor Jones. Once you see this production, you'll know a quality production from here on out. There is nothing like this ensemble being performed on one of the most memorable days in history.
September 11th commemorates those victims we lost to the World Trade Center Travesty and I can't think of a better way for families and those who cared to celebrate, honor and pay homage to lost lives with quality music.
Disilgold.com recommends for music lovers to spend their post labor day final days of summer vacation at Aaron Davis Hall on September 11, 2008. To order tickets before they are all sold out, visit the BOX OFFICE. Relax, rejuvenate, get innovated and inspired.
This event is endorsed by DisilgoldSOUL Magazine.
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