Debbie Burke

Jazz Author

Welcome to A Jazzy Blog!

The latest on my upcoming novel GLISSANDO – A story of love, lust & jazz

Book cover final25


3.23.17 ~Bookmarks have arrived for BEA! Very satisfied with how they turned out.

3.17.17 ~ Ordered custom-print bookmarks for BEA (Book Expo America); chose butter-yellow background surrounding Glissando book cover

3.14.17 ~ A month and a day away from presenting at the Author’s Expo at the Eastern Monroe Public Library in Stroudsburg, PA, held on April 15

3.12.17 ~ Getting organized for Book Expo America/NYC May 31 – June 2

3.10.17 ~ The cover is revealed! Publication date set for July 2018.

All about everything jazz!

Bitten by the jazz bug? I was too, at the age of 15, when I heard John Coltrane’s “Once in a While” on New York City’s old WQXR Radio.

Now all I seem to want to do is write about jazz!

Great Q&A, jazzy insights, musical musings and what it’s like to be a published jazz author, all here. Please click FOLLOW at the bottom of the page to get the latest updates!

Also: check out my blog posts on the famed Jamey Aebersold’s music education website, It’s amazing to be able to write for Mr. Aebersold and his top-notch staff.

 Now listed on MusicClout–   the web’s premier music industry marketing resource!xqiigBdp_400x400

Feel free to comment here and I hope this brings you a really jazz day!

(Header photo “Portrait of Baby Dodds” by jazz documentarian William Gottlieb/Library of Congress)
All contents (c) Debbie Burke 2017
Featured post

Stirrin’ Up Some Heat on the Bass

CHristian McBride2

Christian McBride is a bassist, composer, arranger and jazz commentator/host. He tours and travels the world with the energy of a man constantly pumped up on the spirit of the music.

It is from listening to him play that you feel his joy for the art form. His tight musical sense of connection with other artists is strikingly apparent in the very rich and easy-going “Conversations with Christian,” his interview show now on Sirius XM’s “Real Jazz.”

What has been the biggest change in the music industry from when you began?

The instruments and sound world have become a lot smaller since early 1980s. In an instant, you can pull out your smartphone and immediately find out what somebody’s doing halfway around the world. You can put music out there and anyone can access it.

What has been the biggest change in the music itself over the years, as in, how jazz sounds?

Probably the last development that has unanimously shaken the boat in the jazz community was fusion in 70s.

Instrument you would love to learn?

Often I have dreams that I’m McCoy Tyner, so maybe the piano.

Top musical influences?

James Brown, Ray Brown, Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea, Oliver Nelson, Quincy Jones, Jaco Pastorius, Cannonball Adderley, Frank Sinatra.

Top personal influences?

My mother Renee, who has been a huge influence. She has so much integrity, she’s so smart and has a lot of guts.

Benny Green was probably my first really close friend in my school years. I met him when I was 17. He was a major influence.

What is your favorite aspect of your career right now: composing, performing, producing or as a host of your radio show?

I’m pretty good at being able to focus completely on whatever I’m doing at the moment.

Being behind the bass is probably where I feel the most natural.

Most interesting radio interview and why?

I’ve had some fun ones. Maybe Lou Donaldson, he made me laugh the hardest. Also Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. I was so humbled and awestruck. He’ll do that to you.

What is the key to great improv?

Relinquishing yourself to the mood. Never to overthink.

How did you learn the discipline to practice your craft?

No one ever had to tell me I had to practice. I couldn’t wait to do it.

Where would you like to perform that you have not yet visited?

India. I’m dying to get there.

Would you say the bass is your alter ego when you perform?

Big time. Without question.

Describe your experience with the full orchestra doing “The Movement Revisited” and what did you take away from the success of that performance?

There’s been a few of those. The first time, in 1998, my honest thought was I can’t wait to do this again when it’s a little more developed. I knew people would enjoy it in 1998. I learned as a performer that as long as you play your heart out and give them the most you can, people will appreciate it.

If you’re composing something, you know when it’s not quite what you want to give the audience. When we played it in 2008 that’s when I was really excited.

Do you feel we have made any progress against racism in the music industry? Are you hopeful for our society as a whole?

There are two ways to deal with racism in music. One is to channel your anger into the music and be a reporter of your culture. Often you are preaching to the choir. If the person who is a racist is not a fan of your music, then your anger is not going to matter to them. If a racist likes your music, I have a feeling they can turn it off.

I think of someone like Sly Stone. Without making one single radical musical song per se, you look onstage and see he’s got two women, two white guys, two black guys. There’s this amazing racial mix and they’re making this fun music together, they’re harmonizing. That would touch a racist better.

You’re a big football fan. Do you see a correlation between jazz and organized sports?

I think there are a lot of parallels between them. You have a playbook, you have a plan of attack, just like in jazz. The melody is written and the changes are determined. There is a blueprint for you to improvise. Sometimes when you get on a court you have to improvise based on what’s given to you in the moment, based on what you know.

Future projects?

Continuing to juggle all these different new ensembles: my quartet, my big band, and then NPR Jazz, my radio show “Conversations with Christian,” curating for the Newport Jazz Festival and the New Jersey Performing Arts Center.

Photo credit: R. Andrew Lepley

© 2017 Debbie Burke

Improvise to Survive: An Interview with Lawrence Bush

Larry Bush headshot for blog

Lawrence Bush, a many-times-over author and the editor of the progressive website/magazine “Jewish Currents”, has an octopus-like curiosity and a deep reach into the uncountable facets of Jewish life and sensibility. Among the topics he has written on are the Jewish Resistance, showbiz, racism and Apartheid, poetry, Communism and of course, American politics.

Insisting he knows much more about rock ‘n roll and the blues than jazz, he has nevertheless written about jazz, and very succinctly and beautifully so.

With a well-rounded world view and as a critical observer of society, Larry agreed to expound a bit on jazz and a writer’s life.

How do you choose your topics for Jewish Currents, or is it that “they choose you”?

I’m the editor of a small, 72-year-old, progressive Jewish magazine, which also has a very active website, so I always feel the pressure to be writing about what’s happening in the news. But most of my writing is filtered through personal experience — what’s happening in the news, yes, but through the lens of what’s happening in my life. I’m a confessional writer, I do that well. The main emotions that inspire me to write are outrage at how people are getting shafted, delight in people’s creativity, and wistfulness about how, in the words of that great song by Lou Singer and Hy Zaret, “It Could Be a Wonderful World.”

I also write a daily historical blog, “Jewdayo,” about the date in Jewish history. That brings me into many worlds, as Jews have been so extensively and dynamically involved in culture and science and political change over the last couple of centuries.

Do you think the spirit of jazz, especially the improvisation process, resonates particularly with the Jewish heritage?

Interesting question. There’s a Yiddish word, “shpilkes,” that describes can’t-sit-still energy, which often combines anxiety with creativity. A lot of Jews have shpilkes, thanks to historical displacement and the constant need to improvise in order to survive. A lot of Jews also have ambition, which is part of shpilkes. I think both improvisation and ambition are big elements of jazz.

Favorite jazz artists, dead or living?

I love Louis Armstrong, especially playing with Duke Ellington. Did you know that Armstrong wore a Jewish star throughout his adult life? He was paying tribute to this Jewish New Orleans couple who helped him out as a kid, helped him get his first horn. I love Miles Davis, always thought of Kind of Blue as the aural equivalent of taking heroin (which I’ve never done). I love Oscar Petersen, find him very soothing, which helps me tune in. I love the amazing percussiveness of Dave Brubeck’s piano playing, and I love dancing to Paul Desmond, he has provided my wife and me with many moments.

I’ve been encouraged as a musician (guitar player) by Diana Krall because of the simplicity of her playing, and also by Rickie Lee Jones because of the originality of her jazz covers; she makes the songs her own and wrings the emotion from them. I love Cassandra Wilson, another true original, and how she covers such a wide range of material. I listen a lot to Keith Jarrett, and I’ll buy anything with Charlie Haden on it. I’m afraid I’m pretty out of it with current jazz, though I am making some discoveries . . .

Opinion on klezmer?

When I watch Betty Boop cartoons or other creations of Max and Dave Fleischer, I say, Ahh, there’s the true essence of klezmer! And I love the music’s energy. But while I’m very glad that the klezmer revival has brought so many young Jews into consideration of the creativity of Jewish identity, I never put on the music, it doesn’t turn me on for more than a few minutes before I get weary. 

Politically, do you think jazz as an art form bridges ideological differences?

I have no idea, but I think if you love jazz or play jazz you’ve got to have some kind of anti-racist consciousness, some ability to appreciate rather than worry about human variety, and I would HOPE that this makes it hard to be a killer-conservative.

Just like folk music was an expression of social unrest, do you think jazz has (OR had) as strong a connection with challenging the status quo?

Jazz is black music, black American music. Along with West Side Story and “The New Colossus” (Emma Lazarus’s sonnet about the Statue of Liberty) and the polio vaccine and a few movies, I would say that jazz is the greatest American contribution to world culture. That means that black Americans are responsible for the greatest American contribution to world culture. That acknowledgment of black people as quintessentially American is, sadly enough, a strong challenge to the status quo in our country.

Jazz is also about intellect, expertise, sexual energy, cooperation, and uncertainty. All of those elements are challenging to the status quo, which tends to be anti-intellectual and individualistic, often favors the pacification of mediocrity, and is unnerved by sex and by uncertainty.

How did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I’ve been writing forever. I was fortunate to come of age in the 1960s, when people actually believed we would be able to make a living by expressing ourselves. My definition of a writer is someone who, when they’re feeling deeply, wants to go and write (and does it).

How did you get the position of speechwriter for Rabbi Schindler? What is most memorable about those experiences?

In 1984, I was four months into unemployment insurance and my wife and I were driving the Taconic Parkway and talking about what my next job should be. We stopped at a diner and sat at the counter — the place was empty, just one other customer — and I told her that I’d be interested in still focusing on Jewish politics and culture in my next job, instead of trying to write on other subjects, if I could land a job with Al Vorspan. Al was the second-in-command in the Reform synagogue movement and I knew him only by reputation as a politically courageous guy. IF I could get a job with someone like him, I said, and take my radical ideas into the Jewish liberal mainstream, I would remain, professionally, in Jewish life. Well, that other customer came over to me and said, “I hear you talking about Al Vorspan. He’s my brother-in-law.” And he called Al from the pay phone there in the diner, and put me on the phone, and Al wrote a book with me and then handed me over to Rabbi Schindler, the president of the movement, who was looking for a speechwriter. I did that for the next thirteen years.

Another book in the works?

I’ve had seven books published and, while there’s always a novel in the drawer, I’m not sure if book-writing is where I’ll go when I have more time on my hands. I’m involved in visual art, in music, in making little videos, in a lot of non-fiction writing, and I’m not sure if the pace of the culture surrounding me will encourage me to write a book or to spin out a lot of smaller projects.

I will be putting out a book next year of my Jewish essays and artworks, kind of a culminating collection of whatever I’ve had to say of value on those subjects, and there may be another book or two in my future, but who knows? What I don’t want is to be involved in any more is the emotion of “Who’s going to publish this? What if nobody publishes this?”

Current projects/future wishes?
Jewish Currents just landed some significant funding that will allow us to staff up and build generational bridges, so I’m very excited at the prospect of building my own legacy there. I’m also about to become a grandfather for the first time, and I LOVE baby energy.

Right now I’m trying to master John Lennon’s strum on “All My Loving,” which is hard because I play with my fingers, not with a pick (worth listening to!). Overall, I’m trying to learn how to learn, which is the main thing I’d like to be doing for the rest of my life.

For more information, please visit

(c) Debbie Burke 2017

A Novelist’s Journey, Episode 6: Of Typos and Grammar Gremlins

red pencil

Come on, see how brave you are.

Open yourself up to edits. Really; open yourself up. Split your writer’s self wide open and wait…for the inevitable wave of corrections you are about to receive. Some kindly, some not so lovingly, some maybe with annoyance and impatience.

This is me, talking to myself, as I await the changes on my got-it-as-far-as-I-can-go-alone manuscript.

Usually, I’m pretty typo averse. Nobody’s perfect, but I strain to be, with multiple re-readings and a healthy dose of two a.m. anxiety. With grammar, I think I’m pretty darn on the mark as well.

But my mistakes (writer: know thyself) are the stupidest of the stupid. I omit words. Small words (usually prepositions) that get lost in my brain as I cut, paste and fling phrases all over the page, always deconstructing and reconstructing.

Several years ago when I still freelanced for my bread and butter, I was asked by the editor of a community newspaper if I would write a column. I was thrilled and of course said yes.

The newspaper, which had a respectable circulation (this was before print was in jeopardy), regularly featured multiple errors and writing gaffes in the following order: proper nouns were misspelled the most, then came the clumsy writing (huge parenthetical phrases, even more twisted and meandering than my own). Lastly, and this is not a mistake so much as poor writing, the flow and structure failed to address what somebody in the newsroom must have known about – but ignored – which is that the most burning questions that would torture readers when they read the articles would remain unanswered.

And today, having just submitted my beloved manuscript to my publisher and through her, my editor, I await the red pencil of doom.

At the moment, I wait with excitement, because something cocky inside my brain insists the story is superlative and everyone will fall in love with it.

When reality hits, though, the picture won’t be so pretty. I’m sure some mornings will find me dragging butt into work with a long (exhausted) face, having barely survived another onslaught of “Debbie, WTF were you thinking when you wrote this!”

They tell you to “kill your babies,” meaning, get rid of the verbiage you think is perfect because if you are so attached to it, there must be something wrong with it, and it has to be excised from your flawed manuscript. Message being, you need to start writing like a grownup.

My babies and my gremlins, I love them all.

But I’m a-ready.   

Bring on the cruel red hatchet.

(c) Debbie Burke 2017


Smooth-Edged Velvet Funk From Brother2Brother


In 2001 the Carter brothers (Chaz and Winston) formed a smooth jazz group called Midtown. Finding initial success, they went on the road and opened shows for national artists like R&B superstar Roy Ayers and many others.

A few years later (2004) they reinvented themselves as Brother2Brother and immediately saw their debut CD “Forever” (Carzino Entertainment) enjoy great results. With a lot of their songs gaining popularity on outlets like CD Baby, iTunes, Amazon Prime, YouTube, and mom and pop stores, the Carters are building on that success while booking their calendars and getting the music out. Their plan is to broaden their fan base and “introduce a style of contemporary jazz to ages 30 – 60,” according to Chaz.

Right now, the Carters are looking forward to releasing their as-yet-unnamed new album. It will include a few covers and a special song for their social media platform called “Bumping to the Groove” which will be released with a video.  It’s jazz and R&B and funk, combined.

When did you make the decision to team up and form a group together?

We were born to do this, it’s in our soul.

We were always around music from family members like our grandfather, the late Ernest Williams (guitar) and our dad was an entertainer.

How will you convert your hometown of Pittsburgh into “the city of brotherly jazz”?

We’re bringing a new style of contemporary jazz and R&B. It gives us a change of flavor in the P’burgh market.

Back in the early ’60s Pittsburgh was known for jazz with venues like The Hurricane and the Crawford Grill, and great musicians like George Benson, Billy Eckstine, Erroll Garner and Billy Strayhorn. There is the Billy Strayhorn Theatre and the August Wilson Center.

What instruments do each of you play?

Winston plays lead guitar, keyboards, and drums.  Chaz plays the drums and trombone. Both of us compose, write lyrics and arrange. We do 2 shows in one.

Who are the other musicians in your band?

Al Everson – keyboard player, and Ronnie Biggs- bass and keys

Describe the difference between R&B and smooth jazz, and why does your music straddle both styles?

Most R&B songs became smooth jazz instrumentals.  Our style combines them both.

We like a blend of contemporary jazz and R&B, it gives us the balance we’re looking for. We create our own flow pattern.

Where have you appeared?

Our past performances have been in Cleveland, Philadelphia, Chicago, Columbus, and Cincinnati just to name a few.  We’ve been on National Smooth Jazz TV with host Carmen Smith, on local radio, and on regional Comcast Cable network. We did the West Coast Jazz Fest, played with George Dukes, Al Jarreau, Angela Bofill, Marion Meadows, Herman Jackson and others.

Which musicians who came before inspire you?

James Brown, Earth, Wind & Fire, Norman Brown, Brian Culbertson, Billy Cobham, Stanley Clarke and the list goes on and on.

What gives you your unique sound?

Having the ability to take R&B, jazz, funk and soul and combine the music to please our jazz contemporary and R&B audiences.

What is the most common thing your fans say about your music?  

Our fans say we’re very versatile and smooth and that we provide a great variety of music.

We get write-ups that say we have an electrifying energy. They love our concert styles and our performanceship.

OK, so how do you feel when you perform?

We bring it. We are totally exhausted.

We get almost possessed; out of body. We go to another level, from funk and fusion back into a smooth jazz feel and by that time the audience is lifted and pumped, and we vibe off the audience.

What does 2017 look like?

Currently we’re setting up our 2017 promotional tour. We’ll start off in North Carolina and South Carolina, then Florida. We’re not holding back the train!

Where would you like to perform in the future?

On stage at the Grammy’s!

We feel we have great songs and we have a chance to compete for a Grammy. 

Where do you go (in your head) when you play?

I go into combat, like drill sergeant time.  We go to war.  I become Charles, Chuckie, Chaz Carter, all personalities.  We become ’sessed with our music.

Photo credit: Supplied by the artists

(c) Debbie Burke 2017

A Novelist’s Journey, Episode 5: Today’s Literary Pet Rock


A SLAP IN THE FACE TO AUTHORS EVERYWHERE- of every genre- “Reasons to Vote For Democrats”

The ultimate gag-gift “”book”” (it belongs in TWO sets of quotes) that just became a runaway bestseller makes ME gag. “Reasons to Vote for Democrats” which is blank on the inside (oh, I’m laughing so hard) just highlights how gimmicks will always sell to a few suckers. You may even buy one for your fave Progressive or Conservative frenemy.

It is clever…for about a millisecond.

The toil, imagination, organization, research and talent required to actually write and publish a book has nothing to do with this rube whom I will not name (so what if he has written other and ostensibly “more serious” books).

As somebody who wrote and published my first book and is in the very delicious midst of having my second book edited, I am almost speechless. Although it’s not worth the angst, it does make one wonder what sells and why…and how to ride that gravy train with integrity (as in, write a damn book!).

It’s a flash in the pan and – although I briefly considered my own literary pet rock (“How to Raise Children and Stay Sane” or “A Case for Abandoning Chocolate”) – I am moving on.

Keep writing, keep editing, be the best author you can. Don’t be distracted by the drivel.

 Photo Credit:
© Debbie Burke 2017

A Novelist’s Journey – Episode 4


Inspirational as a Sunrise!

Your First Writer’s Conference:

How to Survive and Thrive

If I knew then what I know now…I would have had a much better experience at my first writer’s conference.

Though I didn’t make any fatal mistakes, it would have been great to have these tips under my belt when I walked into that event.

Here’s how to squeeze everything of value from your first time around to be a better and more connected writer.

  1. Talk to everybody

I’m a natural-born introvert. Many people don’t exactly know this because I’ve done radio interviews, been filmed for a cable show, and done numerous readings of my first book to all different kinds of audiences. I know that I appear very comfortable with crowds and individuals alike, shooting the breeze and interacting like it’s second nature.

It’s not. What I do is channel the inner actor in me and forge ahead.

Yet I didn’t do it enough and I kind of regret it.

Here’s what I learned.

It was in Boston and I’d have to say there were a good 200 participants, plus a panel of about ten experts (literary agents and publishers), with a moderator.

While I talked to a few people before the event as we waited for the venue to officially open, I should have put my shyness aside and talked to everybody who made friendly eye contact. There was certainly enough time when we got inside and settled in to then walk around the room and just start talking to people. Now I realize I fell woefully short of the potential of this event.

DO: Chit-chat about your travails as a writer, why you chose your subject matter and what you are looking forward to. Keep it light and stay positive!

DON’T: Try to pitch the other writers. They don’t need anybody else’s elevator speech. They’re trying to perfect their own before their five minutes with the literary agents and publishers who they’re about to meet, and trust me, the energy level is pretty high. Everybody has a case of the nerves.

  1. Don’t lunch alone

I’d been to Boston only once before (I’m a native New Yorker who considers Boston a sister city). On the way over from my hotel to the conference center, I took note of the restaurants I passed just in case lunch wasn’t readily available at the conference. It was a sunny, beautiful fall day and temperate enough to walk a few blocks. I chose P.F. Chang’s, and scooted out one of the back doors as soon as we broke for lunch. I was determined to get there ahead of the crowds.

Success! I had ample time to savor the Mongolian Beef and boy was it fantastic. I looked over the paperwork I had collected from the handouts and proceeded to digest what I learned during the first half of the conference. I pondered over which agents I would approach and what I would say to them. It was all taking form. I was feeling confident.

A few minutes into my meal, in walked a small group of people who were clearly talking about the same conference. Were they friends to begin with? It was apparent from the conversation that they were not.

I got a good jump on lunch and didn’t have to wolf down my food. I had plenty of time afterwards to walk around the city before the conference started again. And how was that helping me to be a better writer?

DO: Step out of your little box and mingle. Every minute of conference day is an opportunity to learn something new, either from another writer who brings fresh insights or from the other publishing professionals or the presenter himself.

DON’T: Lunch alone. So what if you’ll never see these people again? You are there to split your mind wide open to new writerly ideas! It’s what you came for.

  1. Exchange business cards

If you don’t have any, make them cheaply and quickly with somebody like Vistaprint or another fast online printer. Choose a simple graphic that reflects who you are as a writer, or use your head shot or the cover of your book if you’ve been published. Make sure your email address, website or blog address, and telephone number are there.

DO: Use them to reach out and then keep in touch post-event. Follow-up is a huge part of networking.

DON’T: Be embarrassed or apologetic about giving out cards.

  1. Hang around afterwards

My feet were killing me (oh and that’s another tip: comfortable shoes are a must!) so I couldn’t wait to get back to my hotel room and fling my kitten-heels across the room.

But if I had milled around a little and gotten into a conversation with a few other writers who were clearly bent on continuing the conference afterwards on a more informal level, I would have exposed myself to more ideas. Maybe even had a little bit of fun while doing it. I mean, I went to Beantown alone, so it’s not like there was somebody back at the hotel waiting for me.

If they are going to the bar to have drinks, go along, even if you don’t drink (nobody feels funny about this anymore, and cranberry juice with a lime wedge does just fine). You never have to see these people again if you don’t want to, and on the other hand, it is a fantastic way to unwind after the pressures of being “on” and pitching those scary agents.

DO: Know when it’s time to call it a day, so that you don’t run out of that positive energy and start to fade.

DON’T: Forget those cards in your briefcase! It’s not a come-on, it’s building your contacts.

  1. Talk to the panelists- they don’t bite

Actually, in retrospect, one did. But I survived (and thrived!).

So one of the panelists was an agent who had particularly witty and on-point responses to audience questions. When “first pages” were read out loud (submitted by a few brave writers, and thank God they never got to mine!) her comments were extremely thought-provoking. Her no-nonsense approach and intelligence came through loud and clear. This was one person I made a mental note to query when I got back home. I loved her already!

I thought my manuscript was in great shape. It was ready. When I emailed her with a pithy and flawless query she snapped, “Debbie, didn’t anybody ever tell you that 40,000 words is not enough for a novel? I’ll pass.” My heart sank. Her tone deflated me and her words lingered in my brain for days. To be honest, weeks.

She was right: there was more story to tell, and I fleshed it out until it truly felt complete. But I’ll never forget her line- didn’t anybody ever tell me…it sounded so churlish and condescending.

Talk to the panelists anyway, even if they DO end up biting. You’ll learn so much that the temporarily bruised ego is worth it.

DO: Go all in. No matter what. Lick your wounds at home.

DON’T: Perseverate on the negative feedback, because when you strip away the perceived attitude or insult, there is often a kernel of truth that you can use to be a better writer!

(c) Debbie Burke 2017

Earning a Seat with the Ladies of Jazz


Aziza Miller was a teacher in the New York City school system, and, because music has always been a huge part of her life, infused jazz into her classroom lessons whenever it was possible. She asked her students if they knew of any jazz musicians and found their realm of experience allowed for responses like Stevie Wonder or James Brown.

“I realize how blessed I was to be exposed not only to jazz but every kind of music,” recalls the pianist and singer. “The students didn’t get that exposure. I pondered over how I could pull them in so they would be interested.” She found her answer in rap, knowing the genre would get them to listen.

She wanted to give her students an understanding of the pillars of jazz, and that became the inspiration for “J to the A [and Double the ZZ]” – a song that highlights a wide range of jazz artists and the songs they’re known for.

Aziza, like many others trying to break into the industry, kept her day job while performing in clubs at night when she could get gigs. One evening, she finished her set and a gentlemen in the audience by the name of Jimmy introduced himself. He was also a piano player. “He told me ‘I liked the way you play. Let me have your number because sometimes when I get gigs I can’t take, I’ll give them to you.’”

She didn’t expect to hear from him, but two weeks later he called. “He told me that there’s this new singer out who is Nat King Cole’s daughter and she’s looking for a piano player.” Jimmy said he was tired of traveling and didn’t want to do the gig, would she mind taking it?

Aziza took the offer and Natalie Cole hired her on the spot. Since then, Aziza’s career has taken off. She met jazz pianist Ahmad Jamal when she was working on Natalie’s song La Costa, and found out he loved the song so much that he recorded it himself instrumentally. “Then a couple of years later he wanted to know if I would consider writing lyrics to four of his compositions. My mind was totally blown away.”

Even though she retired from the public schools in 1997, Aziza has continued teaching for organizations like the 92nd Street Y and the New York Foundation for the Arts, playing at church, and giving private lessons.

Aziza Miller appeared at The Iridium in NYC on 3/21/17. As it was Women’s History Month, her performance featured three ladies of jazz “who really touched me” she said, referring to Roberta Flack, Nina Simone and Tania Maria. Aziza also performs at the Greater Hartford Festival of Jazz on July 14, 2017.

How did you approach jazz when you taught middle school and high school?

I introduced it to my students during Black History and Women’s History Month. We would discuss, describe and define what jazz sounded like, where it began in America and who were some of the major contributors to this music. I wrote vocal jazz arrangements for my choirs of students to sing. They were so good at it that we caught the attention of Pope John Paul at the Vatican in Rome and multi Grammy award-winning composer Marvin Hamlisch who collaborated with me on a song he composed. He played piano and insisted that I conduct it at a concert with my students who sang at Madison Square Garden for the slain Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

How did you get started with music?

I had piano lessons at the age of 8, and I loved the instrument.

When did you start writing music?

In 1977 I started composing music seriously. I was inspired by conversations, my travels and personal experiences.

Your sound is funk, jazz, Latin, smoothness and groove. A favorite sub-genre?

I grew up on it all and I love those genres. I’m the summation of what I’ve digested.

Barriers and obstacles, if any, in the recording industry?

I really try not to let some people’s misconceptions of me define, undermine or confine me. I got my first big break in this music biz from the superstar Natalie Cole. She hired me in 1975 to be her first female music director/pianist and conductor. There weren’t many women doing that back then. I learned from her how to be powerful and confident in what I do.

My master’s degree in music education and a bachelor’s in theory has helped also. I can read, write, compose, transpose, sight sing and arrange music in many styles. My jazz teachers and mentors were pianist Kenny Barron and Horace Silver. The bassist and my friend Paul West gave me the tools I needed early on. I’m blessed.

Self Love Kiss (SLK) has a fantastic sound. What inspired that?

Self Love Kiss was inspired by my life experiences and is about self-esteem issues. Learning to love yourself is the path to healing.

Did you study the classical masters, and how did that inform your jazz sensibility?

Yes, Bach and Chopin. Classical music helps with technical facilitation and melodic awareness and appreciation.

This story was read live on air on 2/21/17 and can now be heard on under “archives”.

(c) Debbie Burke 2017

Behind the Lens, In Front of the Bebop


The Images and Career of Jazz Photographer Anthony Barboza

The young Anthony Barboza couldn’t wait to get out of the Navy so he could start using his camera and record the world around him in what would become an astoundingly unique style.

Besides an impressive body of commercial work that he has built through several decades, what Anthony Barboza is really known for is capturing the moments where creativity is truly churning. That happens no more demonstrably than in the jazz world.

How did you get your start?

When I got out of high school, my aunt knew this photographer from New York, so I went into this group called Kamoinge in 1963 with (photographer) Roy DeCarava. Everybody would show their photos and we’d critique them. That was the most important part of my learning because I didn’t go to college.

You look at some of Roy’s photos. He would shoot three girls walking in the wind. It’s about a struggle with life. There’s more than one meaning when you look at a photograph. It tells more about the person who took it than about the image.

When did you break into commercial work?

From 1963 to 1965 I tried to get a job as a photographer’s assistant but if you have no experience you can’t get a job. So I decided to start my own little studio. I went into commercial work to pay the bills. I do fashion, advertising, and magazine work, so as long as I’m doing photos eight hours a day I can also work on my own projects.

I never asked an assistant who worked for me if they had experience. I taught them myself. If you take the time to teach, then you have better assistants.

Why did you gravitate towards jazz artists?

The first project when I had free time was doing portraits of artists, musicians, actors and so on. I won a National Endowment for the Arts grant in 1980 for that series. I took the money and published this little book, and called it “Black Borders.” I dedicated it to everyone I met and learned from.

From the 80s to the 90s I took jazz photos in clubs. I met musicians in the studio, and started hanging out with them at night. I realized musicians are very competitive with each other, but I had a certain personality that I could blend with that. I enjoyed being around musicians, they’re very loose. I was good friends with Miles Davis for 20 years.

I love photographing painters too.

How did you choose this career?

It’s called the Clue. If you pay attention throughout your life, you’re given clues to what you’re going to do. You just have to open your mind.

Who would you most like to work with that you haven’t yet?

I would have loved to meet Obama, to have a conversation with him and photographed him.

What’s the reaction to your current project “Black Dreams/White Sheets”?

The book is laid out. I hope it will be out next year (2018). There will be a lot of controversy over the images. It’s different from anything that’s been done.

I won’t explain it to people. They have to discover the underlying meanings for themselves. Ishmael Reed (poet/playwright) is doing the intro.

You’re well-traveled. How did that inform your craft?

In Bali there are a lot of artists, it’s how they make a living. I’ve been there twice.

I loved Brazil, Italy, Paris and Senegal. So I would go take a vacation and photograph. Some of the best jobs I ever had, because you could do anything, was the “A Day in the Life” books. I did a day in the life of Israel, Hollywood and Africa. I liked those jobs.

What method do you use to make an emotional connection with your subjects?

There’s no set formula. When you meet somebody, you draw from that person a certain feeling. I play it by the feelings I get.

Each person in “Black Borders” has a different lighting and a different background. It talks about their personality.

Photography is a lot more complicated than most people realize. Some people impose their own personality on the subject. That’s a bad habit. You’ll see a series of photographs by a photographer and you notice they look the same in a certain sense. That means he’s a novice.

Your photos have a very ethereal feeling. How did that style develop?

I did a lot of different lighting for jobs so I got a lot of skills. Everything I photograph has three or more underlying meanings that are not always recognized with a quick glance.

Jazz photos were all still life. When I’m photographing jazz, it’s constant movement, it’s notes, it’s evolving. I started doing it as blurred motion like when I’m in the clubs. It’s a different approach from other photographers. That’s one of the trademarks of my jazz photographs. 

Any other comments?

I taught one semester of photography at NYU. I don’t try to push what I want you all to do, I’m trying to inspire you to do what you’re feeling. I was there to inspire them and they all improved. That’s all it’s about.

You have to do what you feel. If you don’t, it will bug you for all time.

Life is exciting when you are creating. If you don’t create, you don’t live.


Shown above at top: Miles Home/1971 (c) Anthony Barboza, and portrait of the artist himself

© Debbie Burke 2017

A Novelist’s Journey – Episode 3

Dad Thesaurus.jpgThe Smell of a Thesaurus

I inherited a handful of items from my dad, and they were all meaningful. He was a painter and a writer but just beginning to spread his wings.

Dad was the victim of a terminal illness that claimed him at the age of 47.

One astounding thing about him was he wrote his only book while suffering through horrible and debilitating symptoms. Cancer sapped him of his bodily strength but not of his spirit. The book – published by a Arlington House Publishers, a now-extant imprint – was subtitled “A political novel of the 70s”. It was published shortly before he died, so Dad had reached for the stars one last time and attained his lifelong dream.

The tools he used, and after all this was 1972, were commonplace for the times. He two-finger-tapped on a Royal typewriter, surrounded by all those great accoutrements that elicit a nostalgia for simpler times: carbon paper, Ko-Rec-Type (the precursor of Whiteout ™) and ribbons of black ink that smudged the fingers if you flew too close to the sun. It was an auditory joy. I loved hearing him press on the keys, the rrrrip of the paper when he pulled it through the roller, and the clear “ding” warning him to return the carriage and start a new line.

I own several of his unpublished manuscripts. There is fiction and non-fiction waiting to be re-discovered, and I will get to them. I also have a few of his paintings and pastel drawings. Surely I am luckier than most who have nothing of substance to remember their parents by.

The crown jewel was standing at attention on my mom’s bookshelf for years after he died. Finally I noticed it. Mom told me she had no use for it and did I want it? 

It was the most supreme gift of all: Dad’s Roget’s Thesaurus.

It’s worn, torn and falling apart. The pages have seen better days. But there is no mistaking that delicious smell of brittle, decomposing paper.

What set this apart from any of the millions sold since 1911 (yes!) is that this book contains his notes and scribbles in the margins and wherever there was white space. Dad considered one adjective over another, assessing and evaluating his choices with great care as he built the story.

It’s a glimpse into how he thought about language, the sound of words and the weight of words. He wrote in a personal shorthand so I have no idea what most of his notes mean.

For example is this cryptic observation: “Try to apply same trick & method as used in Kate’s singing class.” I read the book and don’t recall such a dilemma of plot.

And he highlighted this snippet attributed to Francis Bacon:

“Writing maketh an exact man.”

I was too young and unfocused when he died to have discussed literature with him, let alone the path to becoming a writer. How I would have treasured such talks. But he speaks to me now through verbs, nouns and little squiggles in the margins.

(c) 2017 Debbie Burke

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