Gil Scott-Heron - electric piano, vocals; Brian Jackson - piano, electric piano, clavinet, synths, flute, vocals; Allan Barnes - flute, tenor sax, synthesizer; Reggie Brisbane - percussion, drums; Siggie Dillard - bass; Tony Duncanson - timbales, percussion, djembe; Delbert Taylor - trumpet, electric piano (on "95 South," "Home Is Where the Hatred Is"); Barnett Williams - djembe, congas
Before there was hip-hop, gangsta rap, Def Jam or Biggie Smalls, there was Gil Scott-Heron. Scott-Heron was a college educated, street-smart urban poet with a strong musical background - a spoken word artist whose contributions to the genre have become as undeniable as they were influential. Born on April fool's day 1949, in Chicago, IL, Scott-Heron actually spent most of his early childhood in the Deep South, 50 miles from the Mississippi border in Jackson, TN, where he was raised by his grandmother. While there, he was picked as one of three students to integrate a local elementary school; but the experience proved as formative as it was difficult, and the young artist composed his first book of poetry during that time, at the age of 13. Soon after, his grandmother passed away, and the young adolescent moved to New York to live with his mother. It was there, while living in the Chelsea district of Manhattan, that he first encountered the writings of Harlem Renaissance poets like Langston Hughes (a lifelong inspiration and influence). With the support of his high school English teachers, Scott-Heron enrolled in Lincoln University, which he attended for two years while working on a novel (The Vulture, though not a best seller, was highly praised by both the African-American community and the mainstream media), and a book of poetry (Small Talk at 125th and Lenox). Within five years, Scott-Heron had developed into a compelling poet, novelist, recording artist and performer - having released five innovative albums showcasing his gritty, urban-landscaped poetry over the sound of cool and funk layered jazz. His powerful recording of "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" is arguably the first important recording of the genre, and has become a classic in the repertoire. Indeed, the modern hip-hop industry can look to Gil Scott-Heron as the first real pioneer of the art form as we know it.
This recording features Gil Scott Heron and musical partner Brian Jackson (whom he met while attending Lincoln University in Pennsylvania), and the exceptional group of musicians they fronted, the Midnight Band. Recorded on Scott-Heron's and Jackson's home turf of New York City, this recording is as powerful as the double live album the two issued the previous year (entitled It's Your World), and offers a compelling document in the history of spoken word performance.
Remarkably, Scott-Heron never planned to be a musical artist; originally, his aspiration was to become the most important poet and urban writer since Harlem renaissance icon Langston Hughes. But thanks in large part to the favorable reception of the book of poetry, Small Talk at 125th and Lenox, Scott-Heron was introduced to legendary producer Bob Thiele, who had worked with every major jazz artist from Louis Armstrong to John Coltrane. Thiele encouraged Scott-Heron to perform his poetry, and for his debut release, Small Talk at 125th and Lenox, recorded the young bard reciting over a backing ensemble of percussionists. Thiele produced two more critically acclaimed albums for his Flying Dutchman Records: 1971's Pieces of a Man and '72's Free Will, in addition to the aforementioned . He and Jackson produced Winter in America, in '73, which yielded the hit "The Bottle" (performed here). In 1975, Scott-Heron became the first artist signed to Clive Davis' newly launched Arista label, where he and Jackson produced six albums together, until artistic differences led them to go their separate ways in 1980 (the same year, incidentally, that Scott-Heron was booked as the opener for Stevie Wonder's Hotter Than July tour).
This recording, made at the legendary Bottom Line club, features a formidable retrospective of his best collaborative work with Jackson. A number of tracks from his aforementioned recordings are featured here, as are selections from his then unreleased Bridges album (1977). Gil Scott-Heron retired from recording around 1985, when he parted ways with Arista (although he has since issued one release on TVT Records, 1994's Spirits). Brian Jackson lives in New York and continues to perform, collaborating with various spoken word artists, producers and musicians from all over the globe.
Though the two artists have since parted ways, the music they produced was more expressively innovative and culturally challenging than anything else being performed in 1977 - thankfully, this show remains as testament to the fact. Only in a historic live setting like this one can we perceive these distinctive artists for what they truly were: critical links in a long and vibrant tradition of spoken word performers - true bards, bearing forth the cultural muse's flame from the first urban poets up through our own. For all its contemporary socio-political and artistic implications, their legacy still burns brightly; and with hip-hop flourishing as it is today, it likely always will.