Monday, August 29, 2011

An Open Letter to Nate Jacobs and West Coast Black Theatre Troupe

To the Founder and Artistic Director of the West Coast Black Theatre Troupe (WBTT) Nate Jacobs, cast members, musicians, and all others who have been involved in the presentation of the many shows I have seen over the past several years. 

Watching WBTT grow to maturity has been an awesome experience that could never be duplicated.  I’m blessed to have been exposed to the cultural arts in such an enjoyable way.  Needless to say how much of an education I received for which one could not place a dollar value.  I lament for those who have never taken advantage of attending a WBTT performance, whether or not they reside nearby to Sarasota or at a very slight distance away like St. Petersburg and Tampa; anyone residing anywhere in the Tampa Bay area should make a point to attend … even if it means getting a group together.  In fact, attending as a group makes the entire occasion into a festive event.

This last Friday, August 19th, I arranged a group to attend the final show for the 2011 summer season, “Dynamic Duets.”   We also were fortunate to have seen the first show “The Soul Crooners” back in July.  Those were two outstanding musical shows that you presented for the summer season…and what a season!  It was while watching “Dynamic Duets” that the realization came upon me that I had attended just about every show for the last six or seven years.

Allow me to share with my readers some of the fantastic shows WBTT have brought to Tampa Bay.  My list won’t necessarily be in the order of presentation, but only as I recall them, starting with “The Motown 60’s Revue”, “The Mills Brothers”, “Jar the Floor”, “Sistas in the Name of Soul”, “Ain’t Misbehavin”, “Marvin Gaye, The Prince of Soul – The Man and His Music”,

“Mahalia, Just As I Am”, and Hi De, Hi De Ho! Cab Calloway.”  And then, I can remember “The Piano Lesson”, Black Nativity”, “All Night Strut”, “The Wiz”, and “One Mo’ Time.”  These were shows held at the Gompertz Theatre long before you moved into your current home.  Oh yea, Nate, neither can I forget August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize winner “Fences”, “Woman from the Town”, “Nobody: The Bert Williams Story” or Duke Ellington’s “Sophisticated Ladies.”

By the way … Nate, your conceived character “Aunt Rudele” blew our minds.  In fact, my daughter flew in from Maryland just to meet your famous and funny aunt.  We’re still laughing about Herbert, Aunt Rudele’s hen-pecked husband, and her famous Rudele’s Fried Chicken.  I also remember WBTT doing “A Soldier’s Play” to commemorate Black History Month – 2008.  That’s when you were performing at the Historic Asolo Theatre.  Haven’t we come a long way?” Oh my, I almost forgot the cast presentation of Zora Neale Hurstons’s “Spunk.”  For your info, I went on to learn more about this extremely talented playwright, essayist, and accomplished anthropologist who also wrote short stories. 

Although I could continue, I do want to comment on some members of the cast who I’ve watched bloom into unique young adults, some leaving for bigger things.  It makes me proud to say “Yes, I know them (almost) personally.”  For instance, 13-year old Chris Eisenberg, a finalist on America’s Got Talent - 2010, Theresa Stanley who appeared in the Broadway cast of “Oprah Winfrey’s The Color Purple” and went on national tour of Rock of Ages.  And, finally last week I watched as Mikeyy Mendez and Alyssa Moneyse White demonstrated their unique talents.  Mendez exuded total confidence and sang his heart out, while Alyssa who I first noticed when she was a mere 11years of age, seemed to be saying “Move over ladies, I’m back!”  Nate and cast, please don’t misunderstand, I can’t include everyone because of the lack of column space, but trust me, I’m a fan of all of YOU…and love you much! 

Season 2011 – 2012 begins with the World Premiere of “Love Sung In The Key of Aretha” (Dec. 14 – Jan. 16).  Count on me being there!  Tickets can be obtained online at:
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Remember to “Keep Jazz Alive” by “Supporting Live Jazz!”
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Saturday, August 6, 2011

"Gone Too Soon - But It's All Good and His Melody Lingers On"

         Yesterday, Friday, August 5 at about 6 AM, my girlfriend Yvonne Alsup called me on the telephone and gave me the worst news ever..."I'm sorry to call you with such bad news, but I just heard that your friend Michael Cerrone was involved in a terrible automobile accident and that he passed away early Wednesday morning. I knew you would want to know."  Needless to say how stunned I was.  In my mind, I was asking myself if this was a dream...praying that it was, and that Michael was alive and well.  Unfortunately, it was not a dream; it was reality.  

        On Friday evening, Yvonne and I attended a memorial for Michael at the First Unity Church of St. Petersburg.  It was exactly how Michael would have wanted it ... "A Home-Going Celebration." Several friends and family had beautiful stories to share about their relationship with Michael, and I was tempted to say my piece, but decided to write a blog and to share with as many people as I could.

        So, if you didn't know him, this blog, which is really a review of a Christmas CD he made, will tell you enough about him that you'll understand why he was loved by all those that knew him.  It's always a injustice when you cannot say "Goodbye" to a dear friend when the Lord calls, but that is why we should let our loved ones know how much they mean to us before either of us passes on.  I hope you'll get as much out of this piece as I did while rewriting it.

                                                                     “It’s All Good”

            It was during the day of Christmas Eve while I was standing in front of the kitchen sink cleaning ten pounds of collard greens.  As I’ve done many times before, I had started playing a couple of Christmas CDs to listen to while preparing for the big holiday feast.  I had no idea that by the time I finished rinsing off the greens, I’d be struggling to hold back the tears.  I was filled with the spirit as I listened to a CD sung by Michael Cerone. 

            Last year, you readers may recall that I listed several Christmas CD albums that I recommended you to purchase.  I find myself recommending only one this season.  The title of the CD is “It’s All Good” by Michael Cerone.  It is one of the most beautiful and moving pieces of music that I’ve ever listened to.  The songs on the CD are of spiritual comfort and inspiration.  Cerone says on the CD cover “I offer this music, in grateful praise of my loving and beloved God, who is nearer than our own hearts, and from whom, all grace flows, and, to all my sisters and brothers everywhere.  Each song, in its place here, and with its message describes my journey on the path thus far.  The songs tell of the challenges in life, and of the questions I ask in my prayers.”

            A few years ago, I had the opportunity to meet Cerone at a Theo Valentin and Friends jazz concert promoted by the Al Downing Tampa Bay Jazz Association, Inc.  Ms. Valentin invited Cerone to sing a couple of tunes.  It was then that I realized that this vocalist had the sound of Sinatra, and the stage presence of Tony Bennett.  At that concert, Cerone sang several jazz songs, and sang them quite well and, I remember that the audience was quite enthusiastic and Cerone well-received.  However, I did not know that Cerone was also a Spiritual and Gospel vocalist.  But, on this Christmas Eve day, I learned that not only is he a Spiritual and Gospel vocalist but also a devout Christian possessing an uncanny skill to compose meaningful tunes.

            As an example of Cerone’s song writing skills, listen to the words of the first song on the CD, “Mary Did You Know”.  A few stanzas of the song go like this, ‘Mary did you know, that your Baby Boy would one day walk on water?  Mary did you know, that your Baby Boy would someday save our sons and daughters?  Did you know that your Baby Boy has come to make you new?  This Child that you delivered will soon deliver you.’  Cerone delivers a song with words so distinct that you can actually understand what he is singing, so unlike a lot of vocalists out there today.  Much of today’s music is hinged with excess – instruments that are so loud, mega effects, huge productions – Michael Cerone does not follow the leader but does his own thing in a way that is humble and, can and does touch everyone that takes time to listen.  Cerone actually demonstrates to his audience that less is more on this his first and only CD.

            The CD begins at a leisurely pace with selected Spirituals and Gospel songs, such as ‘Mary Did You Know’, ‘Amazing Grace’, ‘Crying In The Chapel’, ‘I Am Listening’, and several others.  He follows these tunes with a few recognizable and popular upbeat tunes like ‘On A Clear Day’, ‘If I Ruled The World’, and the CD title song ‘It’s All Good’.  I like this later tune, when Cerone sings “Well things can’t make you happy, they just get old; and maybe someone left you flat, people come and go.  The sun is up, shining bright outside, get in your life, go for a ride.  It’s all good, it’s all good, it’s all good, it’s all good.”  As one can immediately see, Cerone isn’t afraid to mix it up.  The CD’s best track is the beautiful ‘There Is No-One in The World Like You’, (and the beauty that you are, this world has never seen before.)  Or, it may be ‘The Promise’, where Cerone sings, “There’s a voice within every one of us that gently leads us on. There’s a voice in every one of us that guides us on our way. There’s a promise given to our very soul that we can never lose or even toss away, it’s that voice we hear between our laughter and our tears from day to day… Be still and know that God is Love, and the truth will set you free.”  

            Something about the vocalist…Michael Cerone hails originally from Harlem, New York and the South Bronx.  As a youngster, he attended the New York High School of Performing Arts, where he acquired a strong foundation for the music that he loves.  He shares stories of visiting on many, many occasions the famous jazz club Birdland, listening to the likes of Sarah Vaughn, Miles Davis, Tony Bennett, and a host of other famous and popular jazz artists.  Cerone as a young adult landed in Hollywood, California and worked in Media Production, sometimes as an Audio Engineer or Production Assistant; he continued to meet many of the heavy hitters in the music industry.  However, it was sometime in the 70’s that Cerone decided to follow a more spiritual path in life.  He had become disenchanted with the social happenings in his life and the lives of his close friends.  One day he found himself asking “Jesus, put me where you want me to be.”  And, the rest is history. 

            On a trip to St. Petersburg to visit his parents, Cerone decided to make the Tampa Bay area his home.  He started his own business in photography, and found himself a church to continue seeking the truth.  Cerone says he is non – denominational, and is at home anyplace where people worship the Lord.  On this CD which is Cerone’s first song album attempt, there are a total of 16 songs; 5 of which he wrote.  Kevin Wilder, keyboardist and well-known jazz artist in Tampa Bay collaborated with Cerone on the tune ‘There’s No-One In The World Like You’.  Handling the musical arrangements was Mark Dye, who worked along-side Cerone for a period of 2 years to complete the musical project.

            There’s an abundance of holiday music available this season, but Cerone’s CD is one that’s worth seeking out.  You can purchase his CD in St. Petersburg at: First Unity Church Bookstore,
469 – 45th Avenue, North
; St. Jude Cathedral,
5th Avenue
and 58th Streets, North; or Unity Christ Church,
6168 First Avenue, North

          Michael Cerrone & Best Friend Kevin Wilder  
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