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Antoinette Montague: Here's to the ladies who swing and bling

Jamara Wakefield: Antoinette, can you tell me what inspired you to create this performance?

Antoinette Montague: I am inspired by all of the women, both no longer living and those who are living, and the come-up maestros, and I'm especially focusing on two or three of my own personal connections, two of them very close mentors. Etta Jones, often confused with James. And then there's the great Mary Lou Williams, who I had the privilege of entertaining an audience at Seton Hall University as a student. And then there'll be some more surprises of women that we love that we stand on the shoulders of that give us fiery lyrics to put inside of us to build the muscles of the soul that this music does.

Eli, as a pianist accompanying these performances, how do you approach bringing the essence of these legendary jazz women into your music?

Eli "Dr E" Yamin: Well, these women embody swing and the blues in such a strong degree, and I had the good fortune to see Carrie Smith perform. I saw Etta Jones perform and got to meet her at the jam session on the SS Norway years ago and I never saw Mary Lou Williams perform, but I deeply immerse myself in her music, especially the song we're doing. "Praise, Praise the Lord" from Black Christ of the Andes, which is just such a fiery composition, and they're just drenched in soul. These three great women of jazz.

So I just do my best to bring the most feeling I can to the situation and you know the most listening I can in support of Antoinette's vision and this great band that we have.

Antoinette, can you talk to us about the Carl Warren and Karen Callaway, Williams and the vibe that they're going to bring to this performance?

Antoinette Montague: Well, vibe is right with the vibraphone and it is a spiritual and ethereal instrument that really goes through the heart and soul of the listener. We have been through so much coming out of COVID-19 coming out of all sorts of amazing boxes on our house that we have to stay inside of rebuking. Music is the highest form that can rebuke negativity. Anger. Pain. It takes it and it makes amazing ingredients. And these two wonderful artists coming through know how to serve it to the public so that they are inspired, that they vibrate at a higher level.

This is Women's History Month. Can you think a little bit about your career and and you know you are a trailblazer in this space and you're it's clear that you've set your intentions for a very visceral and interactive performance. Where did you learn that that that was so critical? Talk to us about your roots as a performer.

Antoinette Montague: My roots sitting on the kitchen floor, watching my mother, who was an amazing singer. She was in one of the first classes of African Americans allowed to attend the Arts High School here in the great city of Newark. Her mom died when she was young. She got involved with my dad. Young started having children. And marriage and family. But we had the best kitchen shows of anybody in our neighborhood. I always thought everybody's mother sang and tap danced and did the hook a book and moved the coffee table out of the way to teach you how to box so that you could stop getting beat up in school. So all of those things gave you strength, but she and I enjoyed singing.

And I'll never forget when Mahalia Jackson was singing at the mall on Washington during the I Have a Dream speech We had just had that great spiritual experience of hearing that amazing performance. So when those things are at the root and we watched the Ed Sullivan Show with Ella Fitzgerald and the Duke Ellington Band and the Basie Band.

Eli "Dr E" Yamin: At the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, we're so grateful to those organizations for helping us put this concert together, which we are producing with the nonprofit that I started called Jazz Power Initiative, in which both Antoinette and I are very deeply involved in.

Eli, what are you hoping the audiences take from this show and this performance?

Eli "Dr E" Yamin: Well, this show is part of a series that we produce at the Jazz Power initiative called the Intergenerational Jazz Power Jam. We present this once a month at the Alianza Dominicana Cultural Center, WA Heights, and once a month at The National Jazz Museum in Harlem. And the whole idea behind it is that.

We want to make sure that this great African American tradition and Latin-American tradition is widely available and accessible.

I grew up in Highland Park, NJ at Crossroads Theater was my second home, which was one of the premier Black theater companies, and I got immersed in Black theater and saw how jazz takes on a theatrical context. And then came to WBGO on my 18th birthday, and worked there for seven years.

I received so much great mentorship from all the musicians and the DJs and the producers and everybody who are so generous with their knowledge and passing that to me as a young person. So this Jazz Power Initiative, that's our effort and we've been at this 20 years making sure that we have platforms to pass along these great traditions, this great legacy.

This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Jamara Wakefield is an arts and culture writer and creator currently living in Newark.