CONNECTING ANCESTRAL STREAMS THROUGH THE GOSPEL OF NIKKI GIOVANNI
Why would one of poetry’s most revered voices want to curate a jazz saxophonist’s album of gospel hymns and spirituals? “These songs are so important,” says Nikki Giovanni, one of Oprah Winfrey’s 25 “Living Legends,” the 2017 Maya Angelou Lifetime Achievement Award winner, and a native of Knoxville. “They comforted people through times of slavery, and during recent years we needed them to comfort us again. But a lot of the students today do not know about the history of these songs, and they should. So I’m out here putting water on the flowers because they need a drink.”
Giovanni’s historic collaboration with saxophonist-composer and former Jazz Messenger Javon Jackson has yielded The Gospel According to Nikki Giovanni, released on his Solid Jackson label. Jackson brings his bold-toned, Trane-inspired tenor lines to bear on a series of hymns, spirituals, and gospel numbers hand-picked by Giovanni, and together they are joined by celebrated jazz vocalist Nnenna Freelon.
“The spirituals have been around so long. Some spirituals have been updated and stayed around and some have been lost over time,” Giovanni notes “So for me, it’s just helping to keep something going. And I do it because there’s a need.”
Along with Jackson’s interpretations of gospel favorites filled with authoritative tenor tones and deep walking bass lines, Giovanni will share her version of Nina Simone’s “Night Song,” among other gems as part of their performance at Big Ears 2023.