Oklahoma - March 8, 2010
less than three weeks, we depart for the Middle East on an adventure
spreading the good news about the American roots music form
known as the Blues. The Little Joe McLerran Quartet
with Little Joe on guitar, David Berntson
on harmonica and diddly bow, Ron McRorey on drums and Robbie
Mack on bass will depart Tulsa, Oklahoma March 27th aboard a
twenty-hour American Airlines flight to Bahrain with connections
in Dallas and London. The excitement level is boiling
over following our final briefing last week with the US State
Department in Washington DC, along with an educational workshop
at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City.
In Washington DC, we met with the State Department's Middle
Eastern diplomatic team who assured us we had nothing to fear
and many voiced their envy that we would be touring countries
with such mystique and good food. Several members of the team
have had extended assignments in the region and seemed genuinely
jealous. Our 4-week tour will include performances and
cultural exchange opportunities in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait
New York we met with our educational mentor Mr. Bob Stewart,
an educator and tuba playing hero of mine. Bob was one
of the tuba players on the Taj Mahal album containing "Diving
Duck Blues" which featured five tuba players. I had
also seen Bob perform with Howard Johnson's tuba ensemble "Gravity",
at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival years ago. We
also met Billy Banks who will accompany us on a portion of the
tour as an observer and road manager. Billy has served as tour
manager for trumpeter Wynton Marsalis in the past. Little Joe
just worked up a new song, "Billy the Grinder Man",
in Billy's honor.
Little Joe and I travel around the country the question most
often asked is, "How did you guys line up that Middle East
thing?" I first got wind of the
at Lincoln Center - NYC, NY
through an email I received (might have been spam) asking for
submissions to The Rhythm Road: American Music Abroad.
It was a request for musicians wishing to participate in a program
hosted by the US State Department Bureau of Educational and
Cultural Affairs and organized by Jazz at Lincoln Center.
Those selected would travel to third world countries around
the world as American musicial ambassadors.
To apply the band
had to be a quartet performing American roots music. Our
application submission required letters of recommendation for
each member of the quartet, bios, photos and a CD with 20-minutes
of music performed by the quartet. By the time I heard
about it we were 10 days from the submission deadline. Little
Joe and I agreed that the perfect quartet would include our
steady drummer Ronnie Mac and our good friend David Berntson
who has the educational experience and harmonica chops to round
out the band.
were in the middle of recording Little Joe's new CD "Believe
I'll Make a Change." We already had studio time
booked so we dedicated an afternoon in
the studio to the preparation of an audition CD. We gathered
letters of recommendation, hastily drafted our bios then took
a photo of ourselves at a Bourbon Street Café gig.
Little Joe and I were beginning a two week road trip to West
Virginia when we picked up the mastered audition CD on our way
out of town. We had to over-night the application to Jazz
at Lincoln Center from the road in order to make the deadline.
3 weeks later the Little Joe McLerran Quartet received an invitation
to audition at Lincoln Center in New York before a panel comprised
of State Dept and JaLC personnel. They offered to provide
airfare and accommodations at a posh hotel in Manhattan. That's
when things started to get real exciting. On the day of
our NY departure for our audition, Little Joe was returning
from eight days at sea aboard the Legendary Blues Cruise
with his wife Casey. They had been celebrating their honeymoon.
Little Joe hopped off one plane flying in from San Diego and
climbed on to another bound for NYC. What a day...
Little Joe McLerran Quartet
Berntson, Little Joe, Ron McRorey and Robbie Mack
educational program we developed is presented as: "The
Recipe for American Root Soup." We explain that
the Blues, the root of all popular western culture music, is
made up of ingredients brought to America by those who came
to its shores either willingly, or in chains. These cultural
bits and musical pieces were thrown into the pot with a broth
of blood, sweat and tears then stirred and simmered over the
years. From this pot of soup came the Blues, Jazz, Rhythm
and Blues, Country, Bluegrass, Rock and Roll and Hip Hop just
to name a few.
Within two weeks we received word that the
Little Joe McLerran Quartet had been selected, from the 39 groups
who auditioned, and were invited to join the Rhythm Road Tour
and see the world. Our travel destination might have been
Africa, Asia, South America, the Pacific Islands or the Middle
East. Since then we have returned to New York twice and
traveled to Washington DC where we received our marching orders.
by Frank Stewart for Jazz at Lincoln Center.
It was mid-February
when we learned our region would be the Middle East. Ronnie
Mac had traveled with a band to Saudi Arabia years ago and David
had traveled to Europe a number of times in search of good Blues.
I had toured with a band to Japan and the Philippines back in
the sixties and Little Joe and I had been to Italy
last year playing some blues festivals. Not one of
us however, has done anything like this before.
When I was a kid,
my Mom bought me a Louis Armstrong LP called "Ambassador
Satch." On the LP Armstrong and his Hot Five were
performing live concerts in Russia for Russian audiences. I
found that very intriguing. Adam Clayton Powell,
a congressman from Harlem, suggested American jazz might be
an effective form of diplomacy during the cold war years.
The Jazz Ambassadors program was established by the US State
Department in 1955. Congressman Powell's good friend Dizzy
Gillespie was America's first Jazz Ambassador followed by Satchmo,
Duke Ellington and Dave Brubeck among others. The Jazz Ambassadors
program morphed into The Rhythm Road: American Music Abroad
in 2005 and has since sent 118 musicians to 97 different countries.
The Little Joe McLerran Quartet is very proud to be a part of
this heritage and share in this amazing cultural exchange.
We would like to thank all who have supported and encouraged