Not even an ice storm could keep Oklahomans from A Christmas in Harlem.
The Mistletoe Jam-sponsored event was the reason that Urban Roots, nestled in the heart of the Deep Deuce district, was transformed into Harlem Renaissance era New York, if only for one night. Inclement weather almost threatened to put the event on ice, but determined partygoers pressed our way through, not about to miss an opportunity to dress to the nines and get our nostalgic Harlem groove on.
This amazingly beautiful honey I was with made it hard for me to focus, but I did my best to bring you all the play-by-play.
Everyone was sharp from head to toe. Event organizer and promoter David Threatt was among the sharpest, donning a bow tie for the first time ever in honor of the occasion. David took over hosting duties from the absent Grace Franklin, unfortunately sidelined due to a twisted knee suffered in a spill on the ice. Get well soon Grace. David held things down admirably in her absence, stepping aside quickly and handing the reins over to Duke Ellington himself, as reincarnated by Adam Ledbetter of Oklahoma City’s own Adam & Kizzie.
Adam embodied the Duke, even capturing his grand voice, as he masterfully guided us through the night’s ceremonies. The Duke coolly instructed us, in character, to “snap on the off beat” as he played, educating us that “snapping with the beat is aggressive and unrefined.” Adam was joined by the other half of the EEDOnamic duo, his lovely wife Kizzie, whose deft, sultry, soaring vocals would be a hit in any era, as Ella Fitzgerald. Joining the pair were Jemar Poteat on drums and Raoul Alphonso on bass.
The Duke and Ella got things started with ”You Cause My Sun to Shine”, traveling to the “future” to borrow the upbeat cut from Adam & Kizzie’s phenomenal album, “The Book of Eedo Vol. 1.” They gave it a surprising Harlem Renaissance twist, but the surprise didn’t stop there. An unexpected but always invited guest – the Holy Ghost – showed up and took Urban Roots to church for a minute. “Ella” even cut a little dignified Renaissance rug in the Spirit. I know real “quickening” when I see it (some of y’all know about that), and that was no acting, dress-up or not. The Duke was on fire on the keys all night long. Both were clearly in the zone as they took us to another place in time.
Jemar Poteat showed out on the drums, even once letting loose in an inspired drum solo without ever losing his trademark cool.
Adam & Kizzie performed Ain’t Misbehavin’ by Fats Waller, the tune resonating and filling the room with the aura of their real-life love. It was contagious, and we definitely caught our share at my cozy little table for two.
Wait, what was I talmbout?
Langston Hughes, aka Josiah Eking, provided smooth, introspective poetic interludes throughout the evening encouraging us to hold fast to our “dreams, aspirations and inspirations. There are walls but these hands, these dark hands, shatter them.”
The amazing Ms. Cooki Turner was in her element as Sarah Vaughan. I wholeheartedly agree with Ms. Cooki, who remarked “this is so lovely and different for Oklahoma.” Among the selections the lovely Ms. Vaughan entertained us with was “The Nearness of You”, followed by a jazzy rendition of “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?”
I know what I’m doing New Year’s Eve. Oh, sorry, what? Oh yeah, let me finish telling y’all about A Christmas in Harlem.
Eking returned as Langston, performing The Weary Blues, accompanied by Duke’s vocals and tickling of the ivories. The beautiful bass playing of Raoul Alphonso was a constant throughout the evening, never drawing attention to itself, but providing an unmistakable ambiance that would have left the night incomplete without his contribution.
Adam & Kizzie performed “Baby It’s Cold Outside”, and they were not lying. They followed it up with their upbeat “Train” featuring Kizzie’s vocals and Adam’s seriously underrated rhyming skills. Bars, son. Bars.
Josiah Eking returned once more and rendered a piece about dreams, which reminded us all in this cold season ”hold fast to dreams, for when dreams go, life is a barren field frozen with snow.” Then he performed his original “Breathe”, telling us that “renaissance and revolution always start with just one action – just breathe.” The piece also warns of the dangers of materialism, admonishing us to park our proverbial Rolls Royce “at the foot of who [we] are and not at the soul…”, in other words, ”don’t covet the covering of the covenant that was built with you in mind.” We’re listening Mr. Hughes.
Lena Horne, aka Nita Fruit (Froo-ee) beautifully performed Stormy Weather, prefacing it with the disclaimer that “there will be modifications to this song.” The disclaimer was hardly necessary though; if one has ever heard the incomparable Ms. Fruit before, one expects modifications to any song she covers. She then continued in the Christmas spirit, performing The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire). Nita’s beautiful spirit can always be felt whenever she graces the mic.
Adam & Kizzie treated us to an original song not on their recent album, “I’m a Dreaming Fool”, penned by Adam when he was first falling in love with Kizzie. Part of the lyrics stated “I’m a dreaming fool with a dream so cruel, it’s ridiculing me; so be kind my dear, when you do appear, in my dreams you’ll clearly be.”
I’m a dreaming fool too. Man oh man.
Brian C Scott