ListN Up: Fay Victor (May 21, 2021)

ListN Up is a weekly series of artist-curated playlists that offer an intimate sonic portrait of contemporary artists by showcasing the diverse and stylistically varied music that influences their creative practice. 

We are grateful for the generous support of Arlene and Larry Dunn, whose donation to ACF helped make this playlist possible!

“She’s essentially invented her own hybrid of song and spoken word, a scat style for today’s avant-garde”(Giovanni Russonello, the New York Times). Fay Victor is a sound artist that uses performance, improvisation and composition to examine representations of modern life and Blackness. Based in Brooklyn, NY, Fay’s “everything is everything” aesthetic permeates her work and approach to the vocal instrument. Fay’s released eleven critically acclaimed albums as a leader, including her latest release, WE’VE HAD ENOUGH!, with her improvising quartet SoundNoiseFUNK (ESP-Disk) in October 2020. Victor is on the faculty of the New School of Jazz & Contemporary Music in NYC. Follow Fay Victor @freesongsinger on IG, FB and Twitter. Support Fay Victor at www.patreon.com/freesongsinger. 

Hi! My name is Fay Victor, and I’m a vocalist, composer, and educator. There’s a line from a great Abbey Lincoln composition entitled “I’ve Got Thunder and it Rings…” that goes “Love is an Emotion, and it’ll move you to DO things” So this playlist consists of music that has moved me to do things. To feel things. To inspire new vistas of seeing and breathing. Musical catalysts that have opened doors. I must say I had a long list that I narrowed down along the lines of recent inspiration even if some of this music I’ve known forever. No matter if it still moves me. I hope you’ll enjoy the sounds I’ve selected. 

“The World is Falling Down” by Abbey Lincoln 

I’ve loved Abbey Lincoln as a vocalist and songwriter for as long as I can remember. 2020 was the first time I learned some of her songs, and one of her compositions that I’ve been singing is “The World is Falling Down.” Just feeling these words. Abbey’s combination of stating it plain while offering compassion and community is what it’s all about. “The world is falling down, hold my hand.” Let me hold you, please hold me. 

“This is My Country” by Curtis Mayfield & The Impressions 

Curtis Mayfield is a personal hero of mine for his subtle soulful delivery of razor sharp political messages imbued within his incredible compositions and arrangements. I could have selected at least 20 tunes for this playlist of Mayfield, yet this tune, performed with The Impressions from 1968, always lifts me up when the United States of America gets me down. 

“Go Ahead” by Sister Rosetta Tharpe 

Sister Rosetta Tharpe was a maverick and innovative guitarist, singer, and bandleader. One of the progenitors of Rock and Roll, her music straddled gospel, jazz, and the blues. She was a huge artist in her time, so huge that when she got married, she did so at Yankee Stadium in NYC. I especially love hearing her solo–just voice and guitar. A joy to hear Sister attack each and every note she plays or sings. I just want to jump up and get moving when I hear Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s sound. 

“Mhondoro” by Thomas Mapfumo

Thomas Mapfumo, the famed Zimbabwean musician known as the “The Lion of Zimbabwe” who created ‘Chimurenga’ music (a popular Zimbabwean musical form), is also a political activist, having been jailed under the white regime of Rhodesia as well as being critical of Robert Mugabe, who led Zimbabwe for over 30 years. Whenever I am having a bad day, I put this song on. Mhondoro means ‘Lion’ in the Shona language, and it’s believed that spirits reside in the maneless lions until they have a host to possess. These spirits are royal ancestral spirits of deceased chiefs and kings.

“Show Some Emotion” by Joan Armatrading

Joan Armatrading is a songwriter and performer that I’ve just started to explore. She had a unique voice and approach to songwriting, and here I love how surprising the chorus feels when it enters and how the band rocks! A major artist in her day, she hardly gets mentioned today. That’s just a shame. Worth checking Bobby McFerrin’s cover of her tune “Opportunity” for fun.

Nuba 1 by Jeanne Lee (with Andrew Cyrille and Jimmy Lyons)

For me, Jeanne Lee was the consummate jazz singer with an expansive vision for her music and the voice. I wouldn’t exist without her. Her 1962 album with Ran Blake gets a chunk of deserved love. The Newest Sound Around reeled me in like a hungry fish, as well, but Lee’s album NUBA with drummer Andrew Cyrille and saxophonist Jimmy Lyons (RIP) just blew my mind when I heard it for the first time as a budding improviser. Jeanne Lee opened so many visionary doors for me and anyone else who listened.

“Dip Bag” by Betty Carter

This TUNE! When I heard this Betty Carter composition on her album It’s Not About The Melody back when I was a jazz vocalist mining the Great American Songbook material, “Dip Bag” was one of the first compositions that I heard written and performed by a vocalist that expanded my idea of form and what a tight band could accomplish. Whenever I hear this piece, I’m transported to that time when all music was magical to me, unlocking all the possibilities. It gives me butterflies.

“II. Périodes” from Les Espaces Acoustiques by Gérard Grisey, performed by ASKO Ensemble

“Music is made with sounds, not with notes.” I’m a great admirer of the French composer Gérard Grisey’s work and have learned so much listening to his works and analyzing his scores. Les espaces acoustiques is Grisey’s spectral music masterwork composed between 1974-1985. Perhaps my favorite movement in Les espaces is “Periodes” for seven musicians. My skin bristles and tingles when I listen to the entire work and “Periodes” especially causes me to stand still.

Lament for Breonna Taylor by Jen Shyu

Jen Shyu is a composer, multi-instrumentalist, organizer and so much more! I love her music and how much scholarly care goes into her work incorporating myriad languages, instruments, and vocal approaches. Jen’s got a new album out called Zero Grasses around loss, especially of her father. We all felt the loss of Breonna Taylor last year, the 26-year-old Black EMT worker that was murdered in her bed by police using a “no-knock” warrant in Louisville, Kentucky. Listen here to Jen’s poignant tribute.

Gnawa music performed by Baba Mimoun

Gnawan music from Morocco and connected to sub-Saharan Africa is a recent discovery for me. I first heard this music about five years ago during a live performance of Randy Weston at the Jazz Standard in New York. I was transfixed by the sonic make-up and the rhythmic flow of the music. Gnawan music is spiritual and full of ritual texts used in ceremonies that go on for hours.


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