Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Remembering Max Lucas

by Charles Dion Springfield

Despite the joyous celebration of jazz and blues music at “A Great Night in Harlem,” there was something painfully missing that evening: the music and presence of Max Lucas.

The man and his music were unfortunately silenced on May 15, just days prior to the fundraising show in which the Jazz Foundation of America planned to celebrate his upcoming birthday. He would have turned 100 years old on September 13, 2010.

The legendary saxophonist and jazz icon was born in Nova Scotia, Canada to a family heavily influened by music. His mother was a singer and beautician and his father played the tuba and mandolin when he wasn’t working on the railroad.

Mr. Lucus played jazz for more than 80 years of his life. He began playing the saxophone when he was 14, two years after he was introduced to a family of musicians in Washington, D.C. and inspired to give music a try. Max and his mother eventually moved to Harlem.

He’s had the opportunity to play with the likes of Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, Billie Holiday, Thelonious Monk, Count Basie, Muddy Waters, Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughn and the list goes on and on. And Mr. Lucus had a regular night at the Lenox Lounge on Wednesday evenings with his son Nathan Lucus, a jazz organist.

While I never had the pleasure to sit in on one of Mr. Lucus’ shows in Harlem or meet him, it was an honor to celebrate his upcoming birthday with his friends and family. Thank you Mr. Lucus for all your contributions to my favorite style of music. Through fans like me, your music and legacy will continue to play on for several years to come.

'A Great Night in Harlem' Continued During the Official After Party

by Charles Dion Springfield

The fun and excitement from “A Great Night in Harlem” spilled over to the official after party tent and continued for hours until sometime after midnight. Guests of the star-studded affair were immediately ushered over to the after party for cocktails, passed appetizers and more great performances.

It was the ideal opportunity to reflect on what a wonderful night we all experienced, snap a photo of your favorite musicians and rub elbows with jazz music royalty (literally, I physically rubbed elbows with Bernard Ighner the composer of “Everything Must Change”).

Once Sweet Georgia Brown (also known as “The Last of the Red Hot Blues Mamas”) & The Blues Crusaders took the stage, the night, the dance floor and the tent instantly heated up.

As I mingled with fellow party goers, maneuvered through the crowds surrounding the bar stations, watched everyone shake a tail feather and tried to prevent myself from floating away on a sea of cognac – I felt very fortunate that I had the opportunity to have experienced the night I just experienced.

Walking through the empty Apollo theatre in order to get to 125th Street was quite sad because I come to the realization that the evening was officially over. But what immediately put a smile on my face was the fact that Harlem is now just a few subway stops away from where I currently reside.

And on top of that, the next day was Friday, the day I make my weekly pilgrimage to the area to soak up the history, the culture, the spirit and the legacy of greatness. This was just the beginning of several great nights in Harlem – for me.

Jazz Foundation of America Paid Tribute to Jazz, the Blues, Supporters and ‘Love Doctors’

by Charles Dion Springfield

The star power was at a light bulb-busting wattage on May 20 as jazz, blues, opera, R&B and film and television greats descended upon the Apollo Theatre stage for “A Great Night in Harlem,” an annual fundraising concert for the Jazz Foundation of America.

Every year since 2001, more than 50 of music’s living legends perform at the Apollo for the organizations’ benefit gala. The goal is to help raise money needed to continue the Jazz Foundation’s mission, to save the homes and lives of elder jazz and blues musicians in crisis.

Hosted in part by Chevy Chase, Michael Imperioli, Kevin Klein, David Johansen and the Jazz Foundation of America’s Executive Director Wendy Oxenhorn, it was evident early on in the evening that it would be a monumental night. It seemed that celebrities, music lovers and glitterati from all around the country were destined to feast on a sumptuous evening of music, laughs and even a few tears.

While the night was dedicated to “The Spirit of Greatness” in jazz and blues music and the artists who continue to push the art forms forward, the spotlight was also put on the supporters, “love doctors” and the hospital that continues to meet the needs of musicians.

The pre-concert kicked off the night with award presentations with both “Saint” Agnes Varis and Ambassador Andrew Young receiving the “Spirit of Greatness Award.” Varis, vice chairwoman on the board of the Jazz Foundation and a pioneer in the pharmaceutical industry, has made it possible for the Jazz Foundation to employ musicians in 17 states to play free concerts in public schools and senior homes through the Agnes Varis Jazz in the Schools program. This includes eight southern states where New Orleans musicians were forced to settle post-Katrina. Young was a top aide to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and presently serves on the board of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Non-Violent Social Change. He also serves as a member of the board of directors of numerous organizations and business including Delta Airlines, Argus, Host Marriott Corporation, Archer Daniels Midland, Cox Communications and Thomas Nelson Publishers.

The pre-show concluded with a theatrical and moving jazz performance of an original song by Davell Crawford entitled “Stranger in My Own Home” that depicted his life in New York after relocating from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

The night’s performances continued to crescendo with appearances by Manno Charlemagne, Fred Staton, Jimmy Heath, Frank Wess, Ron Carter, Barry Harris, Winard Harper, Terence Conley, Jimmy Norman and others. Roberta Flack performed and gave the audience the back story to her updated version of “Sweet Georgia Brown” from her jazz-inspired album, “Roberta.” Legendary Little Jimmy Scott, decked out in all white, belted out a powerful performance of “Sometimes I feel like a Motherless Child” from his wheelchair. And Sweet Georgia Brown closed out the show alongside fellow performers and got the audience on their feet one last time.

Because of the generosity of others, the Jazz Foundation has provided a number of signature services to musicians and their families. An Emergency Housing Fund was founded by Jarrett Lilien and pays the rents and mortgages of musicians that fall on hard times. The Jazz Musicians’ Emergency Fund helps with everything from keeping the phone and electricity on to ensuring food remains on the tables of veteran musicians with nowhere else to turn. For more than 17 years, the Jazz Foundation’s Angel-partners at Englewood Hospital and Medical Center’s Dizzy Gillespie Memorial Fund have provided pro bono medical care – including free operations, specialists, lab work and diagnostics – worth more than $5 million in services for more than 1,000 uninsured musicians. Additionally, a volunteer network of dedicated, caring professionals provides free legal, dental and therapeutic services.

Many of the performers of the night have been helped by the Jazz Foundation. Therefore, for them, it was an opportunity to return the favor by giving their supporters the glorious gift of music.

To make a donation to the organization, visit http://www.jazzfoundation.org/, call 212-245-3999, ext. 13 or send a donation payable to “Jazz Foundation of America” to 322 West 48th Street, 6th Fl., New York, NY 10036. You can also make a donation using Text-to-Pledge by dialing 718-594-5333. In the address line, create your text with your name or company and the amount of your pledge. Then press send.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Big Apple: Ready or Not, Here I Come

(Part one of a three part series)

By Charles D. Springfield

It was about one month before I was to move to New York City – February 28 to be exact. And with about four weeks to bring things related to the relocation to a close, transition other things and start to get things in New York off the ground, I probably should have spent this particular Sunday cleaning, organizing and getting my head wrapped around the mountain of details before me.

But instead, I opted to take the 11 a.m. Amtrak Hiawatha Service to Chicago – one hour and a half away from Milwaukee where I’ve resided for the last seven years – to meet some dear friends for Sunday brunch at one of my favorite bar/restaurants, minibar.

I know. It probably seems foolish for someone to take what could be a highly productive day and spend the bulk of it eating, drinking and being merry in Chicago. Who would do something like that at this crucial time in the moving process?

I’ll tell you who would do it (two skinny thumbs pointing in my direction). It’s someone who needed a quick jolt of energy, inspiration and motivation from one big city in order to propel me forward to take on this colossal task of moving to The Big City. But most of all, I badly needed the trip to muffle all the noise from the naysayers who thought I should forget about NYC and just stay put in my seemingly comfortable life.

I’ve always been a big city kind of guy. I’m not sure how my fascination with big cities started. It could have been that there was something in the water in Upstate New York at my Nana’s house that drew me to the area. That was a place I spent time when I was about one year old and where I took my first steps. Maybe it was when I watched Batman take down villains in Gotham City, was amazed how Superman could leap tall buildings in a single bound in Metropolis or saw Spiderman swing from skyscraper to skyscraper in New York City.

Or it could have been that trip to London I took when I was 16 years old, which my parents STRONGLY encouraged. Whatever the reason, I knew early on that there was a big wonderful world out there to explore and that a big city would be the ideal place where I could fit in and feel right at home. Therefore, the thought of big city living had gotten under my skin in a major way.

But hold the phone. I don’t want anyone to think that my desire to live in a large city is an automatic dismissal of Milwaukee or other mid- to small-sized cities around the country. To the contrary! I’ve benefited greatly from living in Milwaukee and Jackson, Miss., and New Orleans. I was born and raised in Milwaukee, which is a beautiful, clean and culturally rich place. Despite it being recognized nationally as one of the most segregated cities in America, I actually learned to not only appreciate diversity but to crave it.

That hunger for diversity led me south to Mississippi to attend Jackson State University. I sought to immerse myself deeper into my African-American culture by attending a Historically Black College and University (HBCU). Although we were mostly all young black men and women, I saw a broader spectrum of diversity of thought, behaviors, styles, attitudes and perspectives that I had never witnessed before. My fellow students were from St. Louis, Los Angeles, New Jersey, Chicago, New Orleans, Miami, Atlanta, all over Mississippi and international students from all over the world. My thoughts of feeling like an outsider in many regards were silenced quite a bit after being in that environment.

Ultimately after spending most of my free time from school in New Orleans over the course of several years, I landed my first job out of college working at the city’s daily newspaper. Although my time physically living in the city was short lived, my love affair with New Orleans still continues to this very day. Although I would love to move back to New Orleans at some point and be an active part of the rebuilding and revitalization of the city, my heart currently belongs to New York City.

For a lot of people – particularly my naysayers – New York City is a large, mean and intimidating place that’s over crowded, extremely expensive and frustrating to visit and live. It can be all of that. To me, obviously, it’s a lot more. It has an interesting duality to it. It can be one of the hardest places to survive and thrive while being one of the most wonderful cities on earth. It’s a place where you never know who you will run into or what’s going to happen to you on any given day. It’s a place where someone with vision, intellect, talent, passion and drive can go extremely far. It’s a city full of possibilities.

Yes, living in New York has always been a dream of mine. But It has been a dream much deferred. Several hurdles prevented me from moving to the city years ago. I landed a newspaper job in the South instead of an East Coast newspaper job after college. My first real attempt at relocating to the city was put on hold because the September 11 attack occurred eight months before my graduation from graduate school, leaving the city and its economy a complete mess.

But after having what I now refer to as “a series of unfortunate events” over the last two years, I threw caution to the wind and my shit in a bag (well, several bags) to make my dream a reality. No terrorists, no bad economy or no amount of sneaky slimy sons of bitches were going to stand in my way. Not this time. Those obstacles may have slowed me down, but my determination was unstoppable. I might not have had everything lined up as I would have hoped and I definitely could have used more money in my savings account. But I was finally making it happen.

That realization really sunk in for me that weekend. I was just a few weeks away from moving to New York City. The reality of it all was mind blowing. So a calculated distraction was in order. When Chicago called, I didn’t hesitate to answer.

It was well worth the trip. My friends and I feasted on a lovely brunch buffet and unlimited carafes of Mimosas. They congratulated me on my decision to move and praised my motivation to do it on my own terms. And these well wishes were coming from accomplished and talented college professors who have lived and traveled the world. It was a celebration of friendship and the extra motivation that only close friends and family can provide. It was just what I needed that Sunday: to live life and positively look toward to the future.

I found myself welcoming Monday morning with the fire to get down to the business of claiming the life I always knew belonged to me. As I was propeling myself forward, I held tight to this truism in life to keep me focused: Opinions are like assholes, everyone has one. Some stink a hell of a lot worse than others. And most often you need to keep it to your damn self.

To be continued…

Official Fruit of the summer of 2010

By Charles Dion Springfield

The first day of summer is just about a month away, but I’m going to go out on a limb and make a bold prediction about what will be the hottest fruit consumed this summer. And no, I’m not talking about Ricky Martin. I’m talking about watermelon.

Why would I predict that? Watermelon is always a staple of the summer season, right? That is correct. It is an old summer standby. But similar to “Iron Chef America,” I believe it will be the OFFICIAL ingredient in several dishes, cocktails, beverages and deserts consumed this summer.
Since I’ve moved to NYC, I’ve been bombarded with watermelon. It makes a weekly appearance in my apartment thanks to my roommate. I chalked it up to him being from Louisiana and his love of a sweet, juicy watermelon on a hot southern day. But as I ventured around town from Uptown to Downtown, I started to see watermelon all over the place; from a Fresh Watermelon Martini at French Roast on 85th and Broadway to a Watermelon Salad with grilled shrimp, feta cheese, shaved onion and spicy red wine vinaigrette at the uber popular restaurant Cafeteria in Chelsea.

Therefore, I’m claiming it as the Official Fruit of the summer of 2010. And I think you should too.

Not only is watermelon juicy and delicious, it’s very good for you too. Watermelon is an excellent source of Vitamin C and a very good source of Vitamin A, notably through its concentration of beta-carotene, according to published reports. High doses of vitamin C and beta-carotene have been shown in a number of scientific studies to reduce the risk of heart disease, reduce the airway spasm that occurs in asthma, reduce the risk of colon cancer, and alleviate some of the symptoms of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Sources also report that watermelon is also a very concentrated source of the carotenoid, lycopene. Lycopene has been extensively studied for its antioxidant and cancer-preventing properties.

Now, I’m far from being Oprah. So I’m obviously not empowered enough to cause a nation-wide watermelon movement. Although, I would love to scream: EVERYONE READING THIS BLOG TODAY GETS A WATERMELON!!! You get a watermelon! And you get a watermelon! And you get a watermelon!

But what I can do is provide you with some inspiration for infusing watermelon into your life this summer. Below are two amazing recipes courtesy of FOOD Network stars Bobby Flay (Watermelon Martini) and Paula Deen (Watermelon Salad with Mint) and foodnetwork.com. Enjoy! And stay tuned for more recipes and stories on how to make watermelon your Official Fruit of the summer of 2010.


· 1/2 cup sugar
· 1/2 cup water
· 5 cups watermelon, seeds removed
· 2 tablespoons lemon juice
· 1 1/4 cups vodka
· 2 ounces melon liqueur, optional
· 8 lemon twists, for garnish

Bring the sugar and water to a boil in a small saucepan and cook until the sugar has completely dissolved. Let cool. In a food processor, puree the watermelon. Add a little of the sugar syrup to sweeten, to taste. Pour the pureed watermelon into 2 empty ice cube trays and freeze for at least 4 hours.

In a blender combine the frozen watermelon cubes, more simple syrup, to taste, lemon juice and vodka, melon liqueur and blend until smooth. Pour into 8 frozen martini glasses and garnish with a lemon twist.

***If you’re anything like me, you like to mix up your own concoctions. If that’s the case, I would recommend creating your own version of this cocktail by trying watermelon liqueur or watermelon juice. And you can also try incorporating lemonade, lime juice and/or a lemon flavored vodka.


· 1 (5-pound) watermelon
· 1 Vidalia or other sweet onion
· 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
· Salt and pepper
· 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
· 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
· 4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
· 6 whole mint sprigs

Cut the flesh from the melon and cut into bite size pieces, removing and discarding the seeds. Set aside. Peel and slice the onion into rings.

In a small bowl, combine the vinegar, salt, and pepper. Whisk until salt is dissolved. Slowly whisk in the olive oil, a few drops at a time. Add in the chopped mint and taste. Adjust seasonings if needed.

In a large bowl, combine the melon, onion and feta. Pour the dressing over the melon mixture and toss gently until everything is coated and evenly mixed. Garnish with mint sprigs.
To serve, divide salad among individual plates and garnish with mint leaves.

***Feel free to put your own unique twist on this recipe as well by adding marinated and grilled shrimp, chicken, pork, salmon or tofu.

Maneuvering Life with Style

by Charles Dion Springfield

If you’re reading this, that means I finally got my sh** together and officially launched my first blog. Hi mom! I’ve decided to call it “Charles Springfield: Maneuvering Life with Style.” But I’m not trying to be Oprah, nor will it be ALL ABOUT me like Eve Harrington.

At this time in my life there is a flurry of change taking place. After years and years of hoping and wishing and praying to move to New York City, I forced it to happen this year. With the recent move enters a whole slew of changes, adventures, misadventures, challenges, successes, failures, romances, heartbreaks and everything else in between. But the underlining goal of my life is to face every challenge in a certain manner that is uniquely Charles Springfield and, regardless of the situation, maneuver this life of mine with style.

Since I began my professional career as a print journalist, I thought it would only be fitting to chronicle my experiences through narrative-styled perspective articles/essays via this ever growing phenomenon known as blogging. And to use my journalism background to round out the blog with news and feature stories that analyze my new life in New York City, highlight my love affair with fashion, offer my insights on bringing one’s personal style to the surface, showcase my fascination with finding the perfect cocktail, glass of wine or dinning option (recipe or restaurant) and selecting the right people to allow in one’s life.

While the blog will revolve around my perspective and approach, my goal is that the content and experiences published in this blog will be universal and relatable regardless of age, gender, race, political views, sexual preferences and spiritual/religious beliefs. You may not have had the same exact experience that I will write about, but I’m hopeful there are several parallels in your own life that can be drawn from the stories I publish. And through reader comments and other marvelous social media platforms like Facebook (group page: Maneuvering Life with Style) and Twitter (follow me @thelifestylings), I hope to make this particular blog engaging, entertaining, informative and meaningful for readers as well as for myself.

So please join me on my journey. Who knows! Maybe this little blog of mine will one day inspire the community at large to make a concerted effort to maneuver each and everyone one of our lives with style – together in our own unique way.