Jackson is home to remarkable musicians—both up-and-coming (as in Artists to Watch) and those who have been here for a while and have earned our devoted attention. Here are three we all know and love dearly, with the scoop on where their music is headed next.
Mississippi music man Raphael Semmes turned 50 in 2004. If you missed that birthday party blowout in the restaurant at Hal & Mal's, you really missed some grand music—jazz, blues, rock'n'roll and R&B—as musicians who've played with Semmes down through the years came together to celebrate Semmes with his family and friends.
Everybody got a royal blue souvenir cup inscribed in yellow: "1954: Rock & roll was born, so was Godzilla, the Miss America Pageant … and you know who … Let's Jam!" On the opposite side, beneath the bass clef: "Raphael Semmes, #50 Jam Benefiting Mississippi Food Network, Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame, Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame."
In a nutshell, that cup represents Semmes—jamming musically to benefit others. Hear Semmes at Char's Jazz Brunch on any Sunday, or when he plays at the Mississippi Museum of Art's Jazz, Art and Friends Feb. 24.
Rhonda Richmond feels that her life lately has been about growth and wondering if the circle will be unbroken. "As far as growth for me, I feel I'm coming into my own as a singer and a person." Since her last CD, both of her parents have, as she puts it, made their transition. Live evolves. Proud to have been on the Mississippi Artist Register since 2004, Richmond is recording a new CD, for the most part here in Jackson at Sonic Temple Studio with engineer Sean Mackie and executive producer Cassandra Wilson as well as musicians Reginald Veal, Alvin Youngblood Hart, Chris Alford, Johnny Hubbard, Bernard Jenkins, Adibe Owens Sabir and Bruce Golden.
The idea came from jamming with guitar players after Richmond had performed at the Snowbird Jazz Festival in Utah. "They welcomed me, and I started singing over their music when it occurred to me that this is rhythm and strings," she explained, going on to say that one of the tunes is called "Rhythm and Strings."
A raw, natural feeling—that's what Jackson's Rhonda Richmond wants from the CD. Some of the songs Richmond wrote, some are covers. "I'm remaking a tune I wrote that Cassandra Wilson put on her CD 'Belly of the Sun'—'The Road So Clear.'" There's that circle of life again, from Richmond's talents to Wilson's and back to Richmond's.
Saxophone player eZra Brown just turned 30, and he's one busy musician and entrepreneur.
There's a big reggae house party March 4 with two DJs, one in the front of the space for established cats who like to chill , while in the back there'll be a young party going on.
Brown's excitement is palpable when he lists other events planned, like a contemporary gospel open-mic night and a neo-soul night with a DJ and/or artists. DJ Phingaprint will soon offer DJ classes that get down to the origins of hip-hop as well as encompassing spinning, cueing and scratching, things young producers out there need to know how to do. Finally, he said that he's elated to be working with Felandus "Flip" Thames and the graphic arts scene. Flip will bring in school kids and teach the skills used in designing for t-shirts and fliers, for instance.
"I like working with cats," Brown said. And he's about to release a CD of radio cuts. Bring it on.