Andy Bey Steady Burning Black

Andy Bey Steady Burning Black


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



If you can’t handle the things around you, if you don’t know how to adjust to your

surroundings and understanding what happiness is not . . . when you understand

what happiness is not, then you arrive at what happiness is.



Andy Bey CDs


American Song / Ballads, Blues & Bey / Shades of Bey Tuesdays in Chinatown / Andy Bey and the Bey Sisters  / Experience and Judgment


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Andy Bey Steady Burning Black Light

Breath of Life Music Commentary by  Kalamu ya Salaam


Andy Bey is gay.

It was important to come out for my own sanity so I wouldn’t feel like I was hiding. I think it’s important for anyone to eventually come out and deal with it. If you’re holding onto something, a secret, you have to deal with the possibility of being caught. I think when everybody knows you can separate the real from the unreal and go on with your life. —Andy Bey

Andy Bey is HIV-positive.

I think sometimes suffering can transform your life into something nobly. It makes you stronger. You use it to grow, rather than to be defeated. Some people can become very bitter by pain. Everyone has to deal with pain at some point in their life. But the main thing is to grow from that and use it to transform our lives into something better. Sometimes it takes some devastating pain to transform you. I knew that I had to survive and I wasn’t just going to lay down and die. I had something to live for. I didn’t plan to come out. Someone was interviewing me and we were talking like we’re talking now, and it just sort of happened. Certain people in the business knew anyway. So it wasn’t like this big secret. But when I became positive, it became even more important for me to liberate myself if I was going to try and stay focused on other things, like my music.—Andy Bey

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Andy Bey was born October 28, 1939 in Newark, New Jersey. He was a child prodigy. By six he was performing “Caldonia.” By eight he was performing professionally; by 12 he was onstage at the Apollo; and while a young teenager, he was on television’s “Startime” with Connie Francis. Circa 1958, Bey formed a trio with his older sisters Salome and Geraldine and they immediately embarked for Europe where they lived and worked based in Paris until returning to the United States in the mid-sixties and disbanding in 1966. For two decades afterwards, Andy worked primarily as a jazz vocalist. He worked in the bands of and recorded with jazz luminaries such as Max Roach, McCoy Tyner, Lonnie Liston Smith, Thad Jones/Mel Lewis, Eddie Harris and Horace Silver. His most notable success was with Gary Bartz and the Ntu Troop with whom Andy recorded the classic Harlem Bush Music albums.In 1991, Andy Bey returned to Europe, this time going to Austria where he taught vocal studies at the university level for two years before returning to America in 1993. In 1996 his “comeback” (return to commercial recording) album Ballads, Blues & Bey was released. His latest album, American Song was nominated for a 2004 Grammy.

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 Last week, Mtume chose Gary Bartz as the classic feature. This week it’s Andy Bey, the other half of the Ntu Troop heartbeat. Andy Bey is the greatest living male jazz vocalist. His recordings since Ballads, Blues & Bey are unparalleled. Check his track record. “Smooth Sailin’” is a 1959 Andy & The Bey Sisters recording (two tracks on a Jazz in Paris series compilation) from their Paris days. Sure they had natural talent but there was also a great deal of intelligence at work. In under two and a half minutes they summarize post-bop jazz by quoting famous jazz songs and riffs. Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie, Lionel Hampton, Eddie Jefferson, Ella Fitzgerald, Babs Gonzalez, Jon Hendricks, and more, it’s all compressed into a swinging compendium of jazz from “Pretty Baby” to bebop.“Members, Don’t Get Weary” is the first recording of Andy working with Gary Bartz. This is the title cut of an out-of-print 1968 Max Roach album that was pointing the way forward not only for so-called “spiritual jazz” in general but what was shortly to become the Ntu Troop in particular. “Black Maybe” is one of the strongest of the Ntu Troop tracks (available on Juju Street Songs). Using electronic enhancement on his saxophone, it’s easy to hear why Miles Davis scooped up Gary Bartz. The interaction between Bey’s voice and Bartz’s saxophone is absolutely superb. The Ntu Troop was the most versatile and successful “Black Power” era jazz bands. Certainly Pharaoh Sanders was the leading post-Coltrane voice but not even Pharaoh covered jazz, funk, pop, gospel and blues the way the Ntu Troop was able to do. The next three cuts are from Andy Bey’s 1970 solo release Experience and Judgment which, even though it was more pop than jazz oriented, is nevertheless a great example of Bey socially conscious, spiritually-oriented lyrics. “A Place Where Love Is” is one of the more poignant laments/longings that has ever been sung. Obviously, Bey is a deep thinker who has seriously contemplated our collective condition.Of all the collaborations as a sideman, I remain partial to Andy’s work on bassist Stanley Clarke’s 1973 Children of Forever album. The title track features vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater joining Andy for some stellar blowing with Dee Dee singing off into the stratosphere. The song is technically demanding but Andy and Dee Dee respond with gusto. “Butterfly Dreams” is another one of those philosophical takes on daily life that Andy does so well. Unfortunately for us there are no eighties-era recordings from Mr. Bey.“Paper Moon” is from American Song (2006), Mr. Bey’s most recent album. It’s a song made famous by Nat King Cole, who influenced Bey. In 1996 Andy Bey was featured on Passion Flower, pianist Fred Hersch’s tribute to Billy Strayhorn. This beautiful rendition of “Something To Live For” is from that session.

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AAJ: Would you describe yourself more as a spiritual person or a religious person?

Andy Bey: I think I’m a more spiritual person. You can be religious and not be spiritual. You can be spiritual and not be religious at all. It’s not about a judgmental thing; everybody’s at a different level, which is not to say that they’re bad or worse or good or whatever. It’s just what you react to. And I find that, with myself, it’s dealing with everyday challenges. That to me is more important than dealing with anything else. If you can’t handle the things around you, if you don’t know how to adjust to your surroundings and understanding what happiness is not . . . when you understand what happiness is not, then you arrive at what happiness is. You can’t change things, you sort of replace things other than change them. You can’t change certain animal species into others. You can’t change a dog into a cat, or a snake into a dove. But you can replace them.

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I admire Andy Bey. Admire his tenacity. His forthright way of dealing with his own life. Admire, of course, his talent, a talent he has never given up on or prostituted. Admire that he is a survivor. Admire that now that he is in his sixties he is singing stronger than he sang back in the sixties. In a minute, he will have been recording over a fifty-year period. There is no hint of bitterness in his work. There is no pandering for the pennies of commercial success. Andy Bey is a steady burning black light. An inspiration to any one and every one who wants to live a meaningful life. Much respect, my brother. Mucho, mucho respect!

posted 6 August 2007

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