STLJN Saturday Video Showcase: Spotlight on Straight Ahead


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This week, we turn our video spotlight on the group Straight Ahead, who will be in St. Louis to perform next Saturday, March 25 at the Sheldon Concert Hall.

The group was formed in 1989 in Detroit by bassist Marion Hayden, drummer Gayelynn McKinney, and pianist Alina Morr to back singer Miche Braden on a weekly local gig. They quickly attracted the attention of former Motown executive Sylvia Moy, who helped them get signed to Atlantic Records, where they recorded their debut album in 1990. They recorded two more albums for Atlantic in the early 1990s and went on to perform at a number of major jazz festivals throughout the decade.

Their name notwithstanding, Straight Ahead plays in a variety of jazz styles, from swing to funk/R&B to Latin jazz. They've had a number of different members over the years—violinist Regina Carter probably is their best known alumna—but the current version of the band returns the spotlight to the three founders, plus vocalist Kymberli Wright, who's been with them for nearly ten years now. And though they're known for their all-female lineup, Straight Ahead occasionally have used male guest musicians and subs, too. One of those is the saxophonist Yancyy, aka Lord Yancyy, who appears in several of today's clips and apparently now is considered an honorary member of the band.

Speaking of video clips, Straight Ahead doesn't seem to be very well-documented in online videos despite having been around for more than 20 years. This may be because Hayden, McKinney and Morr (sometimes billed as Eileen Orr) all are involved in a variety of other musical projects these days, so the group only plays a relatively small number of dates each year.

Up above, you can view a short documentary about Straight Ahead, which seems to have been filmed in the early 1990s as they first were beginning to gain some national recognition. In addition to some performance footage, there are interviews with the three founders as well as with Carter and former singer and flautist Cynthia Dewberry.

Down below are three songs taken from a 2009 gig in Pittsburgh that featured Hayden, McKinney, Wright and Yancyy, along with fellow Detroiter Henry Gibson substituting for Morr on keyboards. First up is a two-part version of “Summertime," followed by the original “Still Swinging," also in two parts, and finishing up with a cover of Earth, Wind and Fire's vintage hit “Can't Hide Love."

For more about Straight Ahead, check out this 2011 feature story on them from Examiner.com.

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This story appears courtesy of St. Louis Jazz Notes by Dean Minderman.
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