VARIOUS ARTISTS / Sister Cheryl Mixtape
Source: Breath of Life - (BoL Mixtape – February 13, 2012)
Even though drummers are practically the sine qua non of jazz, a composition by a drummer that becomes a jazz standard is a rare beast. Indeed, some musicians don’t even consider drummers as musicians, or as Max Roach opined in one of his more salty moments: drummers are considered the “niggers” of the band (and I’m sure you can guess what that means!). “Sister Cheryl” is one of those rare songs widely accepted in the jazz community that was composed by a drummer, namely Tony Williams who is often considered one of the most innovative and influential drummers of the 20th century.
Born in Chicago and reared mainly in Boston, Tony Williams studied with drummer Alan Dawson when Tony was in his early teens. By the time he was sixteen Tony was working with saxophonist Sam Rivers. Miles Davis hired Tony at seventeen, whereupon Tony powered the ensemble that is generally referred to as the second great (if not the greatest) Miles Davis quintet.
Tony did far more than merely keep time. His poly-rhythms and percussive accents completely changed and challenged the traditional function of the drummer. Not only did the young drummer contribute to the overall shape of the music, often his patterns and deft beats led the music.
Were it not for the underlying latin-like beat (really, it sounds closely akin to a New Orleans street rhythm), “Sister Cheryl” with its long tones and soaring harmony might easily be considered a major ballad.
Trivia note: in the eighties the Ellis Marsalis quartet peformed three or four times in Barbados. During the first gig our local guides were Cheryl Carter and her friend Cheryl Archer. Need I tell you that Tony’s composition was played quite often and slyly renamed by the band members “Sisters Cheryl.”
Appropriately the first version is by New Orleans wunderkind Wynton Marsalis from his eponymous Columbia debut. We follow with a funky bass led version by James B. Williams. The third iteration showcases the ballad stylings of Parisian pianist Jacky Terrasson. Pianist John Stetch demonstrates a swinging approach that mixes McCoy Tyner and Keith Jarrett influences. The fifth offering is by vocalist Sunny Sumter who is absolutely radiant in her reading of the melody to which she has added serious lyrics.
The concluding number is provided by the composer himself from a live recording in Tokyo. The Tony Williams Quintet provides an awesome and joyous presentation of Williams’ signature song.
—Kalamu ya Salaam
Sister Cheryl Mixtape Playlist
01 Wynton Marsalis – Wynton Marsalis
02 Gratitude – John B. Williams
03 Alive – Jacky Terrasson
04 Green Grove – John Stetch
05 Rite Of Passage – Sunny Sumter
06 Tokyo Live – Tony Williams Quintet
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