Sounds of Oakland

The highly reputable and influential jazz drummer and record producer Paul Tillman Smith noted that the ‘Sounds of Oakland’ CD was inspired by a comment made by a former President of the United States, who called Oakland the worst city in America. “He said it twice on national TV,” said Smith. “Hearing those words from a sitting President was unbelievable to me.” The comment prompted Smith to share the truth as he knows it: “Oakland has been a creative hotbed for beautiful, original music for decades.” 

To produce the CD, Smith immediately reached out to his friend and former New York City-roommate, the internationally renowned drummer and record producer Norman Connors, for musical guidance and technical support. Other co-producers included longtime Prince-sideman Levi Seacer Jr., and Michael Bolton and Braxton Brothers bassist Nelson Braxton. Seacer and Braxton played a tremendous role in completing what Smith describes as a musical documentary of the style of R&B music that Oakland musicians played in the city’s clubs from the sixties to present day.

The CD is also being co- sponsored by two California non-profits, the Bay Area Jazz Society which Paul is a member and the West Coast Blues Society whose Executive Director guitarist  Ronnie Stewart  is a long-time friend of Smith’s. Both Stewart and Smith have done tremendous work in the Bay Area musical -community by supporting both young and journeymen musicians. 30 percent of every dollar from this project goes into a special fund involving both non-profit organisations.

All the musicians and vocalists who performed on this CD or whose songs are being showcased have had long and illustrious careers locally and internationally, starting with the late Cal Tjader pianist / R&B record producer Lonnie Hewitt, to  composer/guitarist and still-thriving Bay Area legend Johnny Talbot.

The Sounds of Oakland is led by gifted vocalist Derick Hughes, who has recorded with Prince and Motown and recently toured extensively with Roberta Flack, taking the place of the late great Donny Hathaway. This CD features a who’s who of the local R&B scene. Notably, it includes local legends such as Jesse James (“I Can Do Bad By Myself”), Freddie Hughes (“Send My Baby Back”), Lenny Williams, (“So Very Hard To Go”), along with vocalist Lady Bianca, who toured and recorded with Sly Stone, Van Morrison, and Frank Zappa.

Also performing is Martin Luther, former lead vocalist of The Roots band, Fred Ross, who replaced Sly Stone in the Family Stone. TMarvin Williams, lead and background vocalist with the Persuader’s, known for the smash hit  (“Thin Line Between Love & Hate”) and former ABC recording artist bassist/vocalist Bobby Reed is also up in the house. They’re joined by former Buddha Records recording artist David Gardener, Donnie Williams from the 4th season of American Idol, and popular Bay Area vocalist Niecey Robinson (“whose song ‘Before You Know’ is one of my favorites,” Smith said). 

Other performers include Minor Williams, Lenny Williams’ drummer and cousin and a great vocalist in his own right, former Oakland Tribune editor and rapper Martin Reynolds, former Qwest recording artist & Wynton Marsalis sideman saxophonist Robert Stewart,  Percussionist Bill Summers, who performed on Herbie Hancock’s  platinum “Head Hunters” album also contributes, as does Donnie Williams’ sister Terrill Carter, who has her own album due in 2021 entitled “TERRILL” featuring her and Donnie on Chump Change Records. Lastly we have Grammy Award-winning vocalist Jeanie Tracy singing  beautiful backgrounds.

“Sounds of Oakland” was conceived by the Bay Area Jazz Society, a organization that has supported Oakland Schools by purchasing instruments for music students, while also sponsoring jam sessions at various venues throughout the region. This CD is designed to be a collector’s item for all of those who have grown up in the Bay Area and spent countless nights enjoying the vibrant club scene. It brings together the sounds heard at venues like the Showcase, the Sportsman Lounge, Esther’s Orbit Room, the California Hotel, New Royce Club, Slim Jenkins, Mr. Majors, Ivey’s, the Continental Club, Al’s House of Smiles, Ruthies, the Campus Club, and the Oakland Auditorium. And let’s not leave out the Lucky 13 Club in neighboring Berkeley or the McKesmo Club in Richmond. This is in addition to many more clubs and concert venues in the Bay Area where everyone used to party ‘til 1:00 a.m. listening to some of the baddest bands in  the land, based out of Oakland.

Clifford L. Williams, Journalist
Post News Group