Thursday, February 22, 2018

Selena Jones: Virginia's Lost Jazz Diva

For many across the globe, the clearly phrased, softly soulful jazz of singer Salena Jones is shorthand for class, sophistication, romance. The active octogenarian still sells out venues and jazz festivals from Japan to the U.K. But she is virtually unknown in her own country, and her hometown of Newport News, Virginia.

More than a decade ago, Virginia Living Magazine flew me to London to interview Virginia's great lost jazz diva, and to tell her story for the first time. The feature article is now (finally) online, and designed to complement my current Feb. 2018 cover feature in the magazine on the history of Jazz in Virginia.

I'm ecstatic that it is finally online because this  feature profile on Salena Jones is one of my personal favorites, and Ms. Jones was one of the most fascinating people I've ever had the pleasure to profile. You'll understand why when you read the piece.

Saxophone legend Richie Cole has called Salena Jones “one of the greatest singers alive,” and she’s toured and sung with Cab Calloway, Louis Armstrong, Johnny Ray, Tom Jones, Antonio Carlos Jobim; been backed by ace sessioneers such as Steve Gadd, Kenny Burrell; was responsible for giving “King” Curtis—a.k.a. Curtis Ousley—his nickname. Formerly known as Joan Shaw (her given name) she's also a genuine female R&B pioneer—her early recordings on labels like Savoy, Gem and Jaguar, leading revved-up “orchestras” like Paul Williams’, Russ Case’, Luther Henderson’s and Danny Small’s, didn't spawn big hits, but they showed her undeniable vitality as a creative pre-rock innovator.

In the mid '60's, after releasing two major label albums as Joan Shaw, she would boldly change her act, her whole persona, and say goodbye to her country, transforming herself completely into Salena Jones. “Before I went, the march to Washington had just happened," she told me. "Kennedy had just been shot. I looked at myself and said, ‘What am I going to do here—with my career? I’m only one person, what can I do?’ The best thing to do is to go to another world.”

Read my profile of Salena Jones here.

And for more on her music, go here.


Doubling Down: The 2nd Street Festival

Richmond, Virginia's 2nd Street Festival will celebrate its 30th anniversary this year.

Held on the first weekend in October, this vibrant, two-day neighborhood tradition in the Jackson Ward area boasts musical performers, dance showcases, gospel choirs, food and merchandise vendors, and a whole lot of happy people in the streets greeting each other with loud, joyous squeals. It also honors the area's formidable musical history.

My new Richmond magazine feature takes a look, step-by-step, at how planners pull the big show together each year.

Read "Doubling Down" by clicking here.

And for more on the 2nd Street Festival, go here.

(Photo by the mighty Sandra Sellers/Richmond Free Press!)