This week my guest is Detroit's own Pianist, composer,arranger, educator and jazz historian, and Kresge Artist Fellow Pam Wise.
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Produced by Green Bow Music
Tia Time with Artists, with guest Pam Wise 2/01/2021
Tia Imani Hanna: Welcome to Tia Time with Artists, the weekly podcast where we discuss the methods, challenges, and real-life experiences of living our creative dreams. What kind of creative warrior are you? Musician? Filmmaker? Painter? Choreographer? Poet? Sculptor? Fashionista? Let’s talk about it right now. I’m your host, Tia Imani Hanna.
Welcome to Tia Time with Artists and my guest this week is pianist, composer, educator, historian, Pam Wise.
Pam Wise: Oh, thanks for having me.
Tia Imani Hanna: Glad to see that you're here. Glad that you're doing well. And we'll spend some of this Covid time talking about music and talking about the things that make you the musician that you are. And tell me what started you on the track to being a pianist and a composer? Was it… in your household when you were growing up? Were you surrounded by music? Or are you the odd fish in the family? Or how did that all come about?
Pam Wise: I am the odd fish in the family. Yeah, it's probably because of music. No, my dad was a jazz musician. He played upright bass and he had his own jazz trio in addition to being the world star postman in our little, small town. So, that's how I got the music bug. Cause he was always rehearsing his trio in the basement and I was always sneaking down there and as a toddler, “Oh man, that's what I want to do. That's really cool.” So that's how I got the music. And yeah, and then he was always active in church and he showed me a few things on a piano and then he said, “Oh, she catches on pretty quick. The things I'm showing her.” So, my mother was the one who was like we need to get her some piano lessons. And so, I started taking lessons. I started playing in church. My father was the choir director at church for the senior and youth choir. So, that's where I got a lot of my skills. There was an older lady at church that, her name was Mrs. Guy, and she also started training me on the pipe organ at church, which was really a scary thing for me because it was this big, huge monstrosity of a keyboard and if you hit one of those stops and you don't hit them and that's all. It's like a Mack truck going out of control. [laughter] It was really cool because I remember she had me play one Sunday and she made the church take up a collection for me. And I was like, “Oh, I can make money doing this.” She said, “Yeah, you can make money doing this”. She said, “Every time you play, you should, there's a fee that should be charged.” And so, I think that's how I got the business concept was from her. And I think only got like $12 from the collection that Sunday, but hey, and just in the late sixties, that was a lot of money.
Tia Imani Hanna: Sure.
Pam Wise: You can buy a couple of shirts, your favorite records. You can find some baby dolls and baby doll clothes.
Tia Imani Hanna: Do a lot with 12 dollars.
Pam Wise: Yes. Have leftover for candy.
Tia Imani Hanna: That's right. You can get a lot more candy back then you can now, for that little bit of money. That's great. So, you started in churches and stuff. Did you start your own groups or how did you get the concept of being a jazz musician and working and getting paid to do the work, but how did that evolve? Did you go to high school and play in bands and things? Or did you go to college later? Or how did it all…?
Pam Wise: After I experimented with string instruments, I actually, when I started off on piano, of course in school, when you got into fourth grade, I met this really hip music teacher. He was a jazz pianist, but he was also our music teacher. So, he put a violin in my hand because that's what was available for us fourth graders to play. So, I tried that for a while. I didn't like it cause it squeaked too much. Then I went to viola. I played there for a while and then I went from viola to cello, which I really liked, but I didn't like lugging it home from school.
Tia Imani Hanna: I don't blame you. It's big.
Pam Wise: It's big, but I wish I would've kept up with it, and I'm thinking that actually, I said if I ever get a chance to play it again, maybe that's something I might investigate. Cause it, cause I love the low voicing of the cello. But after I got in high school, that's when I got the concept of forming a band. I began watching other R & B groups. There was a couple other big groups that were really good from my hometown. And after watching them, I started forming my own group. And what was really neat, was about the older R and B groups from my hometown, helped us out. They helped form our sound and told us what we needed to do. They would come to our rehearsals and make sure that our show was polished and teaching proper vocal technique to the vocalists that were singing with us and instilling the musicians, instilling us the importance of knowing our instrument, knowing how to read music, knowing how to arrange for R & B group. And we stuck with that. What was called The Ohio Movement. Yeah. And we did quite a bit of traveling in the States of West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. That group stayed together for about 10 years.
Tia Imani Hanna: What's your hometown?
Pam Wise: Steubenville, Ohio. It’s the hometown of Dean Martin. [laughter] My dad and him went to school, went to grade school together, actually. There is a lot of [unintelligible] in Ohio. Actually, there were a lot of the slaves came from the South and migrated north to Ohio.
Tia Imani Hanna: Wow. So that was a really a big learning experience. So, you guys are touring already. So what age were you during this time? So, this was during your teens or…?
Pam Wise: Yes, this was during my teens. I would say from like being a freshman. Like we started the band, I think when I was a junior in high school and we were just working around town and after I graduated. By the time I graduated we were traveling. Yeah, around 17 till about 12th grade, about 20, 21, something like that. And then I made my move to Cleveland, Ohio. Then I came to Detroit. And…
Tia Imani Hanna: That was all based on just what was happening in the music scene, how you ended up in Detroit?
Pam Wise: Actually, I had a older brother who used to live in Detroit years ago. He actually, when he graduated from high school, my mother was looking for him one day and she said, “Where's is Craig?” She said, “Where's Craig? I haven't seen him all day.” And he saved up like a hundred dollars and brought this old raggedy jalopy and drove it to Detroit because he didn't want to be in Steubenville anymore. And we had a friend of ours that lived up here and he just ended up on our friend's doorstep unannounced. So, our friend called my mom and said Craig is up here. And she said, “You know what? Tell him he can stay.” Because she was… her mind was at ease. She knew where he was. She said, “I guess he can just stay in Detroit.” And he said, after he started continuing his education and got his self together. He said, “If I ever get a good job in Detroit.” He said he wanted to move back because he left Detroit. He spent about a year up here and had some hard times and he decided to go back, continue his education. He went to school in Cleveland and Pittsburgh and went to Hampton Institute in West Virginia. And when he finished his education, he said he wanted to come back to Detroit cause he liked Detroit. And so, he ended up getting a really good job in Detroit. We were in Cleveland for a while, where he worked, and then I moved to Cleveland with him. There was nothing going on in Steubenville, it’s such a small town. It's like you could walk from one end of town to the other in 20 minutes. So, there wasn't a whole lot going on there. The band was breaking up at that time and everybody was tired of everybody. Everybody just wanted to grow and, you start thinking about other things, and people wanted to continue their education or whatever it is that they really wanted to do. So, I ended up leaving and moving to Cleveland to stay with my brother. And then he got a good job in Detroit. And we came here. We came to Detroit, which was really cool. I was glad that I came. It was hard at first, but, after I got acclimated to the city, I was good to go. I had a couple of day jobs. I worked at Blue Cross Blue Shield for a while. I worked at the Bank of the Commonwealth, which was really good, cool job. It’s now known as Chase, JP Morgan Chase, but long time ago, went through several transitions. And I think that was one of the most… that was one of my favorite jobs, actually, is working at the bank. I worked downtown and I worked in a bank vault so like my till was like $1.5 million a day. It was one-sided, didn’t have enough money to eat lunch, looking at all that cash, you couldn't mess with it, but it taught me the importance of money and organizing and things like that. So, it was… I was glad that I took that job.
Tia Imani Hanna: So, did you have any time in-between to practice or did you play in playing gigs at night or are you looking for gigs at night?
Pam Wise: I would say for the first couple of years I was here, I wasn't doing any gigging. I was checking out the music scene. I was going to different places and checking stuff out, but I did have music that I wanted to record. And so, I met some other musicians after a couple of years and I performed with them. There were some R and B groups around that I performed with, but I had my own music that I wanted to record. So, after meeting some people, I went to the studio to record some of my tunes and something happened to their equipment. And Wendell knew these people because he was producing some R & B groups out of that studio. So, he came by one day and….
Tia Imani Hanna: For my audience, this is Wendell Harrison, a legendary jazz player here in Detroit. Go on.
Pam Wise: Yeah. That's how I met Wendell because Wendell said, “I have a studio and all my stuff is working.” So, I loaded up. We took my piano over there and I started recording with him and that's how we hooked up. And he liked my music. He said, “It's got an R & B flavor, but it's got a great jazz flavor to it too.” We started collaborating on different tunes and it actually, the relationship turned out to be good, which he's now my husband and we've known each other for, oh man, since the eighties. And then through Wendell I met Marcus Belgrave. He was one of the first prominent musicians that I met. And I ended up renting an upstairs flat from Marcus. I stayed with him and his family for a few years, and chain reaction.
Tia Imani Hanna: So, composition. Now, when you first started playing piano, did you immediately start writing your own music or was it just something that came along with learning how to play or did that develop separately? How do you approach composition?
Pam Wise: It's interesting that you said that because one of your relatives reminds me of myself. Hanna was my piano student. And after we would do our lessons, when she was about, I guess she was, must've been about six or seven at the time.
Tia Imani Hanna: Oh, you mean my niece? Okay.
Pam Wise: Yeah. She reminded me so much of me because she would, after we would do our lessons, she would say, listen to this song that I wrote. Then she would play it for me. And that's how I started composing. I would go through my different piano lessons and stuff I had in my books, but I was always experimenting with my own compositions. And Hanna reminded me so much of myself when she was doing that. And I would tell her mother, I said, “She might be a great composer one day.” Cause she would always, and we would have to sit there. The lesson was a half an hour. Hanna would have us there for 45 minutes after the half an hour lesson, playing her compositions for us. And I thought that was really cool. I said, “Oh, she reminds me so much of me.” That's how I started composing. I think noodling around, but like I had the chord structure, and then my that's what my dad was saying, “Oh, she's got a good sense of chord structure and melody and stuff.”
Tia Imani Hanna: Well over the years… Now, of course, now you've got all these skills and you've learned from playing with everybody else and you've picked up things and I'm sure you've asked different people. Were there different mentors? And you have Wendell to ask a lot of things too? Cause I know he knows all that theory and arranging. Besides Wendel, how many other mentors did you think you've accessed over the years?
Pam Wise: Oh, there was so many because staying with Marcus, he had a piano in the basement and he said you could go down there and practice anytime you want it. But there was just such a trail of musicians that would come through there. Johnny O'Neil, then you had the jazz development workshop down on Grand River. Roy Brooks would come through. People like Lamont Hamilton, who was a saxophone player who is not with us anymore. Hiroshima Cox, Kenny Cox, even Kenny Garrett. I was around a lot of people who were writing. Who were writing and arranging at that time and even though I didn't feel that I was really that great of a player, I just felt if I kept hanging around the environment, I would learn a lot, and I did. That experience with the Jazz Development Workshop was a thing that Marcus had put together. And Wendell was a part of it. They were teaching jazz classes down there. They had a big band where Johnny Allen taught a big band arranging and it was just a great school and great environment to be in, which I think is lacking today, something that needs to continue. But yeah, I had a lot of different mentors in Detroit. And Detroit has a certain thing about them where they just take you under their wing and they just show you. Show you the way, and I'm still trying to get there, but…
Tia Imani Hanna: [laughing] Yeah, I know. How do you know when you've gotten ‘there’, wherever ‘there’ is?
Pam Wise: You never know. It's always, you're always learning. It's always going to be.
Tia Imani Hanna: So, you're a perpetual student. So, when did you start getting students?
Pam Wise: I've always, even when I was coming up, I've always had students because, even when I was like taking piano lessons, I would show my other friends. Because when you spend time together, “Show me how to do this. Show me how to do that.” This is what you're doing, I want to learn how to do it too. You just kinda just do that naturally, I think. And then when I started getting students that would pay me, that wouldn't come until much, much later. But when I came to Detroit, I got involved with the summer youth arts program. It was a wonderful program. They've been trying to recreate it for years, but they haven't been successful in doing it, but it was a situation where we had all arts disciplines. I taught this program for about six years where we had jazz and we had creative writing, stage set design, costuming, this was like a six-to-eight-week program. And we all had to come together at the end of this program with a production. So, I taught this program for about six years for the City of Detroit, and it was a very rewarding experience. And I would say that most of the students that came out of that program are doing some wonderful things now. And that's some good reflection to look back on where yeah. So, hopefully, they can get it going again in some kind of way, but I don't know. It takes a lot to get people on board to a situation like that.
Tia Imani Hanna: So, what have you been doing while Covid has been going on?
Pam Wise: Lot of practicing.
Tia Imani Hanna: That's good.
Pam Wise: A lot of writing, a lot of recording. We had the opportunity and the Sister Strings for the Detroit Jazz Festival, which was really good. It was virtual. And it was kinda, I think it was strange for us because we didn't have, really, a live audience. We just were, just streaming and yeah. We didn't really have audience feedback. It was strange cause that's what kind of fuels us to go, but I think we did an excellent job with that production and…
Tia Imani Hanna: Yeah, I think we did too.
Pam Wise: Yeah. And then, I've been recording streaming music for my church and Wendell just had a CD new CD that was released that features me and some other Detroit prominent players. And so, we have been working on that. I just think the sad part is the economic downturn future for us musicians and artists and trying to figure out how we're going to fit into this this matrix of while this pandemic is going on, economically, how we're going to survive and what we have to do to support ourselves, as well as support others. It's very questionable at this time.
Tia Imani Hanna: Have you all done any of the concerts in the living room type thing with tip jars, digital tip jars or anything like that?
Pam Wise: No. Not yet. We've been still holding what we call… Wendell has these “Upper Room Jam Sessions” over here at the house, in our studio, which we have just a couple of other players come over. And it's just, it's a learning thing. Where Wendell teaches jazz improvisation because he's like the guru. So, they all seek knowledge. And everybody wants to keep playing. But may be that we will turn that into some type of streaming thing or tip jar thing, but I'm like, if they don't have any economic stimulus package people, aren't going to be able to afford it. How are they going to support, support the tip jar when they don't have any money? But, hopefully, things so things will work out. I hope that our country learns a lot. And, hopefully, we keep voting for responsible people to be in charge of the government. We'll have some type of leadership when it comes to these kind of things, because I think if there was proper leadership, we could have beat the pandemic a long time ago.
Tia Imani Hanna: True that. True that.
Pam Wise: Here we are. The uncertainty of it all is just, it's just mind boggling.
Tia Imani Hanna: We do what we can. And as I say on this show all the time, our job is to make art. And make art and make more art and continue to make art. And give people hope in that way, because that's what we have our skills in. So, hopefully, this does make a difference for everyone. And I know it makes a difference for me.
Pam Wise: And art is in everything that we do, everything that we look at, every chair that we sit in, every computer that's designed. I don't care what it is, art is always involved. We have to keep creating.
Tia Imani Hanna: Let's talk about some of the things that you have created. Now you have, how many albums do you have right now that you've done, your solo albums?
Pam Wise: At five right now and…
Tia Imani Hanna: Five. Okay. That's pretty impressive. I was gonna say that you're heavily influenced on, I guess, Latin styles of playing, or Cuban music. Now, where did that come from? From your history, you talk about the R & B sound and into the mixing, into the jazz. Where did the Latin come from?
Pam Wise: You know, it was just something that was in me. I've always been, I've always wanted to trace the music of my ancestors. And I think that's what kind of fueled it. I was always curious about where the, where our music originated from. And so, I began researching. African rhythms, Afro-Cuban rhythms, the migration of African people to the Americas. And that's how I became interested in that. And after, of course, doing DNA on Ancestry.com, you find all these different elements that we’re made of. What was curious to me about it is how these traditional African rhythms stayed with us. Through R&B music, through all types of music, even the dance portion of it. We still carry this with us for thousands of years. And one time I remember a grant project that I got and I was writing some Afro-Cuban music fused with Jazz. But I also met a dancer, who later married Francisco Mora, a good friend of mine, which helped me do a lot of research on Afro-Cuban rhythms and Jazz music and how it originated and how we fuse it together. And I also was curious about the dance portion because in their culture, the dance, the music, and the praise and worship, that's all one thing. It's not separated like we separate things over here. It's just like all one thing. And so, I was also researching the dance part of it and I tore up my knees doing it. But anyway, it was pretty interesting because we staged the thing where we had some hip-hop dancing and we had traditional African dance and we had my friend's wife, who was Afro-Cuban descent, look at it. And she was like, the dances were not different from the traditional Afro-Cuban and what they were doing with the Hip Hop. It was the same moves. It was just that the young people don't know the story behind the different dance moves and things like that. And when the young people found out, they were just really blown away.
Tia Imani Hanna: I'm pretty blown away by that too. Because yeah, you just don't, you don't realize how connected at all is.
Pam Wise: Or why you do it, why does your body move like that? It's like this history that you've been carrying with you, that’s been generated through many years and you just have no clue what it is. And I think it's vital for us to know who we are. If you don't know who you are, it's going to be hard to move forward. So, it's that Sankofa thing.
[Sankofa (pronounced SAHN-koh-fah) is a word in the Akan Twi and Fante languages of Ghana that translates to "Go back and get it" (san - to return; ko - to go; fa - to fetch, to seek and take) and also refers to the Bono Adinkra symbol represented either with a stylized heart shape or by a bird with its head turned backwards while its feet face forward carrying a precious egg in its mouth. Sankofa is often associated with the proverb, “Se wo were fi na wosankofa a yenkyi," or “Sankofa w’onkyir” which translates as: "It is not wrong to go back for that which you have forgotten." It implores for Africans to reach back into ancient history for traditions and customs that have been left behind.]
Tia Imani Hanna: I know on your Facebook page, you talk a lot about the history of Detroit musicians, so is that something that you're making an effort to, I guess, make more public is the history of Jazz musicians in Detroit. Is there a project in the works for that?
Pam Wise: I just, I think a lot of other people do it, like Mark Stryker, who is a prominent writer, who has a book out about Detroit Jazz history, but I don't think it really tells the whole story, you probably need several books. But Detroit has such a rich history of putting Jazz on the map that I thought that it was important for us not to forget any of them. I've had the pleasure of meeting a few, but there was a lot of them that came before me that Wendell knows, that taught him, and so I thought it was important to keep their legacy alive so people would know who they were. Some people aren't here anymore. People that taught Wendell. Trumpeter, Lonnie Hill, who took Wendell under his wing. And cause a lot of times when he would go to high school, you get laughed at, stuff like that. "Boy you don't know what you doing" and stuff like that but certain people just latch on to you and just, hey man, they teach you how to dress, teach you how to play your instrument and what to do and what not to do. And I think those people always need to be, we need to remember our ancestors and what they've done for us and the people that are still here that have put Detroit on the map, such as bassist, Ron Carter. People like that are very important to our legacy in Detroit Jazz. So hopefully, maybe a film will come at some point. I'm not a filmmaker, but I think one of the problems that I have with some of the books that have been written about Detroit Jazz is they don't capture a lot of the stories, it's just a news report. Oh, this person did that. This person did that. But that doesn't really speak to somebody came into the Blue Bird Inn and tried to sit in and this went down, sure. Or how they ended up getting that gig as opposed to another person. I think people want to hear those stories too.
Tia Imani Hanna: I think you're right. Do you have access to those stories? Between you and Wendell, I bet you have a lot of stories to tell.
Pam Wise: Wendell's really got most of them. At him being 78 years old, one of the writers was just telling him to just turn on the recorder and just talk. Cause he's got some really excellent stories to tell. So, I think him and Bill Harris might be putting something together soon.
Tia Imani Hanna: Oh, that's great. Yeah. Glad to hear that. And cause I'm sure you have stories. Still to this day, aren't as many women on the bandstand and coming up with all those men, how do you navigate that? How did you navigate that?
Pam Wise: Actually, it wasn't that bad for me. Because a lot of the older guys, they just want to show you if you're interested in learning what you want to do. In terms of learning music, a lot of the older cats were very helpful. Even Roy Brooks, a lot of times he would, wouldn't be feeling so well. He would come down to the workshop and just start playing the piano and yeah, say, “Look at this, look at me, look at what I'm doing.” You learn tunes or how to voice the chord or, I never experienced them being like really rude to me or anything like that. Most of the cats that I met were pretty cool. I didn't really experience any type of heavy negative vibes. Some of them look at you strange if they didn't know you, if you sit in and be like, Oh, I don't know about her. I never heard of that. Who are you? But not too much of that, maybe one or two people, but most of it was pretty positive.
Tia Imani Hanna: That's good. I'm glad to hear that. I'm glad to hear that. Cause, you know, I don't get a chance to talk to that many women musicians just to ask how was it back then? How was it when you started out and how did things go? How did you get to where you are? Because a lot of it is word of mouth or auditory or you're sitting at somebody's lap and listening and say, oh, asking questions because that was not my experience. A lot of it was like, just go woodshed by yourself, and hope for the best.
Pam Wise: Yeah, no, I think myself… Marion came before me, Marion Hayden. And I think Marion had a pretty good experience with guys taking her up under their wing and showing her the way. I think, for the most part, we've done pretty good with that. Marion's been doing it a little longer than me, but I think we've gotten pretty good vibes from most of the cats.
Tia Imani Hanna: Oh, that's good to hear. Very good to hear. Are you working on any new compositions right now?
Pam Wise: Yes. Yes. I actually wrote composed some music. I had a project that I did back in 2019 called “Matrix X, Detroit, The Gentrification Nation,” because our city is changing. It was like this production thing that involved dance, poetry and music. And I had a couple of scenes that were acted out. Bill Harris, famous writer, wrote the scenes for me and we acted them out about the different changes that people go through during the gentrification process, like how some people are pushed out of their homes or having to relocate or the financial and economical downturn for some people. For some people, might've worked out okay. But I wrote some compositions in lieu of that. So, I need to work on recording them. So that's what I'm doing now.
Tia Imani Hanna: And then what was your most recent album?
Pam Wise: The most recent was “A New Message from the Tribe,” which features a lot of prominent Detroit players. And we actually played some of that music on the Sister Strings concert. We played “Plena Plenty” and I didn't record “Uncle Checks’ Cha-Cha-Cha.” “Good Hair,” did that. Musique Noire did that for their “Good Hair.”
Tia Imani Hanna: Musique Noire. Yeah.
Pam Wise: Did that on their CD? Which was pretty.
[“Plena Plenty” plays here]
Tia Imani Hanna: So, I wanted to ask you too about, at some point I wanted to do a series about Jazz families and you and Wendell in the same house. And how does that all work out? So, as he has separate projects and you have separate projects and then you guys have joint projects together sometimes? Or mostly?
Pam Wise: Yeah. Or Cause it, cause we ended up being involved with each other because even if he has his own project, he's going to be asking me a lot of questions, “Pam, how do you do this?” And blah, blah. Or “How do you do that?” Just like I was pulling him in the studio trying to get set up for this project, for this podcast, my podcast, I got to ask him, “How do you do this? How do you do that?” [laughter] Luckily, we have a big house and during the pandemic, we haven't killed each other yet. So yeah.
Tia Imani Hanna: That's cool. So, when you're all writing together, like I know when he's writing, do you guys separate and go into different rooms and just say, “Leave me alone. I can't talk to you cause I'm writing.” Or is it more, is it more yeah, how do you do this and how do you do that? Or listen to this? Or how does, how do you do it? I'm just curious. It's because everybody has a different writing technique. So, I'm just curious how that works out with two composers in the same house.
Pam Wise: We don't get in each other is way too much. A lot of times, one day we'll have an idea and after he has a sketched out, he'll ask me what I think, Now I'll do the same thing for him because a lot of times I might need his help with the arrangement and voicings for other instruments and things like that. So, he's able to help tremendously with that or tell me what sounds good, what voicing sound good for certain instruments and what don’t, so I'm always asking him questions and he always asked me stuff. We don't get in each other's way too much for that. Luckily, like I said, luckily, we have a big house, so that helps a lot.
Tia Imani Hanna: Have you guys ever gotten in a drag-out fight about a song?
Pam Wise: Yeah, because sometimes he'll, like, he'll come up with an arrangement. I'll tell him, “I don't like that.” And he say, “I think it sounds good for that.” And I'll be like, “No, it doesn't. I don’t I want that.” So, it won't be a knockout drag-out fight, but it'll be can heated. Not as heated as him and Marcus [Belgrave] and Harold McKinney. Boy they used to get into some big shouting matches. “Yes, you did.” “No, you didn’t.” “Yes, you did.” “No, you didn’t.” But then all of a sudden Marcus will say, “I think we should play it like this.” And everybody would be like, “Yeah, man, you're right.” It was funny. I think that trio, and I witnessed some of their drag out fights. Then it would be just like 15 minutes later they be hollering and screaming and then every, like everything is like back to normal, like nothing ever happened.
Tia Imani Hanna: Yeah. So, from the outside, looking in, it sounds like somebody is killing each other.
Pam Wise: The one that would always bring everything back and he would just say like one thing, “Man, we should phrase it like this.” They'd be like, yeah, Bel, you got it.” [laughter] So, me and Wendell, we aren't that bad. We do have our opinions.
Tia Imani Hanna: Yes. S, totally different subject. Do you do you remember the first album you ever bought with your own money?
Pam Wise: Yeah, I would say it was, might've been The Dramatics, which is “[What You See Is] What You Get.”
Tia Imani Hanna: Oh yeah.
Pam Wise: That album. I think there might've been one of the first ones. It might've been a couple before that, but that's the one that stands out. The Dramatics.
Tia Imani Hanna: And what was like the first, really, like when you felt like you really understand Jazz, what would be the first album that you bought?
Pam Wise: Man. It was funny because my older brother would bring a lot of the Jazz music to our house in Steubenville. Cause he was out in the world getting his education and everything. So, he would bring albums back by McCoy, John Coltrane, Leon Thomas, different people like that. My father had a lot of Jazz records, so we always had Jazz in the house, so I never really had to buy that kind of stuff cause we already had it, yeah. Yeah. My parents were always playing Jazz. I think we were listening to Oscar Peterson, all kinds of stuff. I think Oscar was like one of the first pianists that I gravitated to because of his technique was just so off the chain. Then you have Ramsey Lewis. He was a pianist that I liked that also crossed over from the early Jazz years to being popular. And it was just a shame because it just seemed like the radio stations stopped playing certain things. They would categorize, they started categorizing stuff so much. Before it wasn't a big thing, like you could turn on a Black radio station and you just heard Black music. Whether it was Jazz, R & B. If it was good stuff, they played it. They might play it at different times of the day. They might have a time where they play if more Jazz than they would play R & B. But if music, they just played it. But now you have all this categorizing stuff. This Smooth Jazz this kind of Jazz is right now. So that, I think that just kinda changed. The way we look at music now, or the way we listen to it. When I was coming up, we had like listening parties. You would have people with great album collections and you would go to each other's house and just listen to music. Do that quite a bit. And no one said a whole lot, there wasn't a whole lot of conversation going on. You just sat down and a person will put on their record, “Listen. This is what I picked up today.” It might've been Chick Corea's “Return to Forever,” latest album or something, which was really cool. People don't do that. People don't do that anymore. Of course, there was less TV then.
Tia Imani Hanna: It makes a difference. It makes a difference. Also, that now everything is… even back in the day, they had 45s a lot of times. So, if you didn't have the long play record, you had a 45. And we're doing that with tracks now. The streaming downloads are just, you can buy one track or you don't ever have to listen to the whole album if you don't want to. And then there's places where you don't have to buy anything and listen to the whole thing as much as you want.
Pam Wise: So yeah. It's, yeah, economically I would say, cause think about it, when you bought a 45 back in the day, you had the A and B side and you might've paid a dollar for two songs for the A & B side. Of course, you brought it mainly for the song that you heard on the radio, the most. Occasionally, you might play the B side and say, “Oh, I like that too.” But if you think about monetarily of what you paid for that back in the day, back in the sixties or whatever, and what people buy a track for now, there's really not that much difference.
Tia Imani Hanna: It's a… the more we change, the more we stay the same.
Pam Wise: Exactly. That sounds like a song title, actually.
Tia Imani Hanna: [laughing] Yeah, because we get to, we do get to the same. It's just a new technology, the same way of doing things, but just a new technology.
Pam Wise: Yeah. Yeah, you're right. You're right. I'm saying that maybe we should be charging $2 for a track instead of just a buck.
Tia Imani Hanna: You know, do try it and see what happens. Yeah. What would be your desert island is now, like if you were stuck on a desert island, what five discs would you take?
Pam Wise: What five discs would I take? Definitely take some McCoy Tyner. I'd probably take all of his stuff. Yeah. I just love Baba McCoy Tyner. To me, he was one of the most innovative players that had a special gift in terms, the way he improvised, developing his own style. I know he spent a lot of his early days with John Coltrane, which he was very appreciative of that because it brought some other things out in his playing that he was able to carry with him. So, I would say that in terms of pianists, then I would take five of his discs.
Tia Imani Hanna: And call it good.
Pam Wise: Yes, that's right. That’s right.
Tia Imani Hanna: All right. I don't have any more random questions [laughter], but I was just curious as to what, what your sound inner soundscape was going. That it's the soundtrack of your life is McCoy Tyner
Pam Wise: But I have a question for you.
Tia Imani Hanna: Yeah.
Pam Wise: How well did you know your Uncle Roland?
Tia Imani Hanna: I did not get to know him until I moved to New York in my thirties. And then I didn’t get to see him very often because they lived in upstate New York and I was in Brooklyn. So, I got a couple of maybe two or three Thanksgivings with them. And he did a couple of concerts down in New York and I got to go and see him at those concerts and talk to him and hang out a little bit after, but not a lot. I didn't get to know him very well. Cause he was, we were in Detroit and he was in New York and traveling all over the world and I just didn't get to know him. My dad's family was just not close. They never were. So, I really didn't get to know him very well, but I got to play violin with him. And he was playing cello because he was a cellist. I got to play with him one time at Thanksgiving and I'm just like, and I was laughing. I was like, “So I finally get to play with you and you're not playing piano.” I'm practicing my Jazz and stuff. And I'm like, Ooh, I get to play my Uncle Roland. Not.
Pam Wise: Well at least you got some time with him. I'm sure.
Tia Imani Hanna: Exactly. But I did get to know him. The first thing he told me, cause I was asking him at the time, I think I had a teacher who was saying, “You should learn 50 tunes and play them on all 12 keys”. And he said, “No. Just learn five and play them.” Because he said I'm playing some of the same tunes I've been playing for 40 years.
Pam Wise: Yeah. Yeah. And he's probably right. If you learned five good tunes and transpose them. That will give you a good footing for you needed to know; I agree. Yeah.
Tia Imani Hanna: And it depends on the tunes, because if you learn some tunes, those changes are used on 25 songs. So, if you learn those changes and everybody's every other tune. Yeah, but he didn't go into that much detail. I had to find that out later. Did you freeze on me? You froze on me.
[We had some technical difficulties. So, while we get her back online, listen to one of her tunes called “Blues for Mary Lou.”]
So, Pam, so where can people find you online?
Pam Wise: You can go to my website, “PamelaWisemusickeys.com” and all my releases and stuff is on YouTube, all digital platforms, Band Camp is something that I just recently put a lot of stuff up on. So, you can check out Band Camp, Apple Music, You Tube, Spotify, all of that good stuff.
Tia Imani Hanna: Thank you so very much for being on my show today and sharing your wisdom and your history and your skills and your wonderful self with us today.
Pam Wise: Thank you. This is awesome that you started doing the podcast. Then I think this, these are new grounds that we have to dive into, during the pandemic. That was a great idea.
Tia Imani Hanna: It's been a fun idea. So, I'm get a chance to talk with people like you. So, thank you so much. And we'll see everybody next time on Tia Time.
Tia Imani Hanna: Thank you for joining us this week on Tia Time with Artists. Make sure to visit our website, tiaviolin.com, where you can subscribe to the show in iTunes and never miss an episode. Please leave us a rating wherever you listen to podcasts. We really appreciate your comments, and we'll mine them to bring you more amazing episodes.
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