Love Thy Neighbor – Gil Scott-Heron

“Voice of black culture,” “polymath,” “musician and poet,” “spoken-word musician,” “composer, musician, poet, and author,” “godfather of rap,” “poet and music pioneer,” “influential poet/musician helped inspire rap, “US activist, poet and singer.” These are just a few of the headlines these last few days following the death of Gil Scott-Heron on May 27, 2011. In Spanish Harlem, we would also add “neighbor.”

On Gilles Peterson’s weekly music show that aired just last week on BBC Radio 1, XL Recordings’ label boss Richard Russell described what is was like recording Scott-Heron’s latest and last album, I’m New Here. Russell realized that what Gil was saying in the down time between recordings was just as incredible as the music, so he recorded that too. In the recordings, you hear Scott-Heron describe himself this way, “I am a piano player.”

Though Scott-Heron was born in Chicago and spent a good part of childhood living with his grandmother in Jackson, Tennessee, he lived most of his life in New York City–in the Bronx, in Chelsea, and in Spanish Harlem not too far from the 106thstreeters. One of the 106thstreeters was even fortunate enough to have a chat with him when he was being photographed last year in front of the Graffiti Hall of Fame, presumably for his latest album release, I’m New Here, and had the opportunity to thank him in person for his music…and, you know–for everything.

Here’s a photograph taken at last year’s Summerstage concert in Marcus Garvey Park in Harlem. It goes down as one of the best nights ever for the 106thstreeters.

Gil Scott-Heron at Marcus Garvey Park in August 2010. C. Nelson, 2010.

Speechless at the loss of Gil, but thankful for his musical and intellectual genius–for what he left us, we’ll leave it to Gil, in his own words, to give us insight on just how much he means to us….just insert Gil Scott-Heron after Trane.

Lady Day and John Coltrane

Ever feel kinda of down and out and don’t know just what to do?
Livin’ all of days in darkness, let the sun shine through
Ever feel that somehow, somewhere you lost your way?
And if you don’t get help you won’t make it through the day
You could call on Lady Day!
You could call on John Coltrane!
They’ll wash your troubles, your troubles away

Plastic people with plastic minds on their way to plastic homes
There’s no beginning, there ain’t no ending
just on and on and on and on and…
It’s all because we’re so afraid to say that we’re alone
until our hero rides in, rides in on his saxophone
You could call on Lady Day!
You could call on John Coltrane!
They’ll wash your troubles, your troubles away

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