Oakland Symphony launches a new series with W. Kamau Bell’s Playlist next Friday night. The socio-political comedian was given the programming duties for the concert, selecting songs and pieces of music that have been important to him throughout his life. Music director Michael Morgan has enlisted members of the Jazz Mafia to play with the orchestra, along with other special guests, in mostly brand-new arrangements.
There’s more information about the concert at the Oakland Symphony website.
Bell says one name occurred to him right away: “I’m always thinking about the political moment, that’s what I do in my career, so… Nina Simone’s gotta be on. I wasn’t really familiar with Nina Simone’s work until I moved to the Bay Area. A woman I worked with played ‘Mississippi Goddam’ for me. At first I was like, what is this? Like, I couldn’t even… she’s just sort of talking or singing, and it’s not really rhyming the way songs are supposed to rhyme, but then the power of it sort of overwhelmed me. She’s all about an artist doing what an artist thinks is right, and also an artist always responding to the political moment, and being unflinching about it.” He was given free rein by Michael Morgan to suggest whatever he wanted to, and he chose a roster of influential artists including Jimi Hendrix, Living Colour, Prince, Bob Marley, John Coltrane… and some less expected ones, like Todd Rundgren and Tears for Fears. He also wanted to make sure to include gospel favorites. “I spent a lot of time as kid going to black churches, and so that’s how we get to Swing Low, Sweet Chariot and Lift Every Voice and Sing. Knowing how big and powerful a symphony is, I started thinking about what are big and powerful songs I can give them that I feel like they can clearly knock out of the park.”