BENEATH THE SPIN • ERIC L. WATTREE
Meet Caesar: The New, Greatest Singer in the World
It was about 3 a.m. In the morning, and I found myself, as I am prone to do at that secluded hour, strollin' down the laid back and funky avenues of The Jazz Network. I love that place. It's the kind of place where if you're a jazz lover, you'll immediately feel like you're among family and friends. It's a virtual city, and it's only reason for being is as a monument to jazz. One minute you're accompanied down its soulful avenues by Buster Williams, with his slow, swaggerin' bass lines struttin' along beside you, then you turn the corner, and there's Buddy Rich and his big band tryin' to blow all the windows out the joint–it's a true oasis of jazz in this vast wasteland of contemporary mediocrity.
As I strolled awash in musical bliss through its various nooks and crannies, I suddenly began to hear the first few bars of "I Wish You Love." I immediately stopped in my tracks, because even in this rarified musical environment, the beautiful melody of that hauntingly gorgeous tune was being caressed by a voice that literally took my breath away.
While I hate to use such an unhip and overworked adjective, breathtaking is the only word appropriate to describe my reaction to its mellow, yet velvet tones. It was a finely tune instrument in perfect pitch, with the beauty, phrasing and diction of Nat King Cole. Yet, it was also reminiscent of Jesse Belvin, Johnny Mathis, and Sam Fletcher, and with the slightly muffled, airy sound of Luther Vandross, that made the heart say, "hush"–and it all came together to create a sound that was uniquely, and beautifully, its very own. So I immediately knew that I was dealing with immortality in the making, so naturally I stopped to investigate.
The voice belonged to a confident, yet unassuming young man known simply, but appropriately, as Caesar. Appropriate, because just like his namesake, he was clearly sent to Earth as a conqueror. I've been a jazz fan every since I slipped out of the womb, so I'm intimately familiar with all of the material output of the great, and the near great–and in my humble, but highly informed opinion, Caesar is beyond great. This young man is one of those talents that come around maybe once or twice in a hundred years–and only then, if we're extremely lucky.
Even at this point, so early in his career, I wouldn't hesitate to put him in the company of Nat King Cole, Jesse Belvin, Ella Fitzgerald, and Sarah Vaughan. While I realize that's a mighty tall order for him to live up to, true greatness doesn't require a runway–Picasso was born Picasso, he didn't require a learning curve, and so it is with this young man. Caesar, like Nat, Ella, and Sarah Vaughan, is one of those rare people that's clearly dripping with greatness from the moment they, in many cases, stumble upon their calling (Ella wanted to be a dancer). From the very moment they're born, the writing is on the wall–it's all about greatness, just waiting to happen.
While I'm quite hesitant to insert myself into this piece, as a writer I recognize that there's an obvious question just screaming to be addressed–who am I to make all of these grandiose assertions? What credentials do I have to take it upon myself to single-handedly bestow greatness upon anyone? My answer to that is short and sweet–I was born with legendary ears.
When I was twelve years old and my friends were still singing nursery rhymes, I was listening to Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, and Dexter Gordon. My mother was quite concerned, because she was afraid that I was following in my father's footsteps–and I thank God every day that she was right. He's was also what she called "a jazz fanatic," and she was convinced that was what led to many of the problems in his life, which we won't get into here.
By the time I was fourteen, my father used to take great pride in buying new jazz albums and impressing his friends by calling me into the room and having me listen, then tell his friends who the musicians were that was playing on the various tunes. He used to win money that way, until his friends got hip to me. It was a piece of cake–I could tell them who was playing before the record got to the bridge of the first tune. His friends would be amazed, while I'd walk away wondering how they could call themselves jazz fans and not be able to recognize the piano of Bud Powell when they heard him. So I'll put my ears up against anybody who ever lived, and I'm telling you, my ears tell me that Caesar is not only great, but he's destined to become among the greatest of the greats.
And there's another thing that struck me about this young man--he's not just all music. He's multi-dimensional and highly intelligent. Born Irvin R. Caesar in Chicago, Il in 1965. He attended Percy L. Julian High School, where he played guitar in the jazz band. At the same time, he played football, basketball, and baseball. The football team won three Chicago city championships, and he was captain of the team his senior year. After graduation, he went on to play Outside Linebacker for Southern University in Baton Rouge, La., where he also received a degree in Business Management.
Inheriting a sense of purpose from his father, also name Irvin Caesar--who was a political activist during the sixties, and worked closely with Vice President Hubert H. Humphry--after obtaining his degree, young Caesar went on to work first, as a Procurement Officer and then Operations Manager for American Manufactures in Houston, Texas. They provided humanitarian assistance to over 40 countries around the world. Then he went to Islamabad, Pakistan as a contractor for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). He worked to provided humanitarian assistance to Afghan rebels, who were then at war with the Soviet Union.
To our benefit, this young man's intelligence, background, and depth of experience didn't go to waste. You can hear every drop of his intellect, compassion, and commitment to humanity literally dripping from every note he sings. You don't simply hear this young man, you experience him.
Ironically, Caesar was born the very same year that Nat King Cole died. So while I've never been one to wax metaphysical, I dedicate this piece to a new old friend. Because as I listen to this young man's velvet tones, I can't help but wonder if perhaps, Nat decided, that he wasn't quite done yet.
Eric L. Wattree
April 17, 2009
Pain is the mother of enlightenment--and she's married to adversity.