“Can this be real”- A memorable evening of jazz and blues

Terry Howard

With the sun setting in the background across the railroad track from downtown Douglasville’s Vine Café & Market, a group of fifty-plus jazz and blues lovers soaked up the music during “Reminiscing; an evening of blues and contemporary jazz” over great people, food and spirits.

The attendees, age 55 and above, hummed, clapped along and swayed back and forth to music best described mellowing, sensual and a throwback to the late sixties and early seventies by Zakiya Hooker, daughter of blues icon John Lee Hooker, Atlanta-based independent singer Anthony Reed and Ollan Chris Bell, co-founder of the R&B group, “The Natural Four.”

Comfortably seated on the couch in their home the next day, Hooker and Bell shared their thoughts on their performance the evening before, this after having performed in 15 countries, among them Italy, Switzerland, France, Germany, Croatia and Japan over the years.

Although this was Bell’s first time ever doing a show when he had 100 % control of everything and the first show they performed using musical tracks, the show was seamless and masterfully executed. It was clear that Reed, Hooker and Bell put a lot into rehearsing “whether they wanted to or not,” said Bell with a laugh.

“Actually, this was our first live performance since 2019,” said Bell. Before then they last performed in Argentina before a crowd of 4500 with an 80-piece band.

“We were apprehensive at first because we know that there is a different level of music appreciation outside the United States.”

Hooker was first up to the mike.

“When I canvassed the audience, I observed faces of curiosity at first, then surprise, followed by relaxation and complete enjoyment.” She then got the evening started with her songs “Drowning,” Front door to Hell” and “In the Pines.”

It was clear that Hooker was proficient in reading audiences, a skill she picked up while working as a former jury manager where she oversaw and managed jury selection from 4000 citizens in Alameda, California. 

“I learned to read people from every background you could imagine,” she shared. “My empathy for people came at an early age.”

“Man, I have to say that Zakiya blew me away the way she exemplifies herself in her music,” said Douglasville resident Henry Greenidge. “She reminds me so much of singer Nancy Wilson in the way she performs and connects with the audience.”  

Next up was Anthony Reed (aka A Reed), a 50 -year-old perfect segue between the older Hooker and Bell. He, too, worked the room in a smooth style and body language uniquely his own.

When it was his turn, Chris Bell followed with his rendition of Billy Paul’s “Me and Mrs. Jones,” James Ingram’s “100 Ways,” and, of course, his 1973 hit song “Can this be real?”

For the first time ever in his singing career, Bell broke down with tears and emotions and handed” the mike back to Zakiya. “It hit me suddenly when I saw the warm faces of the audience. They touched my heart. I just lost it.” “C’mon Chris, it’s okay for real men to cry,” bellowed a man in the audience.

“We drove down from Chattanooga to attend this concert and left feeling this one was one of the best ever,” said Faith Edwards, Executive Editor, Chattanooga News Chronicle.

“Personally, this concert was a refreshing reminder of what quality and respectful music should be about,” said John Edwards, Chronicle’s President/CEO.  “Call me old school, but I cherish clean music and have no respect for any so-called music that denigrates women in particular.”

As the evening drew to a necessary but unwanted close, the symbolism of an Amtrak train on the tracks across from the Vine Cafe passing by  (and the evolution of music over the years) did not escape the nostalgic eye of those who slowly departed from a show; one that will forever be etched in their musical memories.

“Can this be real?”

Yes, it was and always will be! © Terry Howard is an award-winning writer and storyteller, a contributing writer with the Chattanooga News Chronicle, The Douglas County Sentinel, The American Diversity Report, The BlackMarket.com, co-founder of the “26 Tiny Paint Brushes” writers’ guild, and recipient of the Dr. Martin Luther King Leadership Award.