Brinae Ali and Sean Jones will be performing “Dizzy Spellz,” streamed live through Washington Performing Arts March 19-25.

By Micha Green
AFRO D.C. Editor
mgreen@afro.com

Husband and wife Sean Jones and Brinae Ali are not only collaborators in life, love and parenthood, but also in the arts.  From March 19-25, audiences will be treated to a glimpse of the couple’s artistic influences as they evaluate and honor the work of trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie as part of Washington Performing Arts and their virtual programming series, “Home Delivery Plus.” Combining Ali’s work as a vocalist, dancer and choreographer and Jones’ expertise as a trumpeter and composer, the two present “Dizzy Spellz,” which examines the African Diaspora through Gillespie’s music.

While Ali and Jones have both been inspired by Gillsepie’s work, the two came to their love for the great trumpeter and composer from different lenses.

“‘Dizzy Spellz was an untitled concept for many, many years,” Ali told the AFRO in a Facebook Live interview.  “I’ve been influenced by Dizzy’s music since I was a child. I was introduced to the music through my father.  We’re very close.  Everything that I do has been groomed and inspired by him, so I’ve always found a very personal connection to Dizzy on that level. But then even beyond as I got older, I began to hear his music as not just something to dance to and have fun, but my mind could see the stories that he was trying to tell in the music.  And so it challenged me at a very young age to start researching these titles, like what is ‘Kush’ about?  What is ‘Night in Tunisia?’ 

Soon Gillespie’s music surpassed enjoyment and turned to a spiritual experience for the tap dancer and vocalist, who saw the trumpeter as an innovative force.  

“I would listen to the music, I started getting all this information and I would see things, and I saw dance, I saw music, I saw the Hip-Hop, I saw all these things because I began to learn about how Dizzy was always innovating.  He was always a pioneer… He was doing so many things and I was very influenced and inspired by that and it gave my sense of imagination on what I could do, even as a tap dancer- what I can do with that. So I sat with that for many, many years,” Ali explained, before pivoting to how Gillespie’s music became a creative force for her and Jones.  “And then I met this man (Jones), and we were talking and I was sharing my idea with him and he was like, ‘That is a brilliant idea,’ and I was like, ‘I think you’re the one I’m supposed to do this with,’ and I think we just took a step at it.”

Jones has a bit of a different story that led to his interest in exploring Gillespie’s artistry.

“For me it was all about the trumpet, and it started in high school, and Dizzy’s music was introduced to me in an academic setting first, so it was all about virtuosity, all about learning the instrument, things like that.  And the interesting thing for me is that in the back of my mind I always kind of had Dizzy on the shelf,” the musician told the AFRO.  “It was like, that’s a little untouchable because it was Dizzy Gillespie… nobody ever really copied Dizzy.  It wasn’t a thing. So I just put Dizzy on the shelf,” he explained. 

“I revisited Dizzy’s music around 2010 when I became artistic director of the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra, and they asked me to put together a Dizzy Gillespie concert and I thought to myself, where I’m not going to do Dizzy’s typical stuff like ‘Night in Tunisia’, everybody knows that stuff. Let me dive into his works that are a little less known like, the ‘Afro-Cuban Jazz Suite’ and ‘Afro-Cuban Moods,’ and so I started to say, ‘Wow, this cat did a lot of different things.’ And I looked at his leadership over time and the fact that he really became an ambassador for the music.  I said, ‘Wow.’ That really influenced me in terms of leadership.”

Like with Ali, when Jones met his now wife, Dizzy’s musical spell took over.

“Then we meet, and it’s kind of like full circle, and I have to take Dizzy, who was on the shelf, right in front of me, and figure out what that means for me personally in my life right now as a trumpet player, as an educator and as a leader, and it’s so appropriate that I’m forced right now to deal with the man that Dizzy Gillespie was, much more than the trumpet player that he was,” the trumpeter and composer added.

The collaboration between Ali and Jones birthed the first iteration of “Dizzy Spellz. Three years ago the two formed a tap and trumpet duet for an eight-minute performance as part of a production showcase when Ali was an artist in residence at the “American Tap Dance Foundation.”  

“We really started from scratch, sketching, just us two and kind of building the concept along the way.  And ‘Dizzy Spellz,’ kind of came about from us talking about different things that we saw was going on today and all this information that even comes through Dizzy’s music.  And just thinking about  this identity crisis that we go through as Black people and as people in general, it’s like we’re under this spell, so it was like ‘dizzy,’… and then we’re under like this spell, so it’s a play on words,” Ali said. 

The two have taken Gillespie’s music as an ancestral message of hope to help African Americans navigate the challenges Black folks have overcome and still face today.  

“ looking at Dizzy Gillespie as this spirit guide, an ancestor that kind of helped us along our journey and help us figure out our path as we heal ourselves because of trauma as people, and especially going through so much throughout this pandemic, there’s a lot of triggers over and over again. And what do we do with that?  And thinking about what he went though and how he persevered and still went on to be awesome.  That’s hope for me,” Ali added.

The two were particularly inspired by the opportunity to bring “Dizzy Spellz,” to life at the historic Sixth & I Synagogue, and ecstatic to collaborate with other artists through Washington Performing Arts.

“Already, the way we’re all focusing, you get to see other artists come through and shine, and so in crafting the way, the format and the things and possibilities we can do in the space, it really allowed me to make this a very special moment.  This is a special moment, in a very special place, and this is the time to rock out,” Ali said.  

“For us the audience will be the venue itself.  It’s going to be the spiritual context of that synagogue, that place of worship, if you will.  So for us, it’s going to be a deeply spiritual engagement and an opportunity to sort of connect to the otherness that we’re exploring,” Jones told the AFRO.

Further, Jones explained that in performing “Dizzy Spellz,” through Washington Performing Arts, the two had the opportunity to live out what all artist strive to do: “dream.”

“Because of COVID-19 and the re-evaluation of how we put this out into the world, the team came on and just allowed us to dream, and for an artist, that is the dream. When you don’t have to worry about too many barriers, and you can just kind of think outside the box, it allows you to go wild, go crazy, so I’m looking forward to it.  It’s almost like we’re going to be able to go into another portal, another dimension, and take you there with us, because we’re allowed to dream.”

From the dream, comes the experience for the artists and audience, and according to Ali and Jones- everyone is going to take a trip.

“It’s a nice journey and we’re glad that you guys are ready to come on board,” Ali said. Buckle Up,”  Jones added.

For more information on Washington Performing Arts and the Home Delivery Plus series, or to purchase tickets to see Ali, Jones and other talented artists, visit: https://www.washingtonperformingarts.org/seasontickets/home-delivery-plus/.

Micha Green

AFRO Washington, D.C. Editor