Farewell to Etta James


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Looks like bad news comes in three’s. It’s been a sad week for soul and funk music with the passing of Jimmy Castor, Johnny Otis, and now, Etta James.

The Grammy Hall of Famer died this morning at the age of 73. She will be revered always for her deeply honest vocal style, inspiring so many after her.

Read more on Etta at the LA Times.


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RIP Johnny Otis


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Johnny Otis, music legend and one of the “first musicians to cross the racial divide,” passed away yesterday at age 90. The man’s influence on soul music, jazz, and even rock-n-roll is an epic movie in and of itself.

Among his many accomplishments and honors are his discovery of Little Esther (Esther Phillips), his co-writing and production of the original version of “Hound Dog” (later covered by Elvis), and recording with Frank Zappa. The tireless entertainer also wore many hats – radio jock, TV presenter, politician, preacher, organic farmer and of course, father of Shuggie Otis.

Read more on the life Johnny at The Guardian website.

Official Site


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Rest In Peace, Jimmy Castor


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Giant Step President & CEO Maurice Bernstein shares some words. After the jump, you can find an autographed poster thats hangs in our office from the show we did with Jimmy in 1991, including signatures from Jimmy and the original “Bunch”. Also after the jump, you can see some YouTube clips of popular songs. Above, is a live performance of a Giant Step favorite, “It’s Just Begun.”

Maurice Bernstein Reflects on the Legacy of Jimmy Castor

As I was enjoying my favorite holiday, Martin Luther King Day, I noticed a lot of my Facebook friends were posting Jimmy Castor tracks. “That’s nice,” I thought, “maybe it’s his birthday.” When one of the posts said RIP, I realized his passing.

Jimmy Castor is a very important, underrated and truly interesting artist in our music history. I’m also proud to say that he’s someone who I actually got a chance to work with (but that will come a little later). A musical child prodigy, Castor was brought up in Harlem NY and even has his photograph on the wall at Apollo Theater. At a young age, he joined Frankie Lymon and The Teenagers and took over for Lymon, who was too strung out. After leaving the group, Castor had his first major hit, “Hey Leroy” in 1966, which was the perfect Latin soul jam. The song showed his authenticity as someone who grew up in the hood, but also was full of the wit, characters and voices that found their way into his best known works from the 1970s.

Castor was not only a song writer, vocalist but also an excellent percussionist and saxophone player. As the 1960s rolled on into 1970s, Castor moved to RCA and released his best work. 1972′s “It’s Just Begun” is, for me, one of the greatest dance tracks ever made. The characters continued with “Bertha Butt,” “Troglodyte,” and “King Kong,” alongside other great tracks he continued to release, such as “Potential,” “Space Age,” “E-Man Boogie,” “A Groove Will Make You Move,” “Maximum Stimulation,” and “E-Man Groovin’.” Despite his success and playing huge venues, Castor became dislllusioned with the music industry. He hated having accountants in the role of record label heads making creative decisions about his music. In the 1980s, Castor stopped recording to spend time with his family in New Jersey where he also enjoyed riding his beloved motor bikes.

When we started Groove Academy in 1990 (a precursor to Giant Step), the idea was to find great funk and soul artists that were sampled and forgotten. Jimmy Castor was on the top of my list! I can’t remember how I actually got his number (this was before Google), but once I did, I immediately called him. Jimmy was reluctant to come out of retirement but was flattered by our interest and then became impressed by the persistence. He finally agreed to a meeting with my partner Jonathan and I over dinner in NYC. After his stories, voices and more stories, he agreed to do a show for us at SOBs with the full and original “Jimmy Castor Bunch.”

The show was amazing and the band sounded incredible, Rock Steady Crew were in the house and of course “busted some serious moves” during the performance for “It’s Just Begun”.

Now having has sadly passed, I sincerely hope Jimmy gets his true credit for his contribution to the music we love.

Official Site

Giant Step show flyer and some tracks after the jump

Gregory Porter to Release ‘Be Good’


The now Grammy nominated Gregory Porter is becoming quite the force to be reckoned with. Undoubtedly talented and deserving of all the high praises sung of him, Porter is striking while the iron is hot and releasing a sophomore album claimed to outshine his Grammy nominated Water debut.

Be Good, set to release on February 14th, 2012, promises to display a range of moods and stories in Porter’s charming, almost conversational songwriting style. Firstly, folks can look forward to the title track, “Be Good (Lion’s Song),” which has actually been lauded as a crowd favorite during live shows for some time now.

With veteran producer and Be Good collaborator Brian Bacchus comparing the singer to Bill Withers, Curtis Mayfield, and Donny Hathaway, we are beside ourselves anticipating what’s next. Be certain that we’ll be sharing what comes our way!

Facebook | Twitter | Official Site

Remembering The Florida Room As It Closes Its Doors


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This week, a very special venue in the hearts of many (including ours) closed its doors for good. The Florida Room in the basement of Delano Hotel in South Beach Florida was a Lenny Kravitz designed venue with the feel of a classic old school night club.

Within its first year of opening, Giant Step starting doing events at The Florida Room and the list became pretty impressive. Many of our events were Miami debuts featuring great artists such as Jose James, Janelle Monae, Melanie Fiona, and Jazmine Sullivan, to name a few.

Watch the video of Questlove and Gilles Peterson at WMC 2010 as Quest toasts Gilles for being one to go down in history – quite timely to share given yesterday’s news.

After the jump, also find videos from De La Soul, The Roots, and Janelle Monae, all doing their thing at a venue that will be greatly missed.

Here’s a partial list of some of our great nights:

June 2008 – Janelle Monae (Miami Debut)
Sept 2008 – Jazmine Sullivan (Miami Debut)
Oct 2008 – Nikka Costa
NYE 2008 – The Roots and Janelle Monae
Jan 2009 – The Florida Room 1st anniversary with De La Soul
WMC 2009 – Pete Rock, Benji B, Wale, Questlove, Melanie Fiona, Taylor McFerrin
NYE 2009 – Common
WMC 2010 – Gilles Peterson and Questlove

So to all our friends in Miami and of course the great staff of this special venue that had the best cocktails in the world – we salute you and all the good times.

More videos from The Florida Room after the jump