Just in time for the presidential election, a gorgeous new anthemic song, “Please Don’t Sit This One Out” (see video below), has been released, with a message meant to motivate the indifferent or reluctant voter to remove our current leadership.
The song was co-written by Tim Ries (jazz composer, producer, arranger, educator and saxophonist), his talented daughters Jasia and Bella Ries, singer/trumpeter Dashill Smith and concert producer and booking agent Moishe Rosenfeld. Tim Ries says it is an exhortation to vote and to assist with tasks to support voting.
Rosenfeld says he hopes the song “appeals to young voters and people who care about the democratic process.” He adds that “today we confront a government that mocks social justice and movements for change. A victory for the democrats up- and-down ballot has never been more crucial in my lifetime.”
Tim Ries orchestrated a remarkably talented group of artists to collaborate on this gorgeous song, including the emotive vocalist/vocal arranger and songwriter Bernard Fowler, and bassist Darryl Jones. Ries, Fowler and Jones have all toured with The Rolling Stones for decades.
Jasia Ries joins on vocals and violin, Smith’s rap gives the song emotional depth, and jazz drummer Terreon Gully, who has played with Christian McBride and others, adds a great beat. Ries plays tenor and baritone saxophones, alto flute, bass clarinet, keyboards and percussion. The ensemble, which features other musicians as well, creates a transformative and eclectic sound.
This hopeful song reminds us that people united can save democracy from our current erratic and divisive leader.
Fowler’s commanding and passionate voice blends well with Jasia Ries’ powerful and honeyed singing. The song also includes a moving spoken word segment by Fowler, and Smith’s rap about racial injustice and climate change.
Fowler and Jasia Ries sing:
Our people are dying, there’s such deep desperation
It’s really a fight for the soul of our nation
People need help putting food on the table
They can’t find work though they’re ready and able
There are letters to write and calls to make to fight for our brothers’ and our sisters’ sake
We need to show up so there can be no doubt …
This man tries to sow confusion and hate
Scheming and lying will never make this country great
Please don’t sit this one out.
Ries considers the song a “labor of love” and says he enjoyed his effortless collaboration with Fowler, who, he said, “is one of my dearest friends. He’s like a brother.”
Fowler and Ries were in sync when working on the chorus. Fowler thought they should change the hook, hoping it could flow better. Ries worked on it, on piano. He says that when he asked Fowler to sing his part on the phone, he learned that they had come up with the same melody.
Ries knows Fowler so well that he can “imagine how he sings, his phrasing,” he said, and that influenced his musical accompaniment. “Bernard can play with the Stones, he sings rock, rhythm and blues, jazz … he can sing in any musical environment and he sounds amazing.”
Rosenfeld sent the original lyrics to Ries, who, along with his daughters, made some changes that produced the song’s urgent message. Rosenfeld was thrilled to work collaboratively. “Tim is one of the greatest saxophonists around … It’s one of the great honors of my life to have such a gifted musician create and produce a song based on my lyrics,” he said. Because of the pandemic, each track was recorded in the artists’ home studios, all over the country.
Rosenfeld links his interest in resisting encroachments to democracy to his principled parents, Sara Mlotek Rosenfeld and Hershl Rosenfeld, who were Holocaust survivors. “Their belief in social justice and fairness was absolutely inspiring during my upbringing,” said Rosenfeld.
“They fled Warsaw in 1940 after the German invasion,” said Rosenfeld’s sister, Fay, “and spent the remainder of the war in the Soviet Union. … They emigrated to Montreal in 1949.”
“My mother was known as the Doyenne of Yiddish in Montreal,” said Moishe Rosenfeld. “Her activism as a cultural leader earned her the Order of Canada prize in 2003.” She devoted her life, he said, “to honoring those who perished and their beloved language and culture.”
Rosenfeld continues this tradition of cultural awareness by representing performers of Israeli, Sephardic and Yiddish music; through his work in Yiddish theater; and as a writer for the daily Yiddish radio newscast on WEVD for many years.
The song’s name was inspired by Rachel Gertzog’s group, Please Don’t Sit This One Out, which focuses on organizing volunteers to support the Biden/Harris campaign and congressional candidates in key swing races through phone banking, postcard writing, texting and virtual canvassing.
Gertzog’s work started last November. “As of this week, our group has written 90,000 GOTV postcards to Georgia voters,” she said. “These cards are going to inconsistent voters in Georgia to provide useful information about the Voter Protection Hotline, early voting dates and how to get absentee ballots.”
Gertzog relied upon a list primarily made up of U.S. House of Representatives candidates that she believed “had a shot at winning, or a potential to influence votes for a Senate counterpart candidate … or down-ballot candidates that could flip a state chamber or legislature.” She called the offices of candidates to find out what they needed and launched her Please Don’t Sit This One Out Facebook page.
“We now have 3,300 volunteers,” she said. “We have made thousands of phone calls and sent hundreds of thousands of texts.”
Ries felt compelled to work on this song because of his belief that Trump’s extreme behavior is threatening to our democracy.
“I don’t want this world to continue in this fashion for my children,” he said. “A change has to happen.”
We discussed the perfect storm of discontent created by the pandemic and protests of systemic racism, the murder of George Floyd and income inequities. “We need to listen to African-Americans, including Dashill Smith’s rap in the song,” Ries said, adding “we have to listen to people who have been oppressed and abused.”
Ries wanted to reach young voters with “a simple melody and simple set of chord changes,” so he consulted with his daughters to make sure the song resonated with them.
The song represents an impressive mix of musical genres — an intentional move on Ries’ part to be “representative of the United States,” he said. “It starts with a folk rock, then a section with Latin music … then it gravitates to jazz, which is my roots, and then rap and hip-hop and then an element of violin and a country sound.”
Ries expressed gratitude for his co-producers, daughter Eliana Ries and Laura de Rover; de Rover also served as recording engineer — mixing, editing and mastering tracks from many locations.
Ries hails from Detroit and was raised in a household rich in music. He started his career in 1983 with Maynard Ferguson. He moved to New York City in 1985 and later relocated to Hastings, N.Y., and then to New Jersey, where he and his wife, harpist Stacey Shames, have raised three children. He started to tour with The Rolling Stones in 1999 and has also played with many other rock, pop and jazz icons, including Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, Tony Bennett, Red Garland and Hank Jones. In 2005 and 2008 he released the albums The Rolling Stones Project and Stones World, which feature classic Stones songs arranged in jazz and world music styles.
He also started a peace ensemble named The Universal Spirit Ensemble 30 years ago, with performers from all over the world. That’s how he connected with Rosenfeld.
About six years ago, Ries brought the ensemble to the Carter Center in Atlanta in honor of Jimmy Carter’s 90th birthday. The group included Mira Awad, an Israeli-Palestinian singer whom Rosenfeld represented in North America. Ries and Rosenfeld became good friends, attending many concerts and events together. (Smith and Gully played in the ensemble as well).
Ries would not have felt inclined to collaborate on “Please Don’t Sit This One Out” if he thought the Republican candidate were more moderate.
“This is something else,” he said. “Go out and vote. If you don’t like what’s happening, vote. Don’t sow division … don’t say mail-in votes will be fraudulent.”
He felt gratified recently when his daughter said some reluctant voters decided to support the Biden/Harris campaign because they were inspired by the song.
Ries’ father was a Republican and his mother was a Democrat. “I remember as a child they would vote and know the other voted for the other candidate … my parents loved each other dearly even though they supported opposing parties and they would have a healthy debate,” he said, adding that he believes present circumstances would have caused his father to leave the Republican Party.
Ries has been touring since the 1980s, so the pandemic, which largely shut down venues and paused live music, has created a jolting change. However, he has used the time to create 100 songs.
“This is a time to get out music that’s been inside of me,” he said. “I’m like an artist who makes many paintings until they find one that they love.” (He has about 700 songs previously written).
He also is in production on a film titled “The Jazz Griots” with filmmaker Jordan Walker-Pearlman. “It is centered around the brilliant jazz artists who are still alive and who have influenced so many of the younger musicians, not only in jazz but in pop, rock, blues, county, gospel, soul and hip-hop,” said Ries, whose latest CD, Life Changes, was released in 2019 on the Ropeadope label.
Fowler has been active in the New York music scene since his work in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s with Bill Laswell’s funk group Material; the dub-electronic band Tackhead; and the groundbreaking New York Citi Peech Boys, led by DJ Larry Levan. For more about Fowler and his 2019 album, Inside Out, see this NJArts.net interview.
Jones has played with Sting, Eric Clapton and Miles Davis, among many others, in addition to the Stones.
Touring with the Stones for more than 22 years “has been a life changer,” said Ries. “It’s been a dream … they have been incredibly kind and played on my projects … all four of them, and more than once. They’ve been very giving of their time … I’ve gotten to know their wives, their kids and grandkids. It’s like a large family that travels. You’re onstage for two hours, but you might be traveling with them for three months, six months, eight months with the same people. I’ve become close with Darryl Jones, Bernard Fowler, Lisa Fischer, Chuck Leavell … we are more than bandmates.”
Ries has bonded with Charlie Watts, who “is a really good jazz drummer,” he said. “He’s so knowledgeable (about jazz), so we talk about music. If there’s an off night, we often go to a club and hear music. Or we have dinner with Ronnie Wood. They have all been kind, open and sharing.”
For Ries, this song is “a labor of love” and is not directed at the Republican party.
“Typically, I wouldn’t want to influence voters to favor any party, but in this instance, I feel motivated to encourage people who are indifferent to vote against Trump, who is dangerous to democratic principles,” he said, adding “we omitted the name of Trump so we didn’t give publicity to him. I’m tired of hearing about him in the news … If the president can’t stand up after people march with swastikas … and doesn’t condemn it, that president is not the president for all the people.”
Patti Smith reminded us in her 1988 song “People Have the Power”:
The people have the power
To redeem the work of fools
Upon the meek the graces shower
It’s decreed: The people rule
Through the collaborative efforts of Rosenfeld, Fowler and Ries and their team, “Please Don’t Sit This One Out” encourages us to galvanize our power by voting, in order to save our democracy from its current leaders.
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