Thursday, March 10

CHARLESTON POTLIKKER RECAP, part 2


A second installment of our Charleston Potlikker Recap is all about John Simpkins and Vertamae Grosvenor. John gave remarks that were right on...smart and heartwarming.

John was kind enough to share his remarks with us again, which we've posted below:

Everybody seems to know about Charleston’s food, but not enough know about its music. If you want to sample both, I would recommend a Friday afternoon starting with “Ham on a Plate” at Husk and then heading over to Charleston Grill, where the only charge for hearing good jazz is the cost of a drink or truffle popcorn. And I suggest Friday because that’s when the first string squad plays: Quentin Baxter on drums, Tommy Gill on piano, Kevin Hamilton on stand-up bass, and Charlton Singleton on trumpet. They’re as tight a group as you’ll find. Each a master of his instrument.

If it’s a particularly good night, you might look in the left corner and see Quentin at the drumset, eyes closed, long dreadlocks swaying gently, meditating on a rhythm that keeps the whole group moving along seamlessly. Virtually hypnotized, it’s usually at this point that I close my eyes and join in the prayerful mood.

But, as I tend to do during prayerful moments, last Friday I kept my eyes open. There was a sound I heard coming from the drums and I couldn’t quite make out what exactly Q was hitting. It wasn’t the snare or the bass drum. Wasn’t the tom-toms or the hi-hat, either. Instead, he was tapping ever so slightly on the telescoping cymbal stand. And that made all the difference. The result was hard to describe. It made me think of how Vertamae Grosvenor described her own jazz variation on Salad Nicoise. “[It] is a French name,” she said, “but just like with anything else when soul folks get it they take it out into another thing.”

Last Friday, Quentin took it out into another thing. Something musky and earthy. What the French call “terroir” but what we in the Lowcountry experience as funk… gutbucket and funk. And there ain’t no shame in gutbucket. Quentin uses the drums like poor people use the pig. Everything but the “oink.” Nothing goes to waste.

But the challenge of gutbucket is to use it without becoming defined by it. Like with southern food. There are still those outside the region who see it as just low-class, faddish cuisine created from the cheap leftovers after the good stuff is gone. But if people have been resourceful enough—and talented enough—to find a use for the seemingly unusable, imagine what they could do with new ingredients, new tools, and new instruments? Thankfully, through the work of Vertamae Grosvenor, we don’t have to imagine. She shows us a way beyond gutbucket when she says

Soul food is more than chitlins and collard greens, ham hocks

and black-eyed peas. . . . [It] is about a people who have a lot

of heart and soul.

Vertamae Grosvenor cooks, writes, and lives like Quentin Baxter plays…with heart and soul. And her heart and soul are certainly of the Lowcountry. But they are so much more. Nothing captures her capacity more than the amiri baraka poem at the beginning of Vibration Cooking:

walk through life

beautiful more than anything

stand in the sunlight

walk through life

love all the things that make you strong,

be lovers,

be anything

for all the people of

earth

Thank you, Vertamae Grosvenor, for daring to be gutbucket and more. For having the heart and soul to be anything for all the people of the earth.