DFW Music News

Move Over Austin, Hot Lips and Harmolodics Dubs Dallas a Music Capital

(From left) RC Williams, Robert Trusko and other Dallas musicians filming a set for the music doc Hot Lips and Harmolodics – The North Texas Contributions to Jazz Music.
(From left) RC Williams, Robert Trusko and other Dallas musicians filming a set for the music doc Hot Lips and Harmolodics – The North Texas Contributions to Jazz Music. Barak Epstein
Austin likes to think it's the music capital of Texas, but we beg to differ. While Austin may be the home of famed music festivals, Dallas is the foundation that molded music icons of the likes of Erykah Badu, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Usher and Blind Lemon Jefferson, who all found their musical footing here, a fact many tend to overlook.

Oak Cliff nonprofit Top Ten Records’ Texas Music Archive Initiative is putting an end to that. The Texas Music Archive is cementing North Texas’ influence on music, specifically jazz, in an educational documentary called Hot Lips and Harmolodics — The Northern Texas Influence on Jazz Music.

“People don't necessarily see Dallas or Fort Worth as music cities,” say Top Ten Records board member Clarence Williams, who wrote and directed the film in association with CommonLinq Creative Content Media. “When we think about music, we think Nashville, New Orleans, New York City and Los Angeles, but if people understood the amount of talent that has been excavated or taken from Dallas-Fort Worth and is being used in other places, it'll help understand that we need to really figure out ways to create an engine or hubs where we can cultivate our talents.

"We need to think about how we tap into that market for ourselves to become one of those recognized music cities who've contributed so much to, not just in jazz, but gospel, R&B, soul, rock and every aspect.”

With Hot Lips and Harmolodics the organization wants to educate viewers on Dallas' caliber of talent. The documentary explores the history of jazz from the 20th century to present day. The key theme of the film exemplifies the integral contribution Dallas has made to the genre, such as fostering the musical artistry of Oran Thaddeus “Hot Lips” Page, whom the film is partially titled after.

Page was born in 1908 in Dallas, where he nurtured his musical inclination as a vocalist, soloist and trumpeter. While still a local, he toured with Ma Rainey. Page ultimately left Dallas for New York City in search of fame. In his journey he raked up an impressive résumé as part of Walter Page’s Blue Devils, in the band Artie Shaw and The Orchestra and with Count Basie’s orchestra.

Page is but one example of North Texas-bred talent that had to leave the Lone Star State to find fame.

Also credited in the title is Ornette Coleman’s musical philosophy of harmolodics, which diversified the direction of the jazz genre. Coleman, a Fort Worth native, is considered the founder of free jazz, a subgenre that is based on experimental improvisation. Through his expertise as a saxophonist, violinist, trumpeter and composer, Coleman founded the musical philosophy of harmolodics, a musical composition method that equalizes rhythm, harmony and melody focusing on the call and response tradition of jazz.

“Top Ten Records hopes to create a record of this story, and for context provide some current day examples of this historical musical lineage,” Top Ten Records said in a press release. “The reach of this history is long: Deep Ellum’s blues and early jazz players like Blind Lemon Jefferson and Stan Kenton of Denton’s popular Jazz orchestra, and Ornette Coleman’s free jazz from Fort Worth, none of them found fame in their hometown, but they certainly started in northern Texas and fostered many burgeoning musicians from home into their own careers in every major jazz movement, and in all the major jazz scenes of New York, Chicago, Kansas City, New Orleans, Los Angeles and Europe.”

"If people understood the amount of talent that has been excavated or taken from Dallas-Fort Worth and is being used in other places, it'll help understand that we need to really figure out ways to create an engine or hubs where we can cultivate our talents." –Top Ten Records board member Clarence Williams

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The film is part of the second phase of the Texas Music Archive initiatives. Phase one consisted of the building of a library of music displaying Texas’ melting pot of musical influence. It can be found inside Top Ten Records at 338 Jefferson Blvd. in Oak Cliff. The library includes vinyl, cassettes, videos and compact discs by past and present Texas musicians, and the media is available for loan. The library items include inserts with research findings and historical context on information cards, provided by Top Ten Record board members. Rare items are available for in-store listening only.

The library is funded partially by personal donations and artist donations. Musicians are encouraged to donate copies of their music to the library to solidify their contribution to Texas’ musical lineage. Funding is also supplemented through grants.

The next step for the organization was weaving the library’s wealth of knowledge into an educational narrative to promote media literacy. Encouraged by archivist and film contributor John Slate, the Top Ten Records board applied for a grant from Humanities Texas, an education-based nonprofit.

“The timing for us just worked out partially because of the pandemic,” says Top Ten Records board member EV Borman. “Writing grants for the city is very different from writing the grant I wrote for Humanities Texas. The application process was a little more taxing for the Humanities Texas grant, and I don't know that I could have put it together as well.”

The grant allows the nonprofit to explore jazz history in North Texas and showcase modern North Texas talent. Today the genre is alive and well in Dallas due to musicians such as R C Williams, Roger Boykin and Dennis Gonzalez. Closed sets by Williams and Dallas' own Shaun Martin, Jackie Whitmill, Robert Trusko, Jonathan Mones and Jelani Brooks were filmed for the documentary.

Borman says the documentary intends to fill the educational gap, which has contributed to missed opportunities and a lapse in cultural integrity. By showcasing a rich history and current local talent, the team behind Hot Lips and Harmolodics aspires to generate pride and support of local artists to prevent them from seeking fame elsewhere.

“All musicians, especially emerging musicians, they're not making anything and that's across the whole industry, not just Dallas, but Dallas is especially bad about not wanting to pay performers properly,” Borman says. “And so, that goes hand in hand with the idea that Dallas isn't a music town, so why bother?”

The film premieres at 7 p.m. on Dec. 28 at the Texas Theatre (231 Jefferson Blvd.). After the premiere, the documentary will be available on Top Ten Records' VHX and YouTube channels.
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Desiree Gutierrez is a music and culture intern at the Dallas Observer. Equipped with her education from Dallas College Brookhaven Campus and the University of North Texas' Mayborn School of Journalism, Desiree has transformed the ability to overthink just about anything into a budding career in journalism.