Up from drugs
Vocalist Noah Powell has worked with many local musicians since the early 1980s. In a new documentary “Noah’s Arc: Rebirth of a Jazz Singer,” Powell recalls spending time at the Salaam Cultural Center on Chapel Hill Street, where musicians played concerts and taught workshops. Later, in the 1990s, he toured with the Stanley Baird Group.
He also has encountered what he calls the “occupational hazards” of life on the road, “drugs, women and booze.” Powell became addicted to drugs, and during the years 1996 and 1998 “I was pretty much at my bottom,” he says in the film. “I had become unreliable… [and] got lost into the culture of drugs.”
He did not stay there. He went through a rehab program. Today, Durham music fans can hear him at places like Beyu Caffe. He also volunteers, helping people with Alzheimer’s disease and people suffering from AIDS. He also works at UNC Hospitals.
Local filmmaker Nic Beery chronicles Powell’s ongoing journey in his short film, to be screened Tuesday at Durham’s Main Library. Beery first saw Powell perform at a house concert several years ago and became friendly with him. Later, he heard him at Beyu, and Powell told him something of his life story, Beery said.
When Beery asked Powell about doing a documentary, Powell was very willing. Powell wants to share his story to prevent other people from falling into that same culture of drugs, Beery said.
Powell is frank and straightforward when he discusses his drug addiction. “After he agreed to do the documentary, he said, ‘Listen, I want to tell my story and I’m not going to sugar coat it,’” Beery said. The film shows how Powell lost his passion for music, “which was the love of his life,” because of drugs, then regained that love, Beery said.
The film contains footage of Powell singing at Beyu, along with interviews from pianist Alison Weiner and Beyu Caffe owner Dorian Bolden. The film is not just the story of Powell’s journey, but a portrait of one part of Durham’s many-faceted music culture.
After the screening, Powell’s trio, which includes Weiner on piano and Casey Toll on bass, will perform about an hour’s worth of songs.