Black History Month – Andre Watts at Robinson Center

andre-wattsClassical pianist Andre Watts has performed at Robinson Center with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra.

In 1963, 16 year old Andre Watts won a piano competition to play in the New York Philharmonic’s Young People’s Concert at Lincoln Center, conducted by Leonard Bernstein.  Within weeks of the contest the renowned conductor tapped Watts to substitute for the eminent but ailing pianist Glenn Gould, for a regular performance with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. The performance was televised nationally, with Watts playing Liszt’s E-flat Concerto, and his career was launched.

Born in Germany to an American soldier and a Hungarian mother, he grew up on military bases.  At age 8, his family moved to Philadelphia. Following his 1963 performance, he won a Grammy in 1964 (at age 17) for Best New Classical Artist.

Since the 1960s, he has maintained a busy concert schedule. Along the way, he played for President Nixon’s first inaugural concert, graduated from college, been featured on PBS Live from Lincoln Center, toured Japan and Europe and the US.  At age 26, he received an honorary doctorate from Yale.  In 2004, he was appointed to the music faculty at the University of Indiana.  At age 70, he still performs concerts.  In 2011, he received the National Medal of the Arts.

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Black History Month Spotlight: Amina Claudine Myers

bhm aminaAmina Claudine Myers was born in Conway County and grew up in the Dallas/Fort Worth area.  She started singing and playing the piano and organ as a child in church choirs.  Returning to Arkansas, she graduated in concert music and music education from Philander Smith College in the early 1960s. After graduation, Myers moved to Chicago where she taught music, attended classes at Roosevelt University and worked with musicians such as Sonny Stitt and Gene Ammons. In 1966 she joined the AACM in Chicago, focusing on vocal compositions and arrangements, and recording her first jazz album with Kalaparusha Maurice McIntyre in 1969.

In 1976 Myers relocated to New York City, where she intensified her compositional work and expanded it into the realm of Off-Broadway productions. She also continued performing and recording as a pianist and organist. In 1985 she joined Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra. Notable collaborations also include recordings with Bill Laswell, Marian McPartland, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Archie Shepp, David Murray, Arthur Blythe, Frank Lowe, Leroy Jenkins, Jim Pepper and Ray Anderson.

In 1976 Amina moved to NY and became involved with the creative musicians that had migrated from Chicago and St. Louis, playing music in the lofts of NYC.  For a year she became a teacher at SUNY ((State Univ. of NY) developing the gospel chorus there.  Myers received several grants from the National Endowments for the Arts, Meet the Composer and NY Foundation for the Arts.                                                                           .

Myers began touring Europe with The Lester Bowie Quintet and The NY Organ Ensemble around 1978.  This began her European (all of Western Europe, Hungary, Turkey and Poland), Japanese, Canadian and U.S. performances of concerts, festivals and clubs as a soloist, with her trio, quartet, sextet and voice choir. This included workshops, seminars and residencies in universities and schools in the U.S. as well as Europe. Myers had the opportunity to perform in Cape Town, South Africa at The North Sea Jazz Festival with saxaphonist/composer Archie Shepp and to Accra, Ghana (West Africa) with composer/ vibraphonist Cecilia Smith during their jazz festival.

Myers’ works of blues, jazz, gospel and extended forms continues.  She teaches privately, giving lessons in theory, composition, piano, voice, organ, classical piano and assisting clients interested in stage/ performances. Amina  has  performed at Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, Town Hall, The Brooklyn Academy of Music, The Iridium Club, Birdland and other sites with her groups and with other artists and still continues to perform nationally and internationally.

She is a 2001 inductee into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame.  For more on Amina Claudine Myers and other inductees into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame, visit the permanent exhibit at the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center. That museum is an agency of the Department of Arkansas Heritage.

The Hot Sardines at Wildwood Tonight!

Wildwood Park for the ArtsThe Hot Sardines will be in concert tonight at Wildwood Park for the Arts.  The music will start at 8pm; tickets range from $35 to $75.

Take a blustery brass lineup, layer it over a rhythm section led by a stride-piano virtuoso in the Fats Waller vein, and tie the whole thing together with a one-of-the-boys frontwoman with a voice from another era, and you have the Hot Sardines. (We haven’t even told you about the tap dancer yet.)

In a short time, the Hot Sardines have gone from their first gig – at a coffeeshop on the last Q train stop in Queens – to selling out Joe’s Pub five times in as many months, headlining at Lincoln Center’s Midsummer Night Swing, and opening for the Bad Plus, Lulu Gainsbourg and French gypsy-jazz artist Zaz. Through it all they’ve become regulars at the Shanghai Mermaid speakeasy and turned The Standard, where they play regularly, into their own “saloon in the sky” (The Wall Street Journal) – complete with tap dancing on the bar – honing a live persona that’s been called “unforgettably wild” and “consistently electrifying” (Popmatters).

The Sardine sound – wartime Paris via New Orleans, or the other way around – is steeped in hot jazz, salty stride piano, and the kind of music Louis Armstrong, Django Reinhardt and Waller used to make: Straight-up, foot-stomping jazz. (Literally – the band includes a tap dancer whose feet count as two members of the rhythm section). They manage to invoke the sounds of a near-century ago and stay resolutely in step with the current age. And while their roots run deep into jazz, that most American of genres, they’re intertwined with French influences via their frontwoman, who was born and raised in Paris (and writes songs in both languages).

The band was born when said Parisian (“Miz Elizabeth” Bougerol) met a stride piano player (bandleader Evan “Bibs” Palazzo) at a jam session they found on Craigslist. Above a noodle shop on Manhattan’s 49th Street, they discovered a mutual love for songs from the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s that no-one really plays anymore. Or if they play them, “they handle them with kid gloves, like pieces in a museum,” says Evan, underscoring a point the pair can’t stress enough: “This music isn’t historical artifact. It’s a living, breathing, always-evolving thing.”

The hosts for the evening are: Dr. F. Richard Jordan, Gert Clark, Lee and Dale Ronnel, Jane Wilson, Buff Blass and Walt Winters

Ellis Marsalis in Concert at Wildwood tomorrow

EllisphotoEllis Marsalis, the Father of America’s First Family of Jazz, & his Quartet will be in concert at Wildwood Park for the Arts on Friday, April 19 at 8:00pm.

Tickets range from $15 for students to $100 VIP tickets.

Ellis Marsalis is an internationally known jazz pianist, and a figurehead of the rich and storied New Orleans jazz scene. Marsalis, who has received honorary doctorates from The Julliard School, Tulane University, Dillard University (his alma mater), Ball State University and Virginia Commonwealth University for his contributions to jazz and musical education, served as the Director and Chair of Jazz Studies at the University of New Orleans.

Wildwood-Park-for-the-Arts-e1352227810968Marsalis has also led the jazz department at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, influencing the careers of countless musicians, including film composer Terence Blanchard, Grammy Award-winners Harry Connick Jr. and Nicholas Payton; as well as four of Marsalis’ and wife Dolores’ six sons. Wynton Marsalis (trumpet) and Branford Marsalis (soprano saxophone) have become major players with international reputations. Wynton is the leader of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra in New York. Sons Delfeayo (trombone) and Jason (drums) are also outstanding jazz performers. Delfeayo has produced recordings for his father and his brothers.