Ann Arbor History: Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock in Hill Auditorium
We are devastated that Chick Corea, one of the most prolific jazz greats of our time, passed away on Tuesday, February 9, 2021. UMS first presented Chick in 1994 at the Power Center, and most recently in 2019 as part of his ‘Trilogy’ tour with Christian McBride and Brian Blade. In addition to his seven UMS appearances spanning nearly three decades, Chick’s remarkable discography of nearly 90 albums includes a special connection to Ann Arbor and Hill Auditorium.
On Thursday, April 16, 2015, UMS presented An Evening with Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock at Hill Auditorium. Two “nested” grand pianos with their lids removed adorned the stage at Hill Auditorium as a sold-out audience eagerly anticipated the forthcoming music. Some audience members in attendance may have remembered that this was not the first time that Chick and Herbie appeared alone together on the Hill stage; one would have to dive back to a winter night in February 1978 that ultimately resulted in side four of the now-classic album, An Evening with Herbie Hancock & Chick Corea: In Concert.
Please enjoy revisiting this musical gem of Ann Arbor history:
In 1978, jazz legends Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock were brought to Ann Arbor by Eclipse Jazz, a University of Michigan student group that existed from 1975 to 1987. Eclipse brought world-class jazz musicians to Ann Arbor for concerts, lectures, and workshops, and presented such greats as Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, Dexter Gordon, Sun Ra, Oscar Peterson, Mary Lou Williams, Sonny Stitt and Rahsaan Roland Kirk.
We asked Lee Berry, former director of Eclipse Jazz and current Chief Development Officer at the Michigan Theater, to tell us all about the epic concert.
Hancock and Corea’s first show together at Hill Auditorium was scheduled for January 26, 1978, a date that might ring some bells for those who were university students during this time, because it was also known as the Great Blizzard of 1978. The University shut down due to snow that day.
Says Berry, “I think we learned that school was being cancelled, and then they called and said that [Herbie and Chick] couldn’t get out of New York.” The only reschedule date that worked for the musicians, Eclipse, and Hill Auditorium was February 26, 1978. The sold-out performance was to occur that day during the day time. Still, most of the 4177 ticket holders showed up, and, as Berry puts it, “it was a beautiful, beautiful show.”
The encore of that Hill Auditorium performance is side four of An Evening with Herbie Hancock & Chick Corea: In Concert, an album that Berry describes as a departure from the electric keyboard and fusion style of jazz that Corea and Hancock were known for before that album, and as a return to the acoustic piano and older, more collaborative style of playing that is the kind of jazz that has survived and is still thriving today. The recording, featuring two jazz greats changing the course of jazz’s future, was a moment in history. As Berry remembers, “Not too long after is when Wynton [Marsalis] came out, maybe ’81, and it was like old-school was back. This was kind of like a link between those two periods.”
For further reading:
Wynton Marsalis’s Musical Gifts
Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra brought incredible musical gifts to Ann Arbor to kick off the Holiday season.
From an inspiring School Day Performance with 2,400 young people to a full house at Hill Auditorium, the legendary ensemble spread joy and good cheer with the debut of their “Big Band Holidays” national tour. Here are seven of our favorite moments:
1. Welcome Dinner
U-M Director of Athletics Warde Manuel and UMS President Matthew VanBesien welcomed Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra members to a private dinner to kick off their week of rehearsals.
Guests were treated to a performance with jazz students from Ann Arbor’s Community High School, who also spent time with Wynton and the band members throughout dinner.
2. A surprise guest!
U-M Jazz Studies student Ben Green got quite the surprise — a chance to play lead trumpet next to Wynton Marsalis in three rehearsals! On lightning fast notice, Ben graciously stepped in for a weather-stranded member of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.
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3. School Day Performance
More than 2,400 K-12 students from 41 area schools, including 318 students from Detroit, brought anticipation and joy to the School Day Performance at Hill Auditorium.
4. Workshops in local schools
Many students participated in free pre-show workshops at their schools, where professional teaching artists introduced jazz and what the students could expect to experience at Hill.
5. Q & A with Students
Detroit High School students had the amazing opportunity to visit with JLCO’s bass player Carlos Henriquez, who shared his own experience of growing up in the South Bronx and how an afternoon school program and his commitment to music helped him become a professional musician.
6. Backstage with Wynton
Tappan Middle School students had a quick backstage “meet & greet” with the jazz great, who enthusiastically supports the ways UMS engages young people at a critical point in their lives.
7. Big Band Holidays!
Vocalists Vuyo Sotashe and Veronica Swift added to the holiday magic and big band sound of Wynton Marsalis and the JLCO.
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A huge thank you to Wynton and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra for a week of unforgettable experiences for audiences of all ages! Be sure to follow @WyntonMarsalis and @JazzDotOrg on Instagram as they tour into the new year.
A Love Supreme Playlist
This post is a part of a series of playlists curated by UMS staff, artists, and community. Check out more music here.
We’ve been working with WCBN, the University of Michigan student-run community free-form radio station, to feature playlists from their DJs on UMS Lobby. WCBN broadcasts at 200 watts to the University and its surrounding communities from the Basement of the Student Activities Building in downtown tree-town. Check out their website or Facebook page to learn more!
Veteran DJ Richard Wallace, virtual musical encyclopedia arwulf arwulf and recent UM Music School grad Kirsten Carey have created this playlist to celebrate John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme which turns 50 this year. The Campbell Brothers perform A Love Supreme on Friday, February 20, 2015, 8:00 pm at Michigan Theater.
Selections 1-10 consist of albums released in 1964 and 1965 to give a context to the shifting jazz culture which both gave birth to and was advanced by A Love Supreme. The mid sixties were a watershed point in jazz history: among a certain faction of the jazz community, freer improvisational structures were gaining ground as heads were becoming simpler, more melodic, and harmonically loose. These open structures allowed bebop vocabulary to be completely decontextualized and performers to reduce their improvisations into pure emotional sound. Never before had jazz incorporated so much sonic freedom – and, of course, a visionary like Coltrane saw the opportunities this shift heralded. – Kirsten Carey
John Coltrane’s musicality and spirituality underwent profound transformation in 1957. If at that time Thelonious Monk ushered Trane through a creative threshold, the saxophonist’s progress was accelerated through complete abstinence from alcohol and narcotics. Anchored by a marrows-deep personal relationship with religion – the enzyme of survival for generations of African Americans living in a hostile and indifferent environment – Coltrane’s astonishing evolution brought him into solidarity and alignment with artists who actively pursued a collective course that transcended conventionally accepted notions or standards of entertainment. The list that we provide here represents a glimpse of what is condoned and encouraged among students and volunteers in line with WCBN‘s enduring artistic and educational mission. – arwulf arwulf
Artist Interview: Petra Haden, violinist and vocalist
Violinist and vocalist Petra Haden has been a member of groups like The Decemberists and has contributed to recordings by Beck, Foo Fighters, and Weezer, among others. With her sisters, Petra is a member of the group the Haden Triplets and will also be familiar to UMS audiences as the daughter of the legendary jazz bassist Charlie Haden.
She performs as part of guitarist Bill Frisell’s When You Wish Upon a Star group on March 13, 2014 in Ann Arbor. The two have also created recordings together.
Greg Baise is the curator of public programs at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit. This summer, Greg spoke with Petra about working with Bill Frisell, growing up in a musical family, and her interest in the nooks and crannies of film scores.
Greg Baise: This particular UMS appearance actually encompasses two evenings and is called the Bill Frisell Americana Celebration. The first evening features Bill Frisell on guitar solo. And the second evening features you as part of When You Wish Upon a Star, a relatively new band. Can you tell me more about the band and the material you’ll be working on for the concert?
Petra Haden: We’ll play from our record, the first record [Bill and I] did together. This record came to be after I played a show in Seattle with a friend of mine, and Bill came to see that show. He was interested in what I was doing, and he called me soon after to ask if we could do a record together. I was really excited to work with him because I’m such a huge fan! We decided to record a collection of our favorite songs, a variety of music from Coldplay to Stevie Wonder to Tom Waits. “When You Wish Upon a Star” was one of the songs we worked on, and our concerts together so far have been a mixture of these songs as well as Gershwin songs.
GB: In another interview you said that Bill gets your brain. What do you mean by that?
PH: It’s something that I can’t exactly put into words. It’s so hard to describe. When we play, it’s like this language that we speak together. It’s almost like he can predict where I’m going to go next. I remember hearing him when I was younger and thinking how beautiful it was, and to finally be recording with him is a dream come true.
When I was recording with Bill for my Petra Goes to the Movies album, one of the engineers told us that we seemed like brother and sister when we worked together. So, it’s also apparent to others that we’re a good match musically.
GB: I’d love to hear about the arrangement process. Do you and Bill work together to come up with arrangements for these songs?
PH: When we started working on our first record, Bill played and I sang the melody. When we were done with the basic tracks, I added violin. I just came up with stuff on the spot. I played what I heard in my head. I came up with the string ideas for songs that I’d heard, like the songs by Stevie Wonder, and also for songs like Elliott Smith’s “Satellite,” which I’d never heard before, but Bill had played for me. That’s another way he gets my brain. He told me that I had to hear this Elliott Smith song, and that became my new favorite song. He gets my taste is in music.
GB: Listening to you as you create harmonies on the record is pretty astounding. Does it come from something that you studied, or maybe from your upbringing in a musical family?
PH: I started singing with my sisters when we were really young, probably six or seven. We used to visit my dad’s family in Springfield, Missouri. They had a radio show called “The Haden Family,” and we would sit in the living room and have fun, eat, and sing together. That’s one of the first experiences I had with singing harmonies. I remember knowing at a very young age that I loved singing harmonies, and as I grew up with my sisters, we sang just for fun.
I wasn’t really active in music in high school. But later, after I graduated, I joined a band called That Dog with my sister Rachel and another high school friend. I was involved with that band for five years. I ended up going to music school at Cal Arts (California Institute for the Arts), but just for a year, so I never really had formal music training. That’s why I tend to do everything from my head, which can be hard.
GB: Has your record with your sisters, The Haden Triplets, been in the making since your childhood?
PH: Ten years ago or so we worked with a friend who wrote a few songs for us, but we weren’t recording an album at that time—it was just for fun. Any show we played, we sang these songs, and we added [the American folk group] Carter Family songs that we’d known since we were kids. But we were all busy and didn’t pursue an album, though people often asked us when we might record.
Later, we were asked to perform at a tribute show for soul and jazz poet Gil Scott-Heron, and when percussionist Joachim Cooder found out that we were a part of it, he wanted to play drums with us. He mentioned that his dad [the guitarist Ry Cooder] was interested too, so Ry played guitar with us for that show. He’s the one who called me after to say that he was interested in producing a Haden Triplets record. I was very excited because I’m a big Ry Cooder fan. We recorded it at my sister Tanya’s house before she moved in. It’s an old, big house with tall ceilings, and it was empty, so it was a great place to record.
GB: Your most recent record is Petra Goes to the Movies. I’d like to hear about your relationship to film scores in particular.
PH: I’ve always thought about doing an A Capella “Movies” album. Since I was a kid I was obsessed with all the Superman movies. I had the vinyl for the soundtracks, and I listened to them a lot and sang the string parts in my head. That was my favorite thing about going to the movies, listening to the music. Music is what tells me the story whenever I watch a movie.
GB: In the album, you’re looking at the nooks and crannies of a soundtrack that people don’t normally look at.
PH: That’s interesting that you bring that up. Often in movies, the music that I wish was on the soundtrack doesn’t ends up on it. Like in Big Night for instance, there’s a scene that just touched me, during which the owner of the restaurant with which the brothers compete plays piano. I don’t think that’s even on the soundtrack. My friend (who engineered the album) got the video and recorded it for me so that I could hear it.
Bill plays on that album too, so it’s not entirely A Capella. He thought of the theme from Tootsie, one of my favorite movies, and that’s another example of the way that he just gets my brain.
GB: Are you planning on recording another album with Bill and the When You Wish Upon a Star group that will play in Ann Arbor, or is that to be determined?
PH: That’s to be determined. I want to record with Bill for sure, but for my next record, I’m focusing on original songs. I work really well with collaborators, so I want to find the perfect writing partner.
GB: Earlier, we talked about the way you’ve admired Bill’s work for a long time. You said that to work with him is almost like a dream project. Do you have a list of other dream projects, whether that’s material or collaboration?
PH: Lately, I’ve been listening to an album by Mark Isham called Vapor Drawings. I don’t know how to get in touch with him, but he’s someone I would want to work with. I would definitely love to work with [the composer] Steve Reich, to be one of his singers. His music is another way I learned to harmonize. I love that pulsating singing so much. My other favorite guitarist is Pat Metheny. I did have the chance to work with him when I worked on my dad’s record Rambling Boy. On that record, I sing on a song that Pat plays on, which was a dream come true.
GB: Thanks for taking the time to talk! I was really excited when I saw that you would be playing in with Bill Frisell.
UMS Playlist: A Touch of Minimalism
This post is a part of a series of playlists curated by artists, UMS Staff, and community. Check out more music here.
Dawn of Midi perform at Trinosophes in Detroit on January 31, 2015. Photo by Falkwyn de Goyeneche.
Minimalism can be extraordinarily beautiful. I’ve always been a believer of “less is more.” In the right hands, repetition, simplicity, and homogeneous textures of sound can envelop the listener in deeply meaningful and even spiritual ways.
In the playlist below, I’ve attempted to offer a sampling of minimalist techniques in a cross-section of genre and style, from pioneering tape experiments by Steve Reich (“It’s Gonna Rain,” ca. 1965) to minimalist 1990s electronica from the UK’s Richard D. James (aka Aphex Twin) and the Manchester duo Autechre (selected from their seminal 1995 LP Tri Repetae) to Dawn of Midi, a group with a mesmerizing, “electro-acoustic” sound that will perform at Trinosophes on January 31, 2015.
I have also included some surprises: Jason Moran and The Bandwagon’s cover of American-born innovator Conlon Nancarrow (who composed “Study No. 6” for player piano) and downtown New York experimental post-disco songwriter, cellist, and composer Arthur Russell (who died in 1992 at the age of 40 in relative obscurity).
This playlist represents merely a snapshot of some of my favorite minimalist moments. Hopefully it will encourage and inspire a deeper personal journey of discovery.
Please note: These fascinating (and intricate) soundscapes are best experienced on headphones.
What did you think about this playlist? Share your thoughts or song suggestions in the comments below.
Listening Guide in Samples: Bob James
Jazz keyboardist and composer Bob James is also one of the most sampled musicians in the history of hip-hop. He’ll perform in Ann Arbor on November 15, 2014. Photo courtesy of the artist.
Hip-hop appropriated the soul and rhythms of many genres of music and cultures, and hip-hop is contagious. It’s a force that blasted its way out of the inner city into bedrooms and basements everywhere.
Hip-hop is rooted in making something out of nothing, using the few tools at the musicians’ disposal to create art that paints a picture of a part of society largely ignored. Before hip-hop’s inception, jazz, blues, soul music, and rock-n-roll were the prior generations’ outlets for creating a rich counter-culture that would influence the communities of the future. Hip-hop was an explosive melting pot of all of these cultures, and so it wasn’t shocking that many of musicians who had begun to experience success in earlier decades enjoyed a new life through sampling in hip-hop. One such example is jazz pianist Bob James.
From One by Bob James:
In the 70s, James was arranging and producing with many fellow jazz artists, including on saxophonist Grover Washington Jr.’s classic albums, while also putting out his own solo albums like One or Two. These albums and his other music would become the foundation of many hip-hop staples of the 80s and 90s. The worlds Bob James would create during this time, while working with musicians such as saxophonist Dave Sanborn, singer Hubert Laws, and drummer Idris Muhammad, to name a few, were filled with a massive soul that mixed dreams of fantastical lands with the struggles of reality. The culture of hip-hop would reinvent that feeling in the following generations.
“Angela” by Bob James:
Bob James, who is an alumnus University of Michigan, would go on to success in the jazz world, but his music really entered American living rooms everywhere when he penned “Angela,” the theme music for the popular TV show Taxi that aired from 1978 to 1983 and spawned a slew of well-known actors and comedians. Later on, “Angela” would be sampled by Bay Area hip-hop group Souls Of Mischief for their song “Cab Fare”, which was slated for their 1995 full length album No Man’s Land but was unfortunately axed because they could not get the sample legally cleared (it’s out there now, go look for it!).
The works of Bob James have been sampled many times within hip-hop as well as by R&B and drum-n-bass artists, but there are two specific songs that have been used more than anything else and have lead to some well-known hip-hop records.
“Nautilus” by Bob James, sampled:
From the Bob James’ 1974 album One, the closing track titled “Nautilus” has given us great hip-hop songs over the years. As we enter the first few seconds of “Nautilus,” we hear the haunting sounds would be sampled by the legendary producer DJ Premier for Jeru The Damaja’s “My Mind Spray” from his 1994 album The Sun Rises In The East. Then, a few seconds later, right as the song really kicks in, is the sample that the Wu Tang Clan’s The RZA used for fellow group-mate Ghostface Killah’s “Daytona 500” from his 1996 solo album Ironman. “Nautilus” has been sampled in dozens of other songs including by Eric B. & Rakim (“Let the Rhythm Hit ‘Em”) and Soul II Soul (“Jazzie’s Groove”), but it’s the segment about two-thirds into the composition, during another ghostly breakdown, that Run D.M.C. would pick up and turn into the main infectious sample for their renowned record “Beats to the Rhyme.”
“Take Me to the Mardi Gras” by Bob James, sampled:
While the sampling of “Nautilus” spawned many hip-hop tracks, James’s 1975 album Two and the song “Take Me to the Mardi Gras” resulted in some of the most legendary tracks. The bells and drum breaks from “Mardi Gras” would be most famously sampled by hip-hop legends like Run D.M.C. (“Peter Piper”), LL Cool J (“Rock The Bells”), and the Beastie Boys (“Hold It Now, Hit It”). “Take Me to the Mardi Gras” isn’t just the foundation for these celebrated songs, it’s also the backdrop for the sound of late 80s hip-hop culture. Those bells and drums from “Mardi Gras” create the vision of inner city kids break-dancing on the sidewalks, spitting rhymes on the corner, or tagging graffiti on a wall downtown.
Bob James has continued to produce and arrange music as a highly successful solo jazz artist and along with his legendary band Four Play, but his work from the 1970s as a producer, arranger, and as solo artist has left a lasting effect on in the hip-hop world, an effect that will continue for generations of emcees and producers to come.
Interested in learning more? Check out Kelly Frazier’s listening guide to pianist Ahmad Jahmal, who’s also been sampled into the hearts of hip-hop.
Behind the Scenes with Gregory Porter
This post is a part of a series of playlists curated by artists, UMS Staff, and community. Check out more music here.
Photo: Gregory Porter. Photo by Shawn Peters.
NPR Music has hailed Gregory Porter as “the next great male jazz singer.” His album Liquid Spirit, which has gospel, blues, and R&B influences, was recently awarded the 2014 Grammy Award for “Best Vocal Jazz Album.” We can’t be more excited to present Gregory Porter at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor on October 15, 2014.
We asked Gregory to share a few of his favorite tunes with us, and to tell us about why these songs inspire him. Check out his selections and listen along below.
Nature Boy – Nat King Cole
Gregory Porter: Because he’s a favorite of mine. His lyrical expression, the depth and tone of his voice is extraordinary. He was also a great song-smith, and a great song craftsman and song selector in a way. Because with “Nature Boy,” the entire construction is about that last line, “the greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.” That’s something that’s a good thing to walk through life with.
Compared to What – Lester McCann
Gregory Porter: This is a statement of his personality. Although he didn’t write the tune, the way he expresses it is as though you’re reading from his personal journal. It is also a mix of soul, gospel and blues, and in a way, this is the school that I’m coming from. It’s just so so so soulful!
In a Sentimental Mood – Duke Ellington
Gregory Porter: It’s just classic and beautiful. When I hear it, it reminds me of open windows during spring and fresh air blowing through the house. I can’t explain why, that’s just the way it is for me!
What did you think about this playlist? Share your thoughts or song suggestions in the comments below.
Interview: Ford Honors Program featuring JLCO and Wynton Marsalis
Photo: Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and Wynton Marsalis in concert. They’ll perform in Ann Arbor on March 30, 2014. Photo by Frank Stewart.
Each year, the UMS Advisory Committee (an organization of over 60 volunteers who contribute over 7,500 hours of service to UMS each year) works together with UMS staff on the UMS Ford Honors Program Gala. FHP is our annual benefit that supports UMS’s Education & Community Engagement Program, which provides free or low-cost education and community engagement activities focusing on K-12 students, teachers, teens, university students, families, adults, and cultural communities. Funds raised from the Gala make it possible for UMS to impact nearly 20,000 youth, educators, and community members each season.
This year, we’re excited to honor Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, artists who have a long history with UMS, and also a deep commitment to education.
Caroline Kagan: What are you most excited about in this year’s program?
Cheryl Cassidy: I’m always excited about Ford Honors. We have been going, my late husband and I, and my daughter also, for the past thirteen, fourteen years. For me and for my family it’s always been a really exciting thing to be with people who are interested in the arts and to be a part of that community.
Of course I’m excited this year because Wynton Marsalis is just such a stellar performer. To be part of planning the whole thing is exciting, too. It’s fun, and it’s nice to be a contributor in a way that is very meaningful.
CK: Have you attended Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and Wynton Marsalis performances in the past? If so, what do you like about them?
CC: You know, I thought about this question, and I was trying to think, what is it? I think a part of it is that not only does Wynton Marsalis excel at what he’s doing in his art, but he also has this very uncommon ability to transcend his medium. He goes beyond what’s predictable, in terms of musical boundaries, as does the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. Along with that there’s this inclusivity that happens, so that the audience and the performers feel a part of the whole experience. That’s both a very fragile and a very unusual thing.
Secondarily, I’m excited because Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra have such an impact on our community. They’ve created possibilities for educational experiences for students, particularly those students who, under normal circumstances, would not be able to attend a concert like this. Of course the donors for this performance and gala are then supporting the continuation of those educational programs.
CK: Related to that thought, what do you think the Ford Honors Program brings to the community at large?
CC: I think the Ford Honors Gala in general and this particular performance and honoree in particular really reflect our community’s devotion to the arts. It’s not just a singular devotion. I think it’s very multifarious. In other words, it includes universities like the University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University, the community in Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, and beyond in the region. Wynton Marsalis and the JLCO really appeal to a great number of people. The gala reflects our commitment and our devotion to these stellar performers and indicates how much we value their creativity and how it enriches our lives.
CK: You also chaired the committee that planned the 2006 Ford Honors Program, which honored jazz pianist and composer Dave Brubeck. What did you learn from that experience, and how have you incorporated those insights as you plan for this Ford Honors Program?
CC: I think the most important thing that I learned and that I experienced was the importance of having a really good team, a team of people who are dedicated and who are highly invested in the event, and we’re very lucky to have a great team working on this year’s FHP.
CK: Now I’m going to ask you a very hard question. Why do you support the arts?
CC: That is a hard question and that involves so much emotion. I think that for me, personally, the arts really enrich my life. And I think that the arts are part of how we are human. We have to incorporate the arts into our lives, because that makes us better people, better community members, better people in the world, because the arts transcend cultures. They are for the world and for everyone.
I buy into all that, but I think also my late husband was just fiercely devoted to UMS. He wanted to go to every concert and I sort of had to say, “We can’t do it all!” He was really a person who treasured the idea that UMS was here in Ann Arbor, as do I. So I’ve been very conscious of that legacy, as has my daughter, and I think that’s part of it as well.
Interested in learning more about this year’s Ford Honors Program? Visit our FHP event page where we’ll keep the most up-to-date information about the gala.
UMS Director of Programming Picks Five Notable UMS Debuts
One of the reasons we’re so excited about our 2015-2016 season is the debut performances. Winter is especially ripe with UMS debuts, including by mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton, pianist Igor Levit, vocalist Tanya Tagaq, among many others.
Debuts are an important part of our 135-year-history. Every artist debut has embedded in it that same kind of hope and optimism, something truly great might come of all this talent which is being revealed to us for the first time. At UMS, every debut also holds the possibility of a life-long relationship between that artist and our community of music lovers.
Here are five notable debuts which grew into a fully formed career and lifetime of memories for UMS audiences:
Violinist Yehudi Menhuhin – UMS debut, 1932
Menuhin made his concert debut at UMS when he was age sixteen. He went on to give eighteen UMS concerts over the course of his career most often as violin soloist but also as a conductor later in his life. His last appearance was in February of 1987 fifty-five years after his debut.
Pianist Artur Rubinstein – UMS debut, 1938
The great Polish pianist Artur Rubinstein didn’t make his UMS debut until he was 51. He played Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto with the Philadelphia Orchestra at May Festival. Even though he was middle aged when he first come to Ann Arbor, he still managed to give fifteen concerts for UMS over the course of his career, the last one, a benefit recital in January 1971.
Soprano Leontyne Price – UMS debut, 1957
Price had a double debut when she first come to UMS for the May Festival in 1957. Not only was it her first performance in Ann Arbor, but it was also her first public performance of the title role of Aida, a character she went on to own and dominate in every important opera house in the world. By the time she gave her last UMS recital in 1991, she had visited Ann Arbor to perform eight times.
Mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli – UMS debut, 1993
Bartoli gave her debut recital performance in Hill Auditorium when she was relatively unknown. She was partnered by Ann Arbor’s very-own pianist Martin Katz. Her most recent appearance was in February of 2004 with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment in a program devoted to the music of Antonio Salieri.
Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis – UMS debut, 1996
The great jazz (and classical) trumpet virtuoso Wynton Marsalis gave his first UMS concert with his Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra Octet in 1996. Since that time he has become an almost annual fixture on the UMS season while, simultaneously, becoming a singular international voice for the centrality of jazz to American culture.
Do you have your own notable debuts or early performance favorites in UMS history? Share them in the comments below.
Buena Vista Social Club is a Party Foul
Has this ever happened to you? You find yourself in a conversation with someone who knows a lot about music (and probably craft brewed beer, artisanal fermented foods, and expensive jeans). When the topic shifts to Cuban music you make the mistake of saying something like, “Oh I love Cuban music, I listen to Buena Vista Social Club all the time.” A smirk quickly appears on the face of your friend. All of the air goes out of the room. You know you have said something terribly wrong, but you are not sure exactly what.
If this has ever happened to you (or even if it hasn’t), you need to get tickets to come see Alfredo Rodríguez and Pedrito Martínez, two talented young musicians from Cuba who are reworking the Cuban sounds they grew up with.
“The Special Period”
First a disclaimer: I love Buena Vista Social Club. I do not care who smirks at me for it. But here is a little context. Buena Vista Social Club appeared in 1997 during what Cubans call “The Special Period.” Cuba’s socialist economy entered a severe crisis after the fall of the Soviet Union, as trade and assistance from Communist Europe suddenly vanished. Meanwhile the United States tightened its trade embargo. In response, the Cuban government shifted its economic strategy towards the development of tourism and the marketing of Cuban culture to international audiences. At the same time, the Clinton administration loosened restrictions on travel by Cuban artists to the United States. Buena Vista Social Club – a phenomenon which includes an album, a film, and many international tours – was the most commercially successful cultural enterprise of this new landscape. And it is brilliant. But the vision of Cuba that Buena Vista Social Club sold was one where time had stood still: a world of crumbling Art Deco buildings, well maintained vintage automobiles, and picturesque elderly black performers playing exactly the same music that they had played in the decades before the revolution.
So the knock on Buena Vista Social Club is that it reintroduced international audiences to a Cuba that no longer existed. This was our loss, because the music that had evolved in Cuba in the 1970s and 1980s, and was still evolving in Cuba in the 1990s and beyond, was pretty special. This is where Alfredo Rodríguez and Pedrito Martínez come in. They came of age in Cuba in the Special Period, when “Chan Chan” played in every bar in Madrid and Paris, but that sort of music was only really heard in hotels catering to tourists in Cuba. Their music gives a glimpse of what was happening in Cuba as the elderly musicians of Buena Vista Social Club conquered the world.
Music: A hallmark of Cuban socialism
One of the amazing things about music in Havana in these years was the extent of conservatory training; expanded access to music education was a hallmark of the cultural policy of Cuban socialism. So it was not uncommon for popular musicians in Cuba in these years to have advanced classical training. Born in 1985, Alfredo Rodríguez, the son of well-known popular musician and television personality, grew up in this system. He moved back and forth between the classical training of the conservatory and the popular music he played with his father. Eventually he found his niche in the world of jazz. Cuban musicians from had been experimenting with jazz since the 1970s. By the 1990s, after the much-publicized visit of Dizzy Gillespie to Cuba, the top players in the Cuban jazz world became part of the international circuit. Some defected, but others simply enjoyed the new freedom to tour outside Cuba that came with the new economic strategies of the regime. Rodriguez was playing in Montreaux in 2006 when he met Quincy Jones. Then he was playing with his father’s band in Mexico when he decided to cross the border into the US to work with Quincy.
A second important musical trend in Cuba after the revolution was shifting official policy towards Afro-Cuban folkloric music, percussive styles like rumba, abakua, and batá (the music played during Santería ceremonies). African slaves and their descendants developed these styles of music in the context of spiritual practice and community life not the music industry. In the 1960s and 1970s, the master percussionists of these traditions became employees of state folklore agencies, performing Afro-Cuban music on stage. In the 1990s, folklore groups and the state began selling this version of Cuban culture abroad too. Afro-Cuban cultural groups like Muñequitos de Matanzas began travelling to the US. Pedrito Martínez grew up in this world, winning international competitions in Afro-Cuban hand drumming and entering the world of professional musicianship on international tours with Muñequitos de Matanzas. He also won international exposure as part of a rumba ensemble that appeared in the film Calle 54 (2000). We cannot link to video of this segment because of copyright, but it is worth watching on Netflix if you can.
Muñequitos de Matanzas during their first US tour in 1992:
Timba is perhaps the most important of all the musical innovations in Cuba during the Special Period. Timba was a dance music popular among the urban, Afro-descended Cubans who found themselves increasingly disenfranchised by the shifting economic strategies of the socialist government. Timba lyrics adopted street slang and discussed taboo subjects including the informal economy of hustling, linked to the growth in tourism. Built of the same materials as salsa, timba followed a distinct path. Most important was a restructuring of the classic Cuban dance music around explicitly Afro-Cuban rhythms and a much more experimental approach to rhythm in general. Batá or rumba variants were as likely to form the central rhythmic arguments as the classic son tumbaos. Timba also built on on the funk-fusion sound of the experimental jazz group Irakere.
NG La Banda Santa Palabra:
Bacalao con Pan:
Timba was the alter-ego of Buena Vista Social Club, young and edgy, informed by Cuban jazz, by Afro-Cuban folklore, and often played by musicians who had been trained in conservatories. The point is not that this music was more authentic, somehow free of the influence of marketing. The interplay of international promotion and local musical scenes helped produce a wide range of musical options in and around Cuba over the past twenty-five years, including a dizzying array of musical talent. The upcoming UMS concert offers a glimpse at this world. Alfredo Rodríguez is a conservatory trained technical virtuoso, with a background in Cuban popular music, who grew up idolizing Kieth Jarrett. He experiments at the boundaries between straight ahead jazz and Cuban jazz.
…y bailaría la negra:
Pedrito Martínez is a percussionist who played with Munequitos de Matanzas when that band was already making regular commercial tours around the world. He explores timba and Cuban funk fusion in a small quartet format, just a keyboard, bass, and bongó player to accompany his congas. Both musicians continue to rethink the music they grew up with in conversation with the wide range of international musicians and styles they embody.
Please do not smirk the next time someone tells you that they love of Buena Vista Social Club. Just smile, and tell them about the concert you just saw by Alfredo Rodríguez. Nod and lend them your copy of Pedrito Martínez’s new record with its amazing cover of of Robert Johnson.
Travelling Riverside Blues: