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.”
Stream the full album, including “Maiden Voyage” and “La Fiesta” recorded in Hill Auditorium, on Apple Music or Spotify.
For further reading:
Herbie Hancock on Chick Corea: ‘He Always Wanted to Share Whatever He Had’ (Rolling Stone)
Introducing UMS Playlists on Apple Music and Spotify
Open your ears to new listening experiences:
Presenting our global artists featured in the 2019/20 ‘Traditions & Crosscurrents’ series.
Fall in love with solo works performed by classical and jazz pianists who appear in UMS’s 2019/20 season.
Discover the virtuosity and variety of sounds, ensembles, and works by composers featured in UMS’s Chamber Arts series.
- A celebration of young composers by yMusic, featuring works by Caroline Shaw, Missy Mazzoli, Andrew Norman, and other luminaries
- Cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason, who makes his Ann Arbor debut this Fall
- Max Richter’s global chart-topping “recomposition” of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons
UMS presents modern jazz masters this season, whose collaborations and unique sound push the ever-evolving genre into new sonic territory.
- Brooklyn based jazz/funk collective Snarky Puppy opens the season with music from their new album, Immigrance
- Tarek Yamani brings his hypnotic fusion of American jazz and Arabic tarab in his UMS debut
- Multiple Grammy Award winning Chick Corea Trilogy joined by an all-star lineup
- UMS favorites Cécile McLorin Salvant and Aaron Diehl join forces in two sets, improvising on the Great American Songbook
Sign up for UMS’s weekly newsletter to get notified about new playlist updates and releases. In addition to “guest list” takeovers, UMS will have dynamic playlists that update regularly with new tracks, including:
A preview of upcoming performances at UMS, updated the beginning of each month during the concert season.
Be adventurous. Open your mind and ears to bold new works — in a safe space to listen.
Celebrating 140+ years of UMS’s history presenting legendary artists on the University of Michigan’s great stages.
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.
Editor’s Note: John McLaughlin & Jimmy Herring perform the music of Mahavishnu Orchestra on November 15, 2017. In this post for UMS, Steve Smith, former freelance reporter and critic to The New York Times, writes about the discovery of Mahavishnu Orchestra.
Pressed during a recent interview to recount the stratospheric ascent and rapid demise of the original Mahavishnu Orchestra, the storied powerhouse quintet he had founded in 1971 during the nascent days of jazz-rock fusion, the great British guitarist John McLaughlin offered a paradoxical truism: “Failure is easy to deal with, but success is difficult.”
Success came quickly for the first Mahavishnu lineup: McLaughlin, violinist Jerry Goodman, keyboardist Jan Hammer, bassist Rick Laird, and drummer Billy Cobham. Small wonder: Even in an explosive young scene that Mr. McLaughlin had helped to kick-start with his fiery 1969 debut LP, Extrapolation; as well as his further work that year in drummer Tony Williams’s groundbreaking trio Lifetime; and, ultimately, alongside the legendary trumpeter Miles Davis; nothing that came before the Mahavishnu Orchestra had hinted at this new band’s singular alchemy.
Front and center was Mr. McLaughlin’s breathtaking technique. In terms of speed, precision, and sheer originality, he was virtually without peer. In Jerry Goodman, Mr. McLaughlin had a counterpart who could match every flurry and spiral, while adding classical poise and folksy rusticity. Jan Hammer, beyond providing eloquent support, was taking the new Minimoog synthesizer to new heights of solo display. Rick Laird supplied the earthy tether for his bandmates’ flights; Billy Cobham matched them all with explosive pyrotechnics, while never foregoing a rock-solid groove.
From its start in July of 1971, the band seemed unstoppable. Following a week of rehearsals, the Mahavishnu Orchestra made its debut in a New York City club. The gig was a success, and the band was asked to return the next week. A few days after that engagement, the quintet made its recording debut, The Inner Mounting Flame, a stunning collection of original McLaughlin compositions that sounds fresh, intense, and otherworldly even now.
The album vividly illustrated what set the Mahavishnu Orchestra apart from its fusion-era peers. While other bands in the burgeoning scene offered mixes of fiery display, virtuoso technical ability, funky grooves, sophisticated jazz harmonies, and psychedelic-rock power, Mr. McLaughlin and his mates balanced power with delicacy and restraint. Sophisticated arrangements helped the group live up to the second half of its name, offering textures that truly reached orchestral heights.
Mr. McLaughlin also showed an appreciation of bucolic, songful British folk music. But what truly helped to cement the Mahavishnu Orchestra’s originality was his abiding fascination with the sinuous melodic lines, complex rhythms, and euphoric flow of Indian classical music. An acolyte of the famous guru Sri Chinmoy, who gave the guitarist the name he bestowed upon his band — a compound of “maha” (great) and Vishnu, the Hindu deity — Mr. McLaughlin pursued a devotional path. Onstage, his spiritual side came out in ecstatic outpourings of joyful sound, abetted and amplified by a powerhouse ensemble. (Really, really amplified, according to many accounts.)
Those disparate elements came into still sharper focus and keener balance on the band’s second album, Birds of Fire, released in 1973. By that time the Mahavishnu Orchestra had left nightclubs behind, playing instead to arenas packed with rock sophisticates. One such listener, the insightful music critic Bill Milkowski, described seeing the Mahavishnu Orchestra in 1973, opening for Frank Zappa, in his 1998 book Rockers, Jazzbos & Visionaries: Interviews with 30 of Contemporary Music’s Most Outstanding and Significant Figures:
The leader was dressed in all white and had a spiritual demeanor about him. He put his hands together in a praying gesture before they lit into their first song and humbly asked for quiet in the auditorium. …[W]hen drummer Billy Cobham, sitting behind an arsenal of drums and roto toms that looked as imposing as a battleship, counted off the first tune and the band jumped on it, my hair stood on end. And when McLaughlin bore down on his double-neck guitar during one solo, I practically fell to my knees with my teeth chattering.
The English guitar legend Jeff Beck described the sensation more succinctly. “Watching them was an education,” he told Mahavishnu biographer Walter Kolosky for the 2005 book Power, Passion and Beauty — The Story of the Legendary Mahavishnu Orchestra. “It was like having your pants ripped off and politely put back on again.”
The Mahavishnu Orchestra had become an extraordinary sensation virtually overnight, any band’s dream — or so it might seem. But for a group of five still-young men, some of whom barely had known each other before conjoining their fates, it was too much, too soon. Poor interpersonal communication and divergent lifestyles fed personal tensions; as importantly, the band simply worked itself weary with its whirlwind tour schedule, playing more than 300 shows in its first two years.
Like Icarus on melting wings, the plummet followed inevitably. Sessions taped in June 1973 for a third studio album — significantly, the first meant to include compositions by other band members — were abandoned. Instead, Between Nothingness and Eternity, a live album taped in New York City’s Central Park in August and made up entirely of material from the scrapped LP, would serve as the original Mahavishnu Orchestra’s swansong. (The abandoned tapes, issued in 1999 as The Lost Trident Sessions, attested to both lofty goals and flagging spirits.)
Daunted yet still devoted, Mr. McLaughlin soldiered on: with a bigger, more ornate Mahavishnu lineup featuring the prodigious violinist Jean-Luc Ponty and, for one LP, a full symphony orchestra; with the pioneering acoustic Indian-fusion group Shakti; with an intense trio featuring fellow guitarists Paco de Lucia and Al Di Meola. A third Mahavishnu incarnation surfaced in 1984, featuring prominent guitar synthesizer, the flamboyant electric bassist Jonas Hellborg, and, briefly, Cobham back on the drum throne. Since the 1990s Mr. McLaughlin has fronted a string of distinguished groups under his own name, the latest of which, the 4th Dimension, puts a fresh, personal spin on the trademark fusion of poise and power that marked the original Mahavishnu Orchestra.
That band’s influence has been proclaimed now not only by countless jazz-fusion bands, but also by seemingly unlikely followers: hardcore punk guitarist Greg Ginn of Black Flag, art-rock band the Mars Volta, death-metal group Cynic…and Jimmy Herring, the former Allman Brothers Band guitarist whose teenage discovery of the Mahavishnu Orchestra opened his ears and changed his life.
“When you heard Mahavishnu, it was electric and really loud like rock and roll, but my God…the incredible passion and the rhythmic complexities of what was going on and the deep harmony, that’s all part of jazz,” Herring recently told Rolling Stone. “I heard the music, and my reaction was immediate.” How fitting, then, that this particular acolyte should be on hand now to help the master McLaughlin take his final bows before US audiences — and to help fan the Mahavishnu Orchestra’s inner mounting flame once more, for devotees and newcomers alike.
Steve Smith is the director of publications at National Sawdust in Brooklyn, New York. He was assistant arts editor at the Boston Globe, where his beat included classical music, pop music, and the visual arts. He also served as a music editor at Time Out New York and contributed to The New York Times as a freelance reporter and critic.
The John McLaughlin & Jimmy Herring return to Ann Arbor to perform Music of Mahavishnu Orchestra on Wednesday, November 15, 2017.
Artist Interview: Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, Kenny Rampton
University of Michigan student Teagan Faran spent Summer 2016 with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra as part of the UMS 21st Century Artist Internship program. The interview below is with Kenny Rampton, trumpet with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. The group returns to Ann Arbor with pianist Chick Corea on March 31, 2018.
Photo: Left to right, Wynton Marsalis, Ryan Kisor, Kenny Rampton, and Marcus Printup. Photo by Frank Stewart.
Teagan Faran: How long have you been working with Jazz Lincoln Center?
Kenny Rampton: I joined full time in June 2010. I’ve been kind of in and out as a sub more or less since the 90s. I’ve known Wynton for a long time and had also been in and out of the band before it was an established, regular band. In the beginning, it was kind of a mix with players – maybe nine trumpet players – and Wynton would call upon us, and we’d play depending on who’s available. We were all freelancing with different bands and then eventually became a set band.
TF: What about the organization attracted you to join? What makes JLCO stand out?
KR: First and foremost is the educational aspect of it. I grew up in Las Vegas, and when I was a little kid, my parents were involved in music education. My mom actually fought the school district in Clark County, Nevada where I grew up because they were trying to fire all the music teachers in elementary schools. My mom was against that. She fought the school district to make sure that there was music education in the schools from elementary school on. My dad was a percussionist, and he played in all the schools for the kids. They were both about music education and from the time I was born, music education has been part of my life.
Coming here to New York, I was touring with Ray Charles and then with Mingus Band and Jimmy McGriff. They were all great gigs, but what makes JLCO and this organization stand out more than anything else is the education. We do a lot. I just finished a master class in Poland. I did one in Cuba and others all throughout South America. We do education all over the world. To me, that’s extremely important. For me, it’s full circle. It’s continuing my parents’ work.
The other thing is that it’s just a really good band. I like playing with people who are better than me. Playing in this trumpet session with Ryan Kisor, Marcus Printup and Wynton. It’s just inspiring.
TF: Do you feel like it’s more beneficial to be with the same people in a band and get to know them?
KR: With this band, yes. I’ve done other gigs, like Broadway shows where you’re playing the same music every night, the exact same way. That can be grueling. One thing about this band is that it’s the same people, but we’re always doing new music. Normally, most of the concerts we do are brand new arrangements for that specific concert.
We’re always challenging each other with the arrangements in the band, so that keeps it interesting and helps to maintain an environment where we’re all continuously growing. The better you get, the deeper you get into it, the more you realize there’s always room for improvement. No matter how good you get, there’s always another level to get to. It’s great.
TF: As a musician and arts educator, what do you think is different about what you’re trying to accomplish nowadays, as opposed to 10 or 15 years ago?
KR: For me personally, I’m more conscious of what it is I’m trying to do. I have more direction. Before, when I first got into playing music, it was something I was good at. I was drawn to music because of that, and it was about my ego. Then, I started to become aware that music is actually not about me. It’s actually my purpose. I consider music to be a spirit that touches people and can make a difference. I started to become more aware of that and realized that when we play music, it affects people’s mood. People can come out of a gig feeling good or feeling bad. We can consciously go into it, wanting to make a difference in somebody else and how they feel.
My purpose changed after realizing this. That’s the biggest difference for me in the last decade, as I started to see music as my way of making a positive difference on the planet and life. I started seeing music as something that can really change a life and make a real difference. You realize that music can touch the heart, the spirit, and raise their vibration. Because that’s what music is, it’s a vibration. It becomes more than about me and having somebody to tell me how good I sound. It becomes a spiritual quest or a calling.
There’re so many great humanistic qualities to learning to play jazz music that we can teach students. Whether they become professional musicians or not isn’t the point, but they will become better people. You can’t help but become a better person when you have empathy and when you know how to negotiate and work with other people.
You might be in disagreement about something, but you still work together and you find a common ground, that’s what music teaches us. When we teach students, I always stress that understanding. That’s really what it’s about.
TF: What would you say to a student who’s on the fence about attending the concert?
KR: Why would somebody be on the fence about attending a concert to hear good music? To any student, I say check out everyone and any concert you can that can possibly open up doors and inside yourself. It’s not even necessarily about doors to meet players and network, there’s that. You meet people so you network, and the more opportunities you can have to meet people who are doing what it is that you want to do, the better for networking purposes.
Beyond that, you never know when somebody on that stage is going to play something extraordinary. As a student, you sit there in the audience and think, “Wow, I didn’t know that can be done on the saxophone.” It’s going to open up something that makes you want to practice and to be inspired.
Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra returns to Ann Arbor with Chick Corea on March 31, 2018.
Artist Interview: Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, Vincent Gardner
Editor’s Note: University of Michigan student Teagan Faran spent several weeks with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra as part of the UMS 21st Century Artist Internship program. Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra is returning to Ann Arbor on March 4, 2017. The interview below is with Vincent Gardner, lead trombonist with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.
Photo: Vincent Gardner with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. Photo by Frank Stewart.
Teagan Faran: Could you tell us about your role at the JLCO?
Vincent Gardner: I’m the lead trombonist with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. I’m also the director of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra Youth Orchestra, and I’m the Swing University professor. I teach classes here on jazz history and different aspects of jazz history. I’ve been here about 16 years.
TF: What about Jazz at Lincoln Center attracted to you initially?
VG: I guess when I first joined the band, I was what I’m still now, just a trombone player, who just had to play with the best musicians possible – well, musicians that I like and get along with and enjoy making music with. Those are also the ones who would inspire me to get better playing.
That was the biggest draw for Jazz at Lincoln Center. It’s a great organization. It inspires me and allows me to contribute to it. More so than just being a trombone player in a band, that is the difference. Here I have a chance to be a lot more invested in everything that goes on.
TF: Is there anything else that you would say makes Jazz at Lincoln Center stand out?
VG: I’m encouraged to connect to every part of the music. I think it’s essential in jazz music that you are always connected to every part of the music, not just what you play on your instrument. They’ve taken that philosophy here and put it into an institution, and that’s the greatest thing. You get to be involved. You’re encouraged to be involved as much as you want to be.
TF: What suggestions would you have for other ensembles that want to integrate music into their community in the same way that Jazz at Lincoln Center has?
VG: I would imagine that just about every community has great musicians or somebody doing great things in music or in the arts. You have to embrace those people and bring that community together under the guise of an institution that embraces all of the people who are doing great things for the arts.
We are a very big and prominent institution here in the city. In a smaller city, if you want to start an institution, you wouldn’t necessarily expect it to be as big, but it could still be very influential. You have to find out who the movers and shakers are in the arts. Who are the people that are genuinely trying to advance the arts and arts education in your city. Find out who the greatest teachers are, most genuine and greatest teachers are. Find the most talented kids, always get around the most talent.
It’s kind of the same thing playing in this group, being around the most talent and being around people who are most motivated. Once you find those people in any situation, you’ll find that you have similar goals.
TF: As a performing artist and arts educator, what are the biggest challenges you feel you’re facing today?
VG: Well, they are the same challenges. They’re not different. The biggest challenge is making sure that the same information is being communicated in the best way. For example, let’s talk about music instruction. The way they teach jazz music is not standardized. You have people who have the title of jazz educator or jazz band director, who are teaching complete misinformation to their students. Their bands don’t sound as good as a result, but because there is no other local standard or no standardized way of teaching it, they think it sounds fine. The community thinks it sounds fine because the community doesn’t really know the music anymore.
That’s one of the biggest things. You don’t find that in classical music, you don’t find that in other music. It’s only in jazz music, which is the music of this country, that you find such disparity in the level of teaching. That’s the thing I see the most in my teaching and in my traveling. It’s very hard at this point to standardize it and make sure it’s all on a high level.
TF: What would you say to a student who’s on the fence about attending a JLCO concert?
VG: I’d say, “It won’t hurt.” It definitely won’t hurt anything, and you’re going to hear a band full of great musicians, playing genuine music that has the ability to connect with people. It’s not something that’s marketed towards any one person or was ever meant to be reserved for any one group of people. That’s inherent in the sound of Swing. It can’t be played in a way that restricts it from anybody. It’s not possible to do that.
I would say that you will come, and you will find something in there that does connect with you. It could be different for every person, but it will be there because it’s inherent in music. It’s meant to connect with people. That’s the thing I would tell somebody: Take a chance. Everyone should give jazz a chance. Everyone should go to jazz concerts a few times a year.
Go to reconnect with that American ideal put into music – what’s great about society, about being American, and about people from anywhere.
Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra returns to Ann Arbor on March 4, 2017.
Artist Interview: Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, Carlos Henriquez
Editor’s Note: University of Michigan student Teagan Faran spent several weeks with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra as part of the UMS 21st Century Artist Internship program. Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra is returning to Ann Arbor on March 4, 2017. The interview below is with Carlos Henriquez, bassist with Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.
Photo: Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Carlos Henriquez on bass. Courtesy of the artist.
Teagan Faran: How long have you been with Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra?
Carlos Henriquez: About 15 years now.
TF: What about the organization attracted you to it?
CH: I was 13 when I met Wynton [Marsalis] through the Music Advancement Program at Juilliard. I just started hanging around him and going to some of the rehearsals. I started playing at the rehearsals, too, and then, just hanging. One thing led to another.
TF: What about Jazz Lincoln Center makes it stand out from other musical organizations to you?
CH: It’s the educational portion of it, the outreach program. JLCO is always looking for talent but also supporting other musical programs.
TF: What would you suggest to other ensembles that want to be a part of the community the way that Jazz Lincoln Center is in Manhattan?
CH: Well, I think they can look at the model for educational programming at JLCO. Many shows produced by JLCO start on a very small scale. It’s good to involve your community like we’ve done in New York and just find people who are really into the arts
TF: What are some of the challenges you think you face as a performer nowadays?
CH: The biggest challenge is the times. Times are changing, so what’s happening is that people are either not informed or their knowledge of music is very limited. People are more informed about pop culture than other culture. It’s complicated.
TF: What is the performance dynamic like in Ann Arbor?
CH: It’s always been an educational environment. Every time I’ve been there, it’s always working with students and the students seeing us play. That part is so great. Ann Arbor is also not far from Detroit, and there’re so many great Jazz musicians who come through that region. Every time we go, we usually meet great musicians and even play with them.
Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra returns to Ann Arbor on March 4, 2017.
Playlist: An Intro to Jazz Vocalists
Photo: Cécile McLorin Salvant, who performs with pianist Aaron Diehl in Ann Arbor on February 19, 2017. Photo by Mark Mitton.
What is Jazz singing? Jazz vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant explains in an interview with NPR just what this means to her. Salvant began her training as a classical singer, she says, but she was drawn to the deeper huskier sounds of her lower register. These are the sounds that jazz singers lean into and the ones that classical singers try to refine. In fact, these deeper sounds are a trademark of one of her early vocal infatuations, Sarah Vaughan.
Salvant says that she frustrated her classical teachers with the breathier tone quality of her middle voice, which is specifically referred to in classical training as the passage between the two registers: high and low. But this breathy tone quality also gives Salvant warmth and style that’s been compared to the qualities of the famous jazz singers that came before here, like Ella Fitzgerald.
That isn’t to say that Salvant’s classical training hasn’t informed the beauty of her tone in a positive way (listen to her crystal clear high register on “What a Little Moonlight Can Do,” below). Rather, Salvant explains that her goal is to sound as natural and unaffected as possible. This combination of training and creative ingenuity has resulted in an emerging virtuoso who proves to be just as capable as the legends that preceded her.
So, jazz listeners in search for a fresh voice: You needn’t worry.
You will find refreshing style, talent, and class in Salvant (she comes to UMS in February!). Though having sung jazz professionally for less than ten years, Salvant has been decorated with top accolades and honors. These include the top honor at the Thelonious Monk Vocal Jazz Competition in Washington D.C., as well as a Grammy nomination for Best Jazz Vocal Album for her debut studio album, Woman Child. She won in that same category with her album For One To Love.
Salvant’s voice has been described quite aptly by Ben Ratliff in the New York Times: “She sings clearly, with her full pitch range, from a pronounced low end to full and distinct high notes, used sparingly […] Her voice clamps into each song, performing careful variations on pitch, stretching words but generally not scatting…”
She applies this thoughtful articulation of sound to repertoire that is just as unique as her performances. She chooses songs that interest her, which are often minimally recorded and unknown. In this way, she is a gift to the jazz world. She breathes timeless life into the genre itself, and Ann Arbor audiences might have witnessed this for themselves when she performed at the 2014 Ann Arbor Summer Festival.
On Sunday, February 19, 2017, pianist Aaron Diehl and vocalist extraordinaire Cécile McLorin Salvant perform together for Jelly and George, turning the spotlight on timeless classics and little-known gems by jazz masters Jelly Roll Morton and George Gershwin.
Ahead of the performance, please enjoy the following playlist that showcases Salvant’s work alongside the work of some of her vocal inspirations.
Falling Up and Getting Down: Special Message from Andy Macdonald
This season, our season-opening event co-presentation with Friends of the Ann Arbor Skatepark in collaboration with City of Ann Arbor Parks & Recreation.
On September 11, as part of the Ann Arbor Skatepark’s third annual celebration, UMS and Friends of the Ann Arbor Skatepark give back to the community with a unique event that brings together artists and athletes in unexpected ways. With Ann Arbor local and X Games legend Andy Macdonald leading a group of celebrated skateboarders and Jason Moran & The Bandwagon providing the charts, this 360-degree immersion showcases the art of improvisation in both music and sport.
Here’s a special message from Andy Macdonald:
This event is free, but registration is required.
Expand Your Musical Taste with Kamasi Washington
Kamasi Washington on the cover of The Epic. Image courtesy of the artist.
If you’re a Kendrick Lamar fan looking to expand your musical taste, or add more variety to your Spotify Playlists, your search just might bring you to a new genre. Listeners of To Pimp a Butterfly are aware of the album’s passionate social message, artistry, and musical poise. Yet, what they may not know is that one of the artists who worked with Kendrick Lamar on the record is leaving behind a legacy of his own.
Saxophonist and jazz artist Kamasi Washington fuses together genres of jazz, electronic, and hip-hop in a musical burst bound to catch and stimulate your ear.
Washington has soared to stardom within the jazz community, yet hip-hop fans may need some additional encouragement to give this artist a listen. Here it comes. Last year, Washington released The Epic, a three-disc 173-minute album, to unanimous critical acclaim.
Ann Arborites can see Washington perform his masterpiece, alongside his band The Next Step, live on September 30 at the Michigan Theater.
You might also be interested to know:
#1 Most of The Epic was recorded in a 30-day binge session
#2 Washington recorded his first album with The Young Jazz Giants the summer after his freshman year of college at UCLA
#3 During his second year of college, Washington went on a West Coast tour with Snoop Dogg
#4 Washington collaborated with Kendrick Lamar on To Pimp A Butterfly
#5 The Epic debuted #1 on iTunes Jazz charts in US, Canada, Australia, Russia, and UK
#6 Washington has been described as “the most talked about jazz musician since Wynton Marsalis” by the New York Times
#7 The writer Greg Tate calls Washington the ‘‘jazz voice of Black Lives Matter,’’ and says that his music offers ‘‘a healing force, a place of regeneration when you’re trying to deal with the trauma of being black in America.’’
#8 Washington has recorded and performed with music icons such as Lauryn Hill, Quincy Jones, and Chaka Khan
For your listening, a playlist of music by other artists featuring Kamasi Washington:
See Kamasi Washington & The Next Step at Michigan Theater on September 30, 2016.