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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.

"nested" pianos on Hill Auditorium stage

Hill Auditorium stage: April 16, 2015
Photo by Mark Jacobson, UMS

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:

January 26, 1978 concert poster found in Lee Berry's office.

January 26, 1978 concert poster found in Lee Berry’s office.

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.”

220px-Hancock_Corea_EveningThe 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)

Updated 2/19/2021

Introducing UMS Playlists on Apple Music and Spotify

Open your ears to new listening experiences:

Now Playing


Presenting our global artists featured in the 2019/20 ‘Traditions & Crosscurrents’ series.

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Solo Piano

Fall in love with solo works performed by classical and jazz pianists who appear in UMS’s 2019/20 season.

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Discover More

Chamber Arts

Discover the virtuosity and variety of sounds, ensembles, and works by composers featured in UMS’s Chamber Arts series.

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Highlights include:

  • 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


Jazz Redefined

UMS presents modern jazz masters this season, whose collaborations and unique sound push the ever-evolving genre into new sonic territory.

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Highlights include:

Coming Soon

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:

Up Next

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.

UMS Rewind

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.

Warde Manuel, Wynton Marsalis, and Matthew VanBesien

Warde Manuel, Wynton Marsalis, and Matthew VanBesien

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.

School Day Performance

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.

Carlos Henriquez with Students

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.

Wynton Marsalis with Tappan Middle School Students

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.

Mahavishnu Orchestra

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. 

John McLaughlin (left) and Jimmy Herring (right) performing.

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.

archival john mclaughlin photo 1973

John McLaughlin at Zirkus Krone in Munich in 1973.

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.

John McLaughlin and Jimmy Herring

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 Credit: Frank Stewart From left to right: Wynton Marsalis, Ryan Kisor, Kenny Rampton, and Marcus Printup
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.

Updated 6/2/2017

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 Credit: Frank Stewart
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 Credit: Frank Stewart Carlos Henriquez is the bass player to the left
Photo: Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Carlos Henriquez on bass. Courtesy of the artist.

Teagan FaranHow 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 the epic
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.

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

School Day Performance with JLCO

The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and Wynton Marsalis return to Hill Auditorium on March 4, 2016.

The orchestra and Wynton Marsalis have visited Ann Arbor many times since their debut in 1994, and during our 2013-2014 season, the musicians received the UMS Distinguished Artist award. This group is special not only because of their superb music making; the orchestra’s dedication to education programs is also remarkable.

Check out these photos from a School Day performance during our 2013-2014 season. The orchestra on stage:

Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra perform

Wynton Marsalis chats with students after the performance:

Wynton Marsalis speaks to students

Happy students in the auditorium:

Students at UMS School Day performance

Photos by Mark Gjukich Photography.

Last updated 4/29/2016.

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.

Artist Interview: Cuban Pianist Alfredo Rodríguez

Photo: Alfredo Rodríguez. Photo by Anna Webber.

Alfredo Rodríguez is a Cuban pianist and composer. He was born in Havana, Cuba, in 1985. With a well-known Cuban singer as his father, it is no wonder that he has been surrounded by music his entire life. He started studying at the Manuel Saumell Cuban Conservatory at the age of 7, and has been playing and creating music ever since.

Alfredo spent some time talking with us about his experiences in Cuba and in the United States, his thoughts about a musician’s life, and his upcoming work. He’ll perform in Ann Arbor on March 14, 2014 as part of a unique double-bill with Pedrito Martinez Group.

Annick Odom: We know that you’ve played in Ann Arbor and Detroit before, but we’re really excited to have you playing for the first time with UMS in March. Your work draws on jazz and Cuban music traditions. How do you balance these in your own music?

Alfredo Rodríguez: Well, I started as a part of his [my father’s] band when I was very young, about 13. We used to play popular music, music from the traditions of Cuba and his compositions as well. I combined that kind of performing, that kind of ambiance, with the classical school.

In Cuban music, there is a lot of improvisation, but I didn’t know much about improvisation in classical music at that time. My uncle gave me an album called The Köln Concert by Keith Jarrett [the legendary jazz pianist], and that got me into improvisation.

I was used to Cuban traditional music and classical composers like Johann Sebastian Bach, and also to Latin composers. After that CD though, I found the music of many of the pioneers of the be-bop era, a lot of different musicians, mostly from the United States. I was falling in love with the way those composers and instruments created music.

AO: We presented Keith Jarrett in 2000! What exactly about that recording drew you in so much? What made you so excited about improvisation?

AR: Well, my uncle gave me that CD with an idea in mind, because he was not very involved in piano music. He gave me that CD because he knew that I was very into that world. But I wasn’t expecting anything it. I just put it on. It was a great introduction for me because Keith Jarrett had that touch and that knowledge about classical music, and he shows a lot of those influences in his playing. It was a good introduction for me to improvisation and jazz music, too, of course.

AO: You said that you played a lot with your father while growing up and that you played a lot of popular music in Cuba. How would you say that you’ve individualized yourself from previous generations of musicians from Cuba?

AR: I guess I would say that [the musicians in my generation] are changing every day. We have different experiences every day. [My generation] grew up in a different situation than the generations before us in Cuba. We had different problems, different ways of living, [different] points of view. And of course those differences are the reasons that music changes too.

What I like to do with my music is to just express the present, just express how I am feeling, what I am going through in that exact moment. I guess what I am trying to say is that everybody always has something to say, and it is always different for everybody. And that kind of honesty is what I look for in terms of music, and in terms of living my life.

So it’s very simple for me, I just try to express who I am when I play my music and compose. I try and show my [Cuban] roots and also the transculturation that I have been living since I have been here in the United States.

AO: Do you find yourself playing any differently since you moved to the US or do you play pretty similarly to when you lived in Cuba?

AR: No, I’ve definitely changed. The United States is a different country with different culture, which has been a very positive process for me in terms of learning.

[Cuba] is an island, and due to the country’s political history we have been only around Cubans for more than 50 years. The culture that we have been creating for so many years is very unique and powerful because we are surrounded by Cubans, but at the same time, it’s contradictory because we haven’t had the opportunity to have confrontation and transculturation with different cultures.

I wanted to know different cultures and meet different people with different points of view so that I could incorporate all of that into myself and reflect it in my music.

AO: Let’s talk about your upcoming concert here in Ann Arbor. Who will be coming with you? What will you perform? Can you also talk a little bit about your upcoming album?

AR: Actually I am releasing my next album The Invasion Parade on March 4th, which is going to be very, very close to the concert [in Ann Arbor on March 14]. I am going to be featuring the same trio that I had for my album at the concert. We are featuring different artists, but the main trio that I perform with is Peter Slavov, a Bulgarian bass player, and Henry Cole, a drummer from Puerto Rico.

We are going to be performing the music on this upcoming album as well as music from the past. But to be honest, music is very natural and spontaneous for us, so we just like to play songs that will fit in the moment that we are living.

It’s difficult to say exactly what songs we’ll play or even what the music is going to sound like. I guess what I mean to say is that we have the message that we want to tell people: 70% of my music is improvisation, and the other part is rhythm. So it’s kind of unexpected, and in that way, we learn more from ourselves.

AO: You’re sharing the bill with Pedrito Martinez. Have you ever played with him before?

AR: It’s very funny because Pedrito is part of my album [The Invasion Parade], too. I love his playing! Pedrito is one of the musicians coming out of Cuba that I admire so much because of his incorporation of our culture into his vocals and percussion. And speaking of my album, it also features Esperenza Spalding, and horn players from Cuba and Puerto Rico. But yeah, speaking of Pedrito, we have a really, really close relationship in both in terms of music and friendship.

AO: It seems that you are already thinking a lot about the upcoming months, but where do you see your music going even further into the future?

AR: That is a good question. To be honest, I don’t think too much about the future. What I can share with you is something that I’ve been working on since the past, until today, which is creating music.

I am also currently writing a lot of music for the symphony. The premiere of my first symphonic work will be this year in November, and I will be performing one of my compositions with an orchestra at the Barcelona Jazz Festival. And I’m working on new music for my trio and my upcoming CDs.

I do it [compose music] because I just need it. It’s like water for me. If I am inspired, I write something. I’m just composing music, doing what I like to do. I feel very fortunate about that because I just have the opportunity to live from what I love to do, and I am very grateful for that.

Interested in more? Check out Alfredo’s new album or get tickets to his performance with Pedrito Martinez Group in Ann Arbor on March 14, 2014.

WEMU Music Director Linda Yohn on Fred Hersch

“Life is precious to Fred Hersch, and you can tell it in every single note.” We chat with Linda Yohn, music director of WEMU 89.1 FM, about the music and life of jazz pianist Fred Hersch, whose trio performs two sets in Ann Arbor on January 30, 2014.

Educator Conversations: Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis

Editor’s note: This post is a part of a series of conversations between educators in the K-12 community. Educators will offer suggestions and answer questions about integrating UMS School Day Performances or the arts into classroom curriculum, as well as share advice on organizing a field trip to UMS. To volunteer to be a Teacher Lobby Moderator e-mail Or, check out other Educator Conversations.

This week’s questions:

  • What does Jazz music have in common with the music of Mozart and Haydn?
  • How does Jazz music reflect the values of African-American culture from which it came?
  • How do you find yourself improvising in your life?

lindajones-200xThis week’s moderator: Linda Jones. Linda has taught music, math and media in the Ypsilanti Schools from 1999 to 2012. She is currently director of the Ann Arbor Civic Chorus. She has taught jazz history, composition, improvisation and performance as well as acting and creative movement at the elementary level and collaborated with bassist Paul Keller, drummer Sean Dobbins, and pianist Ellen Rowe. She has training as an Orff Music Educator and currently serves as Treasurer to the Greater Detroit Orff Schulwerk Association. She has presented workshops on Jazz improvisation and Composition through Garage Band.

Q: What does Jazz music have in common with the music of Mozart and Haydn?

They both use western harmonic progressions, they both use the same instruments, especially percussion, winds and brass and bass violins. They both have soloists and ensembles. Improvisation is at the heart of Jazz and traditionally there was also improvisation in Baroque performances.
What else can you add to this list?

Q: How does Jazz music reflect the values of African-American culture from which it came?

Everyone has a voice and contributes equally to the ensemble.
Everyone has a chance to shine and show their individual talent.
Collaboration is very important.
Lyrics reflect the reality of life, the loves and struggles, the hope and the suffering.
Talent is mentored and held to a high standard.
Rhythm is the basis of music that cooks, this rhythm flows through all of African-American life.
What else would you include in this list?

Q: How do you find yourself improvising in your life?

I find that teaching is filled with chances to improvise. Lesson plans are only an outline, the craft is in fitting those plans with the needs of the learners present on that day. Any time I am leading a choral rehearsal, I am improvising wildly as I find ways to help the choir improve. Driving also presents plenty of chances to improvise, especially if different routes are possible to get to the destination.
How do you improvise?

Do you have questions or comments for Linda about his approach to this performance or about teaching through performance more broadly? Share your responses or questions in the comments section below.