Two brilliant pianists sparkle across the Jazz Museum’s transom this week. Toshiko Akiyoshi joins us for an extended interview at Harlem Speaks about her fabled career as an influential bandleader/composer. And Onaje Alan Gumbsjoins us for Harlem in the Himalayas in a sublime concert setting along with bassist Avery Sharpe.
Add to that our weekly Jazz for Curious Listeners, which focuses on jazz on film in the 1930’s (Ellington, Billie Holiday, Goodman, Lunceford for starters) and you’ve got a typically exciting menu of jazz to contemplate.
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
Jazz for Curious Listeners
Jazz on Film: The '3Os
7:00 – 8:30pm
Location: NJMIH Visitors Center
(104 E. 126th Street, Suite 2C)
FREE | register online
Known as the “Swing Era” by historians of jazz, the 1930s heralded the primacy of the big band in American popular culture. Orchestras led by Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Benny Goodman, the Dorsey Brothers and Cab Calloway, among others, gave millions a soundtrack for the period, as radio shows spread the joy of jazz across the nation. But jazz was also caught on film, as this evening’s discussion and videos will make abundantly clear.
Thursday, March 12, 2009
Toshiko Akiyoshi, pianist
6:30 – 8:30pm
Location: NJMIH Visitors Center
(104 E. 126th Street, Suite 2C)
FREE | For more info: 212-348-8300
Toshiko Akiyoshi's unique contributions to the jazz world have evolved like falling dominoes through a series of events that started with a piano-loving little Japanese girl in Manchuria and brought her to prominence as an unparalleled pianist, composer and leader of the Toshiko Akiyoshi Jazz Orchestra.
Akiyoshi's interest in the piano started at age six, and by the time her family had moved back to Japan at the end of World War II. She had developed a real love for music, and soon began playing piano professionally, which eventually led to her being discovered by pianist Oscar Peterson in 1952 during a Norman Granz Jazz at the Philharmonic tour of Japan. On Peterson’s recommendation, Toshiko recorded for Granz, and not long after, she went to the U.S. to study at the Berklee School of Music in Boston.
Her years in Boston, and later on in New York, developed her into a first class pianist. Her interest in composing and arranging came to fruition when she moved to Los Angeles in 1972 with her husband, saxophonist/flutist Lew Tabackin. The following year they formed the world-renowned big band that became known as the Toshiko Akiyoshi Jazz Orchestra featuring Lew Tabackin. The band, which began as a vehicle for Toshiko's own compositions, grew in stature during its 10 years on the west coast and gained a reputation as one of the most excellent and innovative big bands in jazz. In 1976 the band placed first in the Down Beat Critics' Poll and her album, Long Yellow Road, was named best jazz album of the year by Stereo Review.
In 1982 the couple returned to New York, where Toshiko reformed her band with New York musicians, In 1983 the new Toshiko Akiyoshi Jazz Orchestra featuring Lew Tabackin had a critically successful debut at Carnegie Hall as part of the Kool Jazz Festival. That same year a documentary film by Renee Cho depicting the Akiyoshi/Tabackin move from L.A. to New York was released, entitled "Jazz is My Native Language" (Rhapsody Video).
Toshiko recorded 18 albums with the Jazz Orchestra, garnering 14 Grammy Award nominations since 1976. The band was also voted #1 in Down Beat magazine's Best Big Band category, and Toshiko has placed first in the Best Arranger and Composer category in the Down Beat Readers' Poll, making her the first woman in the history of jazz to have been so honored.
Toshiko realized a long time dream in 1996 when she completed her autobiography. "Life With Jazz." The book is now in its third printing in Japanese and will soon be translated into Korean.
The Orchestra followed the great Duke Ellington tradition of using each musician's individual sound and style as an integral part of the ensemble's musical identity. To this Akiyoshi adds her own complex, boppish lines and contemporary colors and textures, mingled with elements of her Asian roots to produce a sound that has no equal in jazz.
Summing up her own career, Toshiko, with characteristic modesty commented in an interview with the San Bernardino Sun, "I would hope that my work might have more substance and more quality rather than quantity of notes. And I hope the notes I produce today are more selective than 20 years ago."
Friday, March 13, 2009
Harlem in the Himalayas
Onaje Allan Gumbs with Avery Sharpe
Location: Rubin Museum of Art
(150 West 17th Street)
$18 in advance | $20 at door |
Box Office: 212.620.5000 ext. 344
Onaje Allan Gumbs, a guest of Harlem Speaks in July 2007, is one of the industry’s most respected and talented musical collaborators. He has worked for more than 30 years with an illustrious list of jazz, R&B and pop artists. In 1974, he created a special arrangement of “Stella By Starlight” for the New York Jazz Repertory Company as part of a concert honoring Miles Davis at Carnegie Hall. He followed that with live and recorded performances with such artists as Lenny White, Buster Williams, Cecil McBee and Betty Carter. In 1975, Onaje joined forces with trumpeter, Nat Adderley as part of his quintet contributing to the group’s releases on Atlantic and Steeplechase Records. Producer Nils Winter of Steeplechase upon hearing Onaje’s improvisations, invited the young pianist to record a solo piano project entitled Onaje.
In 1976, he provided the arrangement for the song that was to become the signature piece for the late great vocalist Phyllis Hyman, “Betcha By Golly Wow.” In 1978, the Woody Shaw Group, for which Onaje was pianist, won the Down Beat Reader’s Poll for Best Jazz Group and for Best Jazz Album (Rosewood).The album was later nominated for a Grammy. In 1985, Onaje lent his keyboard and arrangement skills to “Lady In My Life” on guitarist Stanley Jordan’s widely acclaimed debut album, Magic Touch on Blue Note Records.This was the first jazz album in history to maintain the #1 spot atop Billboard Magazine’s jazz charts for more than 50 weeks.
In 1986, Onaje received the “Min-on Art Award”...”in recognition of his great contribution to the promotion and development of a new musical movement for people with the aim of the creation of Peace...” Previous recipients of this prestigious honor include Tina Turner, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, and Buster Williams. Motivated by the goal for World Peace, Onaje uses the practice of Nicherin Daishonin’s Buddhism as a philosophical, spiritual and technical approach to his life and his music.
Onaje Allan Gumbs, whose most recent recording is titled “Sack Full of Dreams,” continues to contribute his talents as a keyboardist, composer, arranger and producer. As he states: “Music has a healing force that is immeasurable and I am committed to being a part of it.”
Bassist Avery Sharpe was born in Valdosta, Georgia on August 23, 1954. His first instrument was the piano. “I started playing when I was eight years old,” he recalls. “My mother was a piano player in the Church of God in Christ, and she gave lessons to everybody in the family — I'm the sixth of eight children — but it didn't stick until it got to me.” He moved on to accordion and then switched to electric bass in high school.
In 1972, Sharpe enrolled at the University of Massachusetts, where he majored in Economics and minored in music, and continued to play electric bass in gospel, funk, and rock groups. While at UMass, he met the jazz bassist Reggie Workman, who encouraged him to learn the acoustic bass. Sharpe adapted quickly to the big instrument, and within a few years he was performing with such notables as Archie Shepp and Art Blakey. Shepp and Max Roach, his professors at the time, had a major influence on him. Sharpe also performed in orchestra and chamber groups at UMass, and completed one year of graduate school in Music Performance. In 1980, he auditioned with McCoy Tyner and won a spot in the pianist's group. He has worked with Tyner almost continuously since then, playing hundreds of live gigs and appearing on more than 20 records with him.
Sharpe's credits also include sideman stints with many other jazz greats, from Dizzy Gillespie to Pat Metheny, as well as leading his own groups. His first recording as a leader was the 1988 album Unspoken Words on Sunnyside Records, which was praised by critic Jim Roberts as “a diverse, challenging record that rewards repeated listening.” In 1994, he recorded Extended Family, the first CD of a trilogy released on Sharpe's own label, JKNM Records.
In 1989, he wrote and conducted the soundtrack for the movie An Unremarkable Life; a decade later, his six-movement piece America's Promise debuted in a concert-hall performance that featured Sharpe's quintet and a gospel choir backed by the Springfield (Mass.) Symphony Orchestra. In the 1990's Sharpe was commissioned by the Classical group Fideleo to write 3 extended works for them.
Regardless of the setting, Avery Sharpe always brings both exceptional musical skill and unswerving honesty to the endeavor. His duo performance with Onaje Allan Gumbs promises to render the immeasurable healing and empowering wonder of jazz.
104 East 126th Street, Suite 2C
Monday through Friday 10 a.m. - 4 p.m
close to 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 trains to 125th Street
We’re waiting for you! Yes, that’s right. Our new Visitors Center is now open Monday through Friday (10 a.m. – 4 p.m.) and chock full of books, CDs and DVDs for your perusal. There is also a first-class exhibit of photos on the walls, so we hope you will come up and see us and also spread the word to any other curious folk who want to spend some time getting jazzed in Harlem.
Also, to find audio and video clips, event summaries, program updates and photographs galore from our previous events, venture here: