Last night we played New Orleans, the home of soul. We were the last performance of a two and a half week opening of the refurbished Saenger Theatre that featured 8 different shows – a lot of work! The attendance was underwhelming, but the reception was enthusiastic. Poppy Tooker brought the trumpet section some of her world famous gumbo and we quietly devoured it. I can’t name all of the great musicians and artists that came last night, and the choir sang their hearts out. I was very proud to be up there with them. They showed a lot of integrity and resilience. As always, the orchestra, with many members having been raised by parents who played real jazz, played the music with deep dedication. Our trombone section played as if they had something to prove last night. Whatever it was, they proved it.
Today, we’re going to hear from a man that grew up in the Big Easy. A master teacher of music and math, Saint Augustine High School alumnus, past member of the Jesuit Elementary School Honor Band, master tactician in pick-up games, possessor of a boudoir tenor sound and a clear ringing Crescent City Creole clarinet style that reaches back to Alphonse Picou, Mr. Victor Goines:
Celebration, Music and Food!!!
These three words are often associated with New Orleans. Our stop here on Saturday and the performance last night provided an opportunity for everyone associated with this Mass – Chorale Le Chateau, Jazz at Lincoln Orchestra and the audience – to be fed and nourished in the communal celebration of something historic.
Gumbo is better on the second day, and so is the Abyssinian Mass. The seasonings and ingredients of the music have had an opportunity to settle through repeated performances, and the ensembles are becoming indivisible as we become more familiar with the work and each other. Everyone has become more interactive, adventurous and committed to this piece, just as Wynton was in its creation. By the end of this tour, I think this could be JALC’s most successful and fulfilling artistic collaboration.
The audience at the Saenger was not as plentiful as we would have hoped, but it was as powerful and appreciative as everyone would have expected. As I was leaving the theatre, I ran into a long-time educator from New Orleans and a person deeply committed to American culture, Ms. Lorraine Wilson. What she said touched me deeply and stays with me. She said, “This work is fantastic and you all performed it wonderfully. It moved me in such an emotional way that it brought tears to my eyes. When I die, I want you to tell them they don’t have to have a ceremony or anything like that for me – just play the music of the Abyssinian Mass to send me home!!!”
We are heading to Houston for a performance this evening at The Fountain of Praise. Tonight will be the last of three church performances on this tour and we want to express our deep appreciation to Pastor Remus E. Wright and Co-Pastor Mia K. Wright for welcoming us into their home.
Our road crew is ever vigilant. When we are off, many times they are working. Today we will hear from our Assistant Director of Concerts and Touring, Eric Wright. Eric’s family joined us for the performance in Norfolk on the 5th (seems like a year ago) and brought the love and feeling of engagement that family brings when they gather in support. Cats in the band love him. He also has a great game in all sports, baseball, football and basketball. Eric:
I was in Augusta on July 25th to determine what was needed to produce a concert at Good Shepherd Church. JALC colleague, Alex Knowlton, and I connected with church trustee Fitzgerald Ryan and also met Robert “Flash” Gordon who has owned Pyramid Records for over 30 years. Flash is a local icon and still, today, all concert tickets in Augusta are sold via Pyramid Records.
After returning to NYC, our production manager and audio engineer, David Robinson, and I decided to design a stage using as much of the church infrastructure as possible and hire local production for minimal help. Plan A.
After the October 8th performance in Charlotte, it was evident that the staging of a 70 person choir and the JLCO would not work in Good Shepherd as planned.
David and I went to Augusta on our off day to come up with Plan B. There we met with Trey Maxwell of Trace Audio to figure out how to fit 86 people on a 20’ x 40’ stage with an unmovable three foot wall twelve feet from the front of the stage. We decided to use the trapezoid Wenger risers that we luckily brought from our home in New York, Frederick P. Rose Hall, just in case we needed to use them on tour.
On Thursday, October 10, I drove the JLCO equipment truck from Athens to Augusta to supervise the audio load-in, the piano moving and the execution of Plan B.
During the setup it was discovered that Plan B was not going to work. The infrastructure on each side of the stage was not measured correctly so we needed to come up with Plan C. This plan is always, “make something work because we don’t have any time.”
After some discussion, Trey and I decided to custom build a wooden section on each side of the stage for the sopranos and altos of the choir. We finished setting up the church in Augusta around 7pm, and I drove back to Athens for the second half of the JLCO concert.
On Friday, October 11, David and I set off to Augusta from Athens at 7:30am to continue a stage setup that would be satisfactory by 2:30pm for sound check. It was.
On the road, things change all the time. It always seems impossible to resolve these unexpected obstacles, but somehow we improvise and get the job done. So, after a couple of 14 hour days, we are moving on to the next venue and a new set of problems that need to be fixed.
Eric D. Wright
We also sometimes have the honor, on a day off, of performing impromptu master classes at the behest of a loved and respected colleague. In this case, on October 10 in Athens, Ali Jackson was called upon by Tim Adams, percussionist extraordinaire and head of the University of Georgia percussion department. Ali conducted a class for approximately 20 UGA percussionists and music students. Various topics were covered from the function of the drum set in Jazz, to the job requirements of the drum chair in the JLCO, to the challenges of being a touring musician. Sometimes you are called upon to demonstrate things that test the limits of your knowledge and skill by teachers and students alike.
In this instance, Professor Adams read from a sheet of criteria for auditioning symphony percussionists. He requested that Mr. Jackson demonstrate grooves such as Tango, Rumba, Bossa, Cha Cha, Guaguanco and others. Tim told me, “Man, Ali played the hell out of every groove I put before him with an organic understanding AND gave the development of each from its inception to its contemporary application on the modern drum set.”
The workshop continued with examples of how the drum set can be played with a melodic sensibility and with demonstrations of the styles of Max Roach, Art Blakey, Buddy Rich, Baby Dodds and others. These masters were also put into the context of the living Jazz language.
Master classes always leave everyone with a more complete understanding of what it takes to develop and maintain first class artistry. Here are some UGA student comments regarding Ali’s class:“You really emphasized for me the importance of study and respect for the lineage of one’s musical tradition.” -Emily Backus
“The way you knew everything about what you did showed you have done the research which backs up your playing ability even more. After seeing your knowledge, I am going to strive to be a more studious musician.” -Bonnie Houpt
“I had never been a big fan of jazz, but following your master class and the concert, I came away inspired to learn more about it.” -Bradley Robinson
Building a strong sense of family and community through performance and education is what this Abyssinian tour is all about.
Last night was homecoming. Here are some words from the leader of Chorale Le Chateau, Damien Sneed:
What can I say about last night’s performance in my hometown, Augusta, Georgia? The experience was completely and absolutely surreal. I remember meeting Wynton for the first time as a young student at the Davidson Fine Arts School when he was on tour with his septet performing IN THIS HOUSE ON THIS MORNING. I will never forget how the sound of each instrumentalist literally imprinted my mind. It became one of the most memorable moments in my early development as a musician.
Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that Wynton and I would one day perform in my home church, Good Shepherd Baptist Church. As conductor of the ABYSSINIAN MASS, one of my main responsibilities is to communicate the intent of the composer to the singers. My earliest beginnings in Good Shepherd Baptist Church consisted of an immersion in what the Mass requires from the singers. The fervent moans of the movement, “Meditation”, remind me of the deacons at my church crying out to The Lord with moans and groanings on behalf of the congregation in intercession.
While sitting and listening to Wynton solo in the second part of “Offertory”, I couldn’t help but shed a few tears of joy. What a joy it was to have my first jazz piano teacher, Donald Macey and my first gospel music piano teacher, Aundre Clark, seated in the congregation. Then my high school history teacher, Vivian Rosier, was seated on my left. My family showed up in great numbers and then to top it all, my 80-year old mother was present. For me, all of this synergy culminated in an emotional catharsis when we sang “Praise God from whom all blessings flow” in the “Doxology”. I knew in that moment that everything about last night was divinely orchestrated years and years ago. Every experience, good and bad, worked together to create that single moment.
Last night will forever be etched in the minds and hearts of my family, my church family, the people of Augusta and my own.
And last night was a homecoming for the JLCO. Sharon and Grey Mayfield from the Garth Fagan branch of our family, the great Wycliffe Gordon’s mother and sister, Lena Bell and Karen Gordon blessed us with their presence. I don’t know why so many great trombonists come from this region of the country. Let’s hear from one of them. A man with magical talents: singing, preaching, arranging, composing, and conducting, the possessor of perfect pitch and a metronomic sense of tempo….AND, a personality and character superior to all of those abundant abilities, Mr. Chris Crenshaw:
My brothers, my brothers! I can’t remember how many times I have been asked, “When is the band coming to Augusta?” As soon as I got word from my cousin Damien Sneed and Jason Olaine, I immediately started letting people know that we were indeed coming. The congregation really came out and supported not just the home folks, but all seventy choir members, fifteen JLCO brothers, and staff.
As expected, Good Shepherd Baptist Church and Rev. Clarence Moore welcomed us with open arms. This powerful concert concluded an overwhelming day for me on many accounts, and showing my brothers off to the Augusta area truly made it worthwhile. Thanks again, my brothers!
Three moments caught my eye tonight. After we went to intermission, I noticed Nicole Phifer going to her “quiet place” in a chair backstage. She certainly deserved it after she sang the stew out of “Prayer!” I noticed that Damien got full during the “Doxology”. It was a moment I shared internally; he had to be feeling something as he was conducting his choir in front of his home church.
I also noticed my daughter Jazzlyn start to cry as I was about to leave. I spent time with her earlier in the day, and she was sharing all that she had learned in school, what she did at cheerleading practice, what songs she learned, etc. After the tragic news about Adrian Peterson’s two-year-old son passing away (ex-girlfriend’s boyfriend assaulted his son), I was so glad to see my daughter and the rest of my family. I told her I would make it up when we go trick-or-treating.
Here’s Damien again to introduce two members of Chorale Le Chateau:
I will never forget when my late father, James Sneed, walked me, at 6 years old, up to Elaine Sturkey and asked if she’d take me under her wing. Elaine Sturkey, at that time, was the choir director, pianist and organist at the Mt. Calvary Baptist Church. This is the same church where my parents were married years ago, with Elaine’s older sister, Jessye Norman singing “Moon River” at the wedding. My relationship with her has blossomed over the years and she remains a mentor, confidant and great source of support. Here are some words from Elaine:
Last night we performed in Augusta, Georgia, at the Good Shepherd Baptist Church! While most people wouldn’t think of it as some hugely important or exotic stage…it rivaled them all because it was quite simply, “home”! For me, the bus ride into Augusta was particularly nostalgic as we traveled in via the country roads from Athens towards Augusta where much of my core family had lived. Passing through Washington, Georgia, the place where my parents were born and raised, brought a little pitter patter to my heart. I felt like a little girl seeing the scenery with fresh eyes…it just brought a smile to my face and anticipation in my heart. Finally we arrived!
The performance last night had a special energy. At the start of the show Damien received a rousing applause just because he was a “home boy”!! Delightful! The opening solos with lines like “God is great and greatly to be praised!” from the piece titled “Call to Worship” began to transcend from “performance” towards “worship”. And it felt like the mood was set for the evening. By the time we got to “Prayer” and Nicole walked us through the life of Jesus, it was on!! During intermission, Brandy (choral member) remarked, “Tonight is different, and ‘Choral Response’ was different here because we were in a house of worship,” referring to the presence of the Holy Spirit.
During the second half, Wynton played like the spirit had hit him in “Offertory”!! Everybody knows he is accomplished, but he brought the fire last night! Standing to his feet and letting it rip! That’s just the way the spirit was moving and there was no escaping it!
Just before the last song, “Amen”, Chris Crenshaw (trombone) took on the traditional and familiar tenor of an old southern preacher! And the church and choir responded with “Yes, Sir”, “Well” and “My Lord” and an array of call and response phrases and wails that are so indicative of the flavor of Southern Black church worship. I am always somehow emotionally moved by the “Amen” piece…maybe because it means “so be it!” And it signifies the end.
Lastly, I felt especially proud of Damien, whom I have known since he was a child, now standing tall as a man and blessed to be conductor on this tour. He is God gifted and talented in multiple musical expressions, instrumentally and vocally. I could not help but thank God in those moments during the concert in the very church that was Damien’s “home church” for His faithfulness. It was a good night.
Funny I am reminded of the line from the “Wizard of Oz” that I faithfully watched annually growing up in Augusta, “There’s no place like home!” And there isn’t!!
Stephanie Estep and I attended Davidson Fine Arts School together from 5th thru 12th grade and we sang together in chorus. Stephanie was the first vocalist I ever accompanied. We used to travel across the state of Georgia competing and singing. I’m so honored to have her on this tour. Here are some words from Stephanie:
I was born and raised in Augusta, GA but have not been back to visit in three and a half years. Last night was a warm and wonderful homecoming as we performed to an exuberant crowd of family and friends. I have known Damien Sneed for over 20 years and am lucky to count him among my friends. It is at the same time surreal and familiar to be on stage with him and watch him lead this incredible group through our musical journey each night, and especially last night.
Entering the sanctuary I could feel a new energy in the choir and orchestra. As I looked around with each glance, I saw a different person sharing the stage who also calls this place home. We were singing for our loved ones, and a spirit of joy and gratitude overwhelmed me as we finished the Prayer with an inspiring performance by our soloists. Tears were flowing down my cheeks and dripping off my chin before I could get a chance to wipe them away.
The “Choral Response” follows immediately and is sung by the women alone. All of our faces were glistening with tears and glowing with the spirit. It felt as if I were singing with a chorus of beautiful angels.
That incredible electric energy continued through the second half of the performance climaxing with a solo by Mr. Marsalis that brought him, and members of our audience, to their feet. We watched in awe as he too was taken by that powerful feeling and continued to play and play at the urging of the orchestra allowing all of us to linger in that expressive moment.
There is something transcendent about music that I don’t often find myself feeling. I don’t think a lot of music nowadays has the heart and soul or the intention to raise people to that level, but there is something in this piece, with this group of musicians and specifically last night in the Good Shepherd Baptist Church that took all of us to a special place. For me that place is home. There was home all around me; the people with whom I am lucky to share the stage, the audience thrilled at the joyful return of their loved ones and beautiful music presented for them, and a home in the music.
The evening ended for me with even more joy as I got to reunite with childhood friends and introduce my family to Mr. Marsalis who was a kind and gracious host. I am lucky and blessed to be a part of this experience every night but here in my hometown I am overjoyed.
Today is a travel day to New Orleans. On Sunday night, we will be performing at the Saenger Theatre, which just opened its doors two weeks ago for the first time since the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Outside of the Jazz Fest, it’s always difficult to get an audience for Jazz in New Orleans. Haha! Just one of those sweet ironies that makes me love it even more (like a woman you love who will never love you (no matter what you do)). Still, it’s home, a place we all love with unbearable intensity, and it’s an honor to be a part of the grand re-opening festivities.
Last night we played at the University of Georgia Performing Arts Center. Our presenter, (a man of jovial and deep erudition) Dr. George C. Foreman, and I reminisced about him presenting us in Danville, Kentucky almost 12 years ago (at which time we played three and a half hours for an unsuspecting but very accepting audience in order to record the band).
The great Tim Adams, veteran of the Pittsburgh and Indianapolis Symphonic Orchestras, chairs the percussion department here. He and his beautiful wife, Kimberly, graced us with their presence. I met a lot of deeply engaged young musicians and especially trumpet players (always a bonus of touring), many with stories of having seen me some too many years ago somewhere when they were 10 or 12 and now they’re 19 or 22 or something that makes me feel much older.
Today, we will hear from a man I’ve had the pleasure of sharing a section with for 20 years. He has a most unique sound and approach, can be depended on to come through in the most difficult circumstances, and is the most stalwart of friends and collegial of colleagues. He is a great teacher and also has one of the most eclectic group of friends in the world. Because he is all heart, we love him. Mr. Marcus Printup:
HOME SWEET HOME!!!!
I was excited to perform in Athens for several reasons. In no particular order, I am an AVID Georgia Bulldog fan. Can’t wait to see them WHOOP Missouri Saturday!! More importantly, Athens is 50 minutes from my home town of Conyers, GA. I rented a car to drive and experience the nostalgia of the place where I honed my life skills.
Simeon and Elizabeth met me at the local Target Superstore off HWY 138. They are building Jazz at Lincoln Center’s YouTube channel and doing a masterful job capturing images and nuances from the home towns of several orchestra members.
We visited my childhood home and then found my Alma Mater, Heritage High School. There we took footage of the gridiron where much of my sweat was shed playing football. We even went to Stone Mountain to interview my sister, Angela, and then visited my home church, Peeks Chapel Baptist Church.
Having them visit my father’s gravesite with me was surreal. We also visited the pool where I was baptized at 8 years old. So many beautiful memories…… The fiery gospel music my parents sang. The intense sermons the Pastor preached. The fans waving in the non-air conditioned southern heat. Ahhh…..very fond memories. The foundation of my spirituality was formed in this building and I am extremely grateful, humble and proud to call it home.
We then went to visit my mother at the nursing home. My mother was the head of the youth choir for over 35 years and sang in the senior choir for over 40 years. She will always be my favorite gospel singer. Now, she has Alzheimer’s and is incoherent most of the time. It sucks, but I know that a power higher is in charge. I call him God.
After visiting with mama, I felt rejuvenated and energized to play this incredible music with these stellar musicians and this amazing choir because I got a much needed dose of where I came from – soul, integrity, faith, hope, prayer and love.
Playing this piece every night can be taxing, but many of its lessons, I was taught in my youth. “Everyone has a place in the house of God”, “God is great and worthy to be praised”, “The Lord’s Prayer”, “I’m going up to heaven just to see my Lord”, to name a few. Seeing my mother, feeling my father, and breathing the air of my youth put a sense of authenticity in my heart and made me REALLY embrace the music. This music touches people of ALL cultures because it is sincere.
I love the fact that there is a girl from London (Emily Dankworth) who payed her way to the US to perform this piece with us again. I love hearing Elliot Mason from Norwich, England roaring on his trombone like a seasoned deacon. I love hearing Martin Bakari, who is of Filipino descent, exclaim “AND GIVE THEM JOY” like a Southern minister.
It gives me great joy to know that this bit of Afro-American culture is being masterfully proclaimed by ALL races and heard by ALL races.
It gives me even greater pride in the fact that I was raised with this music and it runs warm in my veins. Thank you Bobby and Ann Printup.
Blessings everyone….and GO DAWGS!!!!!
Let’s now hear from the leader of Chorale Le Chateau, Mr. Damien Sneed:
I met Emily Dankworth last year while traveling back and forth to London, UK for rehearsals in preparation for our pre-Olympic performance at the Barbican. Emily is an amazing musician and is known as one of the UK’s rising vocal stars. She comes from a long lineage of musical talent at the highest level. She is the grand-daughter of John Dankworth and Dame Cleo Laine. It is a pleasure to have Emily as a part of Chorale Le Chateau as she brings an international flair and a fresh approach to our music. Let’s hear from Emily:
Two nights ago, we were invited to the beautiful home of 91 year-old Lee Anderson. She hosted Wynton’s septet some 21 years ago, and invited some of us for a home cooked dinner prepared by her family and friends. Being in the presence of such humble, generous and relaxed company was an experience I will never forget. Everyone was very natural and at home. They were saying it was like extended family, and it was….after 21 years!
Last night was our first acoustic concert of the tour, with only the soloists using microphones. I overheard David, our sound engineer, saying he decided to use the warm, intimate sound of the venue and have both the band and the choir without amplification. The audience surrounded us, 360 degrees. And the layout of the stage encouraged us to project around the room making our stomps, claps and whistling more effective than ever. I could see the people in the front row with their jaws open, amazed at how a group of people could sound so much like a glory train going straight up to heaven! The choir was energetic and the band’s sound was deep.
Last night’s highlight for my ears and soul was the Offertory. This part of the Mass features the band and consists of 3 parts; The Father (word), The Son (action) and The Holy Ghost (thought). In the third part, the trumpets play a four note theme with plunger mutes. They whine, “The Ho-ly Ghost” scooping the last note up to the sky. In our last concert, I saw Wynton mouth to the other trumpeters, “They weren’t ready to come in yet”. He was referring to the improvised way that the trombones and saxophones cue themselves in. I love watching them as they judge the mood, try to find balance, and be free like the spirit of the Holy Ghost. Tonight they were ready for it without hesitation and played it like there would be no tomorrow.
At one point, during his brief solo on the Holy Ghost, Marcus Printup quoted a vocal line from another part of the Mass. This provoked members of the choir up onto their feet almost over to his chair, responding to his strong communicative playing. When all of the horn sections play together at some points during the Mass, they create shivers through your body. Wynton’s solo on the ‘Son’ section took you soaring high from the very first phrase. It was heated, making you concentrate and ponder. It possessed a special energy.
This was our 6th standing ovation in a row and I feel very privileged to be touring with people who are all so talented, energizing and welcoming. Also, I truly appreciate the unique and expressive conducting style of Damien Sneed. He is wholly unpredictable and purely inspired. And of course, when Wynton gives us a spur of the moment lesson during sound check, that’s when I realize all the things I will be taking away with me after this tour. I know this is a once in a lifetime opportunity and I am living every second like a blessing.
Tonight is sure to be extremely special as we perform at Good Shepherd Baptist Church in Augusta, GA, the home church of our own Damien Sneed. We look forward to interfacing with his family and friends and would like to thank Reverend Clarence Moore for welcoming us into his home.
Last night we played our first church, the Friendship Missionary Baptist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. We were presented by Blumenthal Performing Arts Center, the Arts and Science Council of Charlotte and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The church was packed with as diverse an audience as I’ve ever seen thanks to the efforts of all involved. Rev. Clifford Jones, Sr. was a most gracious, eloquent host and honored us by listening intently to every moment of the piece.
This is the home church of U.S. Transportation Secretary, Anthony Foxx. He was in attendance with his mother. I first met him when he was in his early twenties and some time later, met his wonderful mom. All these years of meeting young people, I am still amazed at how the aspirations of their parents or parent, in this case, inspire(s) their personal paths. My brothers and I talk about our father all the time, but our mother truly lifted us with the deep investment of her hopes and wishes, and made us set higher personal goals.
Today, we will hear, first, from a lady who ran the Bank of America Foundation, was instrumental in acquiring the John and Vivian Hewitt art collection for the Harvey B. Gantt Center in Charlotte, and taught her son to aim high, Ms. Laura Foxx:
My son Anthony came into town today for a visit. He invited me to join him to hear Wynton Marsalis’ Abyssinian Mass, performed by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and Chorale Le Chateau conducted by Damien Sneed.
They played in our home church. The sanctuary and its location on Charlotte’s Westside provided the perfect venue for a performance that matched beautiful composition with high order spiritual feeling.
Three traditional prayers, “The Lord’s Prayer,” “Gloria Patri” and “Doxology,” provided a familiar settling ground for a capella choir and full orchestration, and were done with originality and intelligence – a very difficult combination.
The orchestra successfully brought the feeling of jazz into a spiritual place. In the Choral Response, “Through Him I’ve Come to See,” and the Anthem, “Glory to God in the Highest,” I heard modern variations on Bach Cantatas, Negro Spirituals and old-school Gospel, all accented by horns and an improvising rhythm section. I can still hear and see the male quartet singing and dancing the Invitation’s, “Come and Join the Army.”
My favorite piece of all came near the end, the Recessional, “Ride the Glory Train.” I felt that we had been doing that the entire evening, but I probably loved it because of my son’s new job.
Now, Damien will introduce our first choral post. Ann McCormack, a native of Milwaukee, Wisconsin and one of the sopranos in Chorale Le Chateau shares her feelings after the memorable experience. I met Ann while studying at Manhattan School of Music:
I woke up this morning brimming with gratitude and love.
Last night, the JLCO and Chorale Le Chateau had the privilege of performing the Abyssinian Mass in one of the most beautiful churches I’ve ever seen. Friendship Missionary Baptist Church is the first church we’ve performed in during the course of the tour. Performing the Mass in this setting definitely puts the piece into perspective; you can feel the true meaning of this work.
During the concert, there was a humming energy from my fellow choir members. It was clear that we were deepening our understanding of why we are performing this music. I was overcome with LOVE – love for everyone around me, as we were transcending, tapping into the divine. After the concert, I spoke to an audience member who said that she was deeply moved by our performance, I said, “Fantastic! That means we did our job!” to which she replied, “Yes, you did…and then some.”
Today, we travel to Athens, GA, and have the night off. On Thursday evening, we look forward to performing for a sold out house at the University of Georgia Performing Arts Center.
“Abyssinian: A Gospel Celebration”, will be on tour on October 3-23, and will be webcast live on October 24th, 25th and 26th at 8PM ET on wyntonmarsalis.org/live
Yesterday was a day off. Everyone traveled to Charlotte, but Frank, Sugar Rob and I stayed in DC to attend the American-Russian Cultural Cooperation Foundation Gala at the Russian Embassy. The great Russian tenor saxophonist/bandleader, Igor Butman, and I jointly received the (ARCCF) Foundation Award for our cultural diplomacy. He is my brother from another mother and I absolutely enjoyed seeing him and the ever beautiful Oksana. Igor will always say something insightful and hilarious and play all kinds of horn, and he did. The Gala, chaired by Susan Carmel Lehrman, was classy, communal and comfortable. Many culturally engaged DC citizens and friends were present including Wayne and Catherine Reynolds, Murray and Lisa Horwitz, and Washington Performing Arts Society Board Chairman, Reggie Van Lee. It was festive – with or without vodka.
The legendary Frank Stewart and I are on the road to Charlotte and it’s 4:12am as I write this. Frank is making the drive longer by periodically understating how many hours we have to go.
Today, we are going to hear about the group’s day off from a young person with an old school work ethic. When you see him, you are washed in a wave of comfort because you know that the most meticulous details will be executed with the utmost precision. Whatever the task, he is professional, proactive and is enthusiastic about being thorough. Frank is telling me to add that he works with pride and integrity (those two words because they work together a lot). We all love him….and that’s not a gimme. Road production associate, driver, wrangler and part-time librarian, Mr. Jay Sgroi:
It takes a lot of energy to perform day to day (or work any everyday job for that matter…). When you put so much into every performance, it is only natural to become run down. On tour, work has a tendency to take over, and it’s easy to forget that balance is the key to a healthy life.
A day off provides an opportunity to achieve balance. Whether you are an introvert seeking a moment to be with yourself (a precious commodity when traveling with 90 people) or someone who is nourished by the camaraderie of sharing stories over a meal and a drink, this day is a chance to re-energize and “take in” from the world into which you have been pouring out so much each night. It also allows us to, even if only for a moment or two, step outside of the nightly mental pressures of putting on the best show possible, in order to take care of ourselves.
For some of us, that means catching up: paying bills, Skyping with children, or recouping lost hours of sleep from the nights before. For others, it means getting ahead: practicing music, hitting the gym, or working tirelessly on an outside project. And there will always be those who just relax and recharge with a movie, a night on the town, or an old favorite recording, while the diehards, who are so in love with what they do, chose to go to a jam session ‘someone said’ was a short walk from the hotel. Most importantly, whatever the case, everyone is able to CHOOSE to do something for themselves.
I used the day off to partake in a little bit of most of the above and, more importantly, to enjoy the company of the people around me – not just as co-workers figuring out what needs to be done next, but as the patchwork second family we’ve become.
Each day, I am grateful to be a part of a production that transcends individual talent to present a show that brings such palpable, positive energy to every place we go. But today, I also feel grateful for the pause. We all do. I look forward to seeing (and hearing) how these fresh breaths of individual energy will come together to bring a new interpretation and intensity to tomorrow, on and off the stage.
This evening we will perform at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church in Charlotte, NC. This is the home church of our good friend, Anthony Foxx, the former mayor of Charlotte who was recently appointed as the U.S. Secretary of Transportation.
Tonight represents the first of three church performances on this tour and everyone is approaching it with great anticipation. We are grateful to the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and Dennis Scholl for partnering on this project with the Arts and Science Council of Charlotte, Blumenthal Performing Arts Center and Friendship Missionary Baptist Church. This is a true community event and we look forward to uplifting everyone at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church tonight.
“Abyssinian: A Gospel Celebration”, will be on tour on October 3-23, and will be webcast live on October 24th, 25th and 26th at 8PM ET on wyntonmarsalis.org/live
Sunday afternoon, we were presented in our Nation’s capitol by the Washington Performing Arts Society. They are the very definition of a community arts organization. Both the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and my small groups have been honored to perform under their auspices for close to thirty years.
The house was packed and brimming with expectation. Some heavy hitters were out this afternoon: innovative composer/pianist Darin Atwater, one of our country’s most profound writers, Leon Wieseltier with his 11 year old son Matthew, and my 7th grade teacher, Sr. Lee Ann, whose handwriting I copied and use to this day (just not as good).
Today we’re going to hear from someone who was a running back in high school, has 25 years of experience as a licensed driver of charter buses & oil tanker trucks, did 21 years of honorable service in the US Navy and worked for 5 years as a mortician in the state of Maryland! We call him Big Boss, Mr. Raymond Murphy:
It was early Sunday morning, and while many worshipers were up preparing to attend 8am service and Sunday School, the Jazz at Lincoln Orchestra and Chorale Le Chateau were aboard 4 buses departing the Norfolk, VA, Tidewater area. We were driving to where I grew up, Washington, DC. Today’s concert was performed at the Kennedy Center, originally named the National Cultural Center in 1958, but renamed as an everlasting memorial to President John F. Kennedy in 1971. Well, the Jazz at Lincoln Orchestra and Chorale Le Chateau delivered some good ol’ fashioned back-in-the-day Afro-American culture on the Kennedy Center’s Concert Hall stage this evening.
Wynton Marsalis and Damien Sneed united Jazz and Gospel outside of the typical liturgical environment that many worshipers are familiar with. ‘Processional’ was my favorite movement. The orchestra played a fast shouting beat and the choir was clapping, dancing, co-signing and rocking the house. I mean literally rocking the house. Backstage, I could see the risers the choir members were standing on bouncing and rocking from side to side. The Jazz at Lincoln Orchestra and Chorale Le Chateau were having CHURCH! It reminded me of how we danced and worshipped at Holy Cross under the late Bishop Stella V. Mack.
By the conclusion of this concert, EVERY patron in attendance at some point had joined in with some type of participation. “Abyssinian” jazz and songs of praise were uplifting to people of every culture present in the shell of the Concert Hall.
As the tour manager, I started preparing for this Abyssinian Tour way back in February of this year. I am responsible for planning the day to day operation and movement of the tour from city to city. Planning this tour consisted of locating and reserving 66 hotel rooms in 16 cities, finding a professional bus company to lease 4 comfortable, safe, highway reliable buses, hiring a two person team to drive the equipment truck and multi-tasking with miscellaneous roadwork when required.
I have 100 people to manage on this tour which does and will present some different and unanticipated challenges each and every day. Once the first note is played though, I forget about all of the obstacles we had to overcome preceding the start of show. I am here because I LOVE and ENJOY being the Tour Manager.
It’s 11:23pm and I must go and prepare for an 11am departure to Charlotte, NC. That means 5:30am for me! I would not want to be any other place than here with the Jazz at Lincoln Orchestra and Chorale Le Chateau.
Today is a travel day to Charlotte for the JLCO and Chorale Le Chateau. It also serves as an important day of voice rest for our vocalists. In advance of our performance in Charlotte tomorrow, gospel artist/educator Karla Scott worked with students in the region on September 23. It was a pleasure to partner with Mark Propst, Performing Arts Specialist for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. Let’s hear from him now:
Good Afternoon All,
I want to “testify” that Karla Scott, guest clinician for the Abyssinian Mass, surpassed my wildest expectations yesterday. She had students at Butler High School and East Mecklenburg High School eating out of the palm of her hand. Immediately upon her arrival at each school, she mesmerized them with her pleasant personality and charismatic charm. Her rapport with high school students was terrific. Instantly, she related to their interests in music, musical styles, and musical performers. Her presentation was very interesting, informative, and engaging. She listened to students sing and explored several movements of Abyssinian Mass, including its history, how it evolved, how it continues to evolve, and general information about jazz and gospel music.
From a curricular standpoint, I appreciated Karla’s flexibility in working with both Ms. Graves and Ms. Heinen, choral music teachers. Everything was presented in a positive, upbeat, reaffirming manner. My hope is that the experience for her was equally as rewarding. I know I certainly enjoyed spending the day with her!
Thank you Todd, Mike, Robert, and Barb so much for the opportunity to have Karla join us for such a great day! Ms. Scott’s North Carolina roots served us all very well. “In that great gettin’ up mornin’, fare thee well, fare thee well!”
Thank you Karla very much! I hope you will stay in touch.
Mark Propst, Performing Arts Specialist
We look forward to more uplifting in the concert hall and the community!
Last night we played in Norfolk, Virginia. We were presented by the Virginia Arts Festival whose Artistic Director, Rob Cross, played in the Eastern Music Festival Orchestra when I was a high school student attending camp at the Festival. We laughed about me showing up with an E-flat trumpet to play the Hummel trumpet concerto but all of the orchestra parts were in E-natural! [Who had even heard of an E trumpet then?]
Rob is dedicated to lifting the community with great art and an even better time. Two of our favorite singers, Carla Cook and Rene Marie, were also part of the Festival’s Gospel & Jazz Celebration Weekend and Rene blessed us with her presence last night. The hall was about half full, but we were grateful to perform for those who came.
Seeing my father play for so many years in clubs for 10, 7, 5 people, taught me the importance of bringing feeling and integrity to every performance. He used to say, “Even if it’s only for one person, play like it’s your last gig. That one person out there might be you.” Since so many of our orchestra members are the offspring of jazz musicians, we all feel that way and try to live by it.
Today, we will hear from another JLCO member and from the gospel artist who is visiting many of the Abyssinian tour stops leading our educational initiatives, Karla Scott. First, a man who’s singing, teaching, arranging and singing style on the trombone is of the highest quality and depth, Mr. Vincent Gardner:
For me, the short 3-hour bus ride from Chapel Hill, NC to Norfolk, VA was not the best part of the day (although I might not be saying that after 2 more weeks on the bus), but rather having the opportunity to play in the area where I grew up (only 15 minutes or so from where my mother still lives, and is still Minister of Music at our church, a position she has held for nearly 30 years). Ironically, she can’t be here because she’s attending a Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir Concert in Brooklyn, to prepare for presenting a program of their music with her own choir later in the year.
During my growing years, there was never any indication from the community that it was possible, or even practical, to pursue music as a profession. So I always feel a certain tickle in my stomach about being able to fulfill JALC’s mission on my home turf.
The church holds a strong position in this community, so I expected this piece to resonate strongly with the audience. Although they may have been somewhat familiar with the sound and musical direction of the JLCO, I doubt that they could have anticipated the power of our integration with Damien Sneed’s stellar Chorale Le Chateau. They are doing an amazing job singing with the Mass’ myriad nuances and unconventional harmonies. My sister Roslyn, who has been singing in one of my mother’s choirs practically her entire life, said “I don’t know how much y’all are paying them, but they need a raise!”
Tonight, I thought, the choir felt relaxed and free enough to take more liberty with their parts, and to also make a few mistakes. For me, this signals that our performances will to soon transcend what’s written.
I have experienced the power of collective creativity. When the 15 members of the JLCO use the music as merely a guide, a performance becomes a living, breathing musical statement capable of unimagined change in real time. I can only imagine how it will feel when over 80 people achieve that with this piece. We’re just starting and that will surely happen many times before this tour is over.
Highlighting the educational impact this project is having on the road, let’s hear from gospel artist and educator, Karla Scott:
On October 4, 2013, I was privileged to introduce Processional, Doxology and Gloria Patri from the Abyssinian Mass at Hampton University. In attendance were seventy-five student singers, members of the Voice faculty and representatives from the Virginia Arts Festival. The group’s director is well known choral arranger Omar Dickenson.
The choir sang their school alma mater to begin the session. This is a very, very special group. From the beginning of the session, they were engaged, open and eager to learn. The choir is beautifully balanced. Their sound is at once robust, warm, elegant and exciting to hear – it was my pleasure to tell them so. Based on what I heard, we looked first at Doxology.
We began by laying a brief foundation about Mr. Marsalis as an award winning performer and composer, then talking through some of the musical elements and ideas found throughout the mass as a whole. I then played an mp3 recording of Doxology for the choir. Due to the strong sight-reading and retention abilities of the choir, we were able to sing through Doxology and shape it a bit – very impressive and beautiful to say the least. The choir is eager to perfect and add it to their current repertoire.
We listened to a recording of Gloria Patri next, spoke it in rhythm, and then sang through the first four pages as a way to introduce the thematic material of the piece. This choir continued to impress. Their astute observations about what was happening musically and rhythmically with regard to texture made for a very lively and engaging discussion.
Finally, we looked at two sections of Processional, the beginning and the “to the house of the Lord” vamp. The choir grasped the themes quickly, sang well past our end time, and then begged to sing more of the music!
I absolutely love having an opportunity to introduce this work to students. My brief time with Hampton’s choir yesterday only served to solidify my opinion that the Abyssinian Mass should be taught and sung everywhere.
Tonight, we will perform at the Kennedy Center, presented by our long time partners at the Washington Performing Arts Society. In addition to being presented by WPAS every year for well over the last decade, we’ve also established a strong educational partnership with them. WPAS is a wonderful artistic partner and commissioned the Suite for Human Nature, which premiered there in 2004. This performance will certainly be special as 80 members of the WPAS Gospel Choir will be joining us for portions of the performance. Damien Sneed rehearsed with them on September 18 and 25.
The government shutdown has created a unique climate this past week in Washington, D.C. To that end, WPAS has made “Furlough Tickets” available at a price of $10 to all Federal employees. In the same spirit, Jazz at Lincoln Center also agreed to purchase 100 tickets to be distributed for free to community groups, students and underserved communities as a gift from WPAS and JALC. We sincerely hope audiences tonight and throughout the whole tour will be uplifted by our performances!
Last night was a rare second night in the same venue. Memorial Hall was filled with a very spirited audience. Two great saxophonists, Chad Eby and Stephen Riley, came out. Chad brought his 11 year old son, Spencer (who can make it through all of his major scales), and Stephen drove 2 and a half hours to hear us. Ralph Rodgers, Damyan Crews, Yaya Corbett, and Kevin Johnson came as a trumpet section representing North Carolina Central, and the great composer/educator Dr. Anthony Kelly came with a radiant and eclectic group of about 20 students from Duke.
Today we will hear from both a member of the JLCO and the leader of Chorale Le Chateau, Damien Sneed. First from the JLCO, someone who has mastered an encyclopedic variety of styles, approaches and sounds….and all with soul, Mr. Kenny Rampton:
Yesterday was day two of the tour and a luxury to sleep in after a few very busy weeks (Ahmad Jamal rehearsals/concerts, Harvard rehearsals/lecture, tour rehearsals, long travel day, soundcheck and gig Thursday night).
Last night, as we were all standing on the side of the stage waiting to go on, I was speaking with a few of the choir members. One of them said that it doesn’t feel like two different groups playing together but feels so much like we’re all part of the same energy, truly a collective. I couldn’t agree more. This particular JLCO collaboration has a feeling of unity and oneness.
The choir shows sincere appreciation and support for the band… and we appreciate and respect the passion, talent and depth that Chorale Le Chateau and Damien Sneed bring to the table. This feeling of unity is largely due to the dedication, spirit and love of everyone involved, but also due to the incredibly inspired music written by Wynton and the subject matter of this music…a celebration of ‘togetherness in worship’ through the form of a Baptist church service.
The basis of religion is, after all, spirituality and ONEness. That feeling really seems to be coming across through the music. Congress could learn A LOT from this concept…who knows, maybe some of them will show up at the Kennedy Center gig in a couple of days and learn something about working together (they could definitely use a little enlightenment)!
Playing with this choir is a very powerful and positive experience. On stage, The Spirit of Music is shining through each one of us, and the music is really starting to come off the paper. I’m looking forward to seeing how the piece will develop, grow and evolve over the next few weeks!!!
Demonstrating the broad educational impact this tour is having outside of the concert hall, let’s hear from the leader of Chorale Le Chateau, Damien Sneed:
Yesterday, I lectured at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for a Radical Communities in U.S. Religious History class, within their American Studies department. This course teaches the Civil Rights movement and visions of the “Beloved Community” through exploring how the music and rhetoric of the Black Church emphasized Christianity’s radical tenets as the framework for achieving racial integration. Twenty five currently enrolled students were in the seminar and attended our Thursday evening performance. I was accompanied by 10 singers from Chorale Le Chateau.
We sang movements from the Abyssinian Mass and answered many questions from the students about what the music means to each of us on an individual and personal level. Within 15 minutes of the class, many of the students and the instructor were moved to tears as they felt the power of God and were able to connect to the message in the music. It was extremely gratifying.
Tonight, we will perform in Norfolk at Chrysler Hall, presented by the Virginia Arts Festival. For the past 17 years, the Festival has brought world class artists to the region in April and May with eclectic events ranging from a Tattoo Festival to diverse musical presentations. We are performing as part of the Festival’s Gospel and Jazz Celebration Weekend, which includes our good friends Carla Cook, who performed Friday night, and Rene Marie, who performs on Sunday with the Roy Muth Big Band. As Education is an integral part of Jazz at Lincoln Center’s mission, we partnered with the Festival’s Education Director, Christine Foust, to coordinate a gospel workshop led by artist and educator Karla Scott with the Hampton University Choirs. We are grateful to Omar Dickenson, Director of the Hampton University Choirs, for welcoming Karla.
Last night was the first performance of our three week US tour performing the Abyssinian Mass. We are definitely prepared. The 70 strong Chorale Le Chateau has been rehearsing for months and was in great form. Damien Sneed, our conductor, brought an energy, passion and an innovative way of improvising with every nuance of the vocal score that left even us grizzled veterans mesmerized.
Each day one of our members will give a short synopsis of their experience on this tour. We will hear today from the speaker of 4 languages, Mr. Walter Blanding:
Our tour started off with a 10 hour bus ride, which is not for the faint of heart. But, as always, when we got on that stage last night, it became very clear exactly why we do what we do. Every time the orchestra performs, we go for broke, no kidding, and no exceptions. But there was something about last night which was most definitely special and worth sharing.
Any time we do collaborations which integrate other styles of music or forms of art, something magical and unexpected always happens. I believe it’s the meeting of love, respect and improvisation that creates a recipe for something unique and divine. Last night when vocalist, Nicole Phifer, sang the movement, Prayer, I (and everyone else in the room) could feel her energy, her pain, and her commitment to strive. The passionate intensity of her sound hit me in the pit of my stomach.
I live for moments like this. This will be a great tour. I’m looking forward to seeing what tonight will bring.
Carolina Performing Arts, on the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill, is a long-time and valued partner of Jazz at Lincoln Center, having presented the JLCO every time the band has toured the South over the last decade.
They have done an incredible job of activating the academic and university community with pre-concert lectures featuring Dr. Genna Rae McNeil (UNC Department of History) who has an upcoming book about the history of the Abyssinian Baptist Church, Dr. Eboni Marshall Turman (Duke University Divinity School) who recently served as an assistant minister at the Abyssinian Baptist Church and Anthony Kelly (Duke University Professor of Music), who will be discussing the creation of the “sacred jazz monument” in large-scale religious works by Wynton. They are extremely appreciative that this program has provided the opportunity to build relationships with community stakeholders that they couldn’t have connected with otherwise. Members of the White Rock Baptist Church Gospel Choir will be singing on the steps of Memorial Hall prior to the show tonight.