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  • We played to a packed house in full Saturday night finery

    Posted on October 20th, 2013 | 0

    Last night we played in the impressive Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. It is an architectural marvel, a masterful piece of community development, and it is a new and defining landmark in the home of supersonic genius alto saxophonist, Charlie Parker.

    We played to a packed house in full Saturday night finery, glowing with the anticipation and expectation that attends the presence of a large ensemble of musicians and fellow citizens anointed in the red robes of the Holy. Every community sits in its hall a different way. This is the Midwest, and our audience surrounds us. Though even the ghost of Boss Pendergast is long gone, these are still good time, no-nonsense people. They sit in a concentrated silence and we are engulfed in their feeling.

    We almost always have great local musicians come out. Sometimes they grace us with a song. For jazz lovers, Kansas City means Bobby Watson, and the great alto man sat in with us last time we were here. Last night, we were blessed with the presence of one of our genius actors, Ms. Hilary Swank. She was in attendance with members of her family and listened with the same sophistication, concentration and sensitivity that defines her superb acting. She has agreed to write today’s post:


    Wynton Marsalis never ceases to amaze. His music always touches me profoundly and sends me traveling somewhere new and wondrous. He and the orchestra are supremely diverse, stunningly brilliant and always pushing the bar higher. Last night in Kansas City, Missouri, I had the privilege to witness Wynton’s latest masterpiece. A Gospel Celebration called: Abyssinian Mass. My words fall short in describing this awe inspiring performance, but once again, the music transformed and lifted the entire audience.

    The full Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra along with a 70 piece choir was masterfully conducted by the stunning Damien Sneed. Perhaps what amazed me most was witnessing such an immense size ensemble, listening to each other with such sensitivity and “playing off” of one another with such grace and aplomb! Wynton’s music sees life through so many different perspectives and tonight it was through God.



    Today is our longest travel day of the entire tour from Kansas City to Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. We were in the bus at 2am comparing Gates Barbecue to L.C’s. Tomorrow night, it will be a privilege to perform as part of the inaugural season at Messiah College’s Calvin and Janet High Center for Worship and Performing Arts.


    “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 http://wyntonmarsalis.org/live

  • This concert was especially meaningful to us because Thelma and David Steward were in attendance

    Posted on October 19th, 2013 | 0

    Last night we were presented by Jazz St. Louis at the Touhill Performing Arts Center at the University of Missouri in St. Louis. This is the second year in a row I’ve been in St. Louis on my birthday. It is a city that I love for many reasons, not the least of which is the many great musicians of all generations that it has birthed. From Clark Terry and Miles Davis to Todd Williams and Peter Martin and Jeremy Davenport, to Russell Gunn, Montez Coleman, Tony Suggs, Raymond Angry and the many alumni of East St. Louis’ Lincoln High Program to young Josh Williams, St. Louis has an eloquent roll call.

    This concert was especially meaningful to us because Thelma and David Steward were in attendance. We would not be on this tour were it not for their generous support and belief. With great pride I presented them with a Frank Stewart photo of the choir and orchestra in action and the honorary naming of a box seat in our home, Frederick P. Rose Hall. The feeling between he and Thelma animates a room. Their family’s investment has transformed the arts community in St. Louis. Today we will hear from Mr. Steward:


    Thelma and I and the Steward Family Foundation have partnered with Jazz St. Louis and many other organizations to bring a wide variety of artists to our community and others. Nothing that we have supported and made an investment in was comparable to what we saw last night!

    God has blessed Wynton with such a gift, such a genius. Only the Lord working through him could have orchestrated what we witnessed. We had the opportunity to honor God in a very special way and we appreciate Wynton partnering with us on this wonderful event. Bringing this tour to fruition has been an incredible journey, and it would not have been possible without our trust in God.

    One of the things that we as a community have always had challenges with, is trusting. This tour has been years in the making, so we had to trust, we had to have faith. God trusted us, and we trusted Him. In the word it says, “trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.” Trust was a big part of this and I hope this will be an example for others to follow.

    The Bible says “where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” This was the full body of Christ working together for His glory, and His spirit shone through. It was the most impressive concert that I have ever been to and it left an indelible impression on Thelma and I. Thelma’s simple word to me was, “awesome!” This morning I was reminded of the verse, “give and it will be given to you in good measure, pressed down and overflowing.” I didn’t know how overflowing it would be.

    Thank you and God bless you.

    David Steward


    Today, we travel to Kansas City where we will be presented by the historic Harriman-Jewell Series at Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. Earlier this week on October 15, the great gospel educator and artist, Karla Scott, led a workshop with over 150 Kansas City students. We look forward to uplifting our Midwestern brothers and sisters 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 http://wyntonmarsalis.org/live

  • There is no greater sound on earth, than Joe Temperley on a horn

    Posted on October 18th, 2013 | 0

    Yesterday was a day off. After an overnight drive, Ted, Sherman and I were up at 7:30am or so, sitting in the front cabin of the bus with coffee roasting and TV news wallpapering the sonic landscape as the burnished colors of early autumn provided a nostalgic freshness to the morning. Naturally, we started talking about Joe Temperley. 25 years of playing with Joe……we called him and gave some updates on the tour and on inside issues.

    One part of the Mass features Joe speaking a verse. Every night, when Vincent does it, we think about Joe’s Scottish brogue. He said he’s been following these posts, so cats said it would be hip if he would write one today, and he did. There is no greater sound on earth, than Joe Temperley on a horn:


    As I sit here at home in my living room, I think back to about 20 years ago to all the successful gigs we have played. My dearest brothers, Homey, Veal and Wess. I remember the road trips and the different pieces we have played for all the appreciative and wonderful audiences. We played this Mass in the Abyssinian Baptist Church about 5 or 6 years ago. The glorious sound of the music in that church, the choir, filling it with the resounding sound of their voices, and the glory of our saxophone section with Walter, Ted, Sherman and Victor.

    Wynton wrote an intro to “The Lord’s Prayer” for me. It is a very special piece of music to me that I played with reverence and love. Last year, when Sherman and Chris wrote their pieces, they gave me very important and meaningful parts. I am very thankful to them and to Wynton to have had the experience to play all that beautiful music. I also shall never forget Reverend Butts who delivered a wonderful service. Now we are bringing this joy to all parts of our country with today’s brothers, with much love and joy.

    When I think of Boss Murphy bringing his gypsy caravan across the country, it never ceases to amaze me. I have to say in all the years I have been on tour with the band, the most fun I have had was with Murphy.

    Least I forget Ernie and Charles. They drive the equipment all over the country, bleary eyed. God Bless them. I miss it and love it.

    Enjoy the long winding road. It is a blessing.



    Tonight, we are being presented by Jazz St. Louis at the Touhill Performing Arts Center. It will be a great honor and privilege to perform for our sponsors and friends, the Steward family.


    “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 http://wyntonmarsalis.org/live

  • This has the feeling of the concerts we all played in the community growing up

    Posted on October 17th, 2013 | 0

    Last night we played The Black Academy of Arts and Letters in Dallas, Texas. Before we went on stage, I asked Carlos what we were looking like. He said, “This has the feeling of the concerts we all played in the community growing up. Let’s do our thing.” Our presenter, Curtis King, is a force to be reckoned with. He has created a movement towards excellence that I wish could be copied around the country. After sound check, he welcomed us with uncommon warmth and exuberance. Today, we hear from Mr. King:


    Something magnificent happened last night in Dallas, Texas at The Black Academy of Arts and Letters (TBAAL)! It was Jazz at Lincoln Center’s “Abyssinian: A Gospel Celebration.” When Damien Sneed told me about this project he was doing with Wynton Marsalis, I was intrigued and thought it would be a good, but too expensive, program to present as a part of TBAAL’s 37th season. On a trip to New York, Damien asked if I would be available for a meeting with JALC staff. I approached it with a “we are going to do this attitude.” After a somewhat lengthy meeting, details were worked out and the concert was on for Dallas at TBAAL!

    I went back to Dallas, shared the good news and we started to work. Wednesday was the only day available to us, so we tried every Marketing trick in the book from the traditional street promotions, radio, television, print, personal letter of invitation from Wynton, and social media to one-on-one group sales. Jazz fans didn’t know about gospel and gospel folks were unsure about jazz. Tickets were moving slowly. I was nervous but determined because I did not want to possibly tarnish a good developing partnership with JALC or disappoint Wynton and Damien. I was hoping for a sellout! Our theatre seats 1,750 . . . 1,203 patrons showed up . . . on a rainy Wednesday night!

    From the moment the choir walked on stage robed up, it was obvious the audience was ready for an experience. The orchestra followed, and the people leaped to their feet begging for ‘something’ with applauds and shouts before one voice was heard or a note played! Before the “Lord’s Prayer” ended, which was the third section of the program, there was no doubt that folks were ready to cut loose and have church; a kind of church that would prove to be cathartic, emotional and deeply spiritual as the evening progressed! One patron said to me during intermission, “Curtis, God bless you for bringing this to Dallas. This is not a concert, this is an experience and I am speechless beyond words.”

    Another patron (a teacher who brought 60 students from Texas College, Tyler, Texas) grabbed my hands, almost sobbing with tears, talked about the difficulties of trying to stay inspired and the challenge of inspiring her students given the fact that funds are limited to non-existent for her music program. “I’m hyped,” she said, “And so are my students! What they saw tonight is the epitome of musical excellence which I try to instill in them.” When the concert ended, the lobby was filled with patrons AN HOUR LATER. It was evident that the music and the spirit were still lingering in our souls.

    It’s almost 2am and I’m meditating, trying to capture in my mind what happened here in Dallas last night. No answers, just more questions – more probing of self actualization, artistic expression, aesthetic clarity, community commitment and human transformation. No human being should be deprived of this kind of experience! Last night, I witnessed human transformation, through music, that only time and eternity will validate what happened in the four walls at TBAAL in Dallas on Wednesday, October 16, 2013! On the next go round, I’d bet my life that folks will be lining up around the block to get in the doors at TBAAL.

    There’s nothing like first-hand experience to pass the word about “The Holy Ghost” at “Abyssinian: A Gospel Celebration” concert! The journey was worth every moment!!

    Curtis King
    TBAAL Founder & President


    Let’s now hear from the leader of Chorale Le Chateau, Damien Sneed:


    I met Djore Nance many years ago at the Juilliard School when he was an undergraduate voice major and I was a staff accompanist for the voice department. Over the years, we’ve become very close friends and have had the opportunity to perform together in many different arenas: classical music, jazz and of course, gospel music. Djore is one of the few singers I know who can authentically and instantaneously switch musical genres with excellence. Mr. Djore Nance:


    Last night in every single way imaginable, I was at home. We came to Dallas, Texas, last night for a performance of the Abyssinian Mass and Dallas came to us in a mighty way.

    The Black Academy of Arts and Letters was a second home for me as a child. I would go with my mother to rehearsals for performances that she may have been doing there, or with my auntie to rehearsal for the annual MLK Celebration concert. I first sang in the Naomi Bruton Theater at TBAAL at age 9, as a member of the choir for the MLK Celebration. As I stood on the stage for sound check last night, I was overcome. This was an absolute full circle moment for me.

    After the sound check, Curtis King, the illustrious founder and president gave us a hearty and profound welcome. His words about connecting to the depth of the spiritual and even metaphysical experience were illuminating, and challenged everyone on stage to deepen their commitment to bringing the people a profound musical and spiritual journey.

    Full circle. Before the MLK Concert that I sang in every year throughout my formative years, Mr. Curtis King would give a staunch, brazen call to arms, invoking the ancestors reminding us of our responsibility to give the people an experience that would open their hearts and minds.

    But, for me, singing this music with Wynton and Damien is the most esoteric, transcendent experience. I first met Mr. Marsalis in Dallas in 1997. That year I was deciding whether I would major in Jazz Studies or Classical Voice. My mother took me to his performance at SMU and afterward I met him. Mommy told Wynton that I was in the midst of deciding what genre to focus on as a musician. He said in a very workmanlike tone: “Do it all, just make sure you master it – don’t play wid’ it.” That was a seminal moment for me. It hadn’t occurred to me that musical passion and talent wasn’t separated by genre. So, I did Jazz Studies at University of North Texas, and Classical Voice at the Juilliard School.

    Dallas is a church town – we always shout the room in Dallas…but the energy in the room last night wasn’t just “churchy”. It was spiritual, it was jovial, it was weighted with the spirits of my ancestors, Gran L, Granny Freddie, Grandpa EP, my Aunt JC, Granny Hartman, and all of our collective cloud of witnesses. It was a blessing, and continues to be a blessing performing the Abyssinian Mass. And to perform it in Dallas, Texas, with my family and friends in full cry was nothing but joy. Thank you Wynton, thank you Damien, thank you ancestors, thank you GOD. This music is home. Ashe and Amen.



    Today is a travel day to St. Louis, Missouri, the home town of our great friend, David Steward. We look forward to more uplifting with Jazz St. Louis at Touhill Performing Arts Center tomorrow night.


    “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 http://wyntonmarsalis.org/live

  • There is nothing like driving through Texas with the pit boss, Frank Stewart.

    Posted on October 16th, 2013 | 0

    We played the Long Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Texas in Austin last night. At this point in the tour, all giddiness about being on the road is long gone. You are now well into the routine of travel-play, travel-play, and with an uncommonly large group, we all have to be much more aware of each other’s sensitivities.

    The everyday of passing through different parts of the country and interacting with a diversity of people, gives you a clearer perspective on how the stupidity in Congress is slowly sucking the optimism from our national vision. The deepening moral crisis makes the orchestra and choir, even if only instinctively, redouble our efforts to maintain morale by performing with integrity.

    The government’s dysfunction and its impending consequences make us more aware of the importance of working WITH each other and of our principal function: uplifting listeners.

    The great trombonist Andre Hayward sat in with us last night and played a rambunctious, gravy soaked solo at the end of “Invitation”. After the concert, I met the most beautiful group of about 9 high school freshman age trumpeters. They were so full of promise and feeling and asked such good questions that I left the hall very satisfied. From Andre to them, I felt like I was seeing former and future members all together at one moment in time.

    There is nothing like driving through Texas with the pit boss, Frank Stewart. You learn everything from the nature of birds of prey, to the story of Jim Bowie to the different ways to cut the strength of mesquite wood so as to not mess up your BBQ. He is a world of experience unto himself and a walking cultural institution, Mr. Frank Stewart:


    My youngest daughter, Bening, lives in Austin, Texas with her husband, Derek, and 18-month old baby, Kayling. Living in New York, I don’t get to see them often, so it’s a treat whenever we are together. I spent the 7 hours in their home recuperating from the day’s events: waking up at 6:30am to hit the road on a barbeque excursion for a CBS Sunday Morning segment hosted by Wynton featuring the only full time BBQ critic in America, Daniel Vaughn and the Memphis Kid himself, me.

    We visited three different BBQ houses and ate shoulder clod, brisket of beef, pork spare ribs, different kinds of sausage, and prime rib all smoked indirectly with Post Oak. We waddled out of the last restaurant with the understanding that BBQ is cultural, colloquial and personal.

    At 6pm, we arrived at our hotel with just enough time to rush to the concert. At 7:30pm, I’m looking for a position with good sight lines to take pictures after helping the ladies of the choir onstage. Every hall is different. Every situation is different, and I never get tired of documenting the greatest Jazz orchestra in the world.

    I’m always looking for what Cartier-Bresson called ‘the decisive moment’. That instant in which every form, gesture and look comes together in perfect harmony. My best photographs speak to three things: the subject, the medium and how I feel about the subject. I’m always looking for an image that will transcend the moment and provoke the viewer to ask personal questions about our times and quality of life.

    After the concert, Jay Sgroi, Eric Wright, Kay Niewood, Christi English, Ernie Gregory, Charles Bratton, me and celebrity sound man/straw boss David Robinson break down a stage that, moments before, held 85 people who were engaged in ‘making a joyful noise unto the Lord’. As he does almost every night, Wynton asks me, “How was it Frank?” I laugh and say, “What do you mean, man? It was glorious.”



    Tonight we perform at The Black Academy of Arts and Letters in Dallas, Texas. It is a privilege to perform at this great cultural institution, founded by our good friend, Curtis King.


    “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 http://wyntonmarsalis.org/live

  • Every night is Carnegie Hall

    Posted on October 15th, 2013 | 0

    Last night’s performance at The Fountain of Praise in Houston, Texas was an act of soul. Pastor Remus Wright and his wife, Co-Pastor Mia K. Wright, stayed with us and created the proper atmosphere for the stomping, shouting and co-signing that is the hallmark of the Afro-American church experience, and also for appreciation of the introspective moments, the nuanced shadings in ensemble playing and in Damien’s shaping of the choral dynamics. The choir surrounded us. We were enveloped in their warmth and intention, and the congregation lifted us and carried us all in a chariot of feeling.

    My man David Kirk came tonight. He has played tuba with the Houston Philharmonic for 32 years. We attended Juilliard together as 18 year olds. I loved him, Alabama and Louisiana, two southern boys representing up North. He could play then and is otherworldly now. I heard the orchestra play Shostakovich 11 in Carnegie Hall last year and they turned it completely out.

    Nicole Phifer called out the Holy Ghost. And She was everywhere in the House.

    Today we’re going to hear from a man who works dawn to dusk to make sure our shows look and sound right. He is meticulous about all of the cues and is even out here with the scores to make sure he is on top of all of the entrances. We could not hope for someone as dedicated to the quality and mission of our music. He is a true believer in swinging and in raising the human condition through excellence. He is Mr. David Robinson:


    “Every night is Carnegie Hall.”

    That’s how the great Joe Williams said Count Basie approached every gig. It doesn’t matter where you are playing, or who you’re playing for – give it your best effort.

    This has been my guiding principle towards concert production since November 29, 1989 at Tipitina’s in New Orleans. It was the first gig I worked. Billy Banks was there showing me the ropes, “Watch what I do, keep your mouth shut, and pay attention to the band.”

    I did.

    Our music is there to be heard as the musicians intend it. Subtle and sweet. Or raucous and rough. Let it speak in its true tone and timbre. Be it the woodiness of Carlos’s bass, or the metallic overtones of Ali’s cymbal. Give it its true character. Work at finding the vocal effect in Chris’s Harmon mute. Pull Sherman’s lead alto voice out of the sax section. Not too much, but just enough to show them who’s leading who. Ryan is Gabriel. Give him domain over the brass. Clarion and clear. Strong and sure.

    Let the music speak for itself. No showy lights or garish effects. Elegant sophistication. MAKE IT PLAIN.
    That’s what I’m here to do. Every night, 8:00pm, all over the world.



    Today we head to Austin to perform at The Long Center for the Performing Arts on the campus of the University of Texas. We look forward to another night of uplifting.


    “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 http://wyntonmarsalis.org/live — with Jazz at Lincoln Center and 2 others.

  • New Orleans, the home of soul

    Posted on October 14th, 2013 | 0

    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.

    Posted on October 13th, 2013 | 0

    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’s performance in my Augusta, Georgia. Absolutely surreal.

    Posted on October 12th, 2013 | 0

    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.

    Love always,
    Chris Crenshaw


    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.

    Thank you!!!



    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

    Posted on October 11th, 2013 | 0

    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:



    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.