Wynton’s Blog

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

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

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