Jazz on the Mountaintop—Summit in Seattle

On March 2, four jazz powerhouses gather for the Summit in Seattle—a first-ever performance together in this configuration, with no rehearsal or setlist! They come together, warm up, and then dive into an evening of collective improvisation, collaboration, and musical risk-taking. The event is the brainchild of Global Rhythms 2017-18 Co-Curator Daniel Atkinson, and represents a form of jazz he seldom sees represented in today’s musical landscape. Atkinson sat down for an interview with Town Hall’s copywriter, Alexander Eby, to discuss his vision.


AE: The Summit in Seattle is a pretty unusual event. What makes it so unique?

DA: The fact that it’s unusual is precisely why I put this event together. I envisioned the Summit as a way to get back to the true roots of jazz. The format goes back 100 years—a group of musicians at the top of their game with no setlist, listening to each other’s language and finding their own way to speak and respond to one another. It’s an arrangement that harkens back to the ritualistic traditions that define jazz as an art form.

AE: Can you tell me more about that?

DA: At its core, jazz is about musical risk-taking. Success is defined not by playing what’s written, but by taking those risks—by almost failing and then not. An artist becomes a conduit for the culture rather than a destination. They push themselves and their instrumental skills by understanding their relationship to the other artists. That’s why there’s no setlist. Jazz lives in the moment. Mistakes become opportunities to work out potentially new ideas. I want to give these guys a chance to express themselves and navigate that process together and ultimately have fun!

AE: Why put on a performance like this in Seattle?

DA: People in the Seattle jazz community want to promote equity. The Summit is my way of doing exactly that. I wanted to give these four master musicians of color a chance to collaborate with no restrictions and celebrate an art form with roots in West African and Afro-American music traditions.

AE: Is that what makes this concert a great fit for the Global Rhythms series?

DA: Exactly. The musical forms that define jazz, like syncopation and the blues scale, were introduced and popularized by Black artists in the early 1900’s. The context of jazz has changed over time to become more convenient for conspicuous consumption, but jazz began as a space for Black musical expression. It’s a style that (for a very short time) created spaces where a Black performer could be respected for the merit of their musical skill, not judged for their skin color.

AE: Could you give me an example of one of these spaces?

DA: Jam sessions are a prime example. In 1930’s New York, the jam session was an environment that tested a musician’s mettle. A Black musician could demonstrate his/her prowess, and if a White musician couldn’t answer the call, they would have to sit down and make way for someone who possibly could. Value was placed on the merit of musicianship—and bred a learning process. If you couldn’t match or surpass another musician’s skill one night, you went to the woodshed and came back when you felt ready to try again.

AE: And with four masters onstage at the Summit, improvising and adapting to one another is the name of the game.

DA: That’s right. There are two MacArthur Fellows in this group; they’re at the top of their game.

AE: These musicians come from a variety of backgrounds: jazz, hip-hop, R&B, soul. Do you think they’ll have trouble adapting to each other’s styles?

DA: You know, a lot of people have forgotten that those genres actually take their roots from the same place. Back in the early Jim Crow era, what we know as jazz was called “race music.” Eventually it was changed to “rhythm and blues” to make the music easier for White audiences to conspicuously consume, and finally became known as “rock and roll” when White artists took it over completely.

Jazz, gospel, blues, R&B, and hip-hop, are genres that retained certain elements of that progenitor—of “race music”—which were not transposed to rock and roll. The syncopation, the improvisation, the focus on self-expression and adapting to your fellow musicians instead of cutting and pasting ideas together in the spirit of improvisation to an audience that remains benevolently ignorant. This style has gone through so many identity changes that it’s no longer a Black art form, but ultimately the masters playing at the Summit do share a musical lineage—which begins first as a recognition of where it comes from and its uniquely Afro-American, cultural cache. That’s why it’s so important to me that Black musicians be given a space to express their mastery in an art form that is, at its roots, Black.

AE: Do you have any thoughts to prepare audiences for this show?

DA: This performance will be what it will be. Improvisation, risk—this is jazz at its core. As an audience member, you’re witnessing a space for four masters to collaborate and negotiate their process together in real time. It’s probably one of the only times you’re going to see anything like this—it’s an arrangement that just doesn’t happen very often anymore, as much as I wish it did. But I couldn’t bring the mountain down, so to speak, so I put together the Summit to bring the audience to the mountaintop.


Join us March 2 for this exciting collaboration!

Town Music in Schools

Thousands of chamber music fans attend Town Hall’s popular Town Music series each season, but few people know that the series has another large, enthusiastic audience…whose bedtime falls around the same time as curtain rises. Series curator Joshua Roman had a dream to share his passion for music with student audiences, so he created the Town Music in Schools program in 2011 so that young music fans can take part in the live music experience, even if they can’t stay up late. Since the program began, more than 1,100 K-12 students have had the chance to get up close and personal with some of the world’s most talented classical musicians.

The most recent Town Music in Schools excursion brought New York’s Enso String Quartet to southeast Seattle’s Graham Hill Elementary School. Nearly 400 K-5 students packed into the auditorium, whispering with excited anticipation as they waited for the musicians to take the stage.

During their evening performance at Town Hall, the Grammy-winning Enso String Quartet performed rarely heard pieces by opera masters Puccini, Verdi, and Strauss—but for their performance at Graham Hill, the group prepared an accessible, educational program tailored especially for young ears. Much to the delight of the students, they kicked off with the theme song from The Simpsons, which sparked a gleeful murmur of recognition throughout the crowd. Cellist Richard Belcher explained that the iconic Danny Elfman piece was a good example of how music creates a mood—in this case, playful, fun and even funny!

In addition to lighthearted, recognizable tunes like “Happy Birthday,” Enso wove in pieces by Mozart, Haydn, Bartok, and Ljova to illustrate the three essential ingredients of music: rhythm, harmony, and melody. (They also snuck in lessons about more complex concepts like dynamics and syncopation.) The students responded enthusiastically, as one boy played “air cello” while another conducted from the front row.

The mother of a third-grade student remarked, “I thought it was incredible. My daughter was enthralled…the kids learned a lot, but [Enso] kept them entertained.”

The goals of the Town Music in Schools program include “demystifying” classical music, inspiring and informing young people about the dedication it takes to excel in music and other life endeavors. Graham Hill’s students are dedicated—the fourth and fifth grade music students won a district-wide prize for the most time spent practicing their instruments—but they got a real sense for the discipline required of a professional musician. Graham Hill staff member Yedit Bereket said, “I know they left inspired, like, ‘Hey, I want to do that!’”

After the visit, Graham Hill’s Music Specialist, Cherrie Adams, said, “I can teach the students about music and play recordings for them, but nothing can take the place of a live concert.  We really appreciate Town Hall partnering with us to give our students an inspirational and educational experience.”

The next Town Music in Schools visit with Joshua Roman and Andrius Zlabys will take place at Washington Middle School on Monday, April 21. Roman and Zlabys perform at Town Hall on Tuesday, April 22 at 7:30pm

TownMusicSeason Preview/Happy Hour with Joshua Roman

Just before Town Music’s (literally) jaw-dropping season-opening presentation of Roomful of Teeth, meet the artistic director of Town Hall’s new-music chamber series in a special free preview of the upcoming season—complete with special deals. Beer, wine, soda, and snacks will be available for purchase in the café as Roman, former principal cellist for the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, presents an audio/video tour of Town Music’s amazing 2013-14 lineup (from Enso String Quartet to Karen Gomyo and Roman himself) and takes questions from the crowd. Fans who come to Happy Hour without tickets to Roomful of Teeth are eligible for the advance ticket price (a savings of $5), and subscribers to the entire Town Music season (sign up at Happy Hour, if you haven’t already!) receive a special Town Music poster signed by Roman.

Presented by: Town Hall as part of the Town Music series, curated by Joshua Roman. Series supported by the Wyncote Foundation NW and the Tagney-Jones Family Fund. Series media sponsorship provided by Seattle Weekly and KING-FM.
Tickets: Happy Hour is free; no tickets required. Subscriptions to the five-concert Town Music season are $85 general/$80 members. Single-event tickets for Roomful of Teeth go on sale Aug. 19: $20 advance/$25 at the door/$20 seniors/$17 Town Hall members/$10 students. A limited number of $5 day-of-show Teen Tix for those 18 and under also will be available.
Learn more: About Town Music and season subscriptions.

Town MusicJoshua Roman & Andrius Zlabys

AndriusZlabysTown Music Artistic Director Joshua Roman takes the stage with acclaimed Lithuanian pianist Andrius Zlabys in a program featuring Stravinsky’s Suite Italienne (from the Pulcinella ballet), Schnittke Sonata, and more. Roman, former principal cellist with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra (and, as the San Francisco Chronicle declared, “a cellist of extraordinary technical and musical gifts”), performs with Grammy-nominated Zlabys, a prizewinner at the esteemed Cleveland International Piano Competition who has performed with the New York Philharmonic, Boston Symphony, Cleveland Orchestra, Rotterdam Symphony, and the Philharmonic Orchestra of Buenos Aires, among others, and made his Carnegie Hall debut with the New York Youth Symphony Orchestra in March 2001.

Presented by: Town Hall as part of the Town Music series, curated by Joshua Roman. Series supported by the Wyncote Foundation NW, Tagney-Jones Family Fund, and the Nesholm Family Foundation. Series media sponsorship provided by Seattle Weekly and KING-FM.
Tickets: $20 advance/$25 at the door/$20 seniors/$17 Town Hall members/$10 students. A limited number of $5 day-of-show Teen Tix for those 18 and under also will be available.
Doors open: 7 pm; late seating is not guaranteed.
Town Hall member benefits: Discounted tickets.
Learn more: About Roman.
Zlabys on YouTube.

Town MusicRoomful of Teeth

Roomful of Teeth is not your typical classical ensemble—not in name, and not in performance: Its eight classically trained vocalists have studied Tuvan throat singing, belting and pop techniques, yodeling, and Inuit throat singing. Each concert feels less like a classical new-music performance and more like a rock show, or a high-wire act. And it’s a very successful approach: The group’s first album, Roomful of Teeth, earned raves from critics ranging from NPR to Pitchfork and made tons of Top 10 lists for 2012; the octet won the 2010 American Prize and two TimeOut New York Critic’s Picks; and member Caroline Shaw won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Music for her composition Partita for 8 Voices, which Roomful of Teeth performs. Dedicated to reimagining vocal music in the 21st century, Roomful of Teeth brings audiences to their feet with vibrant performances of all-new—really all-new—music.

Presented by: Town Hall as part of the Town Music series, curated by Joshua Roman. Series supported by the Wyncote Foundation NW and the Tagney-Jones Family Fund. Series media sponsorship provided by Seattle Weekly and KING-FM.
Tickets: Subscriptions to the five-concert Town Music season are $85 general/$80 members and are on sale now here. Single-event tickets for Roomful of Teeth are on sale now: $20 advance/$25 at the door/$20 seniors/$17 Town Hall members/$10 students. A limited number of $5 day-of-show Teen Tix for those 18 and under also will be available.
Doors open: 7 pm; late seating is not guaranteed.
Town Hall member benefits: Discounted subscriptions and tickets.
Learn more: About Roomful of Teeth.

Town MusicKaren Gomyo & Pablo Zieglerfeaturing the Pablo Ziegler Tango Quartet

PabloZieglerTango meets classical music as Canadian violin virtuoso Karen Gomyo, Latin Grammy-winning pianist Pablo Ziegler and his quartet, and pianist Cory Smythe perform works from Bach, Brahms, Bartok, and Piazzolla. Hailed by the Chicago Tribune as “a first-rate artist of real musical command, vitality, brilliance, and intensity,” Gomyo has performed as a soloist with the New York Philharmonic; Los Angeles Philharmonic; Vancouver and Tokyo symphonies; Hong Kong Philharmonic; the National Symphony of Washington, D.C.; the Royal Scottish National Orchestra; and many others. She also is deeply interested in the Nuevo Tango music of Astor Piazzolla and the classical composers who influenced him—and it just so happens that Ziegler, known for artfully blending classic tango rhythms with jazz improvisations, is a former member of Astor Piazzolla’s New Tango Quintet. Ziegler’s own quartet includes Hector del Curto (bandoneon), Claudio Ragazzi (electric guitar), and Pedro Giraudo (double bass).

Presented by: Town Hall as part of the Town Music series, curated by Joshua Roman. Series supported by the Wyncote Foundation NW, Tagney-Jones Family Fund, and the Nesholm Family Foundation. Series media sponsorship provided by Seattle Weekly and KING-FM.
Tickets: $20 advance/$25 at the door/$20 seniors/$17 Town Hall members/$10 students. A limited number of $5 day-of-show Teen Tix for those 18 and under also will be available.
Doors open: 7 pm; late seating is not guaranteed.
Town Hall member benefits: Discounted subscriptions and tickets.
Learn more: About Gomyo.
About Ziegler.

 

Town MusicMary Mackenzie: ‘Pierrot Lunaire’ & Premiere of New Works

David-Joshua-Roman_8934In this season’s special Town Music finale, be one of the first to hear the premiere of four original compositions. Specifically commissioned by Town Hall and Town Music Artist Director Joshua Roman, these works for voice and ensemble were created by composers Raymond Lustig, Amir Shpilman, Wang Jie, and Roman. Thematically ranging from love and life on Mars, to the beauty of winter, these four works were carefully curated for this evening. In addition to these pieces, Mary Mackenzie will also perform Schoenberg’s exalted 1912 song cycle “Pierrot Lunaire.” Described by The New York Times as “a soprano of extraordinary agility and concentration,” Mary Mackenzie has captured the attention, and admiration, of audiences across the country. The program also features performances by cellist Roman (pictured at left), returning Town Music favorite Bill Kalinkos (clarinet), Daria Binkowski, Karen Kim (violin/viola), and pianist David Kaplan. A passionate performer of contemporary music, Mackenzie has premiered numerous works by established composers and works closely with young up-and-coming composers to develop new works for voice.

Presented by: Town Hall as part of the Town Music series, curated by Joshua Roman. Series supported by the Wyncote Foundation NW, Tagney-Jones Family Fund, and the Nesholm Family Foundation. Series media sponsorship provided by Seattle Weekly and KING-FM.
Tickets: $20 advance/$25 at the door/$20 seniors/$17 Town Hall members/$10 students. A limited number of $5 day-of-show Teen Tix for those 18 and under also will be available.
Doors open: 6:30pm; late seating is not guaranteed.
Town Hall member benefits: Discounted subscriptions and tickets.
Learn more: About Mackenzie. 

 

Town MusicEnso String Quartet Opera Composers’ String Quartets

EnsoStringQuartetCreditCristinaHirst

With its 2010 Grammy nomination for Best Chamber Music Performance, the NYC-based Enso String Quartet quickly was recognized as one of the country’s most exciting young ensembles. And that exciting young ensemble is awfully excited about this new program. Says cellist Richard Belcher: “Puccini, Verdi, and Strauss are three of the greatest names in musical theater. When you think of those three composers, you think of big-scale operatic works. So full of color and character. It’s so exciting that our next project is working on the string quartets of these composers.” Called “clearly bound for greatness” by MusicWeb International and committed to the classics of the string-quartet repertoire as well as strong advocacy for new music, Enso (derived from the Japanese zen painting of the circle) also consists of Maureen Nelson, violin; John Marcus, violin; and Melissa Reardon, viola.

Presented by: Town Hall as part of the Town Music series, curated by Joshua Roman. Series supported by the Wyncote Foundation NW and the Tagney-Jones Family Fund. Series media sponsorship provided by Seattle Weekly and KING-FM.
Tickets: Prorated subscriptions to the four-concert Town Music season are $75 general/$70 members and are on sale now here.
Single-event tickets for Enso String Quartet are on sale now here: $20 advance/$25 at the door/$20 seniors/$17 Town Hall members/$10 students.
A limited number of $5 day-of-show Teen Tix for those 18 and under also will be available.
Doors open: 6:30 pm; late seating is not guaranteed.
Town Hall member benefits: Discounted subscriptions and tickets.
Learn more: About Enso String Quartet.
More about the program, on YouTube.

 

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