Category Archives: Newspaper

Montréal Redefines Jazz Music

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(Astrid Lium photos)

 

The 33rd annual Montreal International Jazz Festival kicked off its festivities north of the border on June 28 and continued through July 7. For 10 days and nights, music, stages and crowds dominated several cordoned-off blocks in the city’s downtown area. Throngs of festival goers filled sections of Sainte-Catherine Street and De Maisonneuve Boulevard, nibbled snacks from street vendors and enjoyed an array of indoor and outdoor performances of musicians from around the world.

In 1980, the first Montreal International Jazz Festival featured Gary Burton, Chick Corea, Ray Charles and Vic Vogel, and attracted about 12,000 people. It now boasts some 3000 artists from about 30 different countries and more than 2 million attendees. Holding the 2004 Guinness World Record for largest jazz festival, the event has steadily grown in popularity and increasingly pushed the boundaries of jazz music.

Some of this year’s top names and sold-out performances included Ziggy Marley, James Taylor, Liza Minnelli, Norah Jones and Montreal’s own Rufus Wainwright. The free, outdoor venues boasted such performers as Italian crooner Patrizio, Japan’s funk group Osaka Monaurail, Boston-based Mr. Ho’s Orchestrotica –– a 23-piece ensemble that offers an eclectic mix of experimental music –– and a slew of others.

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Associated more with reggae, folk, pop and other genres besides jazz, such artists challenge traditional views of the musical concept. Since its humble beginning, the festival has introduced a growing number of musicians who crosscut various musical scenes. “Jazz” in Montreal has a multitude of names and faces.

André Ménard, the festival’s co-founder and artistic director, emphasizes the array of musical talent in an article featured in the festival program and schedule. He writes, “Once again, our musical menu unveils a kaleidoscopic diversity in a comprehensive program … Our programmers wore out their eyes, ears and shoe leather scouring the ends of the (musical) Earth.”

Patrons of the event have observed the expanding repertoire of performances over the years and how they fit into the “jazz” category. Julian Woods, a longtime resident of Montreal, has attended various shows at the festival for the past 15 years. He believes that the music featured, based on his definition of the genre, “goes way beyond ‘jazz’.”

Woods admits that his perspective may be stricter than that of others. He says, “When I think of jazz, I think of Dixieland jazz, blues, R&B, swing and traditionalists like Duke Ellington and Miles Davis.” He believes that the festival fits more of a “Wikipedia definition” of jazz, which, he says, includes Latin and African rhythms, among others.

Despite the name, says Woods, the week-and-a-half long festival transcends its tunes. “The Montreal Jazz Festival is about more than just the music,” he says. “It’s about the ambiance, the staging, the ancillary entertainment, the crowds.”

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Michel Bonin, a Vancouver-based pianist, entrepreneur and writer for Canada Journal, agrees that the festival offers more than music. He believes that it is as important economically as it is artistically to the Canadian city, attracting tourists from around the world.

“The jazz fest is really promoting Quebec and Montreal. It strengthens the French presence in Canada,” he says. “Besides music, it’s also about architecture, sustainability, city planning and business.”

As such, Bonin views the widening parameters of jazz as a shift toward inclusivity. He believes that the music has moved “beyond jazz.” “It used to be about ‘real jazz’,” he says, “strictly jazz.”

Now, the writer and musician believes that the event is expanding the genre itself and “making it more approachable to those who don’t know it as well.”

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(Media honor bestowed upon veteran journalist Michael Bourne, left.)

Media veteran Michael Bourne focuses more on the musical aspect of the festival. The New York City-based music reviewer has attended the event religiously for the past 20 years. He views jazz as a continuum that evades an immobile, concrete definition.

Bourne uses the city as an adjective –– describing the festival and its combination of musical performances as “very Montreal” –– to underscore the uniqueness of the experience.

“This festival redefines jazz, but jazz also redefines itself,” he says. “Every generation thinks the new one isn’t ‘real jazz’, but it’s all jazz.”

 

(This article originally appeared in The Bay State Banner in July 2012.)

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Charles Sumner Bicentennial

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Charles Sumner is pictured here with Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, a famous poet, Harvard professor and Sumner’s best friend. (Photos courtesy of Longfellow House-Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site)

 

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Charles Sumner, a Harvard-educated abolitionist and statesman, has been honored in a number of bicentennial celebrations this year.

Few people may realize that the statue seated on the traffic island on Massachusetts Avenue in Harvard Square is a replica of Charles Sumner. Even fewer may know who Sumner was or appreciate his contributions to the abolition of slavery.

Two hundred years after his birth, the Charles Sumner Bicentennial Committee is attempting to revive Sumner’s historical celebrity by promoting his work and educating the public about his civil rights activism.

Since Jan. 6, Sumner’s actual birthday, the committee has held various events to celebrate the life and historical significance of the Harvard-educated abolitionist and Massachusetts statesman. The most recent gathering was the forum held last month at the First Parish Universalist Unitarian Church in Harvard Square.

Spearheaded by the National Park Service, the Bicentennial Committee is comprised of the Boston African American National Historic Site, Cambridge Forum, Friends of the Longfellow House, Friends of Mount Auburn Cemetery, Harvard University, Longfellow National Historic Site, Massachusetts Historical Society and the Museum of African American History.

A week before the forum, dozens of supporters gathered in front of the church in the rain for the preliminary dedication to Sumner. Several students from the Haggerty School recited the poem “Charles Sumner,” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the famous poet, Harvard professor and Sumner’s best friend.

Nancy Jones, a park ranger from the Longfellow House-Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site, in Cambridge, led a ceremony rededicating the Sumner statue, and placed a bouquet of flowers next to the seated figure.

The statue in Harvard Square was designed by Anne Whitney in 1875, but was not installed until the 20th century.

The Boston Art Committee held a national competition for the design of the Charles Sumner memorial statue. All entries were made anonymously and the committee did not realize that a woman sculpted the figure.

When the committee discovered Whitney’s identity, it denied her the award, claiming that “a woman could not properly model a man’s legs.” The prize then went to Thomas Ball, whose statue of Sumner is located in Boston’s Public Garden.

Whitney resumed her project 25 years later and produced a full-size bronze cast statue, which was eventually installed in its current Harvard Square location in 1902.

After the dedication, the crowd poured into the church to hear the panel’s presentation. Three speakers shared biographical information, anecdotes and opinions about Sumner and the political issues dominating the political and social climate of his time.

During the second half of the forum, audience members asked questions about Sumner and his contemporaries.

John Stauffer, Harvard professor of African American studies and Chair of the History of American Civilization, moderated the discussion. The other two panelists included Daniel Coquilette, a Harvard Law School visiting professor, and Beverly Morgan-Welch, executive director of the Museum of African American History in Boston and Nantucket.

The three shared detailed information about Sumner, who was born in Boston and grew up in a multiracial neighborhood in Beacon Hill. Sumner’s father, Charles Pinckney Sumner, was the sheriff of Suffolk County and an ardent anti-slavery activist.

“This is one of the greatest men in U.S. history,” said Coquillette. “Why is he not regarded as such like Lincoln?”

Answering his own question, Coquillette claims that race relations over the years have continued to keep Sumner a divided figure. “Even after nearly two centuries, Sumner is still constantly under attack and his causes are, as well,” he said.

“The Civil War was not about states’ rights,” Coquillette continued. “It was about slavery. And if anyone wants to take me on about this, I am ready.”

The half-joking statement invoked chuckles from the pews. However, no one challenged his claim.

Coquillette went on to describe the notoriously violent altercation between Sumner and South Carolina congressman Preston Brooks. Sumner had made outspoken and insulting remarks about Brooks’ cousin, Sen. Andrew Butler, and his proverbial “mistress,” slavery. In 1856, Brooks severely beat Sumner with his cane on the floor of the United States Senate.

Sumner took three years to recover from his injuries and returned to the senate in 1859. Despite the setback, he resumed his efforts in the anti-slavery movement, garnering the reputation as a rude, outspoken, shrill extremist with radical views on civil liberties.

“The division of North and South was evident that day in the senate,” said Coquillette. “Preston Brooks never went to jail for his violence … he was a coward through and through.”

When asked about the influence of Sumner’s upbringing on the rest of his life, Morgan-Welch underscored the connection between the two.

“Growing up in that integrated community really formed him,” she said. “Blacks in Beacon Hill knew whites of great prominence and helped put them in those very positions of power.”

Coquillette added, “[Sumner] was true to his upbringing and neighborhood. He had exposure to high society, traveled around Europe and spoke many languages, but he never forgot his roots.”

An audience member reiterated the issue of Sumner’s obscure reputation, asking why the public isn’t as familiar with him as with other historical figures.

Coquillette replied, “Charles Sumner is not a household name because what the argument was then continues today. We haven’t confronted it yet. His greatness is tied up in the problems we face today as a divided nation.”

Morgan-Welch agreed, likening the North and South during The Civil War to modern day “blue” and “red” states. “There are still many people who argue how brash and rude the abolitionists were, as though slavery were a good idea. There is still a lot of debate about it.”

Stauffer summed up the discussion by adding, “The respect afforded [Sumner] in Congress contradicts the image of a shrill, unbending, difficult person. He was demonized by many historians, particularly in the South, and is still a controversial figure.”

 

(This article originally appeared in the June 2, 2011 issue of The Bay State Banner.)

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Harvard Celebrates 40 Years of Jazz


Cecil McBee on bass, Brian Lynch on trumpet and Benny Golson on tenor saxophone were among the Harvard All-Stars who performed at Sanders Hall as Harvard celebrated 40 years of jazz.                          (Eric Antoniou photo)

Jazz at Harvard has come a long way, baby.

Before 1971, the African American-dominated musical genre was unheard of at the Ivy League institution. Since then Tom Everett has founded and nurtured a successful program for Harvard students interested in jazz performance.

On Saturday night the weekend celebration of Jazz at Harvard’s fortieth year culminated with a sold out performance at Sanders Hall. Harvard’s two student jazz bands, along with a notable alumnus and the Harvard All-Stars, comprised of jazz masters and former guest musicians, played for more than two hours to an enthusiastic crowd.

The undergraduate Sunday Jazz Band, directed by Mark Olson, opened the show with an energetic performance of Neal Hefti’s “Flight of the Foo Birds.”  That musical introduction triggered wild applause and approving whistles from the audience, which set the scene for the following pieces.

With Olson still at the helm, the band followed with “Peedlum,” by Hank Jones, to whom the song was also dedicated.

Olson and Ingrid Monson then introduced Everett, who took the reins for the second set, directing the Monday Jazz Band in renditions of Billy Strayhorn’s “Take the ‘A’ Train” and Charles Mingus’ “The Shoes of the Fisherman’s Wife are Some Jive Ass Slippers.” Ever the gentleman, Everett truncated the latter title in his introduction to appease a civilized Harvard audience.

The third song, Benny Carter’s “Myra,” added a lyrical dimension with jazz vocalist Samara Oster. The waifish undergraduate’s delicate appearance contrasted the depth and strength of her voice, infused with scatting and smiles. Oster and tenor saxophonist Alex Rezzo wrapped up the piece with a playful back and forth, as though enjoying a musical tennis match.

Before introducing tenor saxophonist Don Braden, the soft-spoken Everett articulated the essence of the evening. “Harvard is not the jazz center of the world, but the significance of jazz is gaining recognition […] that is what we are celebrating tonight,” he said.

Braden, a 1985 Harvard graduate and former pupil of Everett’s, joined the band with his sax to perform one of his own compositions, “Landing Zone.” The song prompted wild applause and standing ovations, both on and off stage.

He then played Illinois Jacquet’s well-known solo performance in “Flying Home.”

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Golson was included in a video montage that featured former Jazz at Harvard Artists in Residence. (Eric Antoniou photo)

A video montage kicked off the second hour of the celebration, featuring past Jazz at Harvard Artists in Residence, including Carla Bley, Jim Hall, Hank Jones, Benny Golson, Roy Hargrove, Jimmy Slyde and others. Footage of Jacquet invoked another standing ovation among performers and patrons.

Brian Lynch and Eddie Palmieri then joined the students on stage and they all performed Palmieri’s “Elena, Elena.” Lynch strutted to the microphone like a cool cat in a dark suit, porkpie hat and sunglasses. He silently commanded the stage with his trumpet playing and very presence.

Palmieri was more understated, yet equally talented, at the piano. He was the straight man to Lynch’s more comic and animated onstage persona.

The remaining Harvard All-Stars, tenor saxophonist Benny Golson, bassist Cecil McBee and drummer Roy Haynes, joined Lynch and Palmieri for the finale.

Golson manned the mic and honored Everett with his smooth voice. “Forty years ago, Tom Everett had the audacity to suggest Harvard start a jazz program and someone had the audacity to hire him.”

The crowd chuckles.

“Was it easy?” Golson continues. “Of course it was!”

The crowd roars.

“What can I say about Tom Everett?  He is an icon in his own right.”

Everett bashfully nods his head and waves from the stage.

The ensemble then reminded the audience what was being celebrated as they performed Golson’s “Whisper Not,” Charlie Parker’s “Steeple Chase” and “Blues for Moody” in memory of the late jazz musician James Moody.

The spontaneity and experienced improvisation of the old timers complimented the organization and air tight preparation of the student bands. With the All-Star band leading the way, the Ivy League venue morphed into a smoky jazz bar for a set, without the smoke.

One of the highlights was Roy Haynes’ vibrant drum solo, which he played in a funky suit and orange Uggs. Golson gently joked afterward of the 86-year- old drummer’s youthful performance. “[Haynes] has been lying to me for years. He’s really 20 years old!” Golson said.

This article was originally published in the Bay State Banner on April 14, 2011.

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Leadership Conference Brings Women Together

This article originally appeared as a May 2, 2012 post on Michele Norris’ website: http://michele-norris.com/news/michele-norris-opens-afternoon-for-simmons-leadership-conference-boston/

On the heels of International Women’s Month was a women’s leadership conference at Boston’s Seaport World Trade Center.

Sponsored by Simmons College, the 33rd annual Leadership Conference last month featured an array of inspiring women from different walks of life. The longest-running women’s leadership forum in the country, the event reached its maximum capacity and attracted about 2500 attendees.

The theme this year was “Innovation and Impact,” and a list of notable women discussed various ramifications of those overarching concepts. The speakers represented a variety of backgrounds, from entrepreneurs and athletes to money managers and media personalities. A unifying factor was the encouragement of women to excel in any field.

According to Joyce Kolligian, the conference’s executive director, “This year’s roster included some of the nation’s most visionary change-makers who recognized and seized opportunities that have altered the course of their industry or profession.”

The 2012 keynote speakers of the all-day conference included Meg Whitman, president and CEO of Hewlett-Packard (HP) and former president and CEO of eBay; tennis pioneer Billie Jean King; Robin Chase, former CEO of Zipcar and founder of GoLoco; and Michele Norris, co-host of National Public Radio’s (NPR) program “All Things Considered.”

Previous guests of the conference hail from a range of fields and have included Oprah Winfrey, Toni Morrison, ABC News’ Christiane Amanpour and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

In the Corporate Marketplace area were booths set up by the conference’s business and media sponsors, including Cisco, TD Bank, Philips, EMC² and HP. Held in the ballrooms and conference rooms were different talks, which Whitman kicked off with opening remarks at 8am.

The following 10 hours included discussions, book signings, lunch and lectures. Over the course of the day, a dozen influential women shared their insights and tips on leadership, business, success and balance in life

Norris, the first African American female host for NPR, opened the afternoon talk with thoughts on feminism, race relations and recent advancements toward equality. Noting the sheer size of the cavernous room, she commented on the seemingly endless space filled by strong women. “It just keeps going and going!”

The 50-year-old radio personality underscored the importance of not taking such advancements for granted. “Even within some of our lifetimes, it would have been hard to imagine a room like this,” she said.

Before delving into the topics addressed by her 2010 “accidental” family memoir, “The Grace of Silence,” Norris balanced the serious talk with a light-hearted anecdote. The mother of two explained how her kids plead over dinner, “Mommy, can we have the radio voice?” Norris joked that she provides the coveted “radio voice” only after they have cleaned their rooms.

The bulk of her talk related to the discussion of racism, particularly within her own family, as it appears in her book. “I wanted to write a book about how other people talk about race,” she said. When Norris listened to the conversation closer to home, she realized how little of it she had heard before. “I was writing the wrong book,” she concluded.

The result was a collection of first-hand accounts from her parents and extended family about racism. Her family faced discrimination in a predominantly white Minnesotan neighborhood; her grandmother traveled the country as an “itinerant Aunt Jemima”; her father was shot while on his way to take a class about the Constitution.

Other speakers at the event included Vernice Armour, third-generation Marine and the first African American female combat pilot in U.S. military history; Carmen Wong Ulrich, a finance expert, author, public speaker and former host of CNBC’s program “On the Money”; and Rhonda Kallman, who helped launch The Boston Beer Company (makers of Samuel Adams Boston Lager) and New Century Brewing Co.

Moderators of the conference included Jill Avery, assistant professor of marketing at the Simmons School of Management, and Dr. Teresa Nelson, the Elizabeth J. McCandless Professor of Entrepreneurship Chair and director of the School of Management’s Entrepreneurship Program.

Proceeds from the Leadership Conference go toward Simmons graduate scholarships.

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