On Saturday, April 28, Flushing Town Hall Composer-in-Residence Arun Luthra will present with his band, Arun Luthra’s Konnakol Jazz Project, the world premiere of the music he composed during his Exploring the Metropolis (EtM) Con Edison residency.
The music is inspired by Queens’s extraordinary yet little known jazz history. Queens has been the home to many of jazz’s most iconic artists, including Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Jimmy Heath, Dizzy Gillespie, John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley.
Arun Luthra’s music blends jazz with Indian classical rhythms, which he performs vocally using the art form konnakol, a reflection of his South Asian heritage. This cultural fusion in Luthra’s music highlights and celebrates the diversity of Queens and of the musicians who call it home. Arun Luthra was born in Worcester, Massachusetts to an Indian father and a British mother. He began his formal music training in Belgium at age nine, studying European classical guitar. He eventually focused on the saxophone and began an active performing and writing career, subsequently adding konnakol to his musical repertoire.
Performing with Arun Luthra on saxophones and konnakol are James Francies on piano, Sam Minaie on bass, and Kenny Grohowski on drums. (You can get a taste of his group’s music here.)
This composition was created with the support of the E.t.M. Con Edison Composer Residencies, administered by Exploring the Metropolis. This concert is made possible in part by the Queens Council on the Arts with public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the New York City Council.
This free performance (RSVP requested) is on Saturday, April 28 at 6:00 PM at Flushing Town Hall, 137-35 Northern Blvd., Flushing.
Flushing Town Hall asked Luthra about his career and upcoming presentation.
What can an audience expect to experience at your performance?
The concert will be a world premiere of the music I have composed during my E.t.M. composer’s residency at F.T.H. The music is celebration of Queens’s jazz history, having been home to many of jazz’s greatest and most iconic figures, as well as a reflection of modern Queens’s unsurpassed cultural diversity. My music blends jazz (perhaps the original “fusion music”) with Indian classical music rhythms. In addition to my saxophone playing, and the piano, bass, and drums in my group, the audience can look forward to hearing me perform these Indian classical music rhythms vocally using the art form of konnakol.
Tell us about you – how you started as a musician?
I have loved and wanted to play music for as long as I can remember. I was lucky enough to have grown up hearing all kinds of music from the very earliest age, from Indian and European classical music, to jazz, to the rock ‘n’ roll records of my older brother and sister, to everything else in between. I took classical guitar lessons at a young age as I wanted to play guitar like my older brother. From there, I explored more and more music and musical instruments, until I finally settled on the saxophone and konnakol (Indian classical music vocalized rhythms) as my two vehicles for musical performance.
Where did you grow up?
I am fortunate to have an international and multicultural family, upbringing, and life. I was born in Massachusetts, and moved to Belgium when I was about 3 years old, and I returned to live in the U.S. right before high school. I spent time both on the East and West Coasts of the U.S. during my teenage years. I finally settled in New York City when I came here to study for my degree in jazz performance at The New School. My father’s family is from India, and he was born in Kenya. My mother’s family is British, and she was raised in eastern, central, and southern Africa, as well as in Britain, France, and Belgium. These varied international and multicultural influences have enriched my life immeasurably, and have a deep effect of my music. Since moving to New York City I have lived in Morningside Heights and Chelsea in Mahnattan, Boerum Hill in Brooklyn, and I have called Astoria, Queens home since 2000.
What do you hope audiences discover at your event?
I hope my audience will be delighted to discover the art form of konnakol (Indian classical music vocalized rhythms), and how it blends so beautifully with jazz. I also hope that my piece “Monarchs of Queens” will instill a new awareness and delight in my audience of what an incredible jazz history Queens has, and instill a sense of pride in Queens residents and New Yorkers in the amazing cultural legacy of Queens.
What does Flushing Town Hall mean to you?
Having a sense of history, and of how my work connects to the legacy and history of the music I play, has always been very important to me. Flushing Town Hall is one of those historic venues which connects the artists who perform there to the history and legacy of the music. To be a part of that as a composer and performer is deeply moving, and instills in me a great sense of responsibility and of pride.
What is on the horizon for you?
I am working on recording an album of my band, Arun Luthra’s Konnakol Jazz Project, as well as continuing to tour with the band. I am also continuing my collaborations with Indian classical music masters and collaborating with them on various projects.
What has it mean for you to be a composer in residence at Flushing Town Hall?
Flushing Town Hall is such a historic venue, and there is such a strong sense of history being there, touching the walls, breathing the air. It’s deeply moving to think of all the great artists who have performed at Flushing Town Hall, and the countless audience members who have attended performances there. To work at Flushing Town Hall is to feel connected to that history and to those great artists, which is a deeply inspiring and joyful feeling.
What has being an EtM Con Edison Composer-in-Residence meant to you?
To be recognized as a composer by EtM is wonderfully gratifying. Institutional recognition and financial support for my work as a composer affords me the opportunity to compose larger-scale works, and it brings me greater exposure and recognition from colleagues, arts institutions, and audiences. I couldn’t be happier or prouder to have been awarded an EtM Con Edison Composer’s residency.