On Friday, October 14th, Flushing Town Hall will present “The Swinging Sounds of Coleman Hawkins” featuring Lew Tabackin and his ensemble. We chatted with the great jazz saxophonist about his career and upcoming performance.
Could you please tell us how you got your start in music and why you picked the saxophone as your instrument of choice?
I actually started on the flute, since that was what my elementary school in South Philadelphia had available. At 15, I decided to play the tenor since I could participate in jam sessions. That is when I actually became serious about music.
Who are some of your favorite musicians with whom you’ve shared the stage?
I was fortunate through the years to play with many amazing players. Some of my favorite horn players include Clark Terry, Freddie Hubbard, Jimmy Knepper, and Randy Brecker; great drummers like Elvin Jones, Billy Higgins, Shelly Manne, Dannie Richmond, amazing bassists, such as Dave Holland, Ray Brown, Wilbur Ware; and pianists like Hank Jones, John Lewis, and on and on.
Why did you choose to pay tribute to Coleman Hawkins? What do you admire most about him? And what can audiences expect from your performance on October 14th?
Coleman Hawkins is our father. He was the first serious improvising jazz tenor saxophone player. He paved the way for BeBop, encouraging and embracing the young players like Monk, Dizzy, Bud, etc. He was the first to play unaccompanied solos. Bean, as Coleman Hawkins was called, was a truly avant-garde musician. His incomparable contribution to our legacy is unfortunately often overlooked by the younger generation. I will humbly try to employ some of these elements at the concert.
What’s on the horizon for you? Do you have any new projects planned?
For now, I am just continuing on my path of trying to “getting it right,” both on tenor and flute – not an easy endeavor!
Join us on Friday, October 14th at 8:00 PM. Tickets are $40/$32 members/$20 students w/ID. Table packages for 2, w/ refreshments are available for $130/$110 members. For those unable to attend in person, the performance will also be live streamed online on YouTube for $10. Purchase your tickets HERE.
On Friday, September 30th at 8 PM, The Bazurto All Stars, known as the Latin “party machine,” will travel from Cartagena, Colombia to bring the energy of champeta to the stage at Flushing Town Hall. We spoke with the group to learn more about their background and wonderful music.
Can you tell us what champeta music is, and what is special about your group’s music style?
Champeta is a musical style born in Cartagena, Colombia that started in the 1980’s and which, over the years, has become more and more popular on the Caribbean coast and across Colombia. It is a mix of different Colombian and African rhythms including Soukous, Calypso, Reggae, and Soca that we turned into a new sound with a different interpretation.
Some of the things that make champeta special are:
1. The “Espeluque,” which is a change of rhythm in the middle of the song which brings the energy to a higher climax, making it impossible not to dance. Champeta involves a series of verses, choruses, and “espeluques.”
2. There is an instrument that is not used in any other genre of music. It is a small Casio SK5 keyboard that accompanies the songs rhythmically instead of melodically and gives a very unique and different feel to this genre.
What are your songs mostly about? What stories do they tell?
Our songs are principally based around parties, dancing, love, and having fun. Our signature song, “La Pupileta,” is the story of a young woman who doesn’t like champeta, because it is a style of music listened to primarily by the common people and she is from the privileged class. Her friends prefer electronic music and international pop stars, but in spite of everything, she is a very extroverted person and falls in love with champeta. It becomes her favorite music.
What can audiences expect from your performance at Flushing Town Hall on September 30th?
The public can expect a show with tons of energy and dancing. We expect that they will enjoy every second of it. They will also hear fusions of champeta with cumbia, salsa, African rhythms, and other Colombian rhythms.
What will participants learn during the champeta workshop you’re offering before the performance? We are going to show everyone the most important steps in champeta dance and the role of the drums, congas, guitar, bass, and saxophone in the music.
What new projects are on the horizon for you? Where are you heading next?
In the second week of September, we are launching a new single that we are going to promote in Colombia, and that everyone can listen to on various music platforms including YouTube. This U.S. tour ends on October 1st in Chicago and we will head back to Colombia where we will continue to tour. We are also planning our subsequent tours to Europe and the U.S. for next year.
Don’t miss this evening of energetic champeta music with The Bazurto All Stars!Get your tickets for the concert HEREfor $18/$12 Members, Seniors, Students. The workshop is FREE, but participants need to RSVP HERE.For those unable to attend in person, the performance will also be live streamed online on YouTube for $5.
On Sunday, September 18th, American jazz artist Amina Claudine Myers and Venezuelan bandola llanera player Mafer Bandola will come togetherfor an exciting performance at Flushing Town Hall. Check out the interviews below to learn more about their musical journeys and collaboration.
Meet Amina Claudine Myers
You are well versed with so many different instruments. When did you start learning music?
I started learning music around four years old when my great Uncle Bufford, who graduated from Tuskegee with a degree in Carpentry but really was a musician who played woodwinds and sang, taught me how to count time 4/4 by marching in time around the dining room as he counted 1-2-3-4. I also sat in my little chair counting as I did heel and toe alternately. At the age of six, I walked 7 miles by Trailways to take piano lessons at Sacred Hearts Church/School by the white nuns. Later I started playing in various settings. I played the electric organ in Jazz clubs while I was in college, and I played at Rhythm and Blues clubs and at church. I started playing the pipe club while playing Mozart’s Requiem in the college choir and later began playing it at concerts after I moved to NYC. I studied European Classical piano in college. I was also singing during this time. I was a soloist in Handel’s Messiah and Mozart’s Requiem and took vocal lessons with Italian Arias and German Lieders.
I was studying all this great music but deep down, I was always thinking about being a concert pianist. I realized that I could not practice 8 hours a day. Jazz, rhythm and blues, and gospel were where I belonged. I learned them all by playing, singing, and emulating those that came before me by ear.
Which is most rewarding for you, performing, composing, or directing— and why?
The most rewarding is definitely performing because I am communicating with the audience with the hope that I am inspiring them and passing on the love that has been given to me.
I definitely do love conducting (love choral/choirs) though. As a teen, I formed several gospel groups, directed choirs, and even gave voice and piano lessons to adults voice and piano. There is a great feeling in conducting, seeing voices develop sounds that can touch people in different ways.
Composing can be – well let’s just say difficult. There are compositions I end up loving when the spirit or spirits come. They speak to me. Once I was in bed and a melody came, I got up went to the piano and wrote an outline but the whole composition came later. Other times I must work and make it happen. One has to try and keep inspired.
What projects do you have on the horizon?
I will be finishing up my symphonic work on Harriet Tubman. I have been working on it for years. The Nathaniel Dett Chorale will be performing my ‘IMPROVISATIONAL SUITE FOR CHORUS, PIPE ORGAN AND PERCUSSION’ piece in Toronto, Canada on September 30th. AACM composer’s music will include my chamber orchestra composition in the play “INTERIORS’, with the S.E.M. Ensemble on October 15th at Demena Center NYC.
Meet Mafer Bandola
Can you describe the bandola instrument for our audiences who may not be familiar with it?
The Bandola is a Venezuelan instrument born from the transculturation during the European colonization and its enslavement to both the native population of Venezuela and the population forcibly brought from Africa. It is an adaptation of instruments such as úd, bandurrias, and vihuelas. This resulted in the country’s different types of bandolas and cuatros.
I play Bandola llanera; it has four strings, two nylon strings, and two of wound metal. The tuning is similar to a violin, G, D, A, E; unlike in the violin, in which lowest string is G, the lowest string in the bandola llanera is A. It is shaped like an avocado or a pear. It is played with a plectrum and is mainly melodic, although the harmonic and rhythmic possibilities with only four strings are infinite.
You are one of a few female artists who play the bandola professionally. Why do you think that is, and what attracted you to this instrument?
I think there is more than one variable for this to happen; First, the culture in the region of the high plains of Venezuela had clear and rigid roles for women and for men.
Men could have recreational time playing their instruments after a day of hard work, while women had to stay home taking care of the house or even the kids.
When I started performing, there were no visible role models of female instrumentalists that made me think it was possible to do it, so I became my own musical role model.
Working with the right people is another aspect that helped me develop my career. My band LADAMA and our manager house, Modiba, have been a blessing in my life to help me enter the music industry confidently. I am a better person, educator, composer, and artist because of them. Lara, Daniela, Sara, and Pat are incredible instrumentalists who know much about production, education, and the music industry. I improve myself around them, and I am always learning.
Most importantly, the support of my parents from the beginning to now has been and still is vital for me. Being able to proudly say that I made a life out of Venezuela as a musician and specifically in New York as a bandola player is amazing.
What attracted me to the bandola is that I have such a versatile musical tool in my hands. The limitations are on me, not the instrument. Experimenting with electric effects on my compositions and lyrics gives me the reaffirmation I sought. I want to build my career as a composer from the traditions of Venezuela to the international scene.
I am happy people use “Bandola” as my last name to recognize the girl that plays the bandola.
How has your experience performing in LADAMA, a group with women from different countries and cultures, prepared you to share the stage with Amina Claudine Myers at your upcoming Mini-Global Mashup concert with Flushing Town Hall?
Performing with LADAMA for the last 7 years has prepared me to be a professional artist on and off the stage, respect and honor other female composers/instrumentalists, and recognize multicultural collaborations as a safe space to give and receive knowledge.
This is how I will share a stage with Amina Claudine Myers at our upcoming Mini-Global Mashup concert with Flushing Town Hall.
What projects do you have on the horizon?
In October, I will be working with other musicians on new music and planning to release it during the spring of 2023.
In November, my LADAMA bandmates and Iwill begin working on our third album.
In December, I will be working on the second season of a musical called Papá Cuatro produced by Miami New Drama in Miami beach. I will be acting, singing, dancing, and playing music in the show.
For the next few months, I will be performing at Pipiris Nights, a monthly event that gathers the community around the Venezuelan Joropo (Venezuelan traditional music), in Brooklyn. This is a space where everyone can come to dance, sing, play and improvise around the Joropo.
For more information on Mafer Bandola’s upcoming projects and events, join her mailing list by texting “Keyword: BANDOLA” to 66866. You can follow Mafer Bandola and LADAMA on Instagram at @MaferBandola and @LadamaProject.
Join Amina Claudine Myers and Mafer Bandola on Sunday, September 18th at 1:00PM at Flushing Town Hall. Purchase your in-person tickets HERE for $15/$12 Members.
You grew up in Jamaica, Queens, NY in the 1960s. Please tell us what it was like to live in that neighborhood at that time. And how does it feel coming back to perform in Queens (Flushing) on September 23rd?
When I moved to Jamaica, Queens, the area I moved to was an all-white neighborhood, so it took some getting used to. I was young and fortunately, the people were nice. I actually watched the neighborhood change. For the most part, it was a good childhood. It will be great to play in Queens again, and I hope that people come and enjoy the music.
When and how did you get your start in music? Was the drums your first instrument of choice?
The trumpet was my first instrument of choice, but that was very short-lived. I started playing drums at 14. I played in the Junior High Orchestra and met fellow neighborhood musicians and we had a band. I went to high school in Manhattan and met new musicians and started to branch out. I went to jam sessions and started to get noticed. I participated in a jazz competition and met musicians I still play with to this day.
Throughout your career, you collaborated with many outstanding musicians. Who had the most influence on you?
Without a doubt Miles Davis. Most people don’t get a chance to meet their idols. I not only got to meet mine, but I also recorded with him, for all the world to hear. As for the most influential drummer, that’s without a doubt Tony Williams. At 17, I first heard Miles Davis’s “Seven Steps To Heaven.” The drummer on that recording was 17 when he made that record; he was Tony Williams. At 17, my path was set.
What is your connection to Chick Corea, the 23-time GRAMMY-winning jazz legend, who also lived in Queens?
Chick played on my very first recording, Miles Davis’s “Bitches Brew” in 1969. Four years later, I was in his band Return To Forever. Along with Stanley Clarke, Bill Connors, and Al Di Meola, we made legendary music.
You are often described as one of the “founding fathers of the jazz-rock movement.” What inspired you to create that fusion of jazz and rock?
“Bitches Brew” codified a new musical direction. Tony Williams with his band Lifetime along with guitarist Larry Coryell and his band Free Spirits were jazz musicians who started to experiment with rock rhythms. On “Bitches Brew,” Miles chose musicians to play HIS VERSION of Rock and Roll. Hence we get Jazz-Rock, something new.
What can audiences expect at your performance on September 23rd at Flushing Town Hall? Will you also play songs by Chick Corea?
I’ll play some of the music I’ve written over the years and maybe a Chick composition I did with Return to Forever.
What’s on the horizon for you? Any exciting projects planned?
I’ve been writing concert music for over 20 years. I’ve recorded small renderings on my different albums over the years. When Covid hit and everything was shut down, I started to write new music for orchestra. I had one premier on April 4th with the NYU Orchestra and just recently, on August 4th, premiered a commissioned percussion ensemble at the Aspen Music Festival. I’m producing three new projects for release in 2023 and am in discussions for a Chick Corea tribute next year.
Join us for An Evening of Music with Lenny White and Friends on Friday, September 23rd at 8:00PM. Purchase your in-person tickets HERE. Tickets are $40/$32 members/$20 students w/ID. Table packages for 2, w/ refreshments are available for $130/$110 members. For those unable to attend in person, the performance will also be live streamed online on YouTube for $10.
On Friday, September 16 at 8:00 PM, The Honey Dewdrops will take the stage at Flushing Town Hall to share their vibrant and forward-thinking style of folk music. We sat down with Laura and Kagey to chat about the music they’ve been creating and performing on tour together for over a decade.
How did your musical partnership begin?
We met for the first time at a band practice when we were in college. The band only played one show, but it was enough time to realize we loved the same music, which was old string band songs and contemporary singer songwriters. We continued to get together and play songs mostly with Laura doing all the singing and playing rhythm guitar while Kagey played lead guitar. After a few years, while singing a Neil Young song, Kagey began to sing harmony out of the blue and we thought it sounded cool. That inspired us to work on singing harmony together with our favorite songs, and eventually lead to writing and performing our own songs.
Can you share some insight into your songwriting process? Where do you get your ideas and how do you develop a new song together?
Our songwriting process is always in flux. Sometimes we write together, and sometimes separately, sometimes one of us writes the words and the other writes the music. Lately it’s been that one writes the words and music and pushes it to about 75% of being finished. Then the other will come in and listen and help finish it. Also, we’ve both been working on being receptive to any and all ideas that come up for songs. That means giving equal attention to big ideas as well as ones that are more everyday or that are mysterious or murky – finding out what’s there in the dark can be super fun!
You’ve described your sound as “experimental” folk music, or as folk music “with a modern style.” For our audiences less familiar with folk music, can you tell us which elements of your sound are experimental and modern? And which elements are more firmly rooted in folk tradition?
Our focus is recording and performing original music, and for experimenting with something old to make something new. As artists, it feels best to be able to learn and grow over time, and to embrace that change is inevitable and that we are going to be excited by diverse influences over time. We’ve both spent a lot of time learning to play the repertoire of string-band music (think old-time and bluegrass styles), focusing in on the harmony singing styles and the instrumentation, especially as performed by duos. It’s always been really exciting to hear an artist taking cues from the repertoire while finding a way to make it sound unique and new. That’s why we call our sound experimental. Our process has been to study the “folk” sound and then to see how we can add or subtract from it to make it new. There are remnants of older singing, guitar, and banjo styles as well influences of pop music in our sound. We want to welcome that something else can be there, too, that is hard to define, because it is all our own.
Do you have anything new or exciting on the horizon?
We released our album, Light Behind Light, in April 2022 and we’re touring and performing those songs this year which still feel new and exciting. Light Behind Light was made during the pandemic, and to accompany the record we also made videos of each of the. Those are being released throughout this year. It’s been very exciting to share these videos, which you can find here: https://www.thehoneydewdrops.com/media.
Join The Honey Dewdrops on Friday, September 16th at 8:00PM. Purchase your in-person tickets HERE for $18/$12 Members, Seniors, Students.
On Sunday, July 24 at 1:00 PM, Ivory Coast dancer and drummer Vado Diomande (also a Flushing Town Hall teaching artist) will bring his immense catalog of over 60 African dancing and drumming traditions to the stage. He will be joined by Gospel singer Joshua Nelson for a special collaboration in this “Gospel Meets Côte d’Ivoire” concert. We sat down with Vado to learn more about his artistic journey and his upcoming performance.
You have performed at Flushing Town Hall before. What do you like about performing at this venue?
I enjoy performing and having a full audience in this beautiful theater. I also enjoy being up high above the audience. This venue has a wonderful feeling, and gives us performers a great space to dance and perform.
You have learned over 60 ethnic dance and drumming traditions from the Ivory Coast and across West Africa. How have you put your own, modern spin on these traditional styles of dance and drumming?
I do not change any of the steps or put a different spin on them. I want to preserve the dance steps the way they are danced in the villages. The modern part is that we take our village traditions and customs and adapt them to a staged setting, with bright costumes and rehearsed sequences in order to electrify audiences with our passion, energy, and joy. I present the dance steps the same way all the time, I just change the patterns on the stage. That’s it. My mission is to show the dances in their most authentic form.
Your dance company in New York is called the Kotchegna Dance Company. ‘Kotchegna’ means “messenger” in your native language Mahou. What is the message that you hope for viewers to get when they see you perform?
The message I wish to share with my dance company is that the culture of the Ivory Coast is beautiful, exciting, and very diverse. I want everyone to enjoy watching it, dancing it, learning it, sharing it, and appreciating it.
What do you have on the horizon?
My plans for the future are to lead a group of visitors to Côte d’Ivoire in 2023. It will be a mix of dance and drum students and people interested in Ivorian culture. We will take dance and drum classes, tour the country, and visit my home village of Toufinga. It will be a very exciting two weeks. Join us!
Join Vado Diomande and Joshua Nelson on Sunday, July 24th at 1:00PM at Flushing Town Hall. Purchase your in-person tickets HERE for $15/$12 Members.
On Saturday, July 16th at 7:30 PM, Flushing Town Hall will host its second Annual Louis Armstrong Legacy Jazz Jam All-Stars Concert. This celebratory event will honor ten selected musicians—from amateurs to professionals. Meet the youngest All-Star honoree this year: 15-year-old Ezra Kessler.
When did you first become interested in drumming? How did you get started?
I started drums when I was in 4th grade (9 years old) and was introduced to the drumset when the John Lennon Tour Bus came to my elementary school and let us try out all of the instruments. I was instantly drawn to the drums (after trying out piano and violin in 2nd and 3rd grade).
How do you juggle school and drumming?
I go to a performing arts High School (LaGuardia), so we have 3-4 music classes every day and a rigorous academic curriculum. It’s not always easy to balance the two, and schoolwork has to always come first.
Which musician do you admire the most? Is there anyone you’d like to highlight who you were excited to play with?
I have always loved Eric Lemon’s bass lines and locking in with him in the rhythm section.
When and how did you get involved with Flushing Town Hall’s Monthly Louis Armstrong Jazz Jam and how has the jam helped you hone your skills?
I can’t remember how I first found out about Flushing Town Hall’s Jazz Jam. I was only 11 years old when I started at the jam, and playing jazz has helped all facets of my playing. Playing the jazz jam has helped me learn that my job as a drummer is to support all the musicians and not always showcase myself.
What’s on the horizon for you? Do you have any special (performing) plans for summer? Please tell us where people can learn more about you.
I will be going to Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Academy at Bard College for two weeks. You can check out my instagram @ezdrumsnyc to learn all about my upcoming events.
What advice would you give a young person who wants to become a drummer or musician in general?
I would advise them to start early and have fun. Do it only if you love it. It shouldn’t feel like a chore or work. I think I will be playing drums for the rest of my life and will hopefully always push myself to get better and learn new things.
Join Ezra along with the other nine talented All-Stars and our wonderful house band on Saturday, July 16th at 7:30PM at Flushing Town Hall. Purchase your in-person tickets HERE. $25/$20 Members/$15 Students.
On Friday, June 24 at 4:00 PM and 7:15 PM, the Latin GRAMMY-nominated Sonia de los Santos brings her bilingual songs to Flushing Town Hall, ready to make children and families smile with uplifting messages and a focus on cultural and community pride. We sat down with Sonia to learn more about her and her music.
Meet Sonia de los Santos
You grew up in Mexico and later moved to New York. Tell us a little bit about your personal journey.
Yes, I was born and raised in Monterrey, Mexico. I grew up singing at home with my family, and from a very young age it was clear that I was probably going to choose to make music for the rest of my life. I moved to New York City in 2005 following a hunch and a dream… at the time, I wasn’t really sure what I was going to do, but I knew I had to be here.
When did you get your start in music, and how has your music evolved throughout your journey?
My mother loves to sing and I remember singing with her when I was around 4 or 5. There was always music at home and I eventually asked for singing lessons in high school as I participated in musical theater shows all through college. I was in a couple of bands during that time, too. I moved to NYC after graduating from college, and here is where I fell in love performing for children and families as I started touring with Dan Zanes and Friends in 2007. Later on, I decided to build a project of my own where I would delve into the Latin American music folk traditions, and started writing songs for it!
Cultivating cultural understanding from a young age is so important, and music is a great way to bring cultures together. What do you want young audiences to learn from your music? Do your songs contain specific messages you want to share with families?
Definitely, I think about this a lot. We are passionate about making music for children and their families with uplifting messages of inclusion and cultural bridge-building because we realize that we are in a very special place where, through our music, we can teach children about tolerance and the importance of solidarity with our neighbors in Spanish and in English.
Queens is one of the most diverse boroughs on the planet and we are expecting audiences from many different cultural backgrounds. Why do you think your music is especially important to the families in Queens? What can they expect from your performance at Flushing Town Hall?
I love Queens! It is such an incredible place where so many people from different parts of the world coexist. I know there are communities of many Latin American countries in Queens, and I hope some of our songs and messages resonate with them. At the end of the day, music is music, and it doesn’t matter which language we are singing in, the feelings that music can evoke are universal and there’s a lot of common ground to be found there. Folks can expect to sing-along in Spanish and English, dance in and out of their seats, and learn about some musical instruments and rhythms from Latin America!
During the pandemic, you launched a new online musical series and debuted a new radio segment Sirius XM’s Kids Place Live. Tell us a little more about your recent projects. Where can families tune in?
Yes, we have been creating more new music and content in the last years. I love to stay connected with families, and during the time when we couldn’t go out and play shows in person, I created a web series called En Casa con Sonia that can be watched in my YouTube channel. We also put out a new album last year called Esperanza (Hope). Our music can be found on our website: soniadelossantos.com and wherever music is streamed too.
What is your mission as a musician? What drives you?
My mission as a performer and creator is to keep finding ways to make my art a vehicle for people to connect to their cultural roots and be proud of who they are. My hope is that through the messages in my songs; children and families can find a way to talk about, and understand some of the things that affect our communities: like migration, or the concept of building a new home, for example. What drives me? Seeing a sense of pride in a young person when they see themselves represented.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to become a musician, and especially to someone who is interested in creating cultural children’s music?
Find your own personal voice. We all have unique voices and have so much to offer to the world. Think of what you can share that is particular to you, your story, and your experiences, and find a way to amplify that voice in a way you would like to be heard.
Join Sonia de los Santos on Friday, June 24th at 4 PM or 7:15 PM at Flushing Town Hall. Purchase your in-person tickets HERE. $12/$8 Members.
Hart is following in the footsteps of his mentor, the great NEA Jazz Master Jimmy Heath, who co-founded the 17-piece orchestra together with Flushing Town Hall’s jazz producer Clyde Bullard in 2008. Master Heath, who passed in early 2020, personally appointed his protégé as his successor.
Click herefor Hart’s recent interview with WBGO’s Gary Walker and learn more about the musical greats who inspired this Friday’s concert: Phil Schaap, Charlie Parker, and Jimmy Heath.
Join Antonio Hart and the Queens Jazz Orchestra on June 17th at 8 PM at Flushing Town Hall. Purchase your in-person tickets HERE ($45/$35 Members/$20 Students). Those unable to attend in person can RSVP here to watch the livestream for free on YouTube. Donations are greatly appreciated.