Nov. 26, 2001 – Some things old, some things new, some things that will no doubt need to be borrowed and, you gotta believe, some blues.
That's the 2001-02 Arts Alive concert season at Tillett Gardens, a marriage of music and the tropics that has not only survived but thrived through hurricanes and uncertain economic times because, as founder Rhoda Tillett says, "When you get right down to it, the audience is there."
In this 15th season, the lineup continues the pace set several years ago: four Classics in the Garden recitals and four non-classical Tillett Garden Series concerts.
The lineup at a glance:
Friday, Nov. 30 — Tony O Blues Band
Wednesday, Dec. 26 — classical guitarist Francisco Burgos
Saturday, Jan. 19 — folk singer Tom Rush
Wednesday, Jan. 30 — classical pianist Awadagin Pratt
Wednesday, Feb. 13 — The Ahn Trio (classical piano trio)
Friday, March 1 — blues singer Deborah Coleman
Wednesday, March 20 — pianist Joy Cline and flautist Vanessa Holroyd (classical duo)
Sunday, April 7 — jazz singer Nnenna Freelon
All concerts are at 8 p.m. except the last one, which is a Sunday brunch performance.
In January of 1988, Rhoda Tillett tried something different in the arts complex on St. Thomas that she and silkscreen artist Jim Tillett built. A evening of classical music under the stars performed by pianist Joy Cline and a cellist friend. A few years later, The Ahn Trio made its debut. And two seasons ago, pianist Awadagin Pratt had his premiere performance in Tillett Gardens — after having played at the Reichhold Center for the Arts twice before.
These are the "old" attractions of the coming season, the 15th for Classics in the Garden. Cline and the Ahns will be making their fourth appearance on the Arts Alive stage, and Pratt will be returning for his second. All of the other artists are "new" — although Tom Rush performed on St. Thomas last year. But he did it at a week-long private party at a local resort to celebrate his 60th birthday with family, friends and faithful folkie followers.
What gets "borrowed" will be worked out as the season progresses. For starters, local blues radio show host Mark Hillsman is being co-opted to serve as master of ceremonies for the opening Tony O concert while regular emcee Bill Grogan is off island.
As for the "blues," two shows per season has been the standard since Arts Alive added the non-classical concerts, and this year's offerings stay true to form: Tony O and his band to kick off the season and Deborah Coleman in March.
The Tony O Blues Band — Tony O has been playing traditional blues steeped in the Chicago and Mississippi styles since his teen years in the early 1970s. He toured and recorded with blues diva Victoria Spivey and through her got to know Hubert Sumlin, Howlin' Wolf's guitar player, along with Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf himself.
After a decade of working in New York groups, he joined the Legendary Blues Band, fronted by Muddy Waters sidemen Willie "Big Eyes" Smith and Calvin Jones. He also toured and recorded with Pinetop Perkins and Jimmy Rogers. Since 1993, he has had his own trio, the Tony O Blues Band.
A Music Paper critic reviewing his CD "Top of the Blues" wrote that Tony O's "vocals and guitar lines drip from the heat … Here's a man who knows and feels the blues and knows how to convey the message. His savagely stinging fretboard fireworks have propelled stinging shows with Pinetop Perkins, Hubert Sumlin, Jimmy Rogers and the Legendary Blues Band."
Francisco Burgos — A native of Guayaquil, Ecuador, Francisco Burgos studied classical guitar with Demetrio Ballesteros at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Madrid, where he graduated with honors in 1979. That same year he made his New York debut at Carnegie Hall's Weill Recital Hall. In Spain he also studied with Jose Luis Rodrigo and Andres Segovia.
Burgos has performed throughout Europe and North and South America, drawing on a repertoire in classical guitar that embraces 500 years of music, from early Spanish pieces by J.S. Bach to works by 20th Century composers. A composer, teacher and creator of a method of learning classical guitar as well as a performer, he is accomplished also in the Flamenco, jazz and Latin musical idioms.
Tom Rush — In the 1960s, Tom Rush's recordings introduced the world to the work of Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne and James Taylor. He helped shape folk's revival in the '60s and later its renaissance in the '80s and '90s. As a Harvard University student, he became a fixture at Club 47, the flagship of the coffeehouse fleet, and by the time he graduated, he had two albums in release. His 1965 Elektra release "The Circle Game," according to Rolling Stone magazine, ushered in America's singer/songwriter era.
Rush has always had a knack for finding and writing songs that have become classics re-interpreted by new generations — as folk, country, heavy metal and even rap hits! After a hiatus in the '70s, he sold out Boston's Symphony Hall for a comeback concert. He then created a Club 47 musical forum, uniting established stars such as Bonnie Raitt and Richie Havens with then-unknown talents including Alison Krauss and Mark O'Connor.
Last February, to celebrate turning 60, Rush and a friend put together a week-long birthday bash for about 80 friends and fans who paid their own way — to the Wyndham Sugar Bay resort on St. Thomas! Today, his music, like fine wine, has matured in the blending of traditional and modern influences. He's doing what he loves and what audiences love him for: writing and playing, passionately, tenderly, knitting together the musical traditions and talents of the times.
Awadagin Pratt — Although he has attracted attention for the drama of his dreadlocks and the curiosity of a subcompact seat that he sits on before the keyboards of the world's grandest pianos, Awadagin Pratt is known far beyond that for the power, precision and passion of his playing. The winner of two of the most prestigious of classical honors, the Naumburg International Piano Competition (in 1992) and an Avery Fisher Career Grant (in 1994), he is well on his way to becoming a superstar.
Born in Pittsburgh, Pratt began studying piano at the age of 6. Three years later, after his family had moved to Normal, Ill., he began studying violin. At 16, he entered the University of Illinois, where he studied piano, violin and conducting. He went on to enroll in the Peabody Conservatory of Music, where he became the first student ever to receive diplomas in three performance areas.
He has toured throughout North America and Europe and extensively in Japan and has also performed in Israel and South Africa. He was named one of the 50 Leaders of Tomorrow in Ebony Magazine's 50th anniversary issue, and his television credits range from "Sesame Street" to "Live from the Kennedy Center." He performed twice at the White House at the invitation of President and Mrs. Clinton. He has recorded exclusively with Angel/EMI since 1993 and will next release an all-Bach album with the St. Lawrence String Quartet.
The Ahn Trio — Twins Maria and Lucia Ahn and their two-years-younger sister Angella have been performing classical music together since their childhood in Korea. They moved to the United States two decades ago and all three enrolled in The Juilliard School. Known for their fashion consciousness as well as for the prize-winning quality of their music, they have parlayed their vitality into a means of continually drawing new audiences to the classical realm.
Angella is quoted on their web site as saying "The more applauding in between movements, the better, since it means that we have more newcomers to classical music." Meanwhile, a Milwaukee Sentinel reviewer opined of their musical talents that "Playing s
uch as this would make stars of the Ahns if they were three ugly men."
After Lucia the pianist, Maria the cellist and Angella the violinist appeared on MTV as part of Bryan Adams' Unplugged concert, they developed "AhnPlugged" to present classical music in a modern, alternative format. They have been audience favorites thrice previously on St. Thomas and on St. John, which is one of their favorite places to unwind.
Deborah Coleman — Four Blind Pig recordings (the latest "Livin' on Love") and virtuoso performances across the nation and beyond have made Deborah Coleman one of the hottest commodities on today's blues scene. Blind Pig publicity states: "The fact that she's an African-American female who is a lead guitarist, singer and songwriter may make her a unique artist … but it is Coleman's artistry and passion that have placed her on the road to success."
Coleman grew up in a musical family and in her teens started out as a bass player with rock and R&B bands. But after hearing Jimi Hendrix, she switched to lead guitar and eventually followed the roots of rock music back to the blues. One of her most indelible memories was when, at the age of 21, she attended a concert that featured Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker all on the same bill. "It started me on a path to my roots," she says.
It took a while. She married, raised a family and developed a career as an electrician before deciding a decade ago to play music full time. In 1993 she and her "band" (a brother and a friend) went to the Charleston Blues Festival's National Amateur Talent Search, where she took first place. She immediately put together her own group and hasn't looked back since. As one critic put it: "Guitar-slinging women have hardly been a staple of the blues world, but that's no longer an issue for Deborah Coleman It's safe to say she has arrived."
Joy Cline and Vanessa Holroyd — Joy Cline has bachelor's and master's degrees from The Juilliard School and a Ph.D. from the Peabody Conservatory of Music. In early 1988, she was the featured artist of the inaugural Classics in the Garden concert, performing with cellist Evan Drachman. Two years later — and just two months after Hurricane Hugo — she returned to the territory to perform , not only on St. Thomas but also on St. Croix, with cellist Joshua Gordon; a year later, she made her New York debut at the Weill Recital Hall, also with Gordon.
Cline has been an associate member of the piano faculty at the Sarasota (Fla.) Music Festival since 1987 and performs regularly in chamber music ensembles in the Boston area, as well as in a duo with flautist Vanessa Holroyd.
As an undergraduate at Yale University, Holroyd wasn't a music major, but she did play principal flute in its symphony orchestra nonetheless. She earned her master's degree in flute performance at McGill University in Montreal, where she performed with symphony and ensemble groups. She is currently a candidate for an artist diploma at the Longy School of Music in Cambridge, Mass.
Nnenna Freelon — Five-time Grammy nominee Nnenna Freelon has won the Billie Holiday Award from the Academie du Jazz and a Eubie Blake Award and was nominated for two "Lady of Soul" Soul Train awards. "If you want good entertainment and very hip music, check out Nnenna Freelon," Aretha Franklin said.
Freelon's recording of "One Child at a Time" has become the anthem for Partners in Education, an organization involving seven million volunteers for which Freelon serves as national spokesperson and for which she conducts music-based workshops around the nation. She is a perennial participant in fund-raisers, including "Divas Simply Singing," an annual event to benefit AIDS charities in Los Angeles.
She was featured in the 2000 motion picture "What Women Want" and on the film soundtrack. This year, she has performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and Carnegie Hall in New York, as well as at jazz festivals in Montreal, Copenhagen, Spain, Austria, the Canary Islands and Aspen, Colo. From standards to originals, true to her jazz roots, Freelon loves to find new ways to express the meaning and emotion that a song can conjure up.
Tickets are sold individually and in season packages that carry discounts ranging from 15 percent for all eight concerts to 10 percent for any four. This year, for the first time, there is two-tiered seating — priced at $30 in the A section and $25 in the B section.
Café Amici will cater pre-performance dinners for the four classical performances and the Tom Rush concert, and brunch will be served before the Sunday Nnenna Freelon concert. The three-course dinners and the brunch are a prix fixe $30 excluding bar service and gratuity, with concert seating at tables. Dinner and brunch reservations are required. For the two blues concerts, which will feature cabaret-style seating, Café Amici will offer a light a la carte menu, and there will be continuous bar service throughout the evening.
As part of its ongoing fund-raising outreach, the not-for-profit concert series solicits individual, corporate and foundation sponsors in six "circles" — Friends, Capriccio, Sostenuto, Crescendo, Sforzando and Fortissimo, ranging from $100 to $15,000 or more.
To reserve tickets or to find out more about the concerts, call 775-1929, fax to 775-9482 or e-mail to Arts Alive concert series.