We round off the season with another rising star: Oakland native, Berkeley High grad, Monk Competition winner—and now Blue Note recording artist—Ambrose Akinmusire.
The 28-year-old trumpeter’s quintet (with tenor saxophonist Walter Smith III, pianist Gerald Clayton [replaced on this tour by Sam Harris], bassist Harish Raghavan, and drummer Justin Brown) is a close-knit group of longtime friends who over a dozen years have forged a remarkable collective identity. It's a band that "seems destined for much wider recognition," says The New York Times.
Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times named Akinmusire one of its 2011 “Faces to Watch”: “With a chameleonic tone that can sigh, flutter or soar,” wrote the paper’s Emra Islek, “Akinmusire sounds less like a rising star than one that was already at great heights and just waiting to be discovered.”
As it happens, Akinmusire was “discovered” about a decade ago by saxophonist Steve Coleman, who was giving a workshop at Berkeley High and immediately heard promise in the young trumpeter, eventually hiring him as a member of his Five Elements band and embarking on an extensive European tour when Akinmusire was just 19. Coleman—considered by many to be the spiritual godfather of the current creative jazz scene—challenged Akinmusire on and off the stage. “Ambrose, what’s your concept?” Akinmusire remembers Coleman asking him on a train ride through Germany. “Concept? I’m 19, I don’t need a concept. It’ll just come one day,” shrugged Akinmusire, raising the saxophonist’s ire. “You’ve got to start thinking about it now,” Coleman told him. “Everything you don’t love, make sure that’s not in your playing.”
Akinmusire took the advice to heart, and returned to his studies at the Manhattan School of Music (on a full scholarship) determined to discover his own voice. “When I got back to school I wrote a list,” he explains. “It was very specific, it had things on it like ‘I don’t want to be confined by my instrument’ or ‘I want to have a sound like a French Horn player.’ I posted it on my wall so every day I was reminded of it. It caused me a lot of trouble because if a teacher told me to do something and it didn’t really fit what was on that list I didn’t listen to them. It really made me learn who I was because I had to defend that every day.”
Back on the West Coast for a master’s degree at USC, Akinmusire went on to attend the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz. In 2007, he entered and won the Institute's prestigious Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition (whose judges included Blanchard, Quincy Jones, Herb Alpert, Hugh Masekela, Clark Terry and Roy Hargrove). Later that year came his debut CD, Prelude…To Cora,on Fresh Sound New Talent, the label that first recorded such “new talents” as pianists Brad Mehldau and Ethan Iverson and saxophonist Mark Turner.
Moving back to New York, Akinmusire began making a name for himself, playing with jazz elders (Wallace Roney, Joe Henderson, Jimmy Heath, Herbie Hancock) and young mavericks (Jason Moran, Vijay Iyer, Esperanza Spalding, Linda Oh) while drawing inspiration from sources as diverse as Chopin and Bjork. He also caught the attention of another discerning set of ears, those of Bruce Lundvall, President of Blue Note Records.
In view of the music industry's ongoing struggles, the news of a young artist jumping to a major label can seem almost quaint. But Akinmusire's signing to the storied Blue Note Records last summer sent ripples of excitement through the online jazz community. Co-produced by labelmate (and MacArthur "genius" grant winner) Jason Moran, When the Heart Emerges Glistening will be released April 5. In the lead review in this month’s DownBeat, John Corbett raves: “Akinmusire’s forceful outing is as noteworthy for the strength of the overall concept as for the individual accomplishments of its leader, head-turning as they are…the music and the band vibe are wonderfully original and current. Clearly something very special and personal is at work here, a vision of jazz that’s bigger than camps, broader and more intellectually restless than blowing sessions.”
(Adapted from Mariah Wilkins Artist Management and the Los Angeles Times.)
Tickets ($15 General Admission, $10 Students & Seniors) are available here at our website, or at Wildwood Music, People's Records, and The Works.
The Ambrose Akinmusire Quintet will also present a FREE public workshop the following day, Wednesday, April 27th, at 12:30 p.m. (location TBA). People of all levels of experience are welcome to attend.