Brian Horton's Explorations in Jazz Saxophone

April 20, 2019

Start off your Saturday with the Brian Horton Trio!

"Easy" - recorded live at La Lanterna in New York City - is the right song to kick-back and enjoy the long weekend to. Read a short biography on Brian Horton from the African American Music Trails of Eastern North Carolina Guidebook below.

Brian Horton is a jazz saxophonist, composer, and educator from Kinston. His sound is rooted in blues and gospel. He began his musical career in Baptist churches around Lenoir County where he embraced the spirit of music and its effects on an audience. He studied under Ira Wiggins at North Carolina Central University and Jimmy Heath and Sir Roland Hanna at the Aaron Copland School of Music. He has composed and arranged for independent documentaries, ESPN, and Spike Lee. Horton currently teaches in the music department at North Carolina Central University, his alma mater in Durham, North Carolina, and performs frequently. 

Trivia Tuesday: Billy Strayhorn's Career with Duke Ellington

April 16, 2019

At 18, Billy Strayhorn composed the song “Something To Live For,” which was later recorded by Duke Ellington. This became the start of a lifelong collaboration between the two jazz musicians.

When a Byrd Flew to North Carolina Central University

April 12, 2019

By Mark Anthony Neal

Donaldson Toussaint L'Ouverture Byrd II aka Donald Byrd is probably most remembered as a Detroit City born Hard Bop maestro. In the mid-1970s Byrd began to collaborate with the Mizell Brothers -- Larry and Fonce -- to chart a new direction for Jazz and Funk music that would reverberate a generation later in the music of Hip-Hop Acts like GURU of Gangstarr and Main Source. A no less important part of Byrd’s story, who died in 2013, was his ongoing commitment to train younger musicians at HBCUs, a commitment that led him to a celebrated residency at North Carolina Central University (NCCU) in the late 1970s.

Donald Byrd had a stellar career, recording mostly on the Blue Note label through the mid-1950s, when he first moved to New York City through the late 1960s. Like many Jazz musicians in the era, he was drawn to some of the new technological advancements, and began to go electric. Albums like Fancy Free (1968) and Electric Bryd (1970) echoed similar innovations like Miles Davis’ more celebrated In A Silent Way (1968) and Bitches Brew (1970).

Byrd’s sound forever changed when he began a teaching residency at Howard University, heading its Jazz Studies program in 1972, working with musicians Allen Barnes and Kevin Toney, among others. The byproduct of those relationship was the album Black Byrd (1973), the first album of Byrd’s produced by the Mizell Brothers. A year later, and in tribute to Blackbyrd, The Blackbyrds, featuring Howard University students including Barnes, Toney, Oscar Brashear, Keith Kilgo, and David Williams, released their first albums, which included their now classic single “Walking in Rhythm” and flowed by other classics like “Rock Creek Park” and “Unfinished Business,” which featured favorite breakbeat of early Hip-Hop producers. At a time when many young Blacks were tuning traditional Jazz out, Byrd found an inroad to those audiences with his style of Jazz-Funk

"Unfinished Business" features a favorite breakbeat of early Hip-Hop producers.

It was because of the success of The Blackbyrds that Gene Strassler, then the head of North Carolina Central University’s Music department, reached out to Byrd to create some of that magic in Durham. In the process, Byrd and saxophonist Stanley Baird, helped launch the first bachelor degree program in Jazz Studies in the state of North Carolina in 1977. As Strassler told cultural historian Joshua Clark Davis, the relationship with Byrd began some years earlier when he “telephoned Donald Byrd to inquire if he would bring some of his associates in jazz down to Durham to set up a series of lecture-demonstrations...” adding, “this series continued over a four year period and the enthusiasm generated was remarkable. Not surprising, from these early sessions emerged a concept for a jazz curriculum.”

One of the first creations of Byrd’s collaboration with NCCU was the album Super Trick from a group called New Central Connection Unlimited or N.C.C.U., which was made up of NCCU students, including  Norris “Country” Duckett on guitar and bassist Aaron Mills, who would go on to perform on some of Cameo’s classics from the 1980s (“Word Up” and “Candy”) and work with Dungeon Family members OutKast and Cee Lo Green.

Byrd’s time in Durham coincided with his switch from the legendary Blue Note label to Elektra Records, and the accessible Jazz Funk heard on Super Trick was the template for Byrd’s albums with his new label. Byrd started a new band called 125th Street, NYC, which included musicians from NCCU, and recorded three albums with the band, including Love Byrd (1981) and Words, Sounds, Colors and Shapes (1982). The latter two albums were produced by Memphis Soul legend Isaac Hayes. The keyboardist on those dates was another NCCU student Chip Crawford, who is most well-known these days as the accompanist for jazz vocalist Gregory Porter.

Donald Byrd’s time at NCCU and Howard University was firmly in line with his own training.  Byrd came up through the ranks of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, which for four decades was one of Jazz’s great finishing schools. Wynton and Branford Marsalis, Wayne Shorter, Freddie Hubbard and Terence Blanchard are among the alumni of The Jazz Messengers. Byrd was among a generation of artists like Yusef Lateef and Grady Tate (currently at Howard), who reproduced Blakely’s model for the academy. Currently working jazz musicians like Branford Marsalis and John Brown hold down Donald Byrd’s legacy in the triangle, teaching at NCCU and Duke, respectively.


Mark Anthony Neal is the James B. Duke Professor of African & African American Studies and Professor of English at Duke University, where he is Chair of the Department of African & African-American Studies. Neal is the author of several books including Soul Babies: Black Popular Culture and the Post-Soul Aesthetic and Looking for Leroy: Illegible Black Masculinities and hosts the weekly video podcast Left of Black, produced in collaboration with the John Hope Franklin Center for International and Interdisciplinary Studies. Follow Neal on Twitter at @NewBlackMan and Instagram at @BookerBBBrown.

Trivia Tuesday: Max Roach's Beginnings

April 9, 2019

How did Max Roach get his start in jazz? Shortly after graduating high school in 1942, he was asked to fill in for Sonny Greer with the Duke Ellington Orchestra in Manhattan.

Trivia Tuesday: Thelonious Monk and Mary Lou Williams

April 2, 2019

Jazz pianist Thelonius Monk starting playing the piano at age six and was largely self taught. One of his mentors was Mary Lou Williams, who joined the Duke University faculty in 1977 and lived in Durham her remaining years. 

She Changed The Sound: Nina Simone

March 18, 2019

Nina Simone’s first musical love was Johann Sebastian Bach.

In her autobiography, I Put a Spell on You she noted that Bach “is technically perfect… Each note you play is connected to the next note, and every note has to be executed perfectly or the whole effect is lost. Once I understood Bach’s music I never wanted to be anything other than a concert pianist. Bach made me dedicate my life to music.”

In a 1984 interview with Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in London, Simone recalled her early ambitions to be the first Black classical pianist to perform at Carnegie Hall. In the summer of 1950, when she was 17, her hometown of Tryon, N.C. raised money to help her attend a summer session at the Juilliard School before auditioning for the Curtis School of Music in Philadelphia. The trip probably felt like a step towards her dream, but despite what she recalled as a well-received audition, her acceptance was not granted, which Simone credited to the color of her skin. This event not only pushed her to the world of jazz, but also to her work as a major player in the Civil Rights movement. 

Simone ultimately did make it to Carnegie, after gaining fame with her version of Gershwin’s “I Loves You, Porgy,” though she remarked in a letter to her parents, “I’m finally in Carnegie Hall, but I’m not playing Bach.” Today she is remembered primarily for her impact on jazz and blues music, but she never did hide her classical training. Her piano prowess stood tall alongside her powerful contralto and political messaging, and her love for Bach is no more evident than in a 1987 performance of “My Baby Just Cares For Me,” in Montreux, Switzerland. She abandoned her full band and played an elaborate fugal accompaniment on piano, perfectly blending her lifelong training with her inimitable jazz vocals. Her genius and propensity to push boundaries – musical and cultural – is on full display and encapsulates how intensely she changed the sound of American music forever.

Throwback Thursday: Thelonious Monk's Time Magazine Cover

February 28, 2019

On February 28th, 1964, Thelonious Monk graced the cover of Time Magazine. The essay within, “The Loneliest Monk” by Barry Farrell, reinforces the imagery of the cover – painting monk as a mysteriously dark, but brilliant innovator.

To read the article published 55 years ago today, follow this link.

Trivia Tuesday: John Coltrane

February 26, 2019

American jazz saxophonist John Coltrane, born in Hamlet, NC, helped pioneer the use of modal jazz and recorded with musicians like Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk, and remains one of the most influential saxophonists in music history. #TriviaTuesday #ComeHearNC

Hillsborough Celebrates Hometown Musical Great Billy Strayhorn

February 23, 2019

Billy Strayhorn, Duke Ellington’s longtime collaborator, was among the most influential figures in American jazz. A versatile composer, arranger, and pianist, Strayhorn joined Ellington’s orchestra at age 22 in 1939 and worked with the bandleader the rest of his life.  

NC State LIVE co-commissioned David Roussève/REALITY’s latest work, Halfway to Dawn, a jubilant dance-theater piece that celebrates all facets of the jazz composer’s rich and complicated life that will be performed at Stewart Theatre on the campus of NC State on Saturday, March 2.

Weaving dance, video, and Strayhorn’s masterful music, the project celebrates Strayhorn while also creating conversations around race, sexuality, and the danger of placing the quest for fame ahead of personal freedom.

A week of activities are planned to celebrate the North Carolina premiere and the local legacy of Strayhorn, who spent much of his childhood with his grandmother in Hillsborough, N.C., who introduced Strayhorn to the piano as soon as he could reach the keys.

NC State LIVE invites you to IMMERSE yourself in the following artistic journeys:

Tuesday, February 26

A Celebration of Billy Strayhorn: Exploring a jazz legacy in Hillsborough, NC!

Time: 11:15 a.m.
Location: Strayhorn’s Historic Marker (on South Churton Street, near West Margaret Lane, Hillsborough, N.C.)
Cost: Free

Kick off a day of Billy Strayhorn-themed events with a welcome by Hillsborough’s Mayor Tom Stevens. Learn a little about Strayhorn’s childhood home and enjoy some jazz on the sidewalk by Hillsborough’s own Yahyah Corbett!

Lunch and Learn: Hillsborough’s Jazz Roots – A Discussion with David Roussève and Tommy DeFrantz

Time: 12 to 1 p.m. 
Location: Orange County Public Library, 137 W Margaret Lane, Hillsborough, N.C.
Cost: Free  (Bring your lunch.)

Take a lunch break with us! Billy Strayhorn spent much of his childhood in Hillsborough, was Duke Ellington’s main writing partner and is responsible for iconic jazz standards like “Take the A Train,” “Satin Doll,” “Lush Life” and more! Bring your lunch and enjoy a discussion with acclaimed chorographer David Roussève (who’s newest work Halfway to Dawn explores Billy Strayhorn’s complex life and music) and Duke professor Tommy DeFrantz as they delve into Billy Strayhorn’s history and his Hillsborough roots. Enjoy this discussion just blocks away from where Strayhorn learned to play the piano. Attendees will receive 50-percent off tickets to Halfway to Dawn!

Artist Salon with David Roussève and Music by Yahyah Corbett

Time: 6 to 7:30 p.m.
Location: Burwell School Historic Site, 319 N Churton Street, Hillsborough, N.C. 
Cost: $20 (Proceeds benefit the Burwell School and the Alliance for Historic Hillsborough)

Come experience an artistic evening of food, music, and Hillsborough history. Hear from acclaimed choreographer and Guggenheim Fellow David Roussève about his process creating Halfway to Dawn, a dance-theatre take on Hillsborough’s own jazz great, Billy Strayhorn. Be treated to the sounds of local jazz impresario Yahyah Corbett. Explore the fascinating Burwell School Historic Site. Wine and hors d'oeuvres will be served. Attendees will receive 50-percent off tickets to Halfway to Dawn!

Saturday, March 2

JAZZ Bus from Hillsborough

Time: 6 p.m. 
Location: Bus departs from Orange County Public Library ,137 W Margaret Lane, Hillsborough, N.C. The bus leaves promptly at 6 p.m. 
Cost: Free but you must register for the bus at go.ncsu.edu/JazzBus

Pile into a bus from Billy Strayhorn’s childhood home of Hillsborough, N.C. to NC State LIVE’s performance of Halfway to Dawn. While on the bus, you’ll be treated to Howling Cow ice cream, get a drink ticket to use at the show, and enjoy live jazz! Bus will arrive at NC State in time for pre-show discussion with David Roussève. Limited availability. Act fast! After signing up for the bus, you will be directed to purchase tickets to the show at go.ncsu.edu/HalfwayToDawn

Pre-show discussion with David Roussève

Time: 7 p.m.
Location: Talley Student Union, Room 3285, 2610 Cates Avenue, Raleigh, N.C.

Choreographer David Roussève is a magna cum laude graduate of Princeton University, a Guggenheim Fellow, current professor and former chair of UCLA’s Department of World Arts and Cultures/Dance. He has written, directed, and choreographed 14 full evening works for David Roussève/REALITY including three commissions for the Next Wave Festival at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Arrive early to meet David and learn more about how Billy Strayhorn has influenced his work as a gay, African American choreographer who grew up at the apex of the civil rights movement.

Halfway to Dawn
Time: 8 p.m.
Location: Talley Student Union, Stewart Theatre, 2610 Cates Avenue, Raleigh, N.C.
Tickets: go.ncsu.edu/HalfwayToDawn or call (919) 515-1100

David Roussève/REALITY’s Halfway to Dawn is a jubilant dance-theatre work that celebrates all facets of Strayhorn’s life through full-throttle dance, haunting video, and a ‘blow the roof of’ score pulled directly from the Strayhorn canon. Roussève’s homage highlights the political urgency of Strayhorn’s narrative and evokes the man so instrumental to the creation of one of America’s quintessential art forms. 

Additional Educational Events

In addition to the public events above, NC State LIVE is engaging with students in Hillsborough through the following events:

Movement Workshop at Cedar Ridge High School in Hillsborough
Led by members of the dance-theatre company David Roussève/REALITY, this workshop will explore the development process used in the creation of Roussève’s Halfway to Dawn, based on the music of Billy Strayhorn. The class will focus on the work’s unique fusion of modern, postmodern, jazz and social dance vocabularies and include the teaching of dynamic phrase material. Mirroring Roussève’s development process, workshop participants will then manipulate that material to make their own gesture movement inspired by the emotional underpinnings of the music.

Performance of Jeghetto’s An Evening with Billy Strayhorn at C.W. Stanford Middle School in Hillsborough, N.C.
Acclaimed local puppeteer Jeghetto (Tarish Pipkins) has created a one-of-a-kind performance based on the music of Billy Strayhorn, as a companion piece to Halfway to Dawn. The work features a bespectacled Billy Strayhorn puppet and video projections. Following the performance, Jeghetto will lead a puppetry workshop with students. This project is made possible through the NC State LIVE Mini-Grant Fund for Faculty.

This residency would not have been possible without the help of NC State LIVE’s Hillsborough partners: The Alliance for Historic Hillsborough, Burwell School Historic Site, Hillsborough Arts Council, Orange County Public Library, and Music Maker Relief Foundation. The presentation of David Roussève/REALITY was made possible by the New England Foundation for the Arts’ National Dance Project, with lead funding from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. This project was supported by the N.C. Arts Council, a division of the Department of Natural & Cultural Resources and is funded in part by the City of Raleigh based on recommendations of the Raleigh Arts Commission.

For a complete list of related activities visit https://live.arts.ncsu.edu/events/nc-state-live-2018-19-season/david-rou...

To find out more about David Roussève/REALITY or to purchase tickets visit https://live.arts.ncsu.edu/events/nc-state-live-2018-19-season/david-rou...

Throwback Thursday: Happy Birthday Nina Simone

February 21, 2019

On February 21, 1933, Nina Simone, often called the “high priestess of soul,” was born in the small town of Tryon, North Carolina.

Determined to become one of the first highly-successful African-American concert pianists, Simone spent a summer at the famed Julliard School after graduating high school in Asheville in 1950. Denied admission to music school in Philadelphia, Simone took menial jobs there.

While on a trip to Atlantic City, N.J. in the summer of 1954, Simone began to experiment with popular music. Word of her talent spread, and she became in high demand at nightclubs all along the Mid-Atlantic coast. After releasing her first album, Little Girl Blue, in 1958, her work began to reflect her increasing involvement in the civil rights movement and her close associations with leading African-American intellectuals like Lorraine Hansberry and Langston Hughes.

Last summer, The National Trust for Historic Preservation designated her childhood home in Tryon a National Treasure.

- Exerpt from the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources' "On This Day" series. 


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