Ella Fitzgerald Music Festival
April 8, 7:30 pm
Ferguson Center for the Arts
Considered the fun-loving one, Branford Marsalis comes across as more personable and laidback than his high profile little brother Wynton. After working in Wynton’s band of young traditionalists in the early ‘80s, the saxophonist committed the jazz heresy of going pop when he joined Sting’s first post-Police band. He recorded with Dizzy Gillespie, the Grateful Dead, Tina Turner and Bruce Hornsby. For the last twenty years, Branford’s been leading his own quartet down an adventurous and unpredictable highway. He formed his own record label, Marsalis Music, in 2002, and since that time has issued a musical tribute to the jazz-inspired artist Romare Bearden, a live DVD recreation of Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, and the beautifully contemplative Eternal. A consistent pollwinner and favorite of both critics and listeners, Branford is one of the genuine giants of modern jazz.
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May 6, 4:00 and 7:00 pm
Ferguson Center for the Arts
Bill Cosby is a true Renaissance man. Those of us who grew up in the ‘60s first met him via his comedy albums and television variety show appearances, telling stories about his childhood, his brother Russell and friends like Old Weird Harold and Fat Albert. His first album in 1963 contained his classic dialogue between God and Noah (right!), and his subsequent comedy recordings, Top 40 hit (“Little Old Man”) and starring role in I Spy! smashed the color line that had previously relegated black comedians to the chitlin’ circuit. His cartoon series, Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, was a Saturday morning staple in the 1970s and The Cosby Show dominated and defined TV in the ‘80s. More recently, Dr. Cos (a doctorate in education from the University of Massachusetts) has stirred up controversy by speaking out publicly about the need for the African-American community to emphasize education, self-improvement and positive role models.
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Ruth Brown Blues Festival
May 13, 8:00 pm
Nothing could be more appropriate than a blues festival in Portsmouth named after Ruth Brown. “Miss Rhythm” grew up there on Nelson Street, and she first sang in the junior choir of Emmanuel A. M. E. Church, where her daddy was choir director. In the 1950s, she was as big a star as there was in the R&B firmament, and in the last two decades she’s starred on TV, Broadway, film and recordings. Bo Diddley was also a star in the ‘50s, one of the founding fathers of rock-n-roll. His chunk-a-chunk “shave and a haircut” rhythm—the Bo Diddley beat—was one of the building blocks of rock. Clarence “Frogman” Henry burst out of N’Orleans on the strength of his 1956 hit, “Ain’t Got No Home.” In the midst of these forebears, Shemekia Copeland is the baby of this fest’s lineup, but her father was legendary Texas bluesman Johnny Copeland, and she wears the family genes well.
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Mark O’Connor’s Appalachia Waltz Trio
May 4, 7:30 pm
Great Bridge Presbyterian Church
Seattle-born Mark O’Connor was already wowing the bluegrass community as a pre-teen. After moving to Nashville in the mid ‘80s, he spent the next decade as the first-call fiddler on hundreds of recordings. But he also followed his muse in whatever direction it led, and his solo albums have ranged from newgrass virtuosity to New Age beauty to Hot Club swing to original chamber and orchestral works. The 1996 CD from which the Appalachia Waltz Trio gets is name was a one-shot collaboration with Yo-Yo Ma and Edgar Meyer, but when O’Connor teamed up two years ago with current trio-mates, violist Carol Cook and cellist Natalie Hass, for Crossing Bridges, reviewers called it “chamber music without boundaries.” And that’s the way he likes it, weaving together bluegrass, jazz, Irish jigs, yee-haw country and European classicism into a meaty genre-busting stew.
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April 7, 8:00 pm – Williamsburg Regional Library
April 8, 8:00 pm - Kaufman Theatre, Chrysler Museum
Beautiful blonde twins from Quebec who make beautiful music together, Similia is flutist Nadia Labrie and her guitar playing sister Annie. The two studied together at the Conservatoire de Musique du Quebec, then earned master’s degrees in performance. They have established themselves individually as orchestral soloists, and as a unit with three excellent CDs, one of which, Nota Del Sol, was named Best Instrumental Album of the Year by the Quebec Recording Industry Association in 2004. The duo has drawn its recorded repertoire from across the spectrum, from Mozart, Bach and Ravel to Argentinean tango master Astor Piazzolla and folk-inspired Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos. Their latest album, Fantasia, includes fantasies on themes from operas such as Carmen, Rigoletto and La Traviata. The Labrie sisters’ approach to the flute and guitar repertoire, the conventional as well as the cutting edge, is filled with precision, passion and excitement.
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