Thursday, November 29, 2012

Charleston City Paper: 'Jade Simmons returns home for an eclectically classical show'

by Erica Jackson Curran

Close your eyes for a minute and imagine a successful classical pianist. What do they look like? If you're like most people, you just conjured up an older white guy with a shock of white hair. And you wouldn't necessarily be wrong. That's pretty much what a typical classical pianist looks like.

But Jade Simmons isn't a typical classical pianist. The Charleston native has a tendency to mix up her classical stylings with splashes of rap, jazz, and bossa nova, and her unique approach has earned her recent gigs everywhere from Russia to the White House, as well as a place alongside Gabby Douglas and Michelle Obama on Essence magazine's October Style and Substance list.

"It's been an interesting awakening, because as a little girl when I started playing classical, I didn't make a differentiation between that music and hip-hop and R&B," she says. "I just listened to stuff that moved me ... so it was interesting when other people would point out to me that I was different because I was a black female playing classical."

And unfortunately it has been pointed out to her time and time again, like when she was 13 or 14 and she'd just won a Beethoven competition in Myrtle Beach. An older man approached and told her that she was a credit to her race, and that he wished that "all blacks" were more like her. "I appreciated what he was trying to say, but it meant that there was such a negative stereotype that simply playing Beethoven made me somehow better than the rest of my people," Simmons, now 34, says. "It's an interesting world to be in where you are one of a very few, and yes, it's something that I'm proud of. I like that I'm making a name for myself, but, of course, I want people to hear the music."

Though she says she hasn't dealt with overt racism, she's always working to fight against perceptions of what it means to be a classical musician. "It's been wonderful for me to feel like during the process of a concert that I might be dispelling a few stereotypes as well as introducing people — black, white, all colors — to music that they might not have thought they could've loved so much."

Now living in Houston with her husband, Simmons has been working to create original music that blends classical and more experimental, modern styles.

Comment by email:
I only wish I could make some of Jade's concerts. I am a personal friend, but physically unable to do more than read about her now. Thanks for keeping abreast of her great development, and talents. They are many.  Izola Collins

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