Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson (1932-2004), African American Composer & Conductor

[Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson (1932-2004): A Celebration; Chicago Sinfonietta et al.; Paul Freeman, Conductor; Cedille 90000 087 (2005)]

The African American composer and conductor Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson was born on June 14, 1932. Prof. Dominique-René de Lerma is a specialist in African heritage in classical music, and has kindly made his research file on Perkinson available to AfriClassical.com: “Prior to his entrance in New York’s High School of Music and Art in 1945, he exhibited an interest in dance, studying with Pearl Primus and Ismay Andrews. Mentored in high school by his teacher Hugh Ross, he came to meet Igor Stravinsky. By the time of his graduation in 1949, when he won the LaGuardia Prize for music, he had begun composing.” Perkinson's 1948 composition And Behold won the High School for Music and Art Choral Competition.

Prof. De Lerma continues: “He majored in education for two years at New York University (1949-1951), then transferred to the Manhattan School of Music in 1951 (B.M., 1953; M.M., composition, 1954) where he was a composition major under Charles Mills and Vittorio Giannini, and conducting with Jonel Perlea.” “His interest in jazz was stimulated while enrolled at the Manhattan School of Music in association with classmates Julius Watkins, Herbie Mann, Donald Byrd, and Max Roach. He has been engaged as arranger and/or music director for Marvin Gaye, Lou Rawls, Barbara McNair, Donald Byrd, Max Roach (as pianist in the Roach Quartet, 1964-1965), Melvin Van Peebles, and Harry Belafonte.”

“In the summer of 1954 he studied conducting at the Berkshire Music Center. This was supplemented with additional study with Earl Kim at Princeton University from about 1959 to 1962. During his student days, he roomed with his good friends, Arthur LaBrew and Noel DaCosta. For three summers (1960, 1962, and 1963), he studied in the Netherlands with Dean Dixon and Franco Ferrara in conducting at the Netherlands Radio Union in Hilversum, spending part of the 1960 summer at the Mozarteum. He also studied with Dimitri Mitropoulos, Lovro von Matacic, Franco Ferrara, Dean Dixon and Clarence Williams.”

Perkinson also wrote the themes for the television shows Room 222 and Get Christie Love! Perkinson co-founded the Symphony of the New World, which he conducted from 1965-70 and directed for the 1972 season. Prof. De Lerma lists some of the many teaching, conducting and performing positions he held in his career: “1959-1962 Conductor, Brooklyn Community Symphony Orchestra; Faculty, Brooklyn College; 1961-1963 Conductor, New York Mandolin Orchestra; 1964-1965 Pianist, Max Roach Jazz Quartet; 1965-1970 Co-Founder and Associate Conductor of the Symphony of the New World (serving as its Director for the 1972-1973 season); 1966-1967 Music Director, Jerome Robbins’ American Theater Lab; 1968-1969, 1978 Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater; 1997-1998 Indiana University”.

From 1998 until his death in 2004, Perkinson was affiliated with the Center for Black Music Research at Columbia College Chicago. In the year following the death of Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson, a wide-ranging overview of his music was issued on Coleridge- Taylor Perkinson (1932-2004): A Celebration, Cedille 90000 087 (2005). Paul Freeman conducts the Chicago Sinfonietta and members of the New Black Music Repertory Ensemble. The works include Sinfonietta No. 1 for Strings (15:17), Grass: Poem for Piano, Strings & Percussion (16:08), Quartet No. 1 based on “Calvary” (Negro spiritual) (17:04), Blue/s Forms for Solo Violin (7:26), Lamentations: Black/Folk Song Suite for Solo Cello (15:38), Louisiana Blues Strut (A Cakewalk) (2:49) and Movement for String Trio (3:56). The compositions are in chronological order, beginning with a work written in 1954-55 and ending with one produced in 2004.

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