Friday, March 27, 2009

The Telegraph: 'Pianist spotlights black composers' at Georgia Military College March 31

[Gershwin: 3 Preludes, 6 Songs; Corea: 20 Children's Songs; Leon Bates, Piano; Naxos 8.550341 (1989)]

"For Leon Bates, pivotal moments have defined his career.  He points to his solo debut at Carnegie Hall in 2000. There was his appearance in the 1990s with the Duke Ellington Orchestra directed by Mercer Ellington in Rome, Italy. Much earlier, as a junior at Temple University, he performed with the Philadelphia Orchestra. And his upcoming concert at Georgia Military College in Milledgeville carries similar potential. But it is not built upon his music alone. Although he is considered a leading American pianist and composer, Bates will perform classical music by other black composers. Bates noted that his Milledgeville program will feature black composers 'who have been a part of the musical tradition in this country going back to the 1800s.  That part of black culture is lost on the American society.'

"He said that his performance program highlights two living composers, George Walker and Leslie Adams. Walker earned a Pulitzer Prize for his composition 'Lilacs' in 1996. Bates deems both 'prolific composers' who are composing music for a variety of formats, which include full orchestra, chamber orchestra, small ensembles, vocal and choral groups. Bates said that he knows both musicians. And whenever he performs their music, he routinely sends them programs from the concerts. The second part of Bates’ program focuses upon a critical early phase in the development of jazz music. He plans to perform selected work from Eubie Blake, James P. Johnson and Duke Ellington.

"This phase 'deals with the legacy of ragtime (music) and East Coast stride piano, which set the tone of the traditional jazz genre.' Furthermore, he wants to make sure that R. Nathaniel Dett, a classically trained pianist from Oberlin Conservatory of Music, is heard, too. A 1908 Oberlin graduate, Dett composed 'Juba Dance,' a personal favorite of Bates. Bates encourages a broader appreciation of what he calls 'intellectual music.'  [Full Post]  [H. Leslie Adams, R. Nathaniel Dett, Duke Ellington (1899-1974), James P. Johnson and George Walker are profiled at]

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