Join jazz vocalist and pianist and NEC faculty member Vanessa Morris as she performs a selection of original compositions, jazz standards, and spirituals from the African-American folklore tradition on Friday, May 30 at 8 p.m in NEC’s Brown Hall, 290 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA. The concert is free and open to the public. For more information, call 617-585-1122.
Morris’ repertoire is as eclectic as are her influences. Her duo with Scott Sandvik started as an in depth study of African-American Folklore, branching from a class that Sandvik taught at NEC. Their improvisations were based on ear transcriptions of field-recorded a cappella black folk singing that included “surge” style hymns, spirituals, hollers and blues. Their 2002 CD Lead Me To The Rock earned acclaim for its “consummate skill - Scott Sandvik is an outstanding guitarist and Vanessa Morris is a stunning singer - and deep commitment….great beauty…” — Musical Traditions Magazine. Since then, the duo has widened their repertoire, but their approach is the same: in depth study of whatever style of music or composer has struck their fancy. Recently this list includes the music of Carla Bley, Harry Nilsson, Nina Simone and Jack Bruce.
On this concert Morris performs with Sandvik, who earned his Bachelor’s of Music from NEC 1987 and his Master’s in 1989); as well as alto saxophonist James Merenda, a 1991 NEC graduate and former leader of the jazz septet The Masked Marvels who currently leads the TickleJuice; trumpeter Tom Duprey who received his Master’s in Jazz Studies/Composition in 1988 and performs in TickleJuice with Merenda as well as freelancing widely; guitarist David Hawthorne who received Master’s Degrees from NEC in 1989 and 1991 (Jazz Guitar and Classical Violin); as well as bassist Jon Dreyer; and drummer Miki Matsuki.
Vanessa Morris’ unique sound is a blend of many influences, ranging from Betty Carter and Nina Simone to Antonio Jobim and Al Green. Her musical background started with rigorous classical piano training. She branched into jazz during undergraduate studies at Oberlin Conservatory from which she received her Bachelor’s of Music degree in piano performance, and continued on this path when she attended New England Conservatory where she earned her M.M. and G.D. in Jazz Studies. She has studied with Sanford Margolis, Peter Takacs, Ran Blake, Dominique Eade, and John McNeil. Her music is simultaneously laid back and electrically charged. The softness of her voice at times incongruous with the intensity her music.
NEC’s Jazz Studies Department was the first fully accredited jazz studies program at a music conservatory. The brainchild of Gunther Schuller, who moved quickly to incorporate jazz into the curriculum when he became President of the Conservatory in 1967, the Jazz Studies faculty has included six MacArthur genius" grant recipients (three currently teaching) and four NEA Jazz Masters, and alumni that reads like a who’s who of jazz. Now in its 44th year, the program has spawned numerous Grammy winning composers and performers. As Mike West writes in JazzTimes: “NEC’s jazz studies department is among the most acclaimed and successful in the world; so says the roster of visionary artists that have comprised both its faculty and alumni.” The program currently has 114 students; 67 undergraduate and 47 graduate students from 12 countries.