By Larry Reni Thomas
The Ambrose Akinmusire Quintet, featuring Ambrose on trumpet; Walter Smith III, tenor saxophone; Sam Harris, piano; Harish Raghavan, bass; and Justin Brown, drums, will be appearing at the Casbah in Durham, North Carolina, October 12 and 13, 2012. The much-anticipated and talk-about concerts, sponsored by Duke Performances, gives the area’s legion of jazz lovers two rare chances to witness a high-powered ensemble that is one of the biggest buzzes in the jazz world. This hot band of musicians, most in their thirties, has been performing at all the top jazz festivals, concert halls and the clubs all over the world. They have been to The Newport Jazz Festival, in Rhode Island; Monterey Jazz Festival in, Akinimusire’s home state of California; and The North Sea Jazz Festival in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, and have packed clubs like The Blue Note and The Jazz Standard in New York City; The Blue Whale in Los Angeles; and in places like the nice, very popular Yoshi’s Jazz club in Ambrose’s hometown of Oakland, California.
There have been long lines of music lovers standing, waiting to get into these venues to check out the group’s sound. Ambrose, who was the winner of the 2007 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Trumpet Competition, a member of The Berkeley, California High School Jazz Ensemble, a graduate of Manhattan School of Music, in New York, has a M.A. from The University of Southern California, and graduated from the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance in 2007. He has also performed and been nurtured by such jazz artists as Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Terrence Blanchard, Steve Coleman, Christian McBride, Joshua Redman, San Francisco Jazz Collective, and Jason Moran, with whom he played the music in honor of Thelonious Monk’s Legendary Town Hall 1959 concert. The trumpeter Blanchard, who taught him at The Monk Institute, has nothing but high praise for Akinmusire, and said: “he doesn’t really play the trumpet the way it is really played.” Blanchard and others, including Coleman, advised him to do what most have counseled him to do: “find your own voice.”
Apparently, Ambrose listened because he has led a band as soon as he could and has lead it well. The quintet’s appearance in Durham will be their first time in the area, in North Carolina, and should be a delight for jazz lovers. The group should be especially tight because they have basically have the same touring musicians that are included on the group’s latest impressive Blue Note Records 2011 release called “When the Heart emerges Glistening.” They performed Sunday, October 7, 2012, at The Angel City Jazz Festival, Los Angeles.
“I am based in Los Angeles now,” said Akinmusire, during a telephone interview Monday (10/8/12) from his California residence. “I enjoyed New York City. I moved there when I was 18, and spent my twenties there. It was a very good experience for me, but, I decided to come back to California. I have been back here since June (2012). My band and my teaching at The University of Southern California keeps me busy. I am very excited about coming to North Carolina with this band because in these tough economic times I realize it’s a blessing to be working. After we do Durham, we go on a month long European tour. We have been playing together since 2007. We have been knowing each for years, went to school and play together all the time.”
Ambrose said he started playing the piano at age four and began his musical career at five-years-old in an Oakland, California Baptist church. By the age of eleven, he was playing the drums, then at twelve, he picked up the trumpet. Later, he discovered jazz and was encouraged, mentored by California bay area’s veterans like the late musicians, drummer Eddie Marshall and saxophonist Joe Henderson. He also mentioned that he when he was teenager he played in Southern California in Los Angeles in Leimert Park at a African-centered cultural center called The World Stage with the legendary drummer, the late great Billy Higgins, a long-time Los Angeles resident.
“They all kind of took me under their wings and helped me along,” according to Ambrose. “The transition wasn’t that hard because to me it’s all music. I was playing gospel in the church, so, when jazz came along. I said: ‘Okay. Let’s do this.’ I mean, hey, it’s all black music, right? So, I had no problem playing jazz. I think that the best music is played in jam sessions or in the musician’s homes, anyway, where they is no audience so speak, where we get the chance to really express ourselves. To me, the scene is kind of underground, where the audience expectation is not necessarily there. I guess that’s why I am more concerned with art than anything else and to make sure that the band works as a group. I am not one with an ego. I believe in the band sounding together and good.”
This will be his second appearance at Duke University in Durham. He was in town in two years, in 2010, with the San Francisco Jazz Collective, at Page Auditorium. The quintet will be coming to Durham directly from California and leave October 16 for Belgium to begin their European tour, which includes stops in Germany, Austria, Italy, Paris, France, Spain and end in London, November 9, 2012. For more information about the Ambrose Akinmusire Quintet, at The Casbah, 1007 W. Main Street, in Durham, North Carolina, contact Duke Performances, at (919) 660-3556.