by Crystal Curran
Due to the current regulations regarding community health and limitations on public gatherings, The Board and Advisors have made the heavy decision to postpone the 2020 festival scheduled for the first weekend in October.
The Northampton Jazz Festival is a celebration of jazz music held yearly in downtown Northampton, collaborating with local businesses and talented musicians to provide the community with an unforgettable experience. From jazz strolls to intimate venues with Grammy Award winning performers, this weekend has become a staple of the community. This year’s lineup was set to include musicians that have performed on Broadway, held Billboard Top 100 titles, and been celebrated in DownBeat jazz magazine. We intend to secure as many of these musicians for their 2021 season as we can, such as the all-female combo Lioness and the Art Blakey Centennial Celebration.
President Ruth Griggs who has lead the festival for three years laments on behalf of the organization that “we are truly saddened by the reality that this coronavirus has forced on us, but our most important goal is to provide a pleasurable, meaningful and safe experience for our jazz fans, jazz musicians and to our community partners. Unfortunately, we recognize that we just won’t be able to achieve that in this pandemic environment.”
While the festival may not grace the streets of downtown Northampton this year, the organization plans to maintain a strong social media presence to connect jazz lovers with live concerts they can safely watch from home.
The Board of Directors is working under the guidance of both city and state public health officials to collaborate with local musicians, city partners, and downtown businesses; through these means, they are creating a plan of how the organization can still provide the town with quality jazz performances in a safe way. As Massachusetts transitions through its four-phase plan, more details will be confirmed. While the festival can not continue as intended this year, we hope to bring a celebration of jazz music to the community in any form we can.
About Crystal Curran
Crystal Curran is the 2020 marketing intern for the Northampton Jazz Festival. She is going to be a senior at the University of Massachusetts Amherst in the fall of 2020, where she majors in music education and psychology, and is pursuing certificates in arts management and social work. She is heavily involved in the university’s ensembles, ranging from being a member of the flute Field Staff for marching band to being a member of the top auditioned choir, Chamber Choir. She also served as Vice President of House Council for the BCG cluster.
By Avery Sharpe
An inspirational artist, bassist Avery Sharpe has earned his reputation as a talented musician and skillful performer. As a student at UMass Amherst, he studied economics and learned to play the acoustic bass, encouraged by none other than Reggie Workman. Within a few years he was performing with such notables as Archie Shepp and Art Blakey. In 1980, Sharpe auditioned with McCoy Tyner and won a spot in the pianist’s group. He worked with Tyner almost continuously for 20 years, playing hundreds of live gigs and appearing on more than 20 records. From live gigs to studio sessions and more, Avery Sharpe continues to touch fans around the world with his distinct and enjoyable musical style.
I met Dr. Tillis in 1973, my second semester Freshman year at UMass. I was 18 years old and interested in music. I was playing electric bass at the time. I had seen the New York bass violin choir, with Ron Carter, Bill Lee, Richard Davis, Sam Jones, Lyle Atkinson and Milt Hinton at Bowker Auditorium, UMass and I was blown away. I wanted to get my hands on a double bass. Dr. Tillis probably had something to do with bringing them there. I spoke to Dr. Tillis about my interest in music and bass, he told me of his class on Improvisation and Jazz Theory, he also told me about the great bassist Reggie Workman who was teaching at UMass. I went to see Reggie at his office in New Africa House and told him I wanted to study bass and could I begin lessons with him in the fall of my sophomore year. I also began taking Dr. Tillis’ Jazz course. I was fascinated by his teaching and it was even more important that I saw how he, as an African American, navigated his way through a predominately white music establishment. His intellectual prowess and social and personal skills were amazing to me and had a profound affect on me as an African American. He immediately became a mentor to me. I got my first experience of playing in a big band that he directed. I continued to be impressed by his skills and was knocked out when I learned that he was also a skilled composer. I wanted to acquire the skills that he had and wanted to be multi-dimensional, as he was. He was always thoughtful and kind, he listened to me and helped me solve educational and personal problems. It is amazing when one person can have a profound affect on how you view music and the world; I can never repay him for all his great work and the eternal influence he has had on me and the world at large. The measure of a real man, and his legacy, is his ability to leave the world in a much better place than it was before his birth.
I will miss this bright light.
By Crystal Curran
Crystal Curran is the 2020 marketing intern for the Northampton Jazz Festival. She going to be a senior at the University of Massachusetts Amherst in the fall of 2020, where she majors in music education and psychology, and is pursuing certificates in arts management and social work. She is heavily involved in the university’s ensembles, ranging from being a member of the flute Field Staff for marching band to being a member of the top auditioned choir, Chamber Choir. She also served as Vice President of House Council for the BCG cluster.
Dr. Frederick C. Tillis--known for his long-standing legacy in the community as director of the Fine Arts Center (FAC), co-founder of Jazz in July, the New WORLD Theater, and Asian Arts and Culture Program at the FAC and outstanding musician--passed away on May 3rd at 90 years old due to post-surgery complications.
Dr. Tillis’s legacy at UMass follows over 20 years of serving in the music program, plus staying deeply involved after his retirement as emeritus director, and by attending concerts and supporting faculty members at the university. In addition to teaching and mentoring, he maintained a healthy performing career and was a prolific composer. He composed 100 original works ranging from choral pieces to African-American spirituals. He also wrote 15 books of poetry, proving that his talents transcended boundaries of creation.
Andrew Jaffe--jazz pianist, composer, recording artist and emeritus Williams College Music department —wrote of Fred Tillis, "Fred was a fine composer, instrumentalist and poet, but also, in his own self-effacing way, managed to move mountains and change the cultural landscape of the Pioneer Valley and beyond forever. His innovations, such as the establishment of the Jazz and Afro American music program and Jazz in July at The University of Massachusetts, are part of this legacy, as were the presence at UMass of such important musicians as Dr. Yusef Lateef, Horace Boyer, Jeff Holmes, Archie Shepp, Sheila Jordan and Max Roach among so many others. The artistic accomplishments and cultural contributions of his students stretch across the world."
In addition to his legacy as a successful musician and educator, his lasting memory is one full of fondness and love. He carried himself with an air of kindness that made everyone want to stop and listen to what he had to say.
David Picchi—bassist, educator, and director of the Jazz in July program at UMass--remembers when Dr. Tillis took the stage at the 25th UMass Saxophone Symposium to talk about his time at UMass. He recalls how, “...it was not only great to listen to him, but it was astounding to look around and see so many of his past students. All of us having come up under him, having received his help, or his guidance, and enjoying how he paved the way for us. The room was totally quiet in reverence for Dr. Tillis. It was a really impactful moment for me and I will never forget it.”
Outside of his role at UMass, Dr. Tillis was no stranger to greater change. He helped to establish jazz programs in South Africa at the University of Fort Hare and in Thailand at Chulalongkorn University. Upon retirement, the W.E.B. Du Bois library created an archive on Dr. Tillis’ life with documents, drafts of poems, compositions, and recordings; all which help to tell the story of his life.
Shawn Farley, marketing director of the UMass Fine Arts Center, remembers Dr. Tillis, who hired her at the Fine Arts Center in 1987, “Dr. Tillis was nothing but kind, just, compassionate, generous with his time, and the best teacher in terms of how to solve problems, to trust in myself and that no matter what you do, remember that you are part of the bigger world. His strength of character and commitment to stand up for what's right, no matter what it may cost him, made such an impression on me. I will be forever grateful to have worked with him for the last ten years of his tenure.”
Even though he is gone, he will not be forgotten. Creating numerous new programs at UMass—such as Jazz in July, the Jazz and Afro-American Music Studies program, the New WORLD Theater, and the Asian Arts and Culture Program—enriched the lives of numerous musicians, and provided a solid foundation for the next generation of jazz performers to build their skills. Students and colleagues alike remember dedication to building this program, and those that have never met him still benefit from his endeavors. His legacy lives on in their lives.
Dr. Willie Hill—retired director of the UMass Fine Arts Center and a longtime student, colleague, and friend of Dr. Tillis—reflected, “If I could say anything to him, I would tell him that I did the best that I could with the resources I had to further carry his legacy forever...making sure we have the necessary programs in place that he could be proud of...all of those individuals we've brought on board to continue the agenda we set forth at the Fine Arts Center. I know when I retired, the Fine Arts Center was in great shape. If I could give one message to him, it would be that he would love what we've done now.”
By Genevieve Rose, bassist and music educator
Dr. Frederick Tillis was an incredibly kind, supportive, and genuinely caring individual. A dedicated supporter of the arts, he was also an amazingly talented saxophonist, composer, poet, and inspiring jazz educator.
I first met Dr. Tillis 25+ years ago when he was a guest presenter for the AAIMS Program at the Community Music School of Springfield. He invited students to play a jazz tune with him, and I eagerly volunteered, as he made us feel comfortable with his friendly and welcoming demeanor. Since then, he has been one of the pivotal people in helping make my life today of teaching and playing possible. Dr. Tillis encouraged me to attend both the Jazz in July Program and UMass Amherst. He helped facilitate my studies there by generously providing scholarship opportunities for financially disadvantaged students to be able to afford a college education.
Throughout the years Dr. Tillis continued his amazing legacy of enduring advocacy for the arts, both through his affiliation and administration of the UMass Fine Arts Center, and through the Jazz in July program. Key components of his educational philosophy were to support diversity, and bridge experienced musicians with learners. Dr. Tillis personally helped me gain experience by including me on his Portraits From Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess recording, as well as a performance trip overseas to Greece and Turkey. He helped make it possible for me to join the Jazz in July faculty as a house rhythm section bassist for the vocalists. For many years I have enjoyed observing him perform on stage, as well as seeing him in the audience showing support for the musicians. He was always in good spirits, and had thoughtful and encouraging things to say. I feel very grateful to Dr. Tillis for being such an important part of my life, and I will miss him greatly!
Genevieve Rose with Dr. Fred Tillis and Sheila Jordan (left) and with Carlos Bermudo (right) at Dr. Tillis' retirement party in 1997. Photos by Ed Cohen
by royal hartigan and weihua zhang
royal hartigan was a student of fred tillis in the 1970's
dr. tillis gave me my life back when i doubted everything after returning from two years in the peace corps philippines, seeing the third world devastation and hopelessness of most of the planet's peoples. he helped me believe in myself and was like a second father, opening me to the depth and spirituality of african american culture and music. my wife, weihua zhang was introduced to this great tradition via the jazz in july program he created.
he has changed the lives of thousands of people and will forever be in our hearts, our music, and our lives. all those whom i have taught over 35 years have received dr. tillis' influence.
here is a poem for fred –
HOPI PRAYER FROM OUR ANCESTORS, FOR OUR ANCESTORS
words from the hopi people of southwest native america and royal hartigan
for my teacher, friend, and inspiration, dr. frederick tillis
do not stand at my grave and weep, i am not there i do not sleep
i am a thousand iowa winter winds that blow, i am the diamond glints on snow
i am the summer’s sun on texas’ ripened grain, i am the gentle autumn’s rain
i am massachusetts harvest leaves of red and orange and gold, i am the life force of all beings, great and small, fleeting and eternal, young and old
i am new england mountain meadows of brown and tan and green, i am the inner secret shadow spirits of all things, visible and unseen
i am the dawning dew in may’s blooming mist, i am the heartbeat of your dreams kissed
i am the sounds of music, dance, and song, from up on high, i am the clouds in an endless sky
when you awaken in the morning’s quiet hush, i am the swift uplifting rush of birds in circled flight
i am the soft stars that shine on a moonlit night
so do not stand at my grave and cry, i am not there, i did not die
and as before, fred, wherever you go we are with you near or far, and wherever we walk on the paths of this long cold night of life without you, you are right here with us, inside our hearts
a mirror for each other’s souls through time and space we are one, and someday yet again we will be whole as we awaken together in the evening’s midnight sun
as we awaken together in the evening’s midnight sun
and we’ll dance with spirits deep, sing the whole way through,
we’ll laugh at life’s old ills, and to each other be true, as we awaken together in the evening’s midnight sun
in the evening’s midnight sun
we are one
we are one
we are one
with you in our hearts, fred,
in spirit and music,
royal hartigan and weihua zhang
north dartmouth, mass
fred tillis with royal hartigan and weihua zhang, and pam and ester bedford in 2019
By Allen Davis
Dr. Frederick Tillis (1930 - 2020) was a composer, saxophonist, poet and Director of the UMass Fine Arts Center from 1978 to 1997. Allen Davis, an Advisor to the Northampton Jazz Festival and founding patron of the Davis Financial Group Jazz Artists in the Schools Program at JFK Middle School, has known Fred Tillis for nearly 50 years beginning as a staff member at the Orchard Hill Residential College in the 70's. Davis shares his remembrances of the "quiet" leadership and support of Dr. Fred Tillis in this remembrance.
I first met Dr. Fred Tillis while working as a staff member at Orchard Hill Residential College in the early 1970’s. He was one of the faculty sponsors of our efforts to create in the Residential College setting learning experiences where students lived that drew from many cultural influences and sources – some of which had not yet found their way into mainstream curricula. Fred was a tower of support for us as we launched our series of concerts and workshops focused on African American music, a focal point in conjunction with Afro Am and other departments, for some of our courses and programs.
Over a number of years Fred was a crucial bridge for us, sometimes in concert with members of the new W.E.B. DuBois Dept. of African American Studies, between the community-based music series we produced, and the academy. He often introduced concerts we produced, and often helped us raise institutional funds for the self-financed productions we hosted. We brought these and other artists to campus while Fred quietly supported and promoted our efforts: Jimmy Garrison, Charles McPherson, Andy McGee, Ray Santisi, Webster Lewis, Pharoah Sanders, Alice Coltrane, Michael White, Barry Harris, Reggie Workman, Alan Dawson, Sonny Stitt, Keith Jarret, Gary Burton, Larry Coryell, Rene McLean and Steve Turre (whom he personally mentored as they became students at UWW), and the unbelievable, unforgettable weekend that featured Eubie Blake.
Emphasis here for me must be on the word “quiet” – Fred was always content to do this important work out of the spotlight, always supporting our efforts, stretching the boundaries of the institution in ways we knew were not always supported by mainstream leadership at the Department or College level. We all know and have celebrated Fred’s crucial work in establishing the Jazz program within the Music Department, and creating comfortable homes for Dr. Billy Taylor, and of course for Professor Max Roach, for whom Fred was a tireless advocate. From what I understand, his work within the Music Dept. was not without struggle and setbacks, and there are those who believe Fred never got proper credit for redirecting the mainstream that he deserved. (I believe he himself might have felt that way, in the most private way.) I and many others who knew him and the work he did always considered him to be a quiet warrior, a great educator, and a hero.
On a personal note, during my years at Orchard Hill I came to fantasize about playing the bass – Reggie Workman, whom we had engaged to do a course at Orchard Hill on the Black Music scene in New York, had something to do with that! I shared that thought with Fred, and that very day he took me down to the depths of the Music Department to the musical instrument cage, found a playable double bass for me to borrow, and had me contact Prof. Dave Neubert, who was the Bass specialist at the Music Dept. at the time, and arrange for lessons. I was blown away by his support, generosity, and encouragement. Eventually I went on to become a committed “community musician,” playing in the UMass Symphony Orchestra, the Pioneer Valley Symphony for 25 years, and for many, many community productions and events. I even have managed to keep up, barely, with some accomplished jazz players over the years. I think of Fred almost every time I pick up my bass! That “gift” changed my life, and I will never forget it.
Rest in Peace, dear friend and mentor.
By Bob Fazzi
Managing Partner and Founder (retired), Fazzi Associates, Northampton
Incredible! Amazing! Inspiring! Visionary! Last weekend's Jazz Fest was absolutely a super success. I met people from throughout the Pioneer Valley and from neighboring states who were excited to be there. Different ages (so many young people), different races, different ethnic groups, different life experiences - everything we want Northampton to be.
The strategy of the Jazz Festival Board of Directors to have the various artist and groups perform in our local restaurants, churches and businesses was brilliant. The restaurant, bar and brewery owners I talked to were equally excited as were the Jazz fans in attendance. Old and new patrons coming together to enjoy incredible music while enjoying drinks and food in their establishments.
The Jazz Fest Board not only put on a sensational weekend event; they modeled what we need to do to make Northampton a more inclusive and standout community. My thanks and congratulations to the Jazz Festival Board, volunteers, Northampton businesses, performers and jazz fans who make the weekend such an outstanding success.
In the midst of all of the complaints and concerns, many legitimate, over issues with downtown, I think it is important that when something good happens, we acknowledge and celebrate it. Thanks to the success of this year's Jazz Fest, something good happened!
By Anthony Aquadro
Anthony is the 2019 marketing and development intern for the Northampton Jazz Festival. A rising senior at Connecticut College, Anthony is a psychology and economics major and is interested in advertising and media buying.
Camille Thurman started playing the saxophone when she was 15, but it wasn’t until she was in her 20’s that Camille began adding jazz singing to her talents. Initially she started working with various bands in New York City and eventually earned the saxophone chair, working regularly with several notable band leaders and projects in New York (Nicholas Payton, Charlie Persip, Valerie Ponomarev).
Over time, she started her own band along with drummer Darrell Green. One day while touring in Africa with American Music Abroad, a program of the United States Department of State, she received a phone call at 3 o’clock in the morning from the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra inviting her to play with them.
Initially shocked that they called her, Camille knew she had a life-changing decision to make. She discussed the offer with her mentors who urged her to take the gig.
Camille has not only worked with the Jazz at Lincoln Center orchestra but has also worked with many jazz and R&B icons, including Wynton Marsalis, George Coleman, and Alicia Keys. Downbeat Magazine has named her a “rising star,” and her rich sound on tenor sax has led others to compare her to greats such as Joe Henderson and Dexter Gordon.
Camille now lives in the New York City area and plays across the globe, continuing to amaze audiences with her vocal and saxophone performances. On May 20, her audience was students at John F. Kennedy Middle School in Northampton; she offered them her skill and knowledge and a performance.
Camille’s visit came as part of the Jazz Artists in the Schools program. For the past year, the Northampton Jazz Festival has been working with Northampton public schools to bring professional jazz musicians in to workshops and clinics. Leaders of the program say it gives young musicians a unique opportunity to learn from and work with acclaimed professionals.
After listening to Camille perform for five to 10 minutes, the students erupted in applause. They then showcased their own talents, performing “Route 66” for her. For the remainder of the 75 minutes they had together, Camille eagerly reinforced that students should focus on three things while playing: the director, the rhythm, and tonal changes. She broke the band into three groups according to the instrument each played—the rhythm and horn sections, and the male vocalist—in order to focus on the improvements needed in each.
Camille explained to the rhythm section—two bass guitarists, a pianist, and a drummer—that in order to be the backbone of the band, they have to consistently keep time together while also watching the director for changes in the song. She directed the trumpet and saxophone players to emphasize dynamics and articulation. She added, “When the singer finishes his or her part in the song, you have to play the shout course as if it is the band’s turn to have their moment in the arrangement.”
“What does the singer do?” Camille asked the class. She then explained that the singer tells the story, and that each section tells the story in a different way. Camille encouraged the school band’s vocalist to add his own flair in telling the story of “Route 66.”
Camille led the group with seeming ease, quickly forming a good rapport with the students. As she worked with each section of the band, the other young musicians listened attentively, nodding their heads in agreement when Camille spoke to them. It was clear she commanded their respect.
The Jazz program at JFK Middle School has grown considerably under the direction of Claire-anne Williams. Starting with 15 students when it was created 13 years ago, the program now consists of 50 students and two separate bands under Williams’ direction.
Camille is the last guest artist the students will work with through the Jazz Artists in the Schools program until mid November at JFK and then at Northampton High School on December 2-3 with trombonist and educator Steve Davis.
For more information or to make a donation to the Jazz Artists in the Schools program, visit northamptonjazzfest.org.