Sunday, March 5, 2017

Patrice Williamson + John Wheatley - Comes Love (A Tribute to Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Pass) April 25, 2017

Vocalist Patrice Williamson Celebrates the 100th Anniversary of Ella Fitzgerald’s Birth on Comes Love

Williamson and guitarist Jon Wheatley conjure the swinging chemistry of the First Lady of Song and Joe Pass on the album, out April 25 

 “Patrice Williamson isn't a singer, she's a one-woman jazz sampler.” — Christopher Loudon, JazzTimes

“Ms. Williamson has a beautiful low alto voice that could be likened to a smooth single-malt scotch..." 
— C. Michael Bailey, All About Jazz

April 25, 2017 will mark the 100th anniversary of an event that would have a profound impact on jazz and American song: the birth of Ella Fitzgerald. While the centennial of the First Lady of Song will doubtlessly be celebrated in myriad forms, few will prove as heartfelt or sincere – or as long in gestation – as Comes Love, the new album by Boston-based jazz vocalist Patrice Williamson. For the occasion, Williamson teamed up with guitarist and fellow Berklee College of Music faculty member Jon Wheatley for a set that pays particular homage to Fitzgerald’s landmark duo with guitar great Joe Pass.

Due for release on Ella’s birthday, April 25, on Williamson’s own Riverlily Records and produced by pianist/composer Helen Sung, Comes Love features a dozen Songbook classics originally either recorded by Fitzgerald and Pass on one of their four studio albums or performed live by the duo during the course of their notable collaboration. Williamson and Wheatley never resort to sheer imitation (not that such a thing would even be possible given their two inimitable models), but instead conjure the warm elegance and graceful swing of the originals through the alluring chemistry of their own inviting rapport.

"I started listening to recordings of Ella during my sophomore year in college, and I haven't stopped." Williamson says.  "Jon has a vast knowledge of all the great jazz musicians and jazz guitarists, including Joe Pass. Our goal was to present how Ella and Joe have inspired our own musical development."

Fitzgerald and Pass first joined forces in 1973 for Take Love Easy (from which Williamson takes four of the tunes on Comes Love, including her renditions of Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life” and Billy Eckstine’s “I Want To Talk About You”). They would enter the studio three more times over the next thirteen years, releasing Fitzgerald and Pass…Again in 1976, Speak Love in 1983 and Easy Living in 1986. A number of live performances have also been released from that period, revealing the pair’s genuine camaraderie, incisive wit and impeccable taste. 

While Williamson can wax rhapsodic about much of Fitzgerald’s work (and dreams of following Comes Love with a series of tributes, each exploring a different facet of Ella’s career from small bands to orchestra), she found herself particularly drawn to her work with Pass due to its vulnerability and purity.

"I loved the simplicity, vulnerability and command the duo had without the assistance of bass and drums. Some of the first recordings I heard of Ella were with big bands. So, stripping down to one accompanist allowed the pureness of her sound to come through clearly.  Joe provided harmony (chords) and bass.  Ella added melody and emotion.  They both had impeccable time, so together they delivered rhythm and swing. Their performances always sounded whole and complete which is a testament to their brilliance."

Comes Love has been lurking in the back of Williamson’s mind for nearly 17 years, conceived at the turn of the millennium as she realized that Ella’s centenary was fast approaching. But the seeds for the idea were planted long before, during the singer’s childhood in Memphis. Her earliest memory of Ella came through the iconic vocalist’s early-70s commercials for Memorex cassette tapes (“Is it Ella or is it Memorex?”), but she truly fell in love with Ella’s voice as her choir director father played his cherished LPs for his music-loving daughter. “I liked the music,” she recalls, “but I really liked how Ella scatted because I thought it was silly. That built the foundation for this inspirational person in my life.”

Williamson’s tastes turned more to the popular music of the time – Prince, Madonna, Janet Jackson – as she entered high school, but while studying classical flute at the University of Tennessee she fell in with the jazz crowd, who she says were “much more fun” than her classical classmates. Wanting to sing with her new jazz friends, she rediscovered her passion for Ella and began taking lessons. “I remember telling my teacher, ‘I want to scat like Ella,’” she recalls. “She looked at me and said [sternly], ‘Well, girl, you’re gonna have to work.’ Ella was there when swing and bebop were evolving, and she’s a talent that we haven’t seen again in the jazz vocal world. I just thought, ‘Challenge accepted.’” 

Encouraged by UT faculty jazz pianist Donald Brown, Williamson headed to New England Conservatory to focus full-time on her voice, under the guidance of award-winning RCA recording artist Dominique Eade. She’s since become a favorite at Boston’s celebrated Regattabar, joined the faculty at Berklee College of Music, traveled the world singing in such far-flung locales as Seoul, South Korea; Singapore; New Delhi, India; and Perugia, Italy; and co-founded the vocal trio E.S.P. with fellow singers Emily Browder and Sandi Hammond. Both of Williamson’s independent recordings, My Shining Hour and Free to Dream, have received high praise from jazz critics around the country.

When she began searching for a collaborator to help her realize Comes Love, Williamson quickly discovered that Wheatley was on everyone’s short list of recommendations. One listen to his understated, lyrical playing on the album reveals why, as does a resume that includes stints with jazz greats like Ruby Braff, Herb Pomeroy and George Masso. Williamson ran into the guitarist (in her telling, it’s nearly an ambush) in the copy room at Berklee, and the two forged an almost immediate connection. “We played a little bit in his office and that’s all it took - I was in love,” Williamson enthuses. “That first little jam session was eye-opening because I was suddenly singing songs that I’ve been singing for the last 20 years in a completely different way.”

Helen encouraged Patrice to choose a personal theme for the album.  Williamson, having recently ended an incredible relationship, chose songs with melodies and content that held a personal resonance.  She found this process to be remarkably cathartic.  

Beyond the tribute to Ella, Comes Love uses Songbook standards to loosely trace the story of a long-term relationship coming to an end. A narrative shared by Ella and Patrice: "I've had some wonderful love affairs and some that didn't work out. I don't want to dwell on that and I don't want to put people down, but I think of all the fabulous places I've been, the wonderful things that have happened for me, the great people I've met - that ought to make a story."  - ELLA FITZGERALD

Out April 25th - Click here to Pre-Order Comes Love

Jihye Lee Orchestra - April (2017)

Composer/bandleader Jihye Lee Turns Tragedy into Lavish,
Heart-Wrenching Inspiration on Debut Orchestral Album
Written in response to the sinking of the Sewol ferry, April features guest artist Sean Jones and a 20-piece orchestra of Berklee faculty

Available February 24, 2017

"Not your typical big band music It's very original, very beautiful, and very well thought-out, well orchestrated music." - Greg Hopkins

"Jihye Lee is emerging as a strong voice in the next generation of composers for large jazz ensemble. Her music is imaginative and creative, and she's not afraid to take some exciting chances in her writing." - Jim McNeely

On the morning of April 16, 2014, tragedy struck South Korea when the ferry Sewol capsized and sank, killing more than 300 passengers. Half a world away, composer and native Korean Jihye Lee (pronounced Gee Hey) watched on in horror from Boston, where she was studying at Berklee College of Music. As the hours, days, weeks and now years have passed, reactions to the disaster have mingled grief and anger, sorrow and outrage, protest and sympathy as human tragedy collided with political controversy.

Not long before the wreck of the Sewol (pronounced Sae Wal), Lee had written two pieces that came to prove eerily prophetic: "April Wind," which gradually builds from gentle and tender to majestic and powerful; and "Deep Blue Sea," through which Lee's soaring voice wends an emotional, wordless lament before being overwhelmed by swelling tides of sound. "Destiny is a big word," Lee admits, "but maybe I was meant to make this album."

Lee expanded upon those two compositions in the wake of the Sewol disaster, creating the heartfelt six-song suite that comprises her new album, April. Performed by a 20-piece orchestra culled from Berklee faculty and Boston-area musicians, the album (due out February 24, 2017) explores the myriad conflicting emotions that a tragedy like the ferry crash can engender, vividly embodied by an orchestra that can navigate fluidly from visceral force to impressionistic beauty. Lee composes from a wide palette, at one moment lush watercolors, the next bold splashes of action painting.

Being so far away from home as events unfolded, Lee says that the worst feeling was being unable to contribute to rescue and relief efforts. "If I were in Korea I would have done something," she says. "But in Boston there was nothing to do. My mind was so chaotic, I couldn't help but write this music."
"April Wind" opens the album, the calm before the storm that sets the scene for the events of the day to unfold. Alain Mallet's piano solo rides the orchestra's cresting waves, while Shannon LeClaire's alto and Allan Chase's soprano usher in the rising tide. It's followed by "Sewol Ho," named for the ferry itself, which begins with John Lockwood's churning, ominous bass, soon joined by frantic, cross-talking horn lines which build in tension and urgency. "Deep Blue Sea" is an oasis of serenity, seemingly peaceful but perhaps suggesting the stunned silence following unimaginable horror. Rick DiMuzio's tenor offers a soulful elegy.

The brisk, manic rhythms of "Whirlwind" capture the chaos of the sinking's aftermath: the frenzied worry of victim's families, the unanswered questions and political turmoil that persist nearly three years later. "Guilty" is aimed squarely at those whose neglect, greed and politicking led to the tragedy and its staggering death toll, the composer's seething contempt for the deceit and disregard for human life mutedly expressed in the tug of war between Bruce Bartlett's guitar and Rick DiMuzio's soprano. Finally, "You Are Here (Every Time I Think of You)" is Lee's outpouring of sympathy for those lost and those left behind, highlighted by the aching, sweepingly gorgeous flugelhorn of guest soloist Sean Jones.

The band was assembled and the album co-produced by trumpeter and longtime Berklee professor Greg Hopkins. "Greg really believed in me and my music," Lee says. "When I shared my vision he was really supportive." Hopkins also helped Lee set up the Kickstarter campaign that funded the album's recording.

Given the singular vision of Lee's writing for big band, which calls to mind the bold narratives and colors of the Maria Schneider Orchestra along with the intricate arrangements of Jim McNeely, with whom she's now studying at the Manhattan School of Music, it's surprising to learn that Lee arrived in Boston with no intention of leading an orchestra and very little knowledge of jazz in general. She'd worked primarily as a folk and R&B-influenced pop singer-songwriter in Korea but came to Berklee hoping to expand her musical horizons.

"I wanted to see something that I didn't see when I was in Korea," she recalls. "I really loved complexity in harmony and rhythm, but I didn't know what genre I could find it in. I just followed my gut, and my gut said you have to go to Berklee. I got to see a lot of concert jazz orchestra music there, and I was overwhelmed. I was enchanted by the energy and complexity, the richness and diversity that we can mix and use in different ways. That's how I got into jazz big band writing."

One of the most striking elements of Lee's pieces throughout April is the way she interweaves her own voice into the orchestral palette. She doesn't write lyrics, uncomfortable with penning words in English, but doesn't see the lack of them as inhibitive of communicating her messages. "Lyrics are too specific to convey some images or emotions that I cannot really express with words," she says.
The use of voice, though, came naturally from her background as a singer. "It was only natural. I think people are very drawn to the human voice because we're all human, and there's some things that only voice can express."

While she doesn't draw on explicit influences from her native country, Lee says that her essential Korean-ness comes through in every note that she writes. "Korean people are very emotional, very expressive," she explains. She mentions a Korean expression, han, that connotes a sense of deep, restrained emotion rooted in the country's long history of war and colonization, similar to the melancholic/nostalgic Brazilian term saudade but in an earthier, more inward form. The stoicism they display on the surface means that their sadness comes through in art as a howl of sadness. "I think it naturally comes through in my melodies: dramatic, lyrical, very sad, that kind of emotional statement."

The title April ties into her adopted home of Boston as well, given that the Boston Marathon bombing took place one year almost to the day prior to the Sewol. Lee hopes that her music offers a path to healing from both incidents. "April is a beautiful month, the beginning of spring when everything is new and beautiful and blooming," she says. "I want to make April bloom again."

Available February 24, 2017

FRI., MAR 31, 7:30 PM: Cuban jazz artist Elio Villafranca to headline Aaron Davis Hall


‘Cuba – Senegal: Letters to Mother Africa II,’ acclaimed pianist-composer’s ode to Cuba and Africa,
heads to City College Center for the Arts on Friday, March 31, at 7:30 p.m.

Piano phenomenon Elio Villafranca will bring the next generation of his popular “Letters to Mother Africa” concerts, the second in his series on the African continent’s powerful influence on jazz and folk Cuban music, to Aaron Davis Hall at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, March 31. Villafranca's sold-out “Letters to Mother Africa” at Jazz at Lincoln Center (JALC) was selected as one of the top concerts of 2016 by the New York City Jazz Record. With “Cuba – Senegal: Letters to Mother Africa II,” the talented performer digs deeper into the African roots of modern jazz and Afro-Cuban music, bringing together jazz with authentic rumba and African percussion. Villafranca will lead an all-star band that includes Vince Herring (alto saxophone), Bruce Harris (trumpet), Steve Turre (trombone), Ricky Rodriguez (bass), Dion Parson (drums) and Miguelito Valdes (congas), together with a string quartet formed by Dana Lyn (violin), Kiku Enomoto (violin), Judith Insell (viola) and Alex Waterman (cello). Internationally acclaimed Senegalese-American drummer Abdou Mboup will add authentic African percussion on the kora as well as vocals. Cuban-American songbird Venissa Santi will perform vocals. The evening is presented by the City College Center for the Arts (CCCA).

“The concept for the concert stems from my childhood when I would send regular letters to my father who was working as an economist in Angola. Soon the weekly exercise seemed less like writing to my dad and more like writing letters to Africa itself,” said Villafranca. “Later, as a musician, knowing that Africa is regarded as the Motherland and hearing certain compositions celebrating African traditions or heritage, it seemed to me that the artists were joining me in writing letters to Africa.”

In addition to Villafranca’s original compositions (which include the New York premiere of Calle Paula and La Promesa) and those of Mboup, the group will perform unique arrangements of music by American artists Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong and Dr. Lonnie Smith and Cuban artists Enrique Jorrin (inventor of cha-cha-chá), Cristóbal Doval, and Celina y Reutilio, among others.

Among the vanguard of the new guard of Cuban pianists, composers and bandleaders, the classically trained Villafranca has been a force in both the East Coast and West Coast jazz scenes. The Grammy-nominated artist and Steinway artist was recently among the five pianists Chick Corea hand-picked to perform at the inaugural Chick Corea Jazz Festival, curated by Corea himself at JALC. He has performed internationally with jazz masters such as Corea, Pat Martino, Terell Stafford, Billy Hart, Paquito D’Rivera, Eric Alexander, Lewis Nash and David Murray. As a sideman, he has performed with Wynton Marsalis, Jon Faddis, Billy Harper, Sonny Fortune, Giovanni Hidalgo, Miguel Zenón and Johnny Pacheco and more.

“Elio Villafranca is a musician with brilliant style, innovation and passion, and we are so pleased to have him on our stage with other great talent,” said CCCA Managing Director Gregory Shanck. “This concert is sure to be one for the record books . . . don't miss it.”

Tickets for the concert are $30 reserved seating and $20 for seniors and students. Tickets can be purchased online at or by calling the box office at (212) 650-6900. Patrons wishing to buy tickets in person may visit Aaron Davis Hall Tuesday through Friday from 12 noon to 6 p.m. Aaron Davis Hall is located on the campus of the City College of New York, at West 135th Street and Convent Avenue (129 Convent Avenue).

City College Center for the Arts can be followed on Twitter at @ccnyarts. For more information on the Cuba – Senegal Letters to Mother Africa II concert and other performances at Aaron Davis Hall, visit

Born in the Pinar del Río province of Western Cuba, Steinway and Grammy-nominated artist and 2014 JALC Millennium Swing Award! recipient, pianist and composer Elio Villafranca was classically trained in percussion and composition at the Instituto Superior de Arte in Havana, Cuba.

Since his arrival in the U.S. in 1995, Villafranca has been at the forefront of the latest generation of remarkable pianists, composers and bandleaders. He also received a 2010 Grammy nomination for Best Latin Jazz Album of the Year. In 2008, the Jazz Corner nominated Villafranca as Pianist of the Year. That year, he was also honored with the BMI Jazz Guaranty Award and received the first NFA/Heineken Green Ribbon Master Artist Music Grant for the creation of his “Concerto for Mariachi” for the Afro-Cuban Percussion and Symphony Orchestra. His first album, “Incantations/Encantaciones,” featuring Pat Martino, Terell Stafford and Dafnis Prieto, was ranked among the 50 best jazz albums of the year by JazzTimes magazine in 2003.

Villafranca’s latest album, “Caribbean Tinge” (Motema), received a 2014 Preis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik (German Records Critics’ award) nomination, and has been selected by JazzTimes and DownBeat magazines for a feature in their very competitive Editor’s Pick sections.

Villafranca is based in New York City and is a faculty member of both Temple University and the Juilliard School of Music.

The City College Center for the Arts hosts an ambitious, year-round calendar of student and professional performances.  The mission of the City College Center for the Arts is to provide a creative arts center and focal point for the City College of New York, building a sense of community within the College, elevating the profile of Aaron Davis Hall in the greater New York area, and connecting the College to the surrounding community through the arts.

FRI., MAR. 24, 7 PM: Akiko Tsuruga Trio to jazz up Aaron Davis Hall this spring


Jazz group to perform at City College Center for the Arts 
on Friday, March 24, at 7 p.m.

“One of the most talked about and acclaimed jazz organists on the scene today!”  – Allegro Music

“Akiko’s playing is like watching a flower blooming, a bird spreading her wings in the music world. Akiko is here to stay.”  – Dr. Lonnie Smith, Jazz legend

Jazz virtuoso Akiko Tsuruga will bring the hypnotic sound of her Hammond B-3 organ to Uptown audiences as the Akiko Tsuruga Trio swings into Aaron Davis Hall at 7 p.m. on Friday, March 24. A popular and innovative mainstay on the New York jazz scene, Tsuruga has been praised as one of the most dynamic performers in music.  Performing with her bandmates Charlie Sigler on guitar and McClenty Hunter on drums, Tsuruga will offer an exciting lineup of jazz standards and original compositions at the concert. The evening is presented by the City College Center for the Arts (CCCA).

Drawing influence from jazz greats including Grady Tate and Dr. Lonnie Smith, Tsuruga’s performances have delighted audiences at prominent New York venues including Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola/Jazz at Lincoln Center, Birdland, Blue Note and Smoke Jazz & Supper Club.  A native of Osaka, Japan, Tsuruga started playing the organ at the age of three and later graduated from Osaka College of Music. She began making her mark in the music industry in her homeland and soon became a noted jazz composer, organist and pianist. Moving to New York City in 2001, Tsuruga has released seven albums and performed extensively both as the leader of her own trio and as a side musician for artists including Grady Tate’s vocal group and the Lou Donaldson Quartet.

“The Akiko Tsuruga Trio is one of the musical acts that are helping to keep the American art form of jazz and jazz organ alive and vibrant, and a vital part of the New York live music scene,” said CCCA Managing Director Gregory Shanck. “We are so pleased to have the group perform at Aaron Davis Hall and bring their unique sound to our community.”

Tickets for the concert are $20 for reserved seating and $10 for seniors and students. Tickets can be purchased online at or by calling the box office at (212) 650-6900. Patrons wishing to buy tickets in person may visit Aaron Davis Hall Tuesday through Friday from 12 noon to 6 p.m. Aaron Davis Hall is located on the campus of the City College of New York, at West 135th Street and Convent Avenue (129 Convent Avenue).

City College Center for the Arts can be followed on Twitter at @ccnyarts. For more information on the Akiko Tsuruga Trio concert and other performances at Aaron Davis Hall, visit

Akiko Tsuruga has been a mainstay on the New York jazz scene since 2001. The talented musician began playing the organ at the age of three in her native Japan. She launched her career after graduating from the Osaka College of Music, and in Osaka played with world-renowned jazz musicians from the United States. Grady Tate, in particular, had the strongest influence on her professional career, persuading her to move to the United States and performing on her Japanese debut album. Dr. Lonnie Smith is one of Tsuruga’s greatest mentors and she considers him her biggest influence. Her talent also drew Lou Donaldson’s attention, and in 2007 he chose her as his quartet’s organist.

After landing in New York City, the mecca for jazz, it didn’t take long for Tsuruga to make her mark. She was embraced by audiences and by her fellow musicians as one of the top organ players in the city, playing with Frank Wess, Jimmy Cobb, Jeff Hamilton, Lewis Nash, Jerry Weldon, Eric Alexander and Joe Magnarelli, among others. She also established herself as a featured organist at the great organ clubs in New York City and along the East Coast. She enjoys a great reputation performing with her own band, recently headlining at the Blue Note in Tokyo and the Jakarta International Java Jazz Festival, and has also played at jazz festivals and jazz clubs all over the world, including Dizzy's Club Coca Cola/Jazz at Lincoln Center and Smalls Jazz Club (New York), the Green Mill (Chicago), Yoshi's (Oakland), and Pine Grill Reunion (Buffalo).

Tsuruga has released five albums in Japan and four in the U.S. Both of her first two U.S. releases, “Sweet and Funky” and “Oriental Express” (18th & Vine Records), ranked in the top 20 on national jazz radio charts. She has been a regular in DownBeat magazine’s critics’ polls since 2008 and, in 2012, she placed sixth in its Rising Star category and ranked in its readers’ poll. Her third U.S. album, “Sakura,” released in 2012, scored seventh on the national jazz radio chart. Her latest album, “Commencement,” released in 2014 in the U.S. and in Japan, ranked fourth in the Jazz Week chart.

The City College Center for the Arts hosts an ambitious, year-round calendar of student and professional performances.  The mission of the City College Center for the Arts is to provide a creative arts center and focal point for the City College of New York, building a sense of community within the College, elevating the profile of Aaron Davis Hall in the greater New York area, and connecting the College to the surrounding community through the arts.