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All That Jazz

Concert, conference spotlight Gotlieb Center archives

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Among the many treasures safely tucked away at the University’s Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center (HGARC) are collections from a string of giants from the golden age of American jazz. Those include bandleaders Don Ellis and Cab Calloway, singer Ella Fitzgerald, and jazz critic Nat Hentoff.

Starting today, the College of Fine Arts musicology and ethnomusicology department teams with the Gotlieb Center to offer an exhibition, a concert, and a two-day conference titled Jazz, Criticism, and American Politics at which scholars and musicians will examine how jazz and politics converged in the first half of the 20th century.

“There’s a lot of really interesting material on jazz at the Gotlieb, and we wanted to highlight it in a scholarly and musical way,” says Jeremy Yudkin, a CFA professor of music and department chair, who organized tonight’s concert, which includes several rarely performed arrangements, with a grant from the BU Center for the Humanities. Along with vocalists Maria Ferrante and Dominique Eade, the concert features the Lewis Porter Trio. Pianist Porter, a professor at Rutgers University and the author of a biography of jazz legend John Coltrane, is the conference keynote speaker. His lecture, titled Jazz and Politics in the Broader Sense, is at 4 p.m. today in Mugar Memorial Library’s Richards-Roosevelt Room.

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“The pieces my group is performing are all from the Gotlieb collection,” says Porter, whose fellow trio musicians are John Lockwood on bass and Yoron Israel on drums. “I’ve arranged the dramatic protest song “Strange Fruit,” which was recorded by Billie Holiday.” The trio will play an instrumental of the haunting song, written by Abel Meeropol, who adopted the sons of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, convicted of treason and executed by the United States in 1953. Soprano Ferrante will also sing the song, which is about lynchings in the South and is the subject of one of the conference sessions. Also in the program are Cole Porter’s “All of You” and “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye,” Johnny Mercer and Doris Tauber’s “Drinking Again,” and Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart’s “Spring Is Here.”

To coincide with the conference and concert, the HGARC has prepared a small exhibition in the Gotlieb Memorial Gallery on the first floor of Mugar. Arranged in roughly chronological order, the display consists of sheet music, photos, concert programs, and other memorabilia from the collections of Calloway, Mercer, Alberta Hunter, and Hentoff. There are programs from Harlem’s legendary Cotton Club and a handwritten score of Rodgers and Hart’s “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered” signed by Ella Fitzgerald (below), who recorded the song in 1956 for her legendary album Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Rodgers and Hart Songbook. One of the gems of the exhibition is a manuscript jazz chart for “C.C. Boogie,” composed by Calloway for his band.

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Ferrante, a soloist in opera, oratorio, and recital, has appeared throughout the United States, England, and Japan. Her opera roles have included Liù in Puccini’s Turandot with Concert Opera Boston, Mimì in Puccini’s La Bohème, and Pamina in Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte. Well-known to Boston and New York jazz audiences, Eade teaches at the New England Conservatory and has performed in duos and trios, and in quartets with Ran Blake, Ben Street, and Matt Wilson.

“The concert will bring together the best of BU—music and scholarship,” says Yudkin.

The College of Fine Arts School of Music Jazz Concert is tonight at 8 p.m. at the Tsai Performance Center, 685 Commonwealth Ave.; it is free and open to the public. The conference, today and tomorrow at Mugar Memorial Library, is also free and open to the public. Conference information and a schedule can be found here.

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Susan Seligson

Susan Seligson can be reached at sueselig@bu.edu.

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