Piedmont Blues: a search for salvation

Conceived & Composed by Gerald Clayton
Directed by Christopher McElroen

the assembly

Gerald Clayton, Piano
René Marie, Vocals
Logan Richardson, Alto Sax
Tivon Pennicott, Tenor Sax
Dayna Stephens, Baritone Sax
Alan Hampton, Guitar
Joe Sanders, Bass
Kendrick Scott, Drums
Maurice Chestnut, Tap Dancer
Union Baptist Gospel Choir, Ray Watkins, Musical Director (Durham, NC)

production team

Liviu Pasare, Projections Designer
Becca Jeffords, Lighting Designer
William Boles, Scenic Designer
Adam Camardella, Sound Engineer
Will Bishop, Production Manager
JJ Marquis, Associate Production Manager
LeAnn Lisella, Stage Manager
McKenzie Millican, Assistant Stage Manager

 

GERALD CLAYTON

Gerald Clayton searches for honest expression in every note he plays. With harmonic curiosity and critical awareness, he develops musical narratives that unfold as a result of both deliberate searching and chance uncovering. The four-time GRAMMY-nominated pianist/composer formally began his musical journey at the prestigious Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, where he received the 2002 Presidential Scholar of the Arts Award. Continuing his scholarly pursuits, he earned a Bachelor of Arts in Piano Performance at USC’s Thornton School of Music under the instruction of piano icon Billy Childs, after a year of intensive study with NEA Jazz Master, Kenny Barron, at The Manhattan School of Music. Clayton won second place in the 2006 Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Piano Competition.

Expansion has become part of Clayton’s artistic identity. His music is a celebration of the inherent differences in musical perspectives that promote true artistic synergy. Inclusive sensibilities have allowed him to perform and record with such distinctive artists as Diana Krall, Roy Hargrove, Dianne Reeves, Ambrose Akinmusire, Dayna Stephens, Kendrick Scott, Ben Williams, Terell Stafford & Dick Oatts, Michael Rodriguez, Terri Lyne Carrington, Avishai Cohen, and the Clayton Brothers Quintet. Clayton also has enjoyed an extended association since early 2013, touring and recording with saxophone legend, Charles Lloyd. 2016 marks his second year as Musical Director of the Monterey Jazz Festival On Tour, a project that features his trio along with Ravi Coltrane, Nicholas Payton, and Raul Midón on guitar and vocals.

Clayton’s discography as a leader reflects his evolution as an artist. His debut recording, Two Shade (ArtistShare), earned a 2010 GRAMMY nomination in the Best Improvised Jazz Solo category for his arrangement of Cole Porter’s “All of You.” “Battle Circle,” his composition featured on The Clayton Brothers’ recording, The New Song and Dance (ArtistShare), received a GRAMMY nomination for Best Jazz Instrumental Composition in 2011. He received 2012 and 2013 GRAMMY nominations in the Best Jazz Instrumental Album category for Bond: The Paris Sessions (Concord), and Life Forum (Concord), his second and third album releases.

Capturing the truth in each moment’s conception of sound comes naturally to Clayton. The son of beloved bass player and composer, John Clayton, he enjoyed a familial apprenticeship from an early age. Clayton honors the legacy of his father and all his musical ancestors through a commitment to artistic exploration, innovation, and reinvention. For this commission, he turns his imaginative curiosity toward uncovering the essence of the Piedmont blues experience and expression in early twentieth century Durham.

 
 

Christopher McElroen

Christopher McElroen is a Brooklyn-based theatre artist and the Artistic Director of the american vicarious. Christopher received a 2013 Helen Hayes Award for his direction of the world premiere stage adaptation of Ralph Ellison’s iconic novel Invisible Man. Alongside visual artist Paul Chan and Creative Time, Christopher co-produced and directed Waiting for Godot in New Orleans, a community development through the arts initiative that staged Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot outdoors in the Lower Ninth Ward and Gentilly communities of post-Katrina New Orleans. The New York Times listed the project as one of the top ten national art events of 2007. The archives from the production have been acquired into the permanent collection of The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) and were on exhibit at MOMA May 2010 through September 2011. He had the honor of directing the world-premiere of 51st (dream) State, the final work of poet, musician, and activist Sekou Sundiata. 51st (dream) State was a multimedia exploration of American empire that premiered in New York at The Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave Festival before touring internationally. Christopher co-founded the acclaimed Classical Theatre of Harlem (CTH) where from 1999-2009 he produced 41 productions yielding 18 AUDELCO Awards, 6 OBIE Awards, 2 Lucille Lortel Awards, a Drama Desk Award, and CTH being named “1 of 8 Theatres in America to Watch” by the Drama League. His work has been recognized with the American Theatre Wing Award (Outstanding Artistic Achievement), Drama Desk Award (Artistic Achievement), Edwin Booth Award (Outstanding Contribution to NYC Theater), Lucille Lortel Award (Outstanding Body of Work), two Obie Awards (Sustained Achievement and Excellence in Theatre), and a Helen Hayes Award (Outstanding Direction).

 
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René Marie

In a span of two decades, eleven recordings, and countless stage performances, vocalist René Marie has cemented her reputation as not only a singer but also a composer, arranger, theatrical performer, and teacher. Guided and tempered by powerful life lessons and rooted in jazz traditions laid down by Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Washington, and other leading ladies of past generations, she borrows various elements of folk, R&B, and even classical and country to create a captivating hybrid style.

René was born in November 1955 into a family of seven children in Warrenton, Virginia. While neither of her parents were formally trained musicians, radio and records of all kinds — blues, folk, bluegrass, and classical — made up the soundtrack to her childhood. René had just one year of formal piano training at age nine, then another year of lessons at age thirteen after her parents divorced and she moved with her mother to Roanoke, Virginia. During her teenage years, she sang in a few R&B bands at musical functions in her community. She composed and sang her first piece with a band when she was fifteen.

Putting her musical aspirations aside to make room for the obligations and responsibilities of adulthood, she married a former bandmate when she was eighteen, and by the mid-1990s, she was the mother of two and working in a bank. When she was 41, her older son convinced her to start singing again, and she took a few tenuous steps into her local music scene, singing for tips one night a week in a hotel bar. Her husband was initially supportive of her reboot to her musical career, but he later issued an ultimatum: stop singing or leave their home. Tension over the issue escalated from emotional abuse to domestic violence, and she left the house and the marriage behind. She left her bank job, moved to Richmond, Virginia, divorced her husband of 23 years, produced her first CD, signed onto the MaxJazz label, and took the title role in the world premiere production of Ella and Her Fella, Frank at the Barksdale Theatre in Richmond.

René’s recordings include the self-produced CD, Renaissance (1999). In 2000, she signed onto the MaxJazz label and recorded How Can I Keep from Singing? (2000), Vertigo (2001), Live at Jazz Standard (2003), and Serene Renegade (2004). She parted ways with the label and recorded and co-produced her sixth CD, Experiment in Truth, in 2007. René appeared in a one-woman stage show, Slut Energy Theory: U’Dean, a play about overcoming abuse and incest, in 2009, and released the soundtrack that year.

René joined the Motéma label with the 2011 release of Voice of My Beautiful Country, followed later that same year by Black Lace Freudian Slip. Her 2013 follow-up, I Wanna Be Evil: With Love To Eartha Kitt, earned a GRAMMY nomination in the Best Jazz Vocal Album category. Her latest release is Sound of Red (Motéma, 2016), her first album of all-original material.