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Craig Harris: Jazz Composer Unveils "God's Trombones"
Photo by Ruth Morgan
By Deardra Shuler
Photo: Ruth Morgan
Harlemites and the very fortunate will get a treat when renowned jazz composer Craig Harris unveils his latest work in progress: “God’s Trombones” on Thursday, April 6th and Friday, April 7th at 8:00 p.m., when Community Works presents “Harlem Is…Music” in association with the Apollo Salon Series is at the world famous Apollo Theatre located at 253 West 125th Street in Manhattan.
Raised in Hempstead, Long Island, Craig Harris, has been playing the trombone since he was 10 years old. He studied music at SUNY Westbury and has been a musician for nearly 30 years, working exclusively as a composer and musician his entire career. Though Harris has traveled the world, he has spent 10-15 years concentrating on recording his 12 CDs. Recently, within the last 6 or 7 years, he has focused on what he terms total art integration on the grand stage where he is integrating text, music, movement, and imagery. “Most of the work that I do is improvised driven music. For lack of a better term, you can call it funk, jazz, blues, holy-roller. Anything that deals with improvised driven music is what I am all about.” says Harris. “I am setting the text of James Weldon Johnson “God’s Trombone” to music for the project that I am doing at the Apollo” explained Craig.
James Weldon Johnson was inspired by the rhythm and cadence he heard within the preaching of African American ministers. He saw that this tradition was becoming extinct so he sought to document these inspirational sermons in order to preserve this unique African American cultural tradition. His 1927 collection of 7 classic poems blended the sound, words, and movement of the call and response tradition of African American preachers. Johnson entitled his work “God’s Trombones.”
“Langston Hughes did these poems in a theatre setting but as a trombone player I was inspired by the great trombone tradition in African American churches as well as with the works of James Weldon Johnson,” remarked Harris. “Therefore, I combined them both and came up with my concert which is a work in progress. This production is a partnership between the Apollo Theater, Community Works, and Voza River’s New Heritage Theatre. 70% of the text will be sung and the other 30% will be spoken. James Weldon Johnson’s text will be distributed between 4 different vocalists, 70% they will sing and another 30% they will speak. This will be integrated with a brass choir of 1 tuba, 1 Baritone Euphonium, 4 trombones, keyboard, and drums. We will also do sermons in that setting. Some say that the trombone is the voice of God, though I know some clarinet players and other instrumentalists that might think he also speaks through their instruments. One thing for sure is that through our music we are the vessel of the great creator,” said the talented trombonist.
Actor Avery Brooks whom some of you may remember from his role as Captain Benjamin Sisko in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and even further back in the series Spencer for Hire, will also be lending his considerable talents as a musician to the “God’s Trombone” project. “Many people do not know that Avery is an incredible musician and vocalist. I have known Avery for 20 odd years and since I worked with him before, I called him and he was delighted to do this project. I think people who attend the performance will be both surprised and pleased to find out how talented Avery Brook’s is. Avery is a prolific person and studied artist.” Harris claims.
harlem is...Music celebrates Harlem’s unrivaled musical tradition from gospel to classical, from jazz to hip-hop, honoring its musical institutions and legacy keepers past and present. This is the newest component of the harlem is…” public art and programming series. Created by Community Works, (the nonprofit arts education organization founded by Barbara Horowitz) through the lens of New York public school students, the exhibition’s nine components have toured over 25 institutions citywide and has served over 300,000 community members through public programming that annually produces over 100 performances, symposiums and public events.
To purchase tickets for “God’s Trombone,” call the Apollo Theater box office at (212) 531-5305 or purchase through Ticket Masters. For further information about “harlem is…” events and programs, or Community Works call Community Works at (212) 459-1854 or visit on line at www.communityworks.org.
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