On Friday, July 24, the Fine Arts Center’s virtual Jazz in July program features three guest artist presentations which will be streamed for the public via Facebook. The guest artists are saxophonist Lakecia Benjamin, bassist Avery Sharpe, and pianist Christian Sands. All three presentations will be shared live on the Fine Arts Center’s Facebook page.
Lakecia Benjamin begins the day at noon featuring a short performance and interview with Yvonne Mendez, Director of Education and Engagement and Valley Jazz Network Coordinator at the Fine Arts Center. Benjamin is a charismatic and dynamic saxophonist and bandleader, fusing traditional conceptions of jazz, hip-hop and soul music. Her electric presence and fiery sax work has shared stages with several legendary artists, including Stevie Wonder, Alicia Keys, The Roots and Macy Gray. Her latest release, “Pursuance,” pays homage to Alice and John Coltrane. Lakecia Benjamin’s Jazz in July session is co-sponsored by Valley Jazz Network.
At 1:30 p.m., bassist and Jazz in July faculty member Avery Sharpe will share his reflections on his many years performing with the late McCoy Tyner. In 1980, Sharpe auditioned with 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 25 records. Tyner, who passed away in March this year, was known for his work with the John Coltrane Quartet and a long solo career. A long-time Pioneer Valley resident, Sharpe studied at UMass Amherst before embarking upon a globe-spanning career. Sharpe’s credits include sideman stints with many jazz greats, including Dizzy Gillespie, Pat Metheny, Archie Shepp and Art Blakey, as well as leading his own groups. To date he has more than 13 titles as a leader, 12 of the titles are on his self-owned record label, JKNM Records. His latest touring project is a musical, multimedia opera chronicling the 400th anniversary of slavery in America called “400.”
Closing out the day at 3 p.m. will be multi-Grammy nominated and Steinway artist Christian Sands. A native of New Haven, Connecticut, Sands studied extensively with Dr. Billy Taylor privately and as a student of Jazz in July. Later, Sands returned to also teach in the program. He is a graduate of Manhattan School of Music with both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in jazz performance and jazz studies. One of the top rising jazz pianists, he is constantly in demand performing and recording with the likes of Christian McBride, Ben Williams, Marcus Roberts, Cyrus Chestnut, Stefon Harris, Terri Lynne Carrington, Warren Wolf, Terrance Blanchard, Wynton Marsalis and more. His latest and fourth album, “Be Water,” was released July 17.
For 39 years, the Jazz in July summer music program at the UMass Fine Arts Center has fostered a multigenerational learning environment that allows participants to grow and thrive as jazz musicians. Since the in-person version of the program cannot happen this summer due to Covid-19 restrictions, a one-week, online-only version of Jazz in July takes place Monday, July 20 through Friday, July 24, 2020. Detailed program requirements, a daily schedule, faculty bios and access to the online application are all available at jazzinjuly.com. Jazz in July is sponsored by the Daily Hampshire Gazette and WEIB 106.3 FM.