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Percussion Performance to Commemorate Black History Month

musicians Tim Adams, Lenny White and Duke Ellington

On February 27, commemorating Black History Month, the NYU Percussion Ensemble will perform Tim Adams’ 8:46, part of the composer’s ongoing contribution to Black Lives Matter. The program will also feature the world premiere of Lenny White’s The Magnificent Seven and a rare arrangement of Duke Ellington’s Malletoba Spank.

Adams wrote 8:46 following George Floyd's murder on May 25, 2020. “This tragic event affected me more deeply than anything I have witnessed in my entire life,” he said. Adams’ immediate reaction to Floyd’s killing was to do something to make the world “a more humane environment for my brown skinned four-year-old son.”

8:46 represents the final seconds of Floyd’s life, and quotes 42 statements made during his killing. Adams hopes percussionists from all parts of society will perform his work in support of racial equality. “A performance of this piece,” said the composer, “shows commitment for change.” 

Lenny White, Composer-in-Residence of NYU’s Program in Jazz Studies, wrote The Magnificent Seven to honor the musicians he sees as the architects of modern jazz drumming: Kenny Clarke, Art Blakey, Max Roach, Billy Jones, Elvin Jones, Roy Haynes, and Tony Williams. A four-time Grammy Award-winner who played drums on Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew at age 19, White wrote The Magnificent Seven to pay homage to all drummers. 

On October 25, 1932, jazz pianist and composer Duke Ellington performed at NYU at the invitation of the Australian composer Percy Grainger, who was briefly appointed Associate Professor of Music at NYU. Despite his racist beliefs (commonly held at the time) and eccentricities, Grangier recognized jazz’s merits and Ellington’s genius. While Grainger’s classes were not well attended, Ellington’s performance was a huge draw, filling the theater. The event, which introduced many NYU students to jazz, also offered Ellington a certain validation from the musical “establishment.”

In 1959, Ellington assembled a large percussion ensemble, accompanied by the Duke Ellington Orchestra, to record House Party. This legendary recording featured New York’s top percussionists, including members of the New York Philharmonic. Many years later, while exploring the rarified yet compelling repertoire featuring kettle drums (timpani), Jonathan Haas, Director of the Program in Percussion Studies, contacted the composer’s sister, Ruth Ellington. She then shared with him two pieces included on the historic recording – Tymperturbably Blue and Malletoba Spank – and encouraged Haas to arrange both for percussion ensemble. This new ensemble rendering of Duke Ellington’s classic, approved and supported by the Duke Ellington Estate, will come to life February 27.

The Ensemble concert will be held February 27 at 8:00 pm at the new Paulson Center, 181 Mercer Street, and is free and open to the public.

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