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A look inside The Jazz Gallery

Photo by Elizabeth Leitzell

Speaking to Amsterdam News, the pianist Courtney Bryan says, “Musicians make decisions. They either support the status quo or break down barriers.” As the News points out, Courtney belongs firmly in the latter camp.

From the beginning, Courtney’s approach to music has incorporated composition. A native of New Orleans, she began writing music at age five, and was soon accumulating cassette tapes filled with recordings of her early works. Courntey’s early musical development was also shaped by both the influence of her parent’s Caribbean and West-African Anglican-based church and private studies of European classical piano repertoire, as well as by early experiences in marching bands and jazz ensembles.

After attending the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, Courtney enrolled at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, and later received her masters degree from Rutgers University. Her continuing search for knowledge led her to seek out George Lewis, with whom Courtney currently studies as a faculty fellow in composition at Columbia University. Even as she continues to seek new perspectives and information, Courtney also makes time to share what she has learned with her younger peers; she recently returned from a semester of teaching at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music.

Spirituality has continued to occupy a major role in Courntey’s work, both academically and artistically. She has devoted both her academic studies and artistic explorations to the understanding and reimagining Negro spirituals, and the notion of “composing in the spirit”. Courtney is also the organist at Bethany Baptist Church in Newark, where she has organized symposiums and panel discussions, often featuring interdisciplinary participants.

As a leader, Courtney has performed regularly at clubs and festivals in New Orleans, Detroit, New York, and beyond, and has self-released two albums, Quest For Freedom and This Little Light of Mine. Her compositions have been performed at Lincoln Center’s Rose Studio and the Corcoran Gallery of Art of Washington DC (Contemporary Music Forum), and she has been commissioned by Cleveland State University’s Jazz Heritage Orchestra, Inspira Dance Company of New Jersey, and LADance Company of Texas, among others. Courtney has also been heard around New York with the likes of Donald HarrisonImani UzuriBrandee Younger, and Marcus Strickland.

Courtney proclaims that her ambition in life is the “creation of uninhibited beauty,” and The New York Times recognizes her “panoramic interests.” We look forward to experiencing both of these things in her performance at The Gallery this Thursday night. The concert will feature the bassist Linda Oh and the drummer Damion Reid – regulars in both Courtney’s trio and on our stage – and a guest appearance by the harpist Brandee Younger. Speaking about the event,  — she’s a faculty fellow in music composition at Columbia University, and the organist at Bethany Baptist Church in Newark — Ms. Bryan has a particular yen for the affinities between African-American spirituals, classical music and jazz improvisation. Here she leads an ensemble with the harpist Brandee Younger, the bassist Linda Oh and the drummer Damion Reid.

Listen to a studio session with Courtney on WBGO’s The Checkout, in which she gives an interview and performs live renditions of spirituals.