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A look inside The Jazz Gallery

Photo courtesy of the artist

Photo courtesy of the artist

A 2013 graduate of The Juilliard School, pianist Samora Pinderhughes has most recently been touring with acts like R&B artist Emily King and José James. In February, he performed his The Transformation Suite, a work that “examines the final years of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life,” at New York City’s Museum of Natural History with an all-star band featuring the likes of Dayna Stephens, Marcus Gilmore, and Samora’s younger sister, flutist Elena Pinderhughes.

This Thursday, Samora will perform his début as a leader on our stage, presenting new music that includes premieres of a song cycle featuring Saul Williams’s poetry and personally oriented compositions exploring love, loss, beginnings, and endings. Here’s what he had to say about the music you’ll be listening to.

On the band and the music:

This is a new group: it’s kind of been in the making for a little while, and the concept that went into creating this specific group was that I wanted to start writing lyrics. I’ve been composing for a long time—basically since I started playing music—but I hadn’t ever written lyrics until about six months ago.

I’ve always been really fascinated with poetry and lots of people in my community growing up were poets, like really heavy slam poets in the Bay Area. For me, lyricism was a very high art, so it took a lot of courage for me to do this. The first step for me was to write this classical song cycle that I then reformatted based on a guy named Saul Williams: he’s my favorite contemporary poet, probably in the world.

I wrote this cycle, which I actually will be premiering as part of the program. I’ve never played it in any arena before—I don’t think anybody besides my sister has heard it—and it’s entirely new music. That was my first entry point about actually writing some vocals, and after that, I started to write songs with my own lyrics.

On his conceptual approach:

A lot of the projects that I do are kind of concept-based. I like to explore specific concepts, and they usually have to do with sociopolitical issues, like The Transformation Suite. I’m working on another project that’s premiering in May that’s focused on trauma and healing. Actually, when I graduated from Juilliard, I realized that I needed a bit of healing myself. A lot of music for this group is exploring more of my personal life, like an issue that’s not necessarily outside of me, but including others in a grander scheme: things about specific situations I’ve been through. It’s about examining love and examining loss, and examining beginnings and endings, and phases within that.

On artistic motivation:

It’s also, I think, hopefully celebration music, celebratory. A lot of the projects I do are very, very serious, and this is serious too, but I thought it was important to celebrate life; we’re going to have some fun as well. There are a couple covers in there, and from different influences. We’re doing one by Joanna Newsom, the indie harp player, and we might do this OutKast cover so, you know, just combining different worlds.

I’m really excited to just present a lot of this stuff, most of which has never been heard before. I’d like to give people some new thoughts, and let people hear where I’m at and this group of musicians, also. It’s an amalgamation of a lot of stuff I’ve thought about and I’m excited to throw out all this stuff, like, “This is where I’m at as a human being right now, and I hope it resonates.”

Has Been Checking Out Lately:

  • Frank Ocean
  • Marvin Gaye (especially I Want You)
  • Sekou Sundiata
  • Strivers Row Poetry Collective
  • Chinaka Hodge
  • Justin Long-Moton

Samora Pinderhughes and Tha Unit perform at The Jazz Gallery this Thursday, April 3rd, 2014. The band features Elena Pinderhughes on flute and vocals, Braxton Cook on alto saxophone, Samora Pinderhughes on piano, Luques Curtis on bass, and Corey Fonville on drums—plus special guests Jehbreal Muhammad on voice and Riley Mulherkar on trumpet. Sets are at 9 and 11 p.m. $15 general admission ($10 for members) for the first set, $10 general admission ($5 for members) for the second. Purchase tickets here.