The Social Experience......Helping the Unsigned Artist Get Heard!!!
Avery Sharpe is one of the best known bassists in jazz today. Noted for a two decade stint (1980-2000) with the great McCoy Tyner, he studied economics at UMASS where he met Reggie Workman who persuaded him to master acoustic bass. It was not long before he was performing with Art Blakey, Archie Shepp, Dizzy Gillespie, Wynton Marsalis and Pat Metheny.
Avery was the first artist to dip the Litchfield Festival’s toes into Gospel with his Sojourner Truth Project in 2012 featuring vocalist Jeri Brown and Sharpe’s Extended Family Choir peopled with, well, extended family, and his students at Williams College Gospel Choir. His grounding in gospel came from the influence of his mother who was a church pianist. Sharpe himself leads a gospel choir in Springfield MA as well as the Williams group.
In Sharpe Meets Tharpe, his salute to the iconic gospel singer, Rosetta Tharpe, (directed by his brother Kevin Sharpe) he brings his long-time jazz ensemble together with gospel singers from around New England to honor the African American singer who is credited with popularizing gospel among secular audiences in the 20s and 30s. Gospel releases on Decca, a first for the label, in 1938 became smash hits making Tharpe the first commercially successful gospel singer. Riding the waves of her hits, Tharpe appeared at Carnegie Hall with John Hammond in 1938 breaking two old taboos—performing gospel in a secular setting and playing the guitar—then frowned upon for women. While she was at it she continued to “scandalize” by playing with Cab Calloway at Harlem’s Cotton Club.
Her unique brand of music is often considered the precursor to rock and roll. Always an original, Tharpe married in 1951 at Griffith Stadium to 25,000 paying guests and did a gospel performance in her wedding gown! She later toured Europe with Muddy Waters in 1970 and was felled by a stoke three years later at age 58. Rosetta Tharpe’s epitaph reads,
“She would sing until you cried and then she would sing until you danced for joy...”
Avery Sharpe has been a Litchfield Jazz Camp teaching artist since 2008 and began the camp’s emphasis on physical fitness with his early morning “Jazz Boot Camp” which he conducts to this day.
This is Avery Sharpe’s 7th appearance at the festival. His Gospel Choir will be backed by his trio, including pianist Mike King, Jeremy Turgeon on trumpet, Charles Langford, tenor and soprano sax, Jim Messbauer on trombone, Charles Neville, tenor sax, drummer Cory Cox and Angel Rose lead vocals. I think they will have us all “dancing for joy.”