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Jazz Singer Praises Polyrhythms PDF Print E-mail
Commentary/Politics - Letters to the Editor
Written by Petra van Nuis   
Tuesday, 28 September 2010 15:38

I am writing in praise of Nate Lawrence and Polyrhythms. Polyrhythms is a Quad Cities organization dedicated to bringing jazz music to their community, not only through live performance, but also with workshops for non-musicians and musicians alike. These events take place the third Sunday of every month at the state-of-the-art Redstone Room inside the beautiful new River Music Experience building, which serves as a museum/classroom/performance space for American music (with an emphasis on jazz music that came up the Mississippi River).

I am a jazz vocalist based in Chicago. Last Sunday, I had the great fortune of performing for the Quad Cities community as part of Polyrhythms' Third Sunday Jazz program. The experience was very rewarding because of the combination of the performance and the workshop.

During our initial phone call, Nate stressed that the goal of the Polyrhythms is to de-mystify jazz music. For the afternoon workshop, Nate advised me that this wasn’t a typical master class for semi-professional or student musicians, but rather an interactive workshop in which we would attempt to educate and inspire non-musicians to explore jazz and enjoy it. Nate instructed me to show how jazz relates to life.

At the workshop, the age range was vast (from about seven to 80). Some of the participants played instruments, and some did not. There were church groups of kids and college groups fulfilling music-appreciation requirements. There were retirees, and there were parents who brought kids to expose them to something they might not hear about in school. It was truly a slice of the whole community that spanned all ages and races. It was a beautiful thing to see jazz as the common thread uniting all these folks.

It was a challenge for me to find something to appeal to everyone, but after we performed some tunes, talked about our backgrounds, discussed the technical aspects of the songs, and took questions, I played recorded versions of five singers performing the jazz standard “Them There Eyes” over the stereo. I showed how Billie Holiday heard Louis Armstrong singing “Them There Eyes” and how his version influenced hers. Then we listened to Carmen McRae's, Peggy Lee's, and Anita O'Day’s versions of “Them There Eyes.” We heard what these singers learned from their idol Billie Holiday, but we also noticed how different the versions were, because each singer had developed her own unique voice. I believe this listening exercise was very beneficial, especially for kids who probably would not be exposed to these iconic American singers otherwise. We can thank Nate Lawrence for organizing such an event.

The evening performance that followed the workshop was equally rewarding. The Redstone Room performance space is beautiful, warm, welcoming, and very intimate (perfect for jazz). The sound system was one of the best I’ve ever worked with. The audience was diverse in age and race. Everyone made us feel comfortable and welcome. It was so easy to connect with this appreciative and loving crowd.

Nate Lawrence works tirelessly to spread the word and attract music fans to his programs. Even with all of his hard work, I know that the program is difficult to sustain financially (especially when bringing in performers from out of town, which he often does). I hope that through generous grants, Nate will be able to continue his community work at Polyrhythms. I cannot over-emphasize the need for this type of program and the incredible and extremely professional job Polyrhythms does.

Petra van Nuis
Jazz Vocalist
Evanston, Illinois

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