All week we’re sharing talks by the artists who’ll be performing in this weekend’s 3rd International M³ Festival, which will be presented online by the National Jazz Museum in Harlem. CRS is a sponsor of M³ (Mutual Mentorship for Musicians). Below, you can hear Francesca Tanksley & Thandi Ntuli talk about their duo commission “Changing of Heart” premiering Sunday, March 20 @ 2pm ET. Festival details are below.
After nearly six months working together as part of the Mutual Mentorship for Musicians (M³) initiative, the project’s 3rd cohort of artists reconvenes virtually for the world premieres of their new, collaborative M³ commissions on Saturday, March 19 at 2:00 p.m. ET and Sunday, March 20 at 2:00 p.m. ET via the The National Jazz Museum in Harlem.
Hosted by renowned writer Kyla Marshell, each premiere will be followed by a Q&A with the artists, who will answer questions from the audience about their creative process. The performances are streamed via Zoom and may be accessed for free with RSVP. Reservations at JazzMuseumInHarlem.org or links in bio:
Francesca Tanksley surprises. The internationally-acclaimed jazz pianist and composer, described as “a vivid presence” by jazz critic Nat Hentoff, breaks through traditional expectations with the power of her musical vision. Acknowledged as a fine soloist, composer, and accompanist with such notable groups as the Billy Harper Quintet, the Jeff “Siege” Siegel Quartet, and the Erica Lindsay Quintet, she has performed throughout Europe, East and Southeast Asia, Scandinavia and South America as well as in the United States, and appears on numerous CD releases of these groups. Her compositional talent is featured on recordings by the Billy Harper Quintet, the Jeff Siegel Quartet, the Rob Scheps Quartet, as well as on her own Trio recording, entitled, Journey.
Other leading musicians with whom Francesca Tanksley has performed include David Newman, Howard Johnson, Laurel Massé of Manhattan Transfer, Reggie Workman, Cecil Payne, Nick Brignola, Kamau Adilifu, Charles Davis, Clifford Jordan, Jay Clayton, Slide Hampton, Sheila Jordan, Jimmy Cobb, Pat LaBarbera, and tap-dancers Katherine Kramer and Brenda Buffalino. She has been a featured artist on Marian McPartland’s widely acclaimed National Public Radio series, Piano Jazz, and appears in the documentary, Women In Jazz by Burrill Crohn. Ms. Tanksley also is noted in the books, American Women In Jazz, by Sally Plaxin, and in Madam Jazz, by Leslie Gourse.
In addition to being an acclaimed accompanist and composer, Ms. Tanksley also leads the Francesca Tanksley Trio. Her 2002 debut recording, entitled Journey, features her original compositions and includes colleagues from the Billy Harper Quintet, drummer Newman Taylor Baker, bassist Clarence Seay, as well as guest vocalist Judy Bady. Commissioned works featuring the Francesca Tanksley Trio include a suite entitled, Goddess of the Sea, commissioned by St. Gregory’s Church of Woodstock, New York, as well as original compositions commissioned by tap dancer Katherine Kramer at Skidmore College, NY, and Florida International University. The Francesca Tanksley Trio, has toured both in the U.S. and internationally, at venues including Sweet Basil in NYC, the Pleshakov Piano Museum in Hudson, NY, the Kalisz International Piano Jazz Festival, and jazz club Blue Note in Poznan, Poland.
Ms. Tanksley holds a Master’s Degree in Music from Queens College, Queens, New York, and is the recipient of the Graduating Master’s Award, the Eubie and Marion Blake Foundation Award, and the ASCAP Louis Armstrong Composers’ Scholarship Award. She has taught in various jazz workshops at numerous colleges, including the University of Southern California at Santa Cruz, Hampton University, Rensselaer Polytechnical Institute, Arizona State University, and Bard College. Ms. Tanksley served as faculty at New School University’s Jazz Program in New York City from 1995-2015, and is currently full-time Professor at Berklee College of Music in Boston, as well as Visiting Artist at Bard College at Annandale-on-Hudson, NY.
Exploring the fullness of who she is – who we are – in her personal and collaborative projects, Thandi Ntuli negotiates a wide palette of sound and genre. This approach is a proud embracing of having grown up with the family lore of a classical singer aunt, after whom she is named; an uncle (Selby Ntuli) who was a member of Afro-rock band Harari; and a grandfather (Levi Godlib Ntuli) who – while living with his young family in 1940s Sophiatown, a cultural hub not unlike 1920s Harlem in New York – fostered among his children a tradition of composing, playing and singing music together. This tradition still lives on.
Through her work over a hitherto 13-year career, Thandi has carved space for herself, and others seeking home, to fully exist – thereby firmly situating herself and the contemporary South African generation in the musical cannon. Her frank-yet-empathetic and vulnerable gaze on herself, and the world, has birthed a body of work that facilitates our access to our histories, presents and futures by creating in music literature the existence of language, experiences and space that speak to us. For young South Africans and creatives – not least of all, women – Thandi represents a home-going to ourselves, each other and our communities.
She comes to music in earnest, to listen to it, and to convey with all possible honesty what it has come to teach her. Receiving lessons from music without shame or judgement, Thandi’s practice has allowed her to see and hear herself more meaningfully. In sharing this gift as intimately as she has, she has shared space with the rest of us to give voice and presence to ourselves more meaningfully. In so doing, we share the same space with others. After all, music is community. Music is community care. Thandi’s work is unapologetic ownership and celebration of all that we are.