Harlem Stage Presents CRAIG HARRIS' GOD'S TROMBONES 12/16-19

CRAIG HARRIS' GOD'S TROMBONES- Presented in partnership with the Center for Jazz Studies at Columbia University and the Columbia/Harlem Jazz Project.

Thu. - Sat., Dec 16-18, 7:30 pm
& Sun, Dec 19, 3:00 pm

About this Performance

God's Trombones returns to Harlem Stage after a sold out run in 2009. This musical interpretation of James WelDon Johnsons' 1927 classic collection of poems refigures inspirational sermons by traveling African-American preachers. Harris' interpretation transcends the sectarian roots of the sermons and focuses on their universal spirituality, reimagining them for a contemporary audience.

Craig Harris

When Craig Harris exploded onto the jazz scene in 1976, he brought the entire history of the jazz trombone with him. From the growling gutbucket intensity of early New Orleans music through the refined, articulate improvisation of the modern era set forth by J.J. Johnson, and into the confrontational expressionism of the '60s avant-garde, Craig handled the total vernacular the way a skilled orator utilizes the spoken word. But the contemporary music world quickly realized that his talents went far beyond his superb skills as a trombonist. While he performed with a veritable Who's Who of progressive jazz' most important figures - including Sun Ra, Sam Rivers, Lester Bowie, Abdullah Ibrahim, Makanda Ken McIntyre, Jaki Byard, Cecil Taylor, MuhAl Richard Abrams, and the list goes on and on -- his own projects displayed both a unique sense of concept and a total command of the sweeping expanse of African-American musical expression. And it's those two qualities that have dominaTed Craig's past 15 years of activity, bringing him far beyond the confines of the jazz world and into the sphere of multimedia and performance art as composer, performer, conceptualist, curator and artistic director.

Sensing the increasing economic constrictions and diminishing opportunities that would soon place a stranglehold on the more adventurous aspects of music in the jazz tradition, Craig began to devote his energies to a broader realm of artistic realization back in 1988. He established Nation of Imagination, Inc., a non-profit organization devoted to the development of large-scale multi-media collaborative works, as well as educating and creating new opportunities for emerging artists. This also marked the beginning of the long and fruitful collaborative relationship with the renowned poet Sekou Sundiata that continues to this day. Their first collaboration, The Circle Unbroken Is a Hard Bop premiered at City College of New York's Aaron Davis Hall in 1992. This epistolary praise poem with music won the theater world's prestigious Bessie Award in 1993, as well as three Audelco awards: best musical, best writer (Sekou) and best composer (Craig). It also toured U.S. colleges, fine arts institutions and festivals for two years before settling in for an extended run at New York City's Nuyorican Poets Cafe.

Born in Hempstead on Long Island, N.Y. in 1953, Craig is a graduate of the renowned music program of SUNY at Old Westbury. Profoundly influenced by its legendary founder and director, the late Makanda Ken McIntyre, Craig's move to New York City in 1978 quickly established him in the forefront of young trombonists, along with Ray Anderson, George Lewis and Joseph Bowie. First playing alongside another of his teachers at SUNY, baritone saxophonist Pat Patrick in Sun Ra's Arkestra for two years, Harris embarked on a world tour with South African pianist/composer Abdullah Ibrahim (Dollar Brand) in 1981. Highly affected by their stay in Australia, Craig played with Aborigine musicians and returned with a dijeridoo, a haunting wind instrument that has become a part of his musical arsenal ever since. Upon his return, Harris became a member of such major groups as David Murray's Octet, the Beaver Harris-Don Pullen 360 Degree Musical Experience, Sam Rivers' various orchestral aggregations, Lester Bowie's Brass Fantasy and many, many more. He also played for Lena Horne in her Broadway orchestra for a year.

Craig has performed all over the world with his own ensembles and has recorded numerous albums for various labels.

James WelDon Johnson

Born James William Johnson in Jacksonville, Florida, on 17 June 1871 - he changed his middle name to Weldon in 1913 - the future teacher, poet, songwriter, and civil rights activist was the son of a headwaiter and the first female black public school teacher in Florida, both of whom had roots in Nassau, Bahamas. The second of three children, Johnson's interests in reading and music were encouraged by his parents. After graduating from the school where his mother taught, Johnson spent time with relatives in Nassau and in New York before continuing with his education.

While attending Atlanta University, from which he earned his A.B. in 1894, Johnson taught for two summers in rural Hampton, Georgia. There he experienced life among poor African Americans, from which he had been largely sheltered during his middle-class upbringing in Jacksonville. During the summer before his senior year he attended the Columbian Exposition in Chicago, where, on "Colored People's Day," he listened to a speech by Frederick Douglass and heard poems read by Paul Laurence Dunbar, with whom he soon became friends.

In 1916, Joel E. Spingarn offered Johnson the post of field secretary for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. An effective organizer, Johnson became general secretary of the NAACP in 1920. Though his duties prevented him from writing as much as he would have liked, Johnson found time to assemble three ground-breaking anthologies: The Book of American Negro Poetry (1922), The Book of American Negro Spirituals (1925), and The Second Book of Negro Spirituals(1926).

Johnson's second collection of poetry, God's Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse, appeared in 1927 and marks his last significant creative endeavor. His administrative duties for the NAACP were proving strenuous, and, after taking a leave of absence in 1929, he resigned as general secretary in 1930. During his final years he wrote a history of black life in New York that focuses on Harlem Renaissance entitled Black Manhattan (1930), his truly autobiographical Along This Way(1933), and Negro Americans, What Now? (1934), a book that argues for integration as the only viable solution to America's racial problems.

Johnson died on 26 June 1938 near his summer home in Wiscasset, Maine, when the car in which he was driving was struck by a train. His funeral in Harlem was attended by more than 2000 people.

Major support for the original commissioning and development of God's Trombones was provided by The Apollo Theater Foundation, Inc. God's


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