Meet the 2020 Winners of the Jazz Residency Program of the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts

By Steve Bryant

The Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts has announced its Jazz Residency winners for the 2020 season, and public workshops are coming up in March. Bassist Richard Hill, Jr., saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins, and vocalist Ruth Naomi Floyd will all create new works through the Kimmel’s program, which is now in its 12th year. April previews of the works in progress are also forthcoming, and final performances are in June. All programs are free and open to the public, and all Philadelphia-based musicians are eligible to apply to the program each year.

Both Hill and Wilkins received training as young musicians at the historic Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz & Performing Arts (where your author works) and have now moved on to burgeoning careers in music. Floyd is known as one of the most original vocalists in modern jazz to come out of Philadelphia. All three are Philadelphia natives.

After high school, Wilkins matriculated and graduated from the highly competitive jazz studies program at Julliard, where he studied with the likes of Joe Temperley, Steve Wilson, Ron Carter, and Kenny Washington. Wilkins will be collaborating with photographer Rog Walker and video artist David Dempewolf for the Kimmel project. Their work, “Identity,” serves as a multimedia love letter to Philadelphia and the rich diversity of communities and cultures that comprise Wilkins’s hometown. “Identity” will be an interactive work that combines Wilkins’s varied musical influences with field recordings as well as visual illustrations.

Bassist and composer Richard Hill, Jr., has created an interactive musical work that seeks to create a vision of what the city’s cultural landscape will look like in 2050. What makes this piece unique is that Hill will invite the audience to assist in creating the music over the duration of the performance. Assisting Hill on this work will be a plethora of jazz talents he’s worked with over the years. They include trumpeter Elliot Bild; Nasir Dickerson on saxophone and EWI (Electronic Wind Instrument); Kwame Gee on saxophone; Zoe Lynch, Mollie Ducoste, and Owen Valentine on violin; Jim Holton on cello; Sumi Tonooka on piano; and Cheryl Hill-Herder performing spoken-word. 

Lovett Hines, who is the artistic and educational director for the Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz & Performing Arts, will present a workshop at the Kimmel Center with Hill on the historic relationship between jazz music and the dance idiom.

For Hill, the Kimmel Residency will be important in his career development. “For me, being selected as a Kimmel Jazz Resident Artist is not only an honor, but also is a great opportunity to develop and create music for large ensembles. Not only do I receive the opportunity to compose, but I will be presenting this music to a wide audience.” Hill added that “what  makes this project unique is that I am bringing in the audience as an active collaborator in the creative process.” He has already conducted a student workshop on February 11. 

In a career spanning 25 years, Floyd has performed with the likes of James Newton, Jay Hoggard. Terri Lyne Carrington, Ralph Peterson, Jr., Uri Caine, Charles Fambrough, J and Tyrone Brown. Floyd, a product of local Philadelphia schools was introduced to jazz when she was singing with the all-female band at her high dchool. A gifted composer, Floyd is collaborating with Philadelphia poet Charles “Chazz” Lattimore Howard to create a work that will utilize music and poetry to address the problem of homelessness in the city. 

The piece she’s creating, which is titled “Dissent Descent: Jazz From The Bottom,” seeks to bring the perspective of those affected by the homelessness crisis and its related problems. “We aren’t producing this for the privileged,” says Floyd, “but for those individuals who are relegated to the bottom of society.” For her piece, Floyd will be using her longtime ensemble, which includes saxophonist Nasir Dickerson, pianist Aaron Graves, bassist Lee Smith, drummer Khary Abdul-Shaheed, vocalist Dania Halleck, and rapper Aaron Mingo.

Jay Wahl, the Kimmel Center’s producing artistic director, devised the jazz residency program in 2012 because he saw a need for musicians to be able to create new work without financial concerns. “It is difficult for jazz musicians to compose and create new work because they have to work constantly to sustain themselves and build a career,” says Wahl. “I wanted to create an opportunity, a space, where musicians have the freedom to brainstorm and create new work.”  

Public Workshops:
March 5   Ruth Naomi Floyd 
March 6   Immanuel Wilkins
March 13 Richard Jr. 

Works In Progress
April 9   Ruth Naomi Floyd
April 11  Immanuel Wilkins
April 17 Richard Hill Jr.

The Completed projects will be presented on the following dates:
June 4  Richard Hill
June 5 Ruth Naomi Floyd
June 6 Immanuel Wilkins

For information on the 2020 Kimmel Jazz Residency call (215) 893-1999

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