Amina Claudine Myers Honored with Living Legacy Award

Executive Director Theresa Colvin of Mid Atlantic Arts talks generosity and the spirit of Philly Jazz

JP: Tell us about this year’s Living Legacy Award Winner and why these awards are important. She has always pushed boundaries when it comes to genre

Amina Claudine Myers is a true jazz legend. A pianist, organist, and vocalist, her roots can be traced to gospel and choir music. She spent the mid and late 60’s in Chicago where she became one of the first members of the AACM and has continued her relationship with the musicians and people she met there to this day.  Did you know she also worked on Off Broadway for a while as an actor and musical director? She has toured the world with some of the biggest names in jazz and has 11 albums under her own name.  More recently, she has been composing pieces that are epic in scope, combining choirs and instrumentation. And she continues to tour with her Trio and vocal group—and teach music—a real powerhouse.

The Living Legacy Jazz Award is important because it recognizes not only the body of work of an artist, but also transmission of skill through mentorship and education. It’s about artists who are more than their musical legacy—they are creating paths for future artists.

JP: What are some of the things you’re learning about how musicians create community as you’re hearing from people who have been touched by her music, either as a listener or artist themselves?

Everyone starts by saying ”Amina is so generous—giving.” They are absolutely right! We decided to switch to a virtual format in early September out of an abundance of caution.  This meant we needed to put together a video event very quickly.  Amina has been amazing—willing to work with our schedule to make sure we can share her work (mini performance!) and words (interview!) with our virtual guests.

As to community—let’s just say due to the tight timeline, we thought we would be lucky to get five testimonials into the video—Amina’s friends, family, and colleagues have shown up to support her and we are so excited for the broadcast stream! So many well wishers and people with stories of community. This is someone who is loved.

We are lucky because we work with artists everyday—all genres. This is the 26th year of the Legacy Award. The musicians that make up that group of honorees, and all of the folks they have worked with across the years, create a family of their own. When we get them together, time falls away. And the best thing – they are still out there sharing their knowledge and excited about the next thing. These are people that know the importance of community.

JP: How is MAA’s thinking about jazz evolving as it gets more involved with the Philadelphia region? What do you see as an opportunity here?

Philadelphia is a true jazz town. Several of our Jazz Touring Network member sites are based in Philly and we have always funded jazz presentations in the region. Philly is great because it is a town where musicians live and a place where music education is celebrated and plentiful. It gives us the opportunity to go deeper than the event itself.  We can create additional access points for the community around and outside of the event further highlighting the vibrance of the Philadelphia community.

“Philly is great because it is a town where musicians live and a place where music education is celebrated and plentiful.”

JP: Will MAA have any upcoming opportunities for jazz artists in the way of grants, residencies, or touring support?

The next opportunity for jazz artists—and all performing artists—is the December 1st deadline for USArtists International (USAI). USAI funds performing artists at international festivals and art marketplaces anywhere in the world outside of the U.S. And—it has both an in-person and virtual track! Folks can learn more on our website.

Composers can also apply for our Creative Fellows residency program, which supports two week or one month residencies at either Millay Arts or Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. Creative Fellows always tell us this gift of time allows them to create, interact with other artists, and focus on work. There are multiple deadline and applications are made directly to the residency program

Mid Atlantic also works with our sister Regional Arts Organization’s on Jazz Road, which is spearheaded by South Arts. Jazz Road offers support for tours and creative residencies. 

JP: MAA has a Folk and Traditional Arts program. How might jazz fit into that work? What are the opportunities or tensions there?

Interesting question—we are in the very early stages of launching our Central Appalachia Living Traditions program.  The first component celebrates foodways practitioners and has already had round one.  The next two components will focus on funding for community experience and community anchors.  There is the possibility that those could have a jazz component—but we are too far out to be definitive about that at this time.  

We also have another folk and traditional arts coming online around engagement support.  Again—early days—but this, too, could include support for jazz musicians.  Past folk and traditional arts programs have included jazz artists across the years—just not sure what this might look like in its new form

JP: What’s the one thing you wish people knew about MAA?

We are here to support artists and organizations in their work. Our funding is program-based, so sometimes we might not have something that fits your needs but may be able to direct you to another source. Don’t be afraid to reach out.  Our program staff wants to know what you are working on and what you need to make that happen.

Jazz Philadelphia thanks Mid Atlantic Arts for its sponsorship of the Jazz Philadelphia Summit 2021 on November 5-6, 2021.