“Color Me Jazz” Combines Music and Art; “Jazz West” Kicks Off at the Sheraton Needham Hotel

jazz logo  As one newspaper commented “not all jazz is blue.” This year’s annual jazz festival, Color Me Jazz combined an evening of mainstream jazz with an art slide show. The venue was Ellsworth Hall at Pine Manor College- a large, air-conditioned auditorium equipped with the technology to project paintings on a screen at the back of the stage.

The lineup was impressive: the Jay Brandford Septet with Jay on alto, Chris Cheek on tenor, Kenny Wenzel on trombone, Dan Trudell on piano, Ron McWhorter on bass and John Ramsay on drums. Next came the duo of husband and wife, Meredith d’Ambrosio and Eddie Higgins. This was Meredith’s first appearance at a Highland Jazz event. Her husky, sultry voice seemed to magically transport the audience to a small club on the left bank of Paris.

The final group featured Alex Elin on tenor, Eddie Higgins on piano, Charlie LaChapelle on bass and Alan Dawson on drums.

Both Meredith and Alex were accomplished watercolor painters and had won numerous awards.  We projected their paintings on a screen while they played.

I negotiated with the Sheraton-Needham Hotel to host a summer series of four free concerts. I modeled the series after one at the Bedford Stouffer’s Inn which had been running successfully for years. Through this free series I hoped to increase the audience for upcoming events at Pine Manor.

The first concert featured Rebecca Parris and attracted more than 300 people to the hotel ballroom. The event received rave reviews from the local Needham press.  According to Jules Becker of the Chronicle “Parris scats with the ease of Ella Fitzgerald, amuses with the sassiness of the late Sarah Vaughan and phrases with the sharpness of Nancy Wilson and Carmen McRae.”

The other three concerts in the series featured the Jay Brandford Septet, guitarist Gray Sargent and his trio and Alex Elin and his quartet.


Kansas City Blues
watercolor by Nancy Alimansky

The summer ended with a program back at the Founders Room entitled In Search of  My Heart featuring Semenya McCord on vocals, Dianthe Myers Spencer on keyboards, Herbie King on drums and Bruno Destrez on bass.

Since 1982 Semenya had been artistic director of Hemisphere Associates, a collaboration of New England performing artists. She and Herbie knew about my financial concerns and agreed to have Hemisphere Associates partially sponsor her appearance at Pine Manor.

Where are they now?

Meredith d’Ambrosio’s  web site includes some beautiful examples of her artwork and information about her music and writing (www.meredithdambrosio.com/).  Globe critic Bob Blumenthal wrote that Beware of Spring, (1995) was her best recording up to that date. Here is a clip of “No One Knows” from that album (maurrizio).


Semenya McCord’s web site is full of information about her current activities (www.semenyamccord.com/index.html).. Unfortunately she has moved to Illinois, but still returns occasionally to the Boston area to perform.

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