Guthrie Ramsey + Friends return to the legendary Blue Note for an ultra special midnight late set. But this is an “and friends” show, so below journalist, John Vilanova (@JohnVilanova), introduces us to the talented artists who will be joining Guthrie onstage tonight.
Drummer Lucky Thompson feels at home behind the kit.
A West Philly jazz institution, Thompson has been playing the drums since he could count to four and for years has shepherded weekly jam sessions at the legendary Natalie’s. Thompson is an eclectic player whose driving rhythms and classic technique-driven approach are supported by a rolodex of stylistic knowledge. In addition to his work behind the kit touring with Patti LaBelle, Nina Simone, and others, Thompson has served as a visiting resident musician at the University of Pennsylvania, teaching improvisation and percussion. He has been playing drums for various Guy Ramsey projects for years and describes Ramsey as a generous bandleader. “Guy gives me the freedom to use my ideas within his music,” he says.
Ken Pendergast’s approach to the bass is intellectual yet smooth.
Influenced by Scott LaFaro and Pino Palladino, Pendergast’s bass playing contains the expected rhythmic consistency, but his approach to the instrument—supplemented by his work as a composer—brings a more modern sensibility to the classics. “I’ve learned to appreciate the interactive nature of jazz while being tuned into your fellow musicians.” he says. After meeting Guy Ramsey a decade ago, Pendergast returns to the band to form a multitalented rhythm section with Lucky Thompson—equally capable of laying the groundwork as pushing the music forward. “As a bassist my role is to provide the foundation,” he says. “My goal is provide that foundation while leaving an openness for the moment to take the lead.”
Tyrone Birkett uses his horn to tell stories of African American history.
History informs the work of saxophonist Tyrone Birkett (@TyroneABirkett), who cites John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins as principal influences and whose recent release, Postmodern Spirituals: The Promised Land, infuses jazz style into centuries of African American musical forms. “I try to juxtapose a modern saxophone approach with black church influences, using more melodicism as opposed to technical virtuosity. I prefer to develop some sort of narrative,” he says. This is Birkett’s first time performing in Guy Ramsey’s band, but his introspective melodies and willing ear have made the young partnership a natural one.
New Yorker Marvin Sewell pushes the boundaries of the guitar.
An energetic and versatile player, acclaimed New York scene guitarist Marvin Sewell adds his unique sound to Guy Ramsey’s band for the first time. After making the transition to electric jazz in the early 1990s, Sewell apprenticed in the bands of legendary fusion drummer Jack DeJohnette before touring with vocalists Cassandra Wilson and Ani DiFranco. He now fronts his own eponymous group, crafting works that cross genre boundaries and offer fresh, new ways of thinking about what the guitar can do in jazz performance.
Poet and thinker Abdul Ali uses his voice as instrument and his words as music.
As introspective a performer as Guy Ramsey is a player, poet Abdul Ali (@AbdulAli_) writes to the complexity of urban life in the works of his new collection of poetry, Trouble Sleeping. Joining the band for the first time, Ali will perform “Elegy,” a lengthy tonal piece written after the controversial execution of Troy Davis in 2011, with musical accompaniment from the band during one of the evening’s sets. “As a writer, my first job is to translate difficult, complicated emotions, and this poem in particular is my attempt to, in essence, translate the blues in written word,” he explains. “So what I hope is that I can use my words—my voice—as an instrument to compliment and complicate his ensemble. I’m hoping that we’ll be able to achieve a different kind of fusion.”
Bridget Ramsey is young, jazzy vocalist with a budding solo career.
After debuting at the Blue Note last year with her father’s band, soprano Bridget Ramsey returns to the stage backing Guy after a year of musical growth and development. An accomplished singer in her own right, Ramsey released her debut EP, B Eclectic in April 2015. Drawing upon a wide array of influences such as hip-hop, reggae, and classical music, Bridget unites the contemporary and the classic in inventive ways, describing her approach as equal parts Sarah Vaughan, Nancy Wilson, and Jill Scott. “I can learn something from any vocalist,” she says. Her star has only begun to rise.
Multi-talented Kevin Mambo’s resonant vocals stand out on any stage.
Multi-instrumentalist and singer Kevin Mambo (@iammambo) made his mark on a stage far different from that of the Blue Note: under the bright lights of the Great White Way a few dozen blocks uptown. By helping originate the role of Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti in the successful musical, Fela!, Mambo—who is also an Emmy Award-winning actor—helped bring traditional African music to the Broadway stage for the first time with his rich, stirring vocal performance. “There has never been anything on Broadway like this production, which throbs with a stirring newness that is not to be confused with novelty,” The New York Times wrote. After successfully partnering at the Blue Note last year, Mambo and Ramsey expect the collaboration to continue to bear fruit.
Tiffany Jackson has a powerful voice and wide range of vocal dexterity.
With an extensive résumé of performance credits from grand opera to jazz under her belt, classically trained Philadelphia vocalist Tiffany Jackson has sung a multitude of styles across the nation. Perhaps most known for her appearance as the opera-singing bodybuilder on America’s Got Talent, Jackson is excited to make her Blue Note debut and lend her vocal dexterity to the ensemble. “Guy is a brilliant scholar, great musician, and progressive thinker,” she says. “I admire him tremendously.”