The West Shore Community College Performing Arts Series will feature the Michigan State University’s Bebop Spartans, along with special guest, world-renowned guitarist, Russell Malone on Sat., Oct. 15, at 7:30 p.m., in the Center Stage Theater.
The next generation of great American jazz musicians is represented in this spectacular ensemble from MSU. Improvisation, bebop, swing, blues, and soul are just a few genres of this American art form that the Bebop Spartans will be performing.
Michigan State University has become the national powerhouse of jazz education. Under the direction of Professor Rodney Whitaker, MSU has recruited some of the world’s finest young jazz musicians. The Bebop Spartans, MSU’s jazz big band, is a culmination of Whitaker’s talent.
This year’s guest artist Russell Malone brings to his music an unparalleled depth and breadth of experience. An adept jazz guitarist with a clean attack and fluid, lyrical style, Malone often plays in a swinging, straight-ahead style weaving in elements of blues, gospel, and R&B.
Born in Albany, Georgia in 1963, Malone first began playing guitar around age four on a toy instrument, quickly graduating to the real thing. Largely self-taught, he initially drew inspiration listening to the recordings of gospel and blues artists including the Dixie Hummingbirds and B.B. King.
However, after seeing George Benson perform with Benny Goodman on a television show, Malone was hooked on jazz and began intently studying albums by legendary guitarists like Charlie Christian and Wes Montgomery.
By his twenties, Malone was an accomplished performer, and in 1988 joined organist Jimmy Smith's band. Soon after, he also became a member of Harry Connick, Jr.'s big band, appearing on Connick's 1991 effort, “Blue Light, Red Light.”
With his growing reputation as a sideman, Malone next caught the attention of pianist/vocalist Diana Krall, with whom he would work throughout much of the '90s and 2000s. Also during this period, Malone appeared with a bevy of name artists including Branford Marsalis, Benny Green, Terell Stafford, Ray Brown, and others.
As a solo artist, Malone made his debut with 1992's “Russell Malone,” followed a year later by “Black Butterfly.” In 1999, he released “Sweet Georgia Peach,” which featured a guest appearance from pianist Kenny Barron.
Malone kicked off the 2000s with several albums on Verve, including 2000's “Look Who's Here” and 2001's orchestral jazz-themed “Heartstrings.” He then moved to Maxjazz for 2004's “Playground,” featuring a guest appearance from saxophonist Gary Bartz, followed by 2010's “Triple Play.”
Over the next several years, Malone appeared on albums by Wynton Marsalis, Christian McBride, and Ron Carter, as well as Krall bandmate bassist Ben Wolfe. In 2015, he returned to solo work with the eclectic small-group album “Love Looks Good on You,” followed in 2016 by “All About Melody,” both on High Note.
A masterclass/clinic featuring the Bebop Spartans and Russell Malone will be held at 1:30 p.m. at the Center Stage Theater. This masterclass/clinic will include one-selection performances from local high schools to receive musical critique from some of the most respected jazz musicians in the world.
Due to a generous $1,000,000 donation to the MSU School of Music Jazz Department from the Michigan State University Federal Credit Union, the MSU Bebop Spartans are able to travel to three Michigan locations accompanied by world-renowned guest artists and the college is one of MSU’s three annual performance locations.
“I am very proud of the partnership the college has developed with both Michigan State University’s jazz department and Wharton Center for the Performing Arts. Every year our audiences provide a warm reception for MSU’s artists which in turn, keep them coming back year after year,” says Ted Malt, WSCC Director of Performing Arts and Professor of Music Studies.
“This performance is very special in that our audiences get to witness a true musical spectacle consisting of 19 of the best young jazz musicians in the country, an incredible guest artist, and the entire MSU jazz faculty,” Malt adds.
An afterglow jam session will be held at the Jamesport Brewing Company, 410 South James Street in Ludington, starting at approximately 10 p.m. There is no cover charge for this event, however early seating or reservations are highly recommended.
Tickets for this event can be purchased online or by calling the WSCC Box Office at 231-843-5507, which is open Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Author: Thomas Hawley | Executive Director of College Communications & Community Engagement