Se­ries brings to­gether ‘pow­er­house’ mu­si­cians

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FAYETTEVILLE - BECCA MARTIN-BROWN

Kansas City’s Lisa Henry and Fayet­teville’s Clau­dia Bur­son have their own mu­tual ad­mi­ra­tion so­ci­ety.

“Typ­i­cally, I’m on a band­stand with all men; it’s just a re­al­ity of my life,” says Henry, a jazz vo­cal­ist. “The first time I worked with Clau­dia, it was so re­fresh­ing. She has this abil­ity to pick up the most amaz­ing sub­tleties mu­si­cally — com­mu­ni­ca­tion that the guys don’t even un­der­stand. It’s go­ing to be a joy to work with her again.”

“She’s a stick of dy­na­mite, she re­ally is,” says Bur­son, a jazz pi­anist.

The two met in 1999, dur­ing one of the early con­certs of the KUAF Sum­mer Jazz Se­ries. Bur­son was on pi­ano, Jim Gree­son on bass and Dar­ren Novotny on drums, re­mem­bers Robert Ginsburg, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Northwest Arkansas Jazz So­ci­ety. “This con­cert marks Lisa’s re­union with Clau­dia and a rhythm sec­tion rounded out by Ben Har­ris on gui­tar, Drew Packard on bass and Steve Wilkes on drums.”

The mu­si­cians who haven’t played with Henry are “in for a treat,” Bur­son says. “She’s re­ally soul­ful — and quite a pow­er­house.”

Henry says she had a rel­a­tively typ­i­cal mu­si­cal up­bring­ing. She started singing in the Bap­tist church when she was 6, and in fourth grade, she dis­cov­ered the al­bums of Bil­lie Hol­i­day, Ella Fitzger­ald and Di­nah Wash­ing­ton.

“I was a chubby black girl, and I saw these big, beau­ti­ful black women do­ing this mu­sic that had all these im­pro­vi­sa­tional el­e­ments to it,” she re­mem­bers. “They were able to be who they wanted to be on stage! I said, ‘That’s what I want: I want to do that mu­sic.’”

It was in Kansas City that the 17-year-old Henry met jazz or­gan­ist Everette De­Van, who was lead­ing a jam ses­sion “at a place called the Epi­curean Lounge at 75th and Troost.”

“I wasn’t old enough to be there, so my mom had to come with me,” she re­calls. “I said, ‘Mom, go ask him if I can sing with him,’ and she said, ‘Oh, no, this is your dream.’

“I was learn­ing jazz all these for­ma­tive years from fourth grade on, so by the time I got to him, I knew over 200 songs, and I think it kind of blew him away,” Henry says. “I was with him through­out my 20s, we recorded to­gether, we went to Africa to­gether — I’ve toured Africa three times, been to Mada­gas­car, Tur­key, Greece, South Amer­ica.”

Vis­it­ing Africa helped ce­ment what Henry al­ready knew — the legacy of jazz.

“Even be­fore I re­al­ized the im­por­tance of the mu­sic to Amer­ica and the world, I knew it told the story of my peo­ple, the African Amer­i­can story told through mu­sic,” she muses.

But Henry doesn’t think jazz is an art­form ex­clu­sive to African Amer­i­cans.

“I think when you live in a world that puts var­i­ous con­stric­tions on you, once you un­der­stand that jazz is about tak­ing those con­stric­tions off, then you get it,” she says. “It’s as much an ex­pres­sion of ‘be who you are’ as any­thing.”

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