Sounds of enchantment The Platinum Music Awards
THE PLATINUM MUSIC AWARDS
ONhis new album, Arlen Asher covers songs by a wide range of composers, including Cole Porter, Sonny Rollins, Charlie Parker, and Billy Strayhorn. And, true to form, he plays lots of different instruments: flute, alto flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, and soprano, alto, and baritone saxophones. Curiously, tenor sax is not included on
Lovesome Jazz Woodwinds. “I don’t play tenor. I just don’t have any feel for it,” said Asher, who is one of a handful of musicians being honored at the inaugural Platinum Music Awards ceremony at the Lensic Performing Arts Center on Friday, July 21. “I love listening to tenor, but I can’t do it. I don’t know why. There are six or seven tenor players in this area that just blow me away, and at least half a dozen of what I call world-class piano players between Albuquerque and Santa Fe, and Jim Ahrend, who is on the new album, and Brian Bennett are certainly favorites. I feel blessed by having so many truly good musicians in what I call the Río Grande corridor. I’m the low man on the totem pole.”
That overly modest self-appraisal is typical of the man, now eighty-eight, who started out playing in a country-and-western band in Missouri at age twelve. Asher moved to Albuquerque in 1958, began working in music education eight years later, and went on to teach a couple thousand children before his retirement in 2007. For the past decade, he and drummereducator John Trentacosta have hosted KSFR-FM’s
The Jazz Experience, which airs from 9 a.m. to noon on Mondays. During a recent meeting, Asher fondly remembered helping to break a gender barrier. “When I first taught privately, the thought of a high-school girl playing jazz was like, No way. So one of the first things I did was to start teaching girls jazz, I mean from the fourth grade and up. We wound up sometimes with the entire saxophone section all girls in the middle schools, junior highs, and high schools that I had any contacts with, and I was delighted.”
The new Platinum Music Awards program is an initiative of the New Mexico Music Commission Foundation. It is based on nominations from members of the public, is non-genre-specific, and celebrates lifetime achievements. About the difference between the Platinum Awards and the longtime New Mexico Music Awards, commission president David Schwartz said the New Mexico Music Awards “are more like the Grammys, and we’re more like the Kennedy Center honors. We had a smaller version of this program previously where we would go to various concert venues
and give proclamations from the governor to honor senior members of the music community.
“With these inaugural awards, we’re going to concentrate on seven people who have made tremendous contributions to the musical culture of New Mexico,” Schwartz said. “We won’t be opening envelopes and having that suspense; it’s more just about love and appreciation for people who have been out there and done it so well for so long. This is a tribute. We’re putting a show on for the honorees.” The awards are hosted by Joe West and his band, Santa Fe Revue. Performers are Jono Manson, John Kurzweg, Brian Hardgroove and Impulse Groove Foundation, American JeM, Sean Healen, Tiffany Christopher, and Horace Alexander Young and Friends.
Awardee Alberto Nelson “Al Hurricane” Sanchez has played his distinctive Spanish-language music since the 1950s, when he was billed locally as the Little King of Rock ’n’ Roll. When Sanchez received a Governor’s Award for Excellence and Achievement in the Arts in October 1993, his CD, The Return of the Godfather, was topping the charts in the Hispanic market around the world, and the previous June, he was the featured performer at the grand opening of the Smithsonian Institution’s American Encounters exhibit — two snippets from a long career. Sanchez has performed over the years with Chubby Checker, Chuck Berry, and Fats Domino, among many other music stars, and he has recorded more than 20 albums.
Living legends Bill and Bonnie Hearne are also Platinum Music Awards honorees. Their aptly named 1997 debut album on the Warner Western label, Diamonds in the Rough (with guest spots by Nanci Griffith and Lyle Lovett), is described by All Music Guide as “a low-key affair spotlighting the couple’s sweetly ragged harmonies.” The Texas transplants’ roots music has been called country folk, honky-tonk, bluegrass, country swing, and Americana. After Bonnie quit touring in 2003 because of health issues, Bill formed a trio. Known for his deep voice and flat-picking peppered with beautiful, creative guitar flourishes, he is one busy musician. He played a Santa Fe Bandstand show on July 6, did his longtime Monday-Tuesday gigs at the La Fiesta Lounge at La Fonda on July 10 and 11, headed up to Red River to perform in the Music In The Mountains series on July 14, then was back for a concert the next evening at Second Street Brewery. “Music is what drives me and makes my life worthwhile. It’s who I am, it’s what I do,” he says on a welcome video at his website.
Platinum Awards honoree Fernando Cellicion played with the Zuni Pueblo Indian Band for nearly a decade after high school. By the time he was twenty-two, he was adding original compositions to his repertoire of traditional Zuni music, and learning to master the Native American flute and other instruments. He eventually took over leadership of the Traditional Zuni Dancers group from his father, Roger Cellicion, and he has performed everywhere from Gallup to Istanbul and Tokyo. His recordings include a multi-volume series titled The Traditional and Contemporary Indian Flute of Fernando Cellicion, released on the Indian Sounds label.
Dale Kempter, a renowned music educator in the Albuquerque Public Schools, is also among the honorees. He started his long career as the orchestra director for McKinley Middle School. His involvement with the Albuquerque Youth Symphony, including long stints as its music director and conductor, dates back more than a half-century. Kempter retired in 1992 after decades serving as APS music coordinator and a total of 36 years with the district. He was honored in 1989 as “Music Educator of the Year” by the New Mexico Music Educators Association and received a Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts in 2002.
Also at the inaugural Platinum Music Awards ceremony, Catherine Oppenheimer is presented the Lee Berk Award for her work with the National Dance Institute of New Mexico and as a founder of the New Mexico School for the Arts.
Bill and Bonnie Hearne
Alberto Nelson “Al Hurricane” Sanchez