Cross Roads: James Newton's performance

February 19, 2002





Adele Field
Luckman Complex
(323) 343-6616


of Events

James Newton'’s Multiple Projects Span Globe


“Cross Roads” — a new work by choreographer Donald McKayle and flutist-composer-conductor James Newton — was recently honored by inclusion in the 2002 Winter Olympics Arts Festival. “Cross Roads” was performed by the Limón Dance Company as part of the Limón and Jazz program during the festival on February 13 and 14 at the Browning Center, Weber State University, in Ogden, Utah. It was tri-commissioned by the University of Texas at Austin; by Jacob’s Pillow, where the work premiered June 20, 2001; and the Luckman Fine Arts Complex at California State University, Los Angeles, which will present the West Coast première April 5-6, 2002. The April performances, rescheduled from September 28 and 29, mark a return engagement for the Limón company, which performed previously at the Luckman in 1998. Following the Luckman dates, the program will be presented at Chico State University.

Luckman Executive Director Clifford Harper attended the opening and the final performance of “Cross Roads” at Jacob’s Pillow, and notes that the audience responded with a standing ovation. “The musicians play an interesting array of instruments not typical for a jazz piece, and it works beautifully. The choreography of Donald McKayle is fantastic, very sophisticated,” states Harper. “Being one of the commissioning organizations of this impressive collaboration has been a privilege for the Luckman Fine Arts Complex. I’m looking forward to opportunities for further commissions in the future.”

James Newton is the Luckman’s director of music programming and research, as well as director of the Luckman Jazz Orchestra, a cutting edge 17-piece big band that debuted to enthusiastic critical acclaim in February, 2001. Newton is also Professor of Music at Cal State L.A., and has been voted top jazz flutist for 20 years running in the Downbeat Critics Poll. He worked with Donald McKayle for a period of several months on “Cross Roads.” In the process, they explored the connections between American jazz players and authentic African instrumentalists. According to Newton, much of the music, featuring “both urban and ancient rhythms,” was inspired by Newton’s trip to Niger in 2000. His use of repetition — an important part of West African music — becomes progressively asymmetrical and more complex through the piece’s five movements.

The two had worked together previously on “Gumbo Ya Ya,” commissioned by the Kennedy Center and done by the San Francisco Ballet seven years ago, and Newton characterizes the “Cross Roads” collaboration as being “like a dream most of the time.” He began by playing various sketches, then developed one McKayle liked, sent him the music as it was being completed, and received videotapes of the choreography in progress.

“From the perspective of composition,” says Newton, “I tried to give him rhythms that could evoke a lot of movement. I incorporated aspects of McKayle’s and the dancers’ personalities. The dance company has a certain kind of intensity that’s reflective of him. I was immeasurably moved by the chance to be with them for two and half weeks, in New York and Massachusetts. The dancers and the musicians got very close.”


Extensive 2002 Schedule for Newton
An internationally recognized conductor, as well as composer, flutist, and educator, Newton is frequently invited to perform in various parts of the world. His upcoming schedule includes festivals in Italy and Cuba, and a Luckman Jazz Orchestra concert on April 20.

In February, Newton will conduct and perform as a solo flutist in the Musica Oggi festival in Milan, Italy, with the Italian Symphony Orchestra and the Civica Big Band. The Civica is sponsored by the city of Milan, and according to Newton, is one of the very best Italian big bands. Concert dates are February 24, Italian Symphony Orchestra, Milan; and February 25 and 26, Civica Big Band, Florence and Pescara, respectively. The repertoire will include special arrangements by Newton of his compositions Fay, and King’s Way for lyric soprano and chamber ensemble, dedicated to Martin Luther King, Jr.; a world première of a biblically themed work for flute and electronics, commissioned by Musica Oggi; and works by Billy Strayhorn. The festival will be broadcast by Italian network RAI.

Following a short return to Los Angeles, Newton travels to Havana for the International Music and Computer Festival, slated for March 8, where he will be conducting new and electronic works performed by approximately 70 musicians. He will also perform an interactive new work by composer Christopher Dobrian for flute and computer. Dobrian mixed different flutes from around the world for the composition, such as the Chinese dizi and the West African peul flute. As flute soloist, Newton will interact in real time with the digitized sounds in a unique creation both composed and improvised.

This spring, back at his home venue, the Luckman Fine Arts Complex at Cal State L.A., Newton will play flute with an ensemble of six other musicians for the “Cross Roads” performance by Limón Dance Company on April 5 and 6, and then rehearse the Luckman Jazz Orchestra for the upcoming April 20 concert. “The Luckman,” says Newton, “provides a special opportunity to realize dreams in one’s own hometown. How rare that is!”

One of the orchestra’s major goals, as expressed by Newton and Luckman executive director Harper, is to contribute to the preservation of, and new production of, works in the West Coast Jazz tradition. Future plans include performances at the Luckman and at other venues by invitation. On the schedule through 2003 are an 80th anniversary concert celebrating the works of Charles Mingus, a program of the sacred music of Duke Ellington to be performed with a sixty-voice choir, and Ellington’s Nutcracker.

A season brochure of all Luckman events is available by calling (323) 343-6611.


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