Jazz pianist uses music to uplift, unify

Jazz pianist uses music to uplift, unify
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From war to racism to poverty and political division, it’s easy to get depressed about the state of the world, but Lynne Arriale wants us to have hope.

The acclaimed, sensitive jazz pianist/composer is returning to the Quad Cities this Sunday after several years, to play at the Polyrhythms Third Sunday Jazz Series on May 19, 2024, at the Unitarian Church, 3707 Eastern Ave., Davenport.

Lynne Arriale is Professor of Jazz Studies and Director of Small Ensembles at The University of North Florida in Jacksonville.
Lynne Arriale is Professor of Jazz Studies and Director of Small Ensembles at The University of North Florida in Jacksonville.

“The world really affects me. I watch the news, I am aware of things that are going on in the world and it really affects me emotionally and I want to express things through my music,” Arriale said in an interview Thursday.

“Being Human,” her 17th album as a leader, is her fourth for Challenge Records International.

A suite of 10 original compositions, the disc celebrates the ways that our lives are enriched by acts of passion, courage, love, persistence, heart, soul, curiosity, faith and joy. Featuring bassist Alon Near and drummer Lukasz Zyta, the album explores these life-affirming facets of humankind.

Many of the songs (each named for the emotional goal) are dedicated to people who’ve inspired Arriale, including climate activist Greta Thunberg, National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman and Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai.

“This particular album was conceived as a response to the division and the very stressful times that we’re experiencing in our country and around the world,” she said. “There’s lots of reasons to be anxious and depressed. My goal was look at the qualities that we share in common with our fellow human beings and focus on those and send out a message of hope and unity and positive energy.”

Arriale aims to help bring people together through music and reveal the best in humans everywhere.

“It’s very difficult, especially now because of the level of polarization,” she said. “This is unprecedented. But at the end of the day, if one of our fellow human beings were in trouble or had fallen, we wouldn’t think twice about helping them. because know that we’re all related. We’re all connected.”

Though all the pieces on the new record reflect positive emotions, Arriale overcame lots of challenges to get there, including writing and growing as a performer. “The process of writing itself is, is overcoming obstacles. Just like everybody else, I’ve had times that things were really rough,” she said, noting the death of her husband Don from lung cancer on Aug. 29, 2021.

“I said, I’ve got to get through this, I’ve gotta move forward,” Arriale recalled. “A friend of mine years ago said to me, you know, Lynne, everybody has huge challenges in their life or everybody she knew. And she said it’s how you get out of them that really matters. And so sometimes when we’re in really difficult situations, we just have to say, OK, what do I need to do first?  “Let’s just take it a step at a time. And that has worked for me.”

Sources of inspiration 

Arriale has won the Great American Jazz Piano Competition, and her 16 critically acclaimed albums have topped the Jazz Week Radio Charts and received “Best of” honors in major publications.

She has performed at major international festivals including Montreux, Burghausen, Gilmore, Spoleto Arts, Montreal, Monterey, North Sea, Stuttgart, San Francisco, Ottawa, Zagreb, Perth, Brisbane, Rouen, and Sardinia, and has given five performances at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

Arriale will perform with a bassist and drummer Sunday, May 19 at 5 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist church, 3707 Eastern Ave., Davenport.
Arriale will perform with a bassist and drummer Sunday, May 19 at 5 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist church, 3707 Eastern Ave., Davenport.

In recent years, Arriale’s compositions and albums have reflected current social issues. “Chimes of Freedom” 2020) highlights the worldwide immigration crisis and the experiences of refugees who risk everything to find a better life for themselves and their families.

“The Lights Are Always On” (2022) examines the life-changing events wrought by COVID. Some compositions are named in honor of heroes, including those who served as caregivers on the front lines of the pandemic and those who defended American democracy.

“I expanded that idea and to be that the lights of humanity are always on even in the midst of total chaos and devastation,” Arriale said Thursday. “And it was just a few years ago where we were in a pandemic and nobody knew when it was going to end.”

In “Being Human,” Arriale affirms the need for love, hope and unity in a world torn by the negative effects of political and cultural polarization. It is a musical inspiration to fully appreciate the incredible potential in each of us, and to best express what it means to be human.

Arriale is joined by bassist Alon Near and drummer Lukasz Zyta, both outstanding, in-demand musicians on the international jazz scene.  Of Amanda Gorman (who delivered her poem, “The Hill We Climb” at President Biden’s 2021 inauguration at age 22), Arriale said: “She has such a beautiful, deep soul. She’s beautiful inside and out.

“And her poem ‘The Hill We Climb’ was to unify the country even in the most difficult of times. And to have someone so young have this deep of a consciousness, it is truly magnificent and in fact, several of the compositions have dedications to young people,” the pianist said. “And it wasn’t intentional. It just happened that way.”

The men and women she dedicated her pieces to are definitely role models for Arriale.

“Everyone influences me,” she said. “I learn from everyone and these young people are so special and when I think about what I was doing when I was 15, my God. And they’re out there speaking their truth and standing up for what they believe in. And it gives me great hope for humanity.” “The problems in the world seem insurmountable, but hopefully we’ll all get through this together,” she said.

Rave reviews

Iconic pianist and composer Richie Beirach calls “Being Human” an “important, stunningly beautiful, powerful musical and spiritual statement. Lynne recognizes the tough realities of the world we live in, but she chooses to highlight the positive in us. Her compositions are masterpieces that reveal the pain, love, joy, suffering and triumphs of extraordinary individuals.

“Lynne is so much more than a jazz pianist,” Beirach has said. “She, like the heroes she celebrates, exudes the wonderful essence of humanity. I don’t know anyone more empathetic, big-hearted or generous of spirit.”

Esteemed pianist, composer and author Andy LaVerne says: “Lynne has crafted a superb selection of music which is closely tied to a thought-provoking storyline. Each of her original compositions is a well-crafted musical statement of depth and gravitas, balanced by a spirit of invention and freedom. The members of the trio interact with telepathic communication and provide the listener with a truly visceral experience.

“With ‘Being Human,’ Lynne once again demonstrates her ability to assemble the finest players, write the most compelling compositions and weave melodic phrases of great emotion, clarity and creativity, all while conveying a captivating narrative,” LaVerne said. “The blend of opposing elements, such as intensity and sensitivity, drive and restraint, strength and gentleness, consonance and dissonance, jubilance and poignancy, serve to make this music uniquely Arriale. Lynne Arriale exemplifies being human.”

A review in her hometown Milwaukee’s Shepherd Express calls the artist “among the most affecting keyboard stylists of the current era. Incorporation of folk, calypso, baroque classical and other genres to suffuse her already expansive artistic palette.

“Arriale’s desire to pay tribute to (mostly) public figures she admires results in yet another of her trios’ masterful balances of compositional finesse and lively improvisation,” the review says. “However, Being Human needn’t be listened to in a programmatic context in order to enjoy its varied, enrapturing musical conversation.”

She is recognized as “one of the most exciting pianists in contemporary jazz,” (The Guardian, UK). Jazz Police called her “the poet laureate of her generation.” JazzTimes said of her, “Lynne Arriale’s music lies at the synaptic intersection where brain meets heart, where body meets soul. She is one of jazzdom’s most intensely unique voices.”

Demystifying jazz

On Sunday in Davenport (featuring Ethan Philion on bass and Greg Artry, drums), Arriale will give a short talk at 4:45 p.m. before the concert.

“In layperson’s terms of what we’re doing when we’re improvising,” she said. “Often people say, what are you doing? And they don’t have to know what we’re doing to enjoy the music. But people seem to respond when I explain it a little bit and show them at the piano, you know what we’re doing.”

“I think the arts in general are so important right now,” Arriale said. “We need that soothing energy and to be engaged in something other than all the stress that’s going on and all the issues that we’re facing just to just take a breather.“

“I think music can take us on a little bit of a journey if we just allow it to,” she added. “I try to program many different colors and textures in the music so that we keep connected to the audience throughout the whole performance.”

She has a renewed appreciation for performing in concert the last couple years, including concluding a two-week European tour in April with her trio from “Being Human.”

“I feel so lucky and blessed that people come out and hear the music,” Arriale said. “It’s obviously easier to stay home, but live music and making a personal connection with the audience is a very special, very special experience in general. And artists want to reach out to their to their listeners with all their hearts and we all appreciate when people come.”

The Sunday program features a social hour starting at 4 p.m.; performance doors open at 4:30 p.m., and the concert is from 5-7 p.m. General admission for the lecture and concert is $20 (no reserved seating) with free admission for children, K-12 students, and college students (ID required).

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