Photo: Amina Claudine Myers at Vision Festival 20: July 7, 2015| Joyce Jones. All Rights Reserved.
The next show will air on Sunday, February 21, 2015 from 11:00 PM – 1:00 AM Monday Eastern Standard Time on WBAI, 99.5 FM in the NYC metro area or streaming online at wbai.org. This broadcast will feature an interview with pianist, organist, vocalist and composer Amina Claudine Myers.
Amina Claudine Myers was born in Blackwell, Arkansas. She was raised by her great aunt Mrs. Emma Thomas whom she called “mama” and her uncle Buford. This is where her music lessons began, with her uncle teaching her rhythms. She started classical piano study at The Sacred Hearts Catholic School in Morrilton, Ark. before moving to Dallas, Tex in 1949. There she continued studying piano. During her elementary school years she became pianist for a local church, co-led an all female gospel group, participated in plays at Mt. Pisgah Baptist Church and in musical activities in school.
Myers moved back to Blackwell in 1957 and finished 11th and 12th grades at L.W. Sullivan High School. She helped form a group with two names “The Gospel Four” and “The Royal Hearts”. This group traveled locally for gospel shows and sang rhythm and blues songs popular during that time. Myers received several college scholarship offers, and chose Philander Smith. She played in the jazz band under the direction of music department head Mr. Whaley during her freshman year.
This was her introduction to jazz and learning to play the blues by ear. Myers continued to study classical piano and became student director for the choir. After the choir’s pianist graduated, Myers became the pianist and learned to play the pipe organ. She then toured the midwest as a member of a choir, octet, and quartet all directed by Dr. Carl Harris.
In her sophomore year, Gloria Salter got Myers a job playing in The Safari Room, a jazz club on 9th Street, the major strip for night life. She played piano, sang easy jazz standards, and experimented with work from Dakota Statton, Nina Simone and Ella Fitzerald’s “Stompin’ At The Savoy”, which she learned note by note. Myers also took a job playing church organ and later played the organ in a rhythm and blues club for three summers when she stayed with her mother in Louisville, Kentucky.
While in college, Myers directed and played for church choirs in and around Louisville KY during summer vacations. After graduating with a B.A. degree in music education, she moved to Chicago to teach and taught music at The G.T. Donoghue Elementary School for six years. She became involved in the music scene and played with The Gerald Donovan (Ajaramu) Trio as organist for several years. Ajaramu introduced Myers to The Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) and she became a member. There she met Muhal Richard Abrams and other creative musicians and began composing for big band, various ensembles, and formed a “voice choir”.
After resigning from teaching, Myers toured as organist with The Gene (Jug) Ammons Quartet for two and a half years and The Sonny Stitt Trio off and on for approximately six months.
In 1976, Myers moved to New York City and became involved with the creative musicians who had migrated from Chicago and St. Louis, playing music in the New York lofts. She then taught at the State University of New York for a year and developed a gospel chorus there.
Myers began touring Europe with The Lester Bowie Quintet and The NY Organ Ensemble around 1978. This began her European (all of western Europe, Hungary, Turkey and Poland), Japanese, Canadian and U.S. performances of concerts, festivals and clubs as a soloist, with her trio, quartet, sextet and voice choir. This included workshops, seminars and residencies in universities and schools in the U.S. as well as Europe. Myers had the opportunity to perform in Cape Town, South Africa at The North Sea Jazz Festival with saxophonist/composer Archie Shepp and in Accra, Ghana with composer/ vibraphonist Cecilia Smith during their jazz festival.
Myers has recorded and toured with many great musicians such as Muhal Richard Abrams, James Blood Ulmer, Bill Laswell, Henry Threadgill, Archie Shepp, and Charlie Haden.
Myers premiered her Improvisational Suite For Chorus, Pipe Organ And Percussion (sixteen voices, pipe organ and two percussionists, showcasing operatic voices in an improvisational setting) in N.Y. Other large works include, When The Berries Fell (eight voices, two percussionists, piano and electric organ. An odyssey through the world of music) Focus (a mixed media event with piano, voice, electric bass and slides of Blackwell, Arkansas), Interiors (a chamber orchestra piece with eleven instruments including a string quartet) Balcor and Park People (compositions for big band). A View From The Inside (a one time completely improvised performance of an inside look of the creative mind with a New Orleans chef, a weaving designer, a choreographer, pianist/composer and composer/guitarist/trumpeter and AGA (compositions for violin, cello and piano.)
Continued ongoing collaborations include recordings and performances with Sola Lui a wonderful chinese composer, designer and vocalist. This combination of Chinese and African American cultures has performed in Europe and the U.S. Myers has also worked with the exciting choreographer Diane McIntyre to recreate a work by Helen Tamaris titled How Long Brethren (Negro Protest Songs written during the thirties). Myers directed the symphony orchestra and chorus at George Mason University in VA and Western Univ. in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
Myers’ works of blues, jazz, gospel and extended forms continues. She also teaches privately, giving lessons in theory, composition, piano, voice, organ, classical piano and assisting clients interested in stage/performances. Myers has performed at Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, Town Hall, The Brooklyn Academy of Music, The Iridium Club, Birdland and other sites with her groups and with other artists and still continues to perform nationally and internationally.
Bio adapted from Myers’ website.
This program is engineered, produced, hosted and edited by Joyce Jones.
Listen for our On the Bandstand segment with NYC metro area appearances of Suga’ guests at the end of the first hour with Associate Producer Hank Williams.
Watch Myers in a live 2001 performance of “You Gotta Call Him” with Archie Shepp’s Quartet.
Watch Myers play with bassist Henry Grimes in a preview of the 2015 Vision Fest.
Watch Myers lead a trio in a live 2014 performance.
Hank Williams is assistant producer for Suga’ in My Bowl and produces the weekly “On the Bandstand” segment as well as running the show’s website and blog, where he has reviewed several jazz festivals. His writing has also appeared in Left Turn magazine and American Music Review. He teaches at Lehman and Hunter colleges in the City University of New York system.