As part of its 10th Anniversary slate of events, The Center for the Arts at Monmouth University has announced that tickets are on sale for a November 14 concert with Hugh Masekela and Larry Willis. Going up at 8 p.m. inside the Pollak Theatre, world-renowned flugelhornist, trumpeter, bandleader, composer, singer, and defiant political voice Hugh Masekela combines his talents with powerhouse pianist Larry Willis for a show of epic proportions. These two giants of the jazz world put on a one-of-a-kind show together, after decades of cultivating careers apart.
Willis and Masekela met while they were both students at the Manhattan School of Music some 50 years ago. Masekela, a South African-born composer and bandleader is a performer who remains best known for his original instrumental version of “Grazing in the Grass.” Propelled by an easy funk groove and a playfully appropriate cowbell, the record (subsequently supercharged in a vocal cover by The Friends of Distinction) went all the way to Number One on the nation’s transistor radios in 1968. But to view Masekela’s career through the prism of the “one hit wonder” is to miss a legacy of musical ambassadorship that traces back some sixty years into a turbulent past, and continues to shine a light into the future.
The son of the Apartheid-era townships was among the first artists from his troubled homeland to make an impact on the world stage beginning with his orchestra contributions to internationally touring musicals and extending into his marriage to legendary singer-activist Miriam Makeba, as well as a series of well-received big band jazz albums that led to a high-profile appearance at the 1967 Monterey Pop fest and recorded collaborations with the likes of Harry Belafonte and The Byrds. Even through those years of crossover stardom, the musician never lost sight of the social conscience that continued to call awareness to the ongoing injustices of Apartheid. It was a musical mission that found its most vivid expression in the Makeba-sung “Soweto Blues,” and his 1987 hit anthem “Bring Him Back Home,” a rallying cry for the international community’s surging support for a then-imprisoned Nelson Mandela.
Far from a footnote on the Billboard pop charts, Hugh Masekela has continued to explore every intersection of his Afro-Pop influences and American jazz references; collaborating with Paul Simon (on the landmark album Graceland) and the Dave Matthews Band, playing an instrumental role in the development of the Broadway smash Sarafina!, and embracing contemporary musical currents in such albums as Techno-Bush and Phola. Returning home to South Africa after three decades of self-imposed exile, the trumpeter appeared in an acclaimed series of documentary shorts with his son, NBC Sports correspondent Sal Masekela.
At the age of 19, pianist and composer Larry Willis was discovered and recruited by saxophonist Jackie McLean, and made his jazz recording debut on McLean’s Blue Note release, Right Now! The album also included two of Willis’ compositions. From that auspicious start, Willis went on to play with jazz greats such as Dizzy Gillespie, Woody Shaw, Cannonball Adderley, Stan Getz, Carmen McRae, and Shirley Horn. From 1972 to ’79, Willis was the keyboardist for the fusion group Blood Sweat and Tears. He’s also been a crucial part of the Grammy-nominated Afro-Cuban jazz group Fort Apache. In all, Willis has appeared on 300-plus albums, with more than 20 recordings as a leader.
Tickets for the November 14 concert by Hugh Masekela and Larry Willis are priced at $35 and $45 (with special Gold Circle seating available for $60), and can be reserved through the Monmouth University Performing Arts Box Office at 732-263-6889, or online at www.monmouth.edu/arts.
To schedule interviews, please contact Kelly Barratt at 732-263-5114.