'Live from Columbia' Virtual Concert Series Continues with Performance by Brandee Younger and Dezron Douglas

Angeline Dimambro
January 27, 2021

Miller Theatre hosted its first signature Pop-Up Concert of 2021 with a performance by Brandee Younger and Dezron Douglas. The live premiere party is part of the ongoing Live from Columbia series that brings a diverse catalogue of musicians to virtual audiences around the globe. Genre-defying harpist Younger and the in-demand bassist Douglas came together for an evening of both original compositions and covers of familiar and beloved jazz favorites.

Younger is a classically trained musician who plays in the avant-garde tradition of Dorothy Ashby and Alice Coltrane and is known for expressive interpretations of traditional harp repertoire as well as her continued work with a diverse cross-section of musical talents. As an educator, event curator, performer, and leader of The Brandee Younger Quartet, she delivers a consistently fresh take on the instrument. Since the debut of her seminal album, the EP, Prelude (2011), she has produced an impressive body of work including Brandee Younger Live @ The Breeding Ground (2015), the critically acclaimed Wax & Wane (2016), and most recently, Soul Awakening (2019).

Known for his musical versatility, Douglas is one of the most in demand young bassists in jazz today. As a composer, educator, and bandleader, Douglas has established himself as a musician’s musician, respected not only for his talent, but also for his dedication to the authenticity of the music. In addition to performing and recording with the likes of Michael Carvin, Pharoah Sanders, Cyrus Chestnut, Abraham Burton/Eric McPherson, Louis Hayes, among many others, Douglas has recorded four albums as a leader. His most recent EP, Black Lion, was released in 2018.

Over 360 people tuned in for the live premiere of the performance, which featured original compositions from both Younger and Douglas, as well as works by Alice and John Coltrane, and Marvin Gaye. The duo was originally scheduled to perform last March, but the pandemic put a halt to all planned live performances and other events. However, this did not deter them for long, as in-program note moderator Lara Pellegrinelli pointed out: “Although live concerts were halted, these bandmates and partners took matters into their own hands, webcasting live from their living room in Harlem. It would become a regular livestream on Friday mornings cleverly titled ‘Force Majeure: Brunch in the Crib with Brandee & Dezron,’ a reference to the duo’s cancelled contracts throughout the spring and the extraordinary events that led to them.”

The duo opened the performance with a rendition of Alice Coltrane’s devotional song “Rama Rama.” Coltrane, an acclaimed pianist, harpist, and composer herself, has been an important figure for Younger in her own musical journey. Coltrane’s son Ravi, a collaborator of Younger’s, invited her to perform at his mother’s memorial. Speaking with the New York Times, he said the following: “No harpist thus far has been more capable of combining all of the modern harp traditions—from Salzedo, through Dorothy Ashby, through Alice Coltrane—with such strength, grace and commitment.” 

Younger also performed her original piece, “Unrest I & II,” which she wrote in response to the present moment of racial reckoning in America. “The piece was composed with the backdrop of protests happening outside of my window here in Harlem after the murder of George Floyd,” Younger said in a comment to the media. ​“One thing is true for every person hearing this piece; we've all witnessed unrest as the nation grapples with its past and present, all in the midst of quarantine and major political change.” Pellegrinelli noted during the performance how the piece itself can be said to mirror 2020, with its movements from “contemplative rhythms to gentle lament and, later, fiery protest.”

Douglas’ original piece, “Foligno” was featured in the performance as well. The song honors the small town of Foligno in the Italian countryside and is dedicated to Douglas’ close friend Mario Guidi, who passed away recently in 2019. “I had many great moments working with him in various groups, including his long-standing relationship with trumpet legend Enrico Rava. A beautiful haunting melody that I wrote to capture the deep and dark romance of the town was a frequent request of Mario.” The duo closed the evening with a rendition of Marvin Gaye’s “Mercy Mercy Me,” much to the audience’s glee.

Watch a complete recording of the duo’s performance here and purchase the album, which features some of the tracks mentioned above, here. Catch the next virtual concert when Live from Columbia hosts the JACK Quartet February 16, 2021 at 7:00 pm ET.