A short journey from classical to jazz

The time will come when a wind quintet composed of five classically trained musicians of color will cease to be a novelty. Until then, we have groups like Imani Winds to remind us that Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream is very much alive.

“Imani denotes unity and faith in Swahili,” explains Valerie Coleman, Imani Winds’ founder, flutist and composer. “It wasn’t until the name Imani Winds popped into my head in 1997 that I had the OK from God to go ahead and start the group. I waspretty much on a God-sent mission, if you will.”

Coleman, then a master’s degree student at Mannes College of Music in New York City, already knew clarinetist Mariam Adam from the Aspen Music Festival. Then she met oboist Toyin Spellman-Diaz, who introduced her to bassoonist Monica Ellis.

Soon she was led to the group’s sole male, French hornist and composer Jeff Scott. Save for clarinetist Adam, whose Egyptian and Mexican heritage leads her to dub herself “Egyptican,” everyone is African-American.

“As soon as I got people’s names and credentials,” says Coleman, “I knew, man, we should just go ahead, sit down, read, and see what happens. I had chills during the first rehearsal. There was so much black in the room — the culture, the feeling, the vibe that you get when you’re with people who have your similar background — there was something special we brought to the music from our common upbringing.”

In their first year, after Coleman composed what became the group’s signature tune, “Imosha,” the Imanis began to expand their scope beyond classical music.

Two years ago, their second CD, “The Classical Underground” (Koch), earned them a Grammy nomination for Best Classical Crossover Album.

While they love performing straight classical programs, their latest CD, “Josephine Baker: A Life of Le Jazz Hot!” further reflects their commitment to diverse repertoire.

On Friday, the Imanis rejoin Grammy Award-winning jazz saxophonist and composer Wayne Shorter for an evening of exploration.

“Wayne always surprises us,” says Coleman. “One night he decided to whistle in the most gorgeous place, and took the music to another level. For classical musicians, it’s unknown to say ‘I may do something different’ as a half reference conversationally, and then all of a sudden break into something new in the middle of the concert. Wayne has done so much to open our minds.

“Wayne’s music is completely unpredictable. There’s a deep soulful quality to his melodies; they transcend everything that is on solid ground, and take your soul with them.”

IF YOU GO

Imani Winds and the Wayne Shorter Quartet

Presented by: SFJAZZ

Where: Nob Hill Masonic Center, 1111 California St., San Francisco

When: 8 p.m. Friday

Tickets: $27 to $85

Contact: (866) 920-5299 or www.sfjazz.org

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

U.S. Attorney David Anderson announces federal firearms charges against two men for their roles in a March 2019 shooting outside the Fillmore Heritage Center in a news conference alongside SFPD staff at the Phillip Burton Federal Building on Thursday, Jan. 9, 2020. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Departing U.S. attorney predicts corruption probe will continue

David Anderson shook up City Hall as top federal prosecutor

Board of Supervisors President Shamann Walton has been asked to mediate union contract talks. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Supervisor Walton tapped to mediate teacher contract talks

District and union at odds over hours in-person students should be in the classroom

California is set to receive supplies of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which is still under review by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (Courtesy photo)
California could receive 380K doses of new J&J COVID vaccine next week

California could receive 380,300 doses of the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine… Continue reading

Disability advocates protested outside the home of San Francisco Health Officer Tomas Aragon. (Courtesy Brooke Anderson)
Vaccine rollout plan for people with disabilities remains deeply flawed

On February 13, disability activists paid a visit to the house of… Continue reading

A Bay Area Concrete Recycling facility that opened on PG&E property in 2019. Former PG&E employees have been accused of accepting bribes from Bay Area Concrete. (Courtesy of Bay Area Concrete Recycling via ProPublica)
Lawsuit reveals new allegations against PG&E contractor accused of fraud

By Scott Morris Bay City News Foundation Utility giant Pacific Gas &… Continue reading

Most Read