In the 1992-1993 season, the Akron Symphony Orchestra embarked on a three-year project of newly-commissioned works by African-American composers.
Pulitizer Prize and Grammy Award nominated David Baker composed Three Ethnic Dances in 1992 as a three-movement work -- "Jitterbug", "Slow Drag" and "Calypso." Baker blends traditional jazz with concert music using popular dance forms. As a jazz cellist, Baker has performed with Quincy Jones, Maynard Ferguson and Lionel Hampton to name only a few. Baker has composed over 2,000 works.
William Banfield's Symphony No. 6 is a musical portrait of five great American musicians -- Leonard Bernstein, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis and Sarah Vaughan. The opening movement is a tribute to Bernstein. The inner two movements catch the mood and character of the spirits of Ellington, Dizzy and Miles. The long lyrical string theme in the fourth movement emulates Sarah Vaughan's extraordinary vocal ability.
Pianist and composer Billy Childs has one of the most recognizable names in contemporary jazz. Performing in major clubs throughout the country, he is well known as a member of the progressive jazz group Night Flight. In this work, The Distant Land is Africa, painted here through music, words and indigenous percussion instruments. This cycle of three songs have texts from the celebrated writer Langston Hughes (Afro-American Fragment), traditional Ugandan poetry (A Mother to her First-Born) and a sacred African verse (Voice of the Karaw) depicting a mystical conversation between a medium and divine beings.