One year on and Abram's rhythm section and I returned to Oxford on Friday 5th April to remember the beginning of the Abram Wilson 2012 tour, a celebration of 10 years in the UK.
The evening was a truly special one, filled with the sound of Abram's music and his spirit. The band (Reuben James on piano, Dave Hamblett on drums and Alex Davis on double bass) did him proud and delighted an initimate audience of fans and friends, old and new, including the prolific jazz photographer David Redfern and his long-term partner Suzy Reed.
The winners of the all important raffle were:
Max Mason - signed unedited limited edition CD of Philippa
Steve Smith - signed unedited limited edition CD of Philippa
Joseph Taylor - signed unedited limited edition CD of Philippa
Robert Abbot - one-off, signed, framed photograph of Abram by Edu Hawkins
We raised a nice, tidy sum of just over £300 thanks to the overwhelming support of Max Mason and his team at the Big Bang Restaurant in Oxford and of course the extraordinary photographer Edu Hawkins.
5th May 2013 - You can catch the trio again at Cheltenham Jazz Festival on Sunday 5th May at 3pm in the Parabola Arts Centre where they will be joined by the gorgeous Zara McFarlane. Book tickets HERE.
4th June 2013 - And on Tuesday 4th June at Birmingham's Symphony Hall, where they'll be performing from 5pm in the foyer. This will be our only public event to mark one year since Abram passed on 9th June 2012 and entry will be free.
Tomorrow we'll be remembering the beginning of something. Exactly a year ago today Abram's band and I started a 20-date tour that would be cut short two months later due to cancer. It hardly seems any time at all that Abram and I were preparing for his quartet to perform at Pizza Express Jazz Club on 4th April 2012. Two days later we headed off to the Oxford Jazz Festival excited and high off a 4**** review in the Guardian by John Fordham who described the Philippa Project as "a work in progress that will be fascinating to follow".
I remember chasing one of the organisers of the Oxford Jazz Festivalback in 2011, trying to persuade him to book Abram's quartet. He kept emailing me saying he'd bear it in mind - never a good sign in my opinion! But it turned out I was wrong and Oxford became the second of a string of dates that would become more memorable than I could have ever imagined.
On 25th May the tour ended abruptly, and two weeks later Abram lost his life to a very short battle with cancer. He never got to go back into the recording studio as we'd planned, or develop the Philippa Project into a jazz theatre piece. But it's worth bearing in mind that during what would turn out to be his last year with us, he wrote some incredible new music. There were three other projects besides the Philippa tunes that he'd premiered in public between April 2011 and May 2012 and we could all see that Abram was really starting to come into his own, both as a performer and a composer.
Yesterday I read the author Iain Bank's personal statement explaining that he has cancer and his life will end in a few months. It was beautifully written, simple and very honest. It struck me that his experience almost runs parallel with Abram's. The time lines are very similar, just a year later; Banks began noticing pains in January but put it down to work before finally paying a visit to his GP in mid-February which is exactly when Abram went to see his doctor. When Banks was recently informed that he had late stage gall bladder cancer and there was nothing they could do, he asked his long-term partner to become his 'widow'.
The only difference between Iain Banks and Abram is time. More time to live, Banks is 59, more time to be with his partner, six years instead of three, and more time to acknowledge that time has run out. When Abram was told it was terminal and he only had a few weeks left to live, he said that he still had so much he wanted to do. I am sure it is exactly the same for Banks. Time is relative after all, and no matter how much you get, you will always want more.
I'm grateful for the time Abram and I had together; we didn't have much but we had enough to focus on the important things which is what Banks is doing now - spending his last remaining months with his family and friends. Banks' work is done now, as was Abram's before he passed; Banks' final book has been written and Abram's last piece of music was finished on 17th April 2012. But as another author, Mitch Albom, once wrote "All endings are also beginnings. We just don't know it at the time".
Tomorrow we will be remembering the beginning of the end, an ending which turned out to be the start of something very special, the Abram Wilson Foundation for Creative Arts. It is my new beginning and one that I'm happy to share with Abram's band - Alex Davis, Dave Hamblett and Reuben James as well as the lovely people of Oxford, Max Mason and the staff at the Big Bang Restaurant, photographer Edu Hawkins who documented the Oxford Jazz Festival gig last year and of course my rock solid new trustees, Laura Palmer, Laura Vakil (née Biddlecombe) and Flo Butler.
I very much hope to see some of you there.
Address: The Big Bang Restaurant, 42 Oxford Castle Quarter, Oxford, OX1 1AY
Tickets: £10 each which includes a raffle ticket
Prize: A one-off signed photograph of Abram performing at the 2012 Oxford Jazz Festival by Edu Hawkins
All proceeds from the raffle will go directly to the Abram Wilson Foundation.
I just want to finish by leaving you with a classic Marvin Gaye tune, How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You) which I'd like to dedicate to Iain Banks and his new widow, Adele. I hope they make the next few months count.
I'm delighted to announce that Abram's rhythm section will be returning to Oxford, 12 months since they performed together at the Oxford Jazz Festival as part of Abram's quartet in 2012. It will be their first gig together this year. The evening will be in memory of Abram and our first small fundraiser for the Abram Wilson Foundation.
The performance will take place on Friday 5th April at The Big Bang, a restaurant owned by one of the Festival organisers, Max Mason. Entry is £10 per person, and includes a £5 raffle ticket which will be entered into a prize draw on the night.
The prize will be a unique photograph of Abram performing at the Oxford Jazz Festival on 6th April 2012. Featured above, the image was taken by the highly respected music photographer, Edu Hawkins.
Edu has kindly donated the one-off piece, printed using the hand-made process of applying silver leaf to photographic prints. When asked about the image, Edu had this to say:
"Beyond fantastic musicianship, Abram Wilson’s performance at the Oxford Jazz Festival was a demonstration of the depth of his knowledge and appreciation of history, as well as his passion and talent for sharing it with others.
Sometimes the most telling moments in a musical performance are the ones when nothing happens. This image is an example of such an ‘in between’ moment, a visual representation of focus, contemplation, intelligence, integrity and sincerity, a few of the qualities Abram Wilson had to offer, and ones that the work of his Foundation seeks to remind us of."
Max Mason is equally reminiscent:
"Abram Wilson's appearance at the Oxford Jazz Festival was outstanding, a tremendous artist with heart and soul to inspire the next generation and Abram clearly loved doing just that. With this raffle and performance, in our own very small way, we celebrate a life, a talent and the continuation of his work through the Abram Wilson Foundation."
When: Friday 5th April 2013
Where: The Big Bang, 42 Oxford Castle Quarter, Oxford, OX1 1AY
Reservations & Dinner: If you would like to reserve a table for dinner please call the restaurant on 01865 249413
Entry: £10 (includes x1 raffle ticket worth £5)
All funds collected from the raffle tickets will go directly to the Abram Wilson Foundation. We hope that some of you will be able to join us to mark this special occasion in remembering an extraordinary musician.
Please note that the prize does not include postage and packaging : )
Where to start? Some amazing progress has been made over the last few weeks and it's really beginning to feel like things are moving ahead.
The big news is I finally managed to get my trustees together last Monday to open a bank account for the Abram Wilson Foundation for Creative Arts (its full name). Woo! Part of me couldn't quite believe it had taken so long, but I felt a bit better when I was assured by friends and colleagues who have set up charitable organisations in the UK that it is a very slow, painstaking process. My experience has been no different. We were all super happy, having spent an hour and a half in the bank, that the paperwork had finally been sent off. All being well we should have an account next week.
A few days later, one of my trustees accompanied me to none other than the U.S. Embassy for a screening of a new American series, Finding Your Roots (a bit like Who Do You Think You Are? in the UK). The episode we saw focused on childhood friends Harry Connick Jr and Branford Marsalis, the eldest of the Marsalis clan. It was an interesting programme, but the highlight for me was when they had an opportunity to talk about the roots they were laying down in their home town of New Orleans through The Ellis Marsalis Center for Music located in the Musicians Village of the Upper Ninth Ward. It was fasinating to hear about it and the many benefits being experienced by the local commnunity, now that music is a staple in their life.
Branford attended the event and I had an opportunity to meet him at the end. He knew Abram and once he realised who I was gave me a great big Marsalis hug. Whenever I meet the musicians that inspired Abram, particularly those from New Orleans, I am always overwhelmed and moved by their immense generosity of spirit. They share so many of the wonderful qualities that Abram had, and a special unbreakable bond like nothing I have encountered before. The musicians of New Orleans are truly a very special breed indeed.
And finally, the tour! We have taken some steps forward and things are shaping up very nicely at the moment. You'll see from the images above that we have a pretty good looking bunch of musicians who will be bringing all their talent, passion and flair to a venue near you later this year. I'm very excited about it, as it will be a fantastic opportunity for Abram's rhythm section to play with two incredible saxophonists, Keith Loftis and Jean Toussaint. Of course, as well as learning on the job (so to speak), they'll also have a chance to get to know Keith who was a great friend of Abram's whilst he was living in New York.
Et c'est tout! More to follow in the coming weeks. Thank you for your ongoing support and interest, you are awesome.
It's been a wee while since my last post. I've spent January settling into the new year, finding my bearings and figuring out what to do next. It turns out that 'next' is a lot, I currently have a to do list longer than the River Thames (plus a full-time job!). This has been a bit overwhelming but I'm starting to figure out ways of slotting everything in.
Progress is being made on all fronts. I'm about half way through the process of setting up a charitable foundation. It's been difficult getting my trustees in one place at the same time, as we're all pretty spread out and super busy, but we are definitely moving forwards.
The Philippa Project is temporarily on hold as our fabulous director, Pia Furtado, directs a show for the Scottish National Opera (naturally). We are still on the hunt for a composer to take Abram's work forwards, but we always knew this part was going to take a minute. Finding a replacement for Abram was never going to be an easy task.
The live recording which I want to release as a posthumous album exists as an MP3 but we're still trying to figure out if there is a master copy. There was an assumption that there was one, but the person responsible for recording the gig has been a bit elusive of late. Either way, we will find a way to make the recording accessible to everyone who made a donation. It just might not be exactly how I imagined it and may take a little longer to sort out, but one way or another it will happen.
Other projects include getting Abram's band back on the road. We're planning to book a UK tour for late November/early December where they'll be joined by Abram's old friend and bandmate, New York based saxophonist Keith Loftis and Jean Toussaint, also on saxophone, who performed as part of the Abram Wilson Septet last year. We're all massively excited and can't wait to get some gigs in the diary.
If you want to see these guys blow you away at your local club later this year then please drop me an email.
There are a gazillion other things going on, some awesome and fun, others less so. The most challenging part is doing all this without Abram. We were a great team, and I really miss my team mate. But then I remember why I'm doing this, and more importantly why I want to do it. Abram challenged me and inspired me to do more, he had incredible vision and taught me that any idea, no matter how crazy it sounded, was possible.
With that in mind I'll leave you with a wonderful video of one of Abram's final education projects, Time I Met The Blues. As the newly appointed Jazzlines Associate Artist of Birmingham Town Hall & Symphony Hall, he had been commissioned to write a 10 minute jazz piece, consisting of five notes, for 300 school children from the Ladywood area of Birmingham. This video, posted by Town Hall & Symphony Hall, is them learning the piece for the first time in March last year, three months before Abram passed.
One of Abram's big aims was to get the kids to improvise, a scary prospect when there's 300 of you. But Abram's motto gave them confidence and encouraged them to go for it, "No fear!" he would call out, "No fear!" they'd respond. Today it acts as a constant reminder of why I loved Abram and how he changed my life.
The last few weeks have been a period of reflection for me. As I've gradually joined the rest of the world in 2013, I've been thinking a lot about the future and where it's going to take me. And with that come all the fears and worries about whether or not any of my hopes and dreams for the Abram Wilson Foundation are going to work out.
Apparently, I'm not alone. Which is a relief. I figured there are probably a few of you out there who have made up their minds to do something different this year. Often when it comes to taking the plunge you can find yourself standing on the edge for quite some time, looking down into what might seem like a bit of a black hole.
Well, I've found something that reminded me why I needed to take the jump into the new year and I thought I'd share it with you. It's a short film promoting a new book by 'marketing master', blogger and author, Seth Godin. The book is called The Icarus Deception: How High Will You Fly?
In it Godin asks, why shouldn't we fly really high? He calls for us to think and act boldly, to go about our work as if it were art - with the idea of 'good enough' far from our minds.
Today is seven months since Abram passed. I wanted to mark it with something that expressed genuine enthusiasm and encouragement for doing the thing you feel passionate about, because that was what Abram was all about.
The Abram Wilson Foundation for Creative Arts will ensure that Abram's work and the impact he had on others is remembered and harnessed to give birth to a new generation of artists, continuing his legacy for years to come. This year, I'm starting out with 'teeny, tiny steps' and with each one I'm getting a bit closer to my goal.
Thank you for allowing me to connect with you and share my vision for my husband, Abram.
This is just a quick update to wish you all a lovely holiday and festive season.
2012 has not been an easy year. The very recent tragedy in Connecticut is yet another stark reminder that life is precious. We have no way of knowing what's going to happen in the future. So whether you're celebrating Christmas or not, I hope you are able to spend the last few days of this year remembering the good times and preparing for a new year where we try to make the most of it for as long as we can.
As the year closes I think about all the love and support I have experienced over the last few months and I feel pretty overwhelmed. There is no way I could have survived without it. It is love that binds us together and gets us through the difficult and painful times, and it is love that helps us find joy again. I found this quote the other day, and for those of you who don't read the Guardian, I thought I'd share it with you as I think it's rather beautiful.
Love is more easily experienced than defined. As a theological virtue, by which we love God above all things and our neighbours as ourselves for his sake, it seems remote until we encounter it enfleshed, so to say, in the life of another – in acts of kindness, generosity and self-sacrifice. Love's the one thing that can never hurt anyone, although it may cost dearly. The paradox of love is that it is supremely free yet attaches us with bonds stronger than death. It cannot be bought or sold; there is nothing it cannot face; love is life's greatest blessing - Catherine Wybourne is a Benedictine nun.
I wanted to leave you with a tune Abram composed and recorded with his band last December before performing it with guest drummer and friend Jason Marsalis. It's called Wish and is part of a series of tunes for a new project called A New Orleans Style Christmas Story. Family was extremely important to Abram, he thought about them a lot whilst living in London and the project was inspired by them and their time growing up together in New Orleans. I hope you enjoy it.
Love Jennie x
This post is dedicated to Abram's family and to Ana, the daughter of jazz saxophonist and educator Jimmy Greene, who on 14th December 2012 left this life for a better place. May her family find peace and light in the coming days and months.
Photo credits: Benjamin Amure, Stephen Vakil, Abram Wilson and Jennie Cashman Wilson
This weekend will be six months since me and Abram were married, six months since he passed, and my birthday. Last year Abram did the very clever thing of making me think he'd forgotten about my birthday, when actually it was the complete opposite. In true Abram fashion he went all out to make it unforgettable and it is one of a host of memories I will treasure for many years to come.
I'm dedicating this post to me and Abram. I've included a selection of photos from our time together starting with a photoshoot from 24th March this year, then it jumps forward in time for a little bit before going back to 14th Feb (hence the roses). The photoshoot was for the band but Abram wanted to take some shots of us at the end. I've also included two poems below written by friends of ours for our wedding.
I'm going to let the photos and poems do the talking, but before I go I want to leave you with a quote a friend sent me recently which inspired this post:
'Life is eternal, and love is immortal, and death is but a horizon; and a horizon is nothing save the limit of our sight.'
Song by Tara Siddall He plays for her, turns the curves of the trumpet in his hands. Its open mouth sings the songs of his body, his lips press out the air, and the colours wrap around her. She breathes him in. He touches her, reads her skin as it warms him. He finds the love she keeps here, sees his heart held in her own, it's quiet beat. She is another music. When she kisses him it is a song.
Poem by Seraphima Kennedy
I remember sitting with the two of you
As the wedding singers clattered their plates
And raised glass after glass to the ceiling.
I can see you both sitting in the warm spill of candlelight,
Today is Thanksgiving. In the spirit of Abram I woke up at the crack of dawn (he was an exceptionally early riser, much to my horror) and thought about all the things for which I’m thankful. Abram and I had planned to be in the States this week, I was finally going to meet his family and we were going to have a very rare vacation together. As it turned out there was a different plan and I suppose it would be very easy for me to not feel thankful at all. It’s true that everything I thought was going to happen has been completely turned on its head; life could not be more different if it tried. And yet, amidst the pain and the sadness there is a lot of joy and beauty as I continue to marvel at the life Abram has left me.
An example of this is the truly inspiring time I had during the London Jazz Festival. Pia and I kicked off the week by going to see the legendary Terence Blanchard. Another trumpeter and composer from New Orleans, he was part of the Branford Marsalis Quartet for the 1990 Spike Lee film, Mo' Better Blues. It was one of Abram’s favourite movies, so much so that growing up his nickname was Bleek - the talented jazz trumpeter played by Denzel Washington. It was a great way to start the Festival and true to his New Orleans roots, Mr Blanchard was warm, charming and funny. It was mine and Pia’s last opportunity to catch up before she headed off into the world for three months, mentoring an up and coming director in Australia, visiting Singapore and Malaysia and opening an opera with the Scottish National Opera in January.
Later in the week I took Reuben James and Alex Davis (Abram’s bandmates) to see the Marcus Roberts Trio. Marcus is a truly exceptional jazz pianist. Affectionately dubbed ‘The J Master’ by Wynton Marsalis his knowledge and understanding of the music is second to none. He was joined by his regular band members, our good friend Jason Marsalis on drums and Rodney ‘Swing’ Jordan on double bass. It was a wonderful and moving evening for many reasons, not least because they were performing at Kings Place in exactly the same concert hall where Abram played with his quartet last December, with Jason Marsalis joining the band as a special guest. It felt strange sitting in the audience with Alex and Reuben, watching Jason without Abram at our side. Moreover, in March this year Marcus Roberts was performing at Ronnie Scott’s and invited Abram on stage in the second half. Marcus was one of Abram’s heroes and he was deeply honoured to have the opportunity to play with him. Seeing the Trio play together again was difficult and uplifting all at the same time. Afterwards I had a chance to talk with Marcus and his lovely manager of 20 years, Lyn Moore. We agreed I’d come earlier before their last gig on Saturday so I could explain a bit more about the Philippa Project and what Pia and I were looking for in terms of help and advice.
Saturday came along very quickly and I was still buzzing from seeing the incredible Sonny Rollins at the Barbican Centre the night before. It really was like watching God play jazz! The 82 year old maestro performed for two straight hours, demonstrating an energy and enthusiasm that most people half his age could only dream of. On Saturday, Reuben and I met Marcus and the band after their afternoon gig and joined them for some food, which was a privilege in itself. They were kind and generous and Marcus gave me his full attention whilst I told him about the Philippa Project and the type of composer we were looking for. We chatted for a good hour before they had to be whisked off to their final Kings Place gig, which I attended with Reuben, Dave Hamblett (Abram’s drummer), my very good friend Tara and one of Abram’s students Frank Heather. It was another amazing performance, this time with the Guildhall School of Music and Drama Big Band. At one point Marcus gave us a piano solo which I think I’ll remember for the rest of my life.
After the gig we headed backstage where I was able to talk to Marcus a bit more about his ideas for possible composers. We also spoke about Abram and how much Marcus had wanted him to be part of his London Jazz Festival residency. Abram’s replacement was a young and gifted trumpeter called Etienne Charles, his performance was a credit to my husband and I very much enjoyed meeting him. In the end Marcus, Jason, Rodney and Lyn joined us for drinks at their hotel. It turned out to be an unforgettable night where we drank, laughed and talked till 2am. Whilst there we were briefly visited by some other jazz greats having just finished a gig at the Barbican – drummer Brian Blade, bassist Christian McBride and 16-time Grammy winner, pianist Chick Corea. They were preparing to leave for Paris but such is the love and respect they all have for Marcus they couldn’t not take some time to say hello.
At some point during the evening Rodney turned to me and said “you know you’ve joined a big family, don’t you?”. And he’s right. The warmth of spirit that was present that night was very comforting because it reminded me so much of Abram; we were surrounded by genuine, talented, beautiful and inspiring people. I thought about Abram and how much he would have enjoyed being there, he would have joked, reminisced and asked a thousand questions. Meeting Abram, loving him and working with him was a gift that will stay with me forever. It has opened the door into a life that I didn’t even know existed, allowing me to appreciate the music of jazz and the company of some extraordinary people.
Today is Thanksgiving. And I am thankful for all that Abram gave me and continues to give me. I’m thankful for Team J-Bram, for Reuben, Alex and Dave, for Pia, for Abram’s family and for my family. I’m thankful for all the musicians, from the ones just starting out to the ones who’ve been playing for decades, who had the chance to meet Abram and appreciate his music and vision. I’m thankful for the new trustees of the Abram Wilson Foundation and for those friends who remained close to Abram and were there when he needed them. And of course, I’m thankful for you and all the support you’ve shown me over the last few months. It’s been tough, but there is much to be thankful for. Happy Thanksgiving.
A friend (and fan) of Abram once said to me, “if he wasn’t such a talented musician he’d have made one hell of a politician”. Perhaps he was right, Abram was charismatic, inspiring, and always charming to those he met. He was eloquent and passionate about what he believed in. With those good looks and killer smile you were putty in his hands, ready to believe anything. If Abram could convince people to vote for him as much as he could convince them to love jazz, then yes, he might have made a very good politician indeed. But I’m thankful I can say that ultimately it would never have worked out. He was far too honest and sensitive to make it in the world of politics. He cared far too much about what he did; he wasn’t interested in playing games, or wasting his time trying to bring the other ‘team’ down. Like Abram always said, “I just wanna play, man!”.
On the day of the U.S presidential election, as the world watches, waiting in anticipation to see who America chooses as their next president, I can’t help but think about the performances involved for both candidates. It got me thinking about Abram, and how much he loved to perform. The presidential candidates are acting their socks off right now, frantically trying to win those key states that will inevitably mean the difference between winning and losing. It is a real life drama being played out before a global audience, and it’s difficult not to get caught up in it.
Abram wasn’t much of a fan of real life drama, his interest in performance remained rooted in his art and stayed firmly on stage. It was a place where his love for stories shone through and soon became a trade-mark of the jazz man from New Orleans. He had the fortune to pursue his passion in many forms, which included working with a couple of wonderful theatre directors; David Lan (Artistic Director at London’s The Young Vic) who directed Abram in In the Red and Brown Water and Tim Supple who directed him in Shakespeare’s As You Like It at the Curve in Leicester. Abram got a real kick out of being in those two shows, he even kept the script for the former and the programme for the latter (and Abram was not a keeper of things). I’ve included some pictures here, the one where Abram has the big beard is his Shakespearean look.
For those of you that don’t know much about this side of Abram’s career, I've included a video of Abram singing the Legba Song, one of the tunes from In the Red and Brown Water. It was later remixed by Neel D’Wala (or Papa D as Abram would call him). The run finished four years ago this Thursday, 8th November, which also happens to be our five month wedding anniversary. Abram was the musical director and a key performer in the production. You can read a lovely review of the show in the Guardian by John Fordham here:
After these two experiences Abram was determined to do more acting, which is where the Philippa Project came in. After writing the music inspired by Philippa Schuyler’s life, Abram knew he wanted to take the project further and develop a jazz-theatre piece with director Pia Furtado. I know that if Abram were here with me, we’d be gripped to the coverage of the election, planning to stay up all night, rooting for the man we wanted to become president. Abram was so excited about the 2012 election and kept saying to me “I gotta register to vote man. I gotta register”. In the end he ran out of time, and tonight, instead of staying up for the results I’m going to pack myself off to bed. Tomorrow, as Europe wakes up to a new president, Pia and and I will be meeting with Arts Council England to talk about funding for the next stage of the Philippa Project. I can’t vote for Abram, but with your help, I can finish what we started.
Photo credit for black and white image: Tom Mallow