(WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass.) – Bassist-composer Avery Sharpe leads his jazz sextet in his program, “Sojourner Truth: Ain’t I A Woman,” celebrating the life and work of African American abolitionist and woman’s rights activist, at Brooks-Rogers Recital Hall on the Williams College Campus on Friday, September 28, 2012, at 8 p.m. Sharpe released a recording by that name earlier this year.
The concert and presentation consists of compositions based on the life of Sojourner Truth and the famous speech she made for women’s suffrage in 1851, later titled “Ain’t I A Woman.” Sharpe’s sextet features Onaje Allan Gumbs, piano; Yoron Israel, drums; Jimmy Greene, saxophone; Duane Eubanks, trumpet; Jeri Brown, vocals; and Sharpe himself on bass.
Born into slavery, Sojourner Truth escaped with her infant daughter to freedom in 1826. After going to court to recover her son, she became the first black woman to win such a case against a white man. During the Civil War, Truth helped recruit black troops for the Union Army. After the war, she tried, but sadly failed, to secure land grants from the federal government for former slaves.
Sharpe’s awareness of history and his presence in America’s ongoing jazz experience make him uniquely qualified to share through original composition the struggle and contributions of African American abolitionist and woman’s rights activist Sojourner Truth.
Born in Valdosta, Georgia, Sharpe’s first instrument was the piano. “I started playing when I was eight years old,” he recalls. “My mother was a piano player in the Church of God in Christ, and she gave lessons to everybody in the family—I’m the sixth of eight children—but it didn’t stick until it got to me.” He moved on to accordion and then switched to electric bass in high school.
Sharpe enrolled at the University of Massachusetts, where he studied economics and continued to play electric bass in gospel, funk, and rock groups. While at UMass, he met the jazz bassist Reggie Workman, who encouraged him to learn the acoustic bass. Sharpe adapted quickly to the big instrument and within a few years he was performing with such notables as Archie Shepp and Art Blakey. In 1980, Sharpe auditioned with McCoy Tyner and won a spot in the pianist’s group. He worked with Tyner almost continuously for 20 years, playing hundreds of live gigs and appearing on more than 20 records. Sharpe’s credits also include sideman stints with many other jazz greats, from Dizzy Gillespie to Pat Metheny, as well as leading his own groups.
Avery Sharpe is Sterling Brown ‘22 Distinguished Visiting Artist in Residence in Music, Artist Associate in Jazz Bass, Jazz Coach, Faculty Advisor to Gospel Choir at Williams College.