(PITTSFIELD, Mass.) – The Mary Ann McSweeney Quartet, led by the renowned jazz bassist and bandleader, brings its “Urban Fado” program of jazz interpretations of Portuguese music themes to the Whitney Center for the Arts on Saturday, May 13, at 8pm, presented by Berkshires Jazz, Inc. McSweeney’s ensemble includes Jason Ennis on guitar, Todd Reynolds on violin, and Conor Meehan on drums, and will be augmented by special guests, including vocalist Natalia Bernal.
Known for her jazz prowess as a leader and ensemble player, McSweeney is a first-call bass player on the New York scene, with several recordings to her name.
Fado originated in Portugal in the 1800s. Of Portuguese heritage herself, McSweeney says, “the beautiful melodies of Fado resonated for me immediately. The sadness, the sigh of the voice, the story of fate told by the singer inspired me to compose music that is Fado.” McSweeney wrote much of the new music at home in Brooklyn, and so she named the repertoire the “Urban Fado Project.”
Fado is heard in alleys, clubs and concert halls telling a story of the Portuguese people. McSweeney’s instrument, the string bass, brings a melodic and low supportive voice to the music. “I like to keep the form of the traditional Fado song, but I have also expanded it to leave room for improvisation. Musicians can layer their voice onto the form of the piece.”
A long-time jazz artist, McSweeney brings new grooves and new chord structures to the Fado form. “I want to bring a new voice and vibe to this music and share the cultural diversity it has to offer,” she said.
The intimate setting of the Whitney Center for the Arts lends itself well to this music, which will be presented in a cabaret setting. Tickets are $25 in advance, $30 on the day of the event, and are available now at Berkshires Jazz. Light snacks and beverages including beer and wine will also be available.
The event is sponsored by Berkshires Jazz, Inc., a non-profit organization whose twofold mission is to present jazz events and encourage jazz education in Berkshire County, western Massachusetts.
Mary Ann McSweeney was born in Aptos, Calif. She started playing piano at the age of five and then began studying the violin at age 8. In high school she fell in love with the acoustic bass while watching Ray Brown perform at the Concord Jazz Festival. She was chosen to play at the Monterey Jazz Festival at age 16 with the all star band fronted by Thad Jones and Mel Lewis.
McSweeney has played with jazz legends Dizzy Gillespie, Joanne Brackeen and Lee Konitz, Gil Goldstein and Bucky Pizzarelli, and played for famous conductors, Leonard Bernstein, Lalo Schifrin, and John Williams. She has performed with Renee Rosness, Vic Juris, Ken Peplowski, Dennis Mackrel, Lewis Nash and Larry Goldings. Mary Ann performed with the Maiden Voyage and Diva Big Bands and performed with her quintet at the Sexial Jazz Festival in Portugal and the Mary Lou Williams Jazz Festival at the Kennedy Center.
McSweeney arranged for and recorded with Warner Bros. Artist, Lea Delaria. She toured Europe and performed with David Krakauer’s Klezmer Madness and three-time Tony Award-winning vocalist Audra McDonald. Her orchestrations can be heard on Chita Rivera’s new album entitled “Now I Swing.” Her original music can be heard on the webisode about the making of the new show “Allegiance,” which features George Takei.
Along with being a full-time professional bassist in New York City, McSweeney is on the faculty for the Middle School Jazz Academy at Lincoln Center and the New York Jazz Workshop. She has been working also working with the Fordham Business school in helping facilitate workshops for business students from Turkey, South Africa, China and the Europe.
McSweeney recently recorded with award winning jazz baritonist Claire Daly on the “Baritone Monk” CD, which hit the top 10 on the jazz charts in 2014. She has performed at the White House with the Eli Yamin Quintet for a special event. She has been the musical director/arranger for three shows at Birdland in New York City featuring Jane Monheit.
In May 2015, McSweeney was invited to play for the Gala at the Kennedy Center with a big band conducted by John Clayton with Jeff Hamilton on drums. The artists were Jennifer Holliday, The Puppini Sisters, Paul Taylor Dance Company, Megan Hilty and Cheyenne Jackson.