Tag: Louisville

Different Cities Different Voices – Louisville

Skyline of Louisville KY with DIFFERENT CITIES DIFFERENT VOICES logo

An introduction by Teddy Abrams

Teddy Abrams sitting at a grand piano which has a globe on top of it.

Teddy Abrams (photo by Chris Wietzke, courtesy of Louisville Orchestra)

Louisville’s exceptional and dynamic music scene has always flown a bit under the radar from a national perspective. This is a microcosm of life in Louisville generally; we are deeply proud of the talent in our own backyard but somewhat baffled by the lack of positive attention to our city from outside media. Similarly, the broader Kentucky landscape contains the generative center of much quintessential American culture but doesn’t often receive commensurate recognition for the role our state has played in helping define our country’s musical history. I think this dual sense of pride and omission has had the perhaps unintended effect of inspiring Louisville and Kentucky musicians to develop an endemic, unique approach to their art. Due to limited music industry infrastructure or a lack of excessive outside influence, our local musicians have built a particularly open and creative environment for music-making; unusually porous cross-genre collaborations and consistent support for young talent may be two of my favorite Louisvillian cultural characteristics.

Thus I am honored to introduce you to these spectacularly talented musicians, all of whom are as equally committed to the health of their community as they are to the excellence of their musicianship. I chose these folks to represent Louisville (although I regret that I couldn’t extend this invitation to the dozens of other brilliant artists in town!) because they espouse what I consider to be our highest calling as artists – a desire to make music in a way that bridges divides, heals wounds, and allows us to confront our challenges as a strengthened society. Jecorey, Rachel, Tyler, Diane, and Carly exemplify this mentality and have made life far more musically inspiring for our city – and for me! I hope you will have a chance to visit our beautiful city and see these artists perform live and in person. You will leave town with a similar dual sense of pride that art is being created like this in our nation, and bemusement that the rest of the world hasn’t quite realized it yet.

Rachel Grimes

Rachel Grimes sitting in front of a grand piano with a harp in the background

Rachel Grimes at Loretto Motherhouse, Marion Co, KY, 2016 (Photo by Ted Wathen)

I was born and raised in Louisville, with multi-generational roots in central Kentucky. As a young child I learned piano by ear playing tunes, from ragtime to standards, alongside my father and grandmother. I took piano lessons to learn to read and to love Chopin, Bach, and Brahms, but it was as a teenager that I excitedly dove into the thriving Louisville underground post-punk scene. I attended the University of Louisville School of Music, earning a degree in composition with piano as my principle instrument. While there I also explored jazz combo, Renaissance harpsichord, and medieval a cappella vocal music. Over the next many years, I wove all of these musical threads together into chamber and orchestral music, scores for theater, film, and museum installations, recording and touring genre-defying albums with several bands, and pushing the boundaries of collaboration with many fellow creatives from my hometown.

Louisville, a friendly, mid-sized, midwestern/southern town has a rich and complicated cultural history and a swift current of creative people who make and support local art. It is known around the world for musical legends such as Lionel Hampton, Slint, My Morning Jacket, Jack Harlow, Valerie Coleman, and the Louisville Orchestra. It is an affordable place to live, work, eat, and create with access to beautiful natural spaces and rivers. After the spring of 2020, it is also known around the world for the murder of Breonna Taylor by the local police, and the killing of David McAtee by the National Guard. Our community experienced shattering pain during these events and subsequent protests, which was compounded by the intense fear, loss, and grief brought on by the pandemic, economic destruction, and tragic loss of health and life around the world.

All of my scheduled performances in 2020 and beyond were cancelled by the pandemic, projects put on hold and into limbo. At that time I was caregiver and guardian for my father and his brother, and in light of all of the strife and chaos happening around us, I focused on managing the circumstances the best I could. My husband, along with so many educator peers, was juggling many new stressors for keeping teachers, families, and children safe while ensuring learning. As a creative musician, I wrestled with many conflicting feelings of uselessness. I played the piano for my hurting heart – that helped. For fun, I played covers with my husband playing bass. I talked with my friends and held hands over the phone. After years of not getting to it, I updated many of my older pencil and digital scores and opened up a web shop for my digital sheet music – that was satisfying. In late 2020, I encouraged my fellow composers Angélica Negrón, Shara Nova, Caroline Shaw, and Sarah Kirkland Snider to salvage our hopes of recording our co-composed work for mezzo-soprano and strings The Blue Hour and co-produced that album with Shara Nova throughout 2021. The album, performed by Nova with the commissioning ensemble A Far Cry, was released by New Amsterdam/Nonesuch Records in late 2022, and was included in the Top Ten Albums of 2022 by NPR, The Nation, WNYC’s New Sounds and more.

Music heals, music unites, music is essential to our lives and our hearts – now more than ever.

Rachel’s Music Picks…

Rachel Grimes: “The name” from The Blue Hour

Harry Pickens: Meditation Music

Jecorey Arthur

Jecorey Arthur standing in front of a microphone

Jecorey Arthur (Photo by Savannah Philpot)

Louisville is the city of Muhammad Ali—the greatest human example of using gifts for good. He used his boxing platform to call for change while I’ve used my music platform to call for change. All artists, but especially Louisville artists, have that hometown responsibility. This led me to run for city council, win, and become the youngest legislator in city history. So I’m not just here for my artistry but for my ancestry—continuing our fight for freedom, and music has been the main medium throughout my career.

Our music scene is so eclectic you can hear live jazz, hip hop, classical, soul, rock, bluegrass, and more all in a single weekend. Louisville composer, Mildred Hill, used to send transcribed “Black street cries” to Antonín Dvořák, who later influenced American culture by composing with Black music and claiming it was the future of our country. When you hear popular American music today, it was all influenced by Black Americans, likely from right here in Louisville. So our eclectic music scene today is tradition. Since the pandemic I’ve been overwhelmed with technology—virtual concerts, virtual meetings, virtual everything. Being back in school with my music students and concerts to hear live music has been healing.

Jecorey’s Music Picks…

Note: Kanye West is not from Louisville, KY. The featured artist on this song is—Vory

Carly Johnson

Carly Johnson

Carly Johnson (Photo by Mickie Winters of Winters Photography)

I’ve lived in Louisville since I was 8 years old and it has absolutely become home to me. After living in Philadelphia (which I also loved) while getting my jazz degree at The University of the Arts, I was lured back home after graduation due to feeling a little homesick…and truth-be-told missing a boy…who–thankfully–was worth the move back, as he eventually became my husband. I was still battling a bit of stage fright and it was such a comfort to get my footing and my jazz chops up in my hometown. As it turns out, I’ve stayed here because I am in complete awe of the love that people of Louisville have for music. Louisville cultivates such a wide range of musicians and actually shows up to support them. As a full time musician, I am forever grateful for this city’s love and passion for music and the arts and I’m truly grateful to the Louisville audience.

Other than the complete love and support of live music, Louisville has a real quirky small town feel, while still maintaining the highest caliber of the arts–our orchestra, our ballet, our jazz and indie rock scene, our art museums–and of course our food and drink. Our farm-to-table, modern, down-home and outside-of-the-box-creative bars and restaurants can absolutely stand-up to the best well known foodie cities and then some.

I found out I was pregnant less than a month before the pandemic came down in Louisville, and it quickly became very apparent that me and my husband would be going through a lot of these first-time experiences alone, instead of being surrounded by our amazing community. On one hand, having the time to be more in the moment and without the daily distraction of the grind that we all endure, was a gift. On the other hand, as a musician, I don’t think I fully understood the sense of self and sense of emotive expression I experience through making music with an audience on such a regular basis, until it was taken away. I was so grateful for any online streaming or outdoor performance opportunity that our community made happen, but they were still very few and far between compared to the 5-6 weekly gigs of singing I’d been doing for years.

Thankfully, Louisville unsurprisingly didn’t disappoint, and despite so many financial challenges that all of the venues faced during the pandemic, everyone got back to live music as soon as possible. I’d venture to say my schedule is the busiest it’s ever been. During the pandemic, I also took that time to release my first solo album and make a music video (of my tune “Burn Your Fears”) about that loss of human connection that we were all feeling, to show how strong we are as people and that, though things might look different on the other side of the pandemic, we’d be able to get to a place where we could see the beauty of life where we were then and now, again.

My own music pick was a tough choice, since my record is mostly a soulful 13-piece band…but I went with “Burn Your Fears” since it ties into the pandemic experience. I originally wrote it for a dear friend of mine, Marisa, shortly after she was diagnosed with an extremely rare form of lung cancer (ROS-1), as a 30 year old non-smoker. She really beat the odds and was able to live 5 full years after being diagnosed, but she passed away last November, just a month after being honored by the American Lung Association as a Lung Force Hero. This song was an anthem for her, in the sense that it’s about facing something incredibly difficult in your life, allowing yourself to embrace and feel every emotion it brings your way and deciding to find beauty and live your life fully in a different way than you had planned. It’s always had a universal theme to it that anyone living with trauma has been able to relate to, but now more than ever, it feels immensely poignant and more relatable than before. Right now, we’re all afraid, experiencing intense emotions and we’re trying our best to navigate this new way of life; we’re learning to find joy and beauty and live our lives in a different way.

Whitney Hall is so important. It represents a longstanding beautiful mecca of the arts in Louisville, and it’s locally owned and supported by its patrons (not Live Nation!). At a time when music and the arts are really struggling, when Whitney Hall is sitting empty and the future is so uncertain, it feels like an impactful message to include the towering gorgeous hall as the background for new art being created—a new way for Whitney Hall to be showcased and seen by everyone who misses it. It’s even more personal for me…I was on stage at WH with Teddy and the LO Friday March 13th, probably the last rehearsal that took place there before the shutdown…and I’m dreaming of when we all get to be back up there again.

The vision…The video is simple in the sense that it’s mostly just myself singing and playing piano in the middle of the WH stage to a massively empty house. But as the song continues, 4 string players would gradually appear in the audience (very very spread out far apart from each other) and they’d pick up their instruments (viola, 2 violins, cello) when the strings start in my song and play from their seats. As the song builds, 2-3 ballerinas would join the stage dancing around the piano (very very far apart from each other and everyone else).

What the viewer is experiencing during the video is a reflection of feelings/emotion…the great big beautiful empty WH house–representing the loneliness we’re all experiencing (and that many people have experienced through trauma), myself playing alone on stage despite being alone– representing our strength as humans to continue and endure, the appearance of the string players and eventual ballerinas–representing humanity, hope for the future and a sense of community in our shared feelings as people.”

Carly’s music picks…

Carly Johnson: “Burn Your Fears”

Kiana & The Sun Kings: “True American”

Tyler Taylor

Tyler Taylor in an enclosed space holding a French horn

Tyler Taylor

I was born and raised in Louisville but wasn’t born into a musical family. I didn’t develop an interest in “classical music” until my older brother started playing the trombone when he was in elementary school. I took up the horn when I was in elementary school and by middle school had developed an intense curiosity about how music was put together – it seemed the only way I could get answers was to try and put it together myself. Fast-forwarding, I went to the University of Louisville as a composer and horn player, then Eastman, and finally IU. I was dumped out into the world during the pandemic with no prospects. I got a job at a coffee shop and worked until I could get my own place. 2021 was the year when things picked up – I was getting significantly more work as both a performer and composer. Even then I had a plan that I would only stay in Louisville for two years after I moved back and then figure out a way to get up to Chicago or New York. However, I realized that I could sustain myself artistically in Louisville – the city I know and love and where I want to stay.

I’ve now lived in three cities in my adult life – Louisville, Bloomington, IN., and Rochester, NY.. What makes Louisville different is its size – it’s not so big that is overwhelming but is also too small to provide the same amount of opportunity that you might associate with a bigger city. Like some other cities, Louisville has a tendency to value what comes in from the outside more than what they already have, so it might take people coming in from other places to validate your artistry or for you to leave and thrive somewhere else to prove your worth. All that said, if you can make it in the scene you can find some really amazing and talented people.

Louisville has an energy and comfort to it that I haven’t quite experienced anywhere else. I also identify with Louisville’s refusal to be easily labeled. For instance, people often argue about whether or not we are a southern or midwestern city. (Though, in my opinion, we are undeniably southern!) We are also situated in a state whose social-political ideologies, by and large, are in stark contrast to our own – we are part of Kentucky but sometimes feel like we don’t always have the most in common with the rest of our state.

During the pandemic I observed some people thrive in their isolation, in some cases creating more than they ever had in their lives. In my case, I stopped playing the horn and writing music entirely – I simply had no reason to do either. I quickly learned that those are two of the most important activities that contribute to and sustain my happiness. I was also faced with transitioning from being a semi-pro student to a professional during the “unprecedented times.” I don’t find my struggles unique but nevertheless difficult. Since then, I have established a fairly healthy freelance career and have made significant strides with many thanks to Teddy Abrams and the Louisville Orchestra. I think I’ve finally shaken the residue from my time as a student and am facing the newest challenges of my career – finding ways not to just sustain my creativity but to grow it. The circumstances have changed but the premise has more or less remained the same: how will I continue to grow as an artist and who’s coming along for the ride? I can’t do it alone no matter how hard I try!

Tyler’s Music Picks…

Tyler Taylor: Distill for 18 Players

Plus here’s a track by my fave Louisville musician, Jackie Royce.
She is a professional bassoonist and plays in this band Ut Gret. We have played together in gigs several times, went to school together, and I consider her a pillar in the Louisville music community.

Diane Downs

Diane Downs standing in front of a brick wall.

Diane Downs (Photo by Kriech Higdon)

My mother grew up in the Highlands of Louisville but upon marrying, moved with my dad to his family farm in Highview to raise me and my brothers. My grandparents bought the land in 1920 and supported their 10 children by running the Highview Dairy, growing crops, and the occasional sale of moonshine. I still live on the same land near my mom and my little brother. This is my home. I feel very connected to our land and never had the desire to move very far away. Part of my connection to my Louisville home was the music that was always present when I was young. “Boil Them Cabbage Down”, “Tom Dooley”, and “Old Joe Clark” were often sung in our kitchen by my mother as she played the banjo. I don’t ever remember not having a musical instrument close to me when I was young.

Louisville is where The Louisville Leopard Percussionists originated organically, accidentally. In 1993 was teaching 2nd & 3rd grade at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School and found a stash of small mallet instruments in a storage closet while searching for bulletin board paper. I enlisted the help of my class to carry the instruments into our room and our group was born. We incorporated the music into our classroom schedule of math, reading, social studies, and science and ended up learning enough tunes to start gigging. A PTA meeting was our first gig, then the mall, for someone’s grandma at the nursing home, then it exploded from there.

In 2003 we incorporated into a non-profit organization and our program really started to grow. Never did I imagine that accidentally stumbling on those instruments would lead to over 30 years of Leopards, over 1000 children, performances at venues all over the eastern United States, an HBO Documentary, and even a appearance on A&E’s Ozzy & Jack’s World Detour. That’s why I still choose to live in Louisville. How could I leave this all behind?

When people think of Louisville, The Kentucky Derby, Muhammad Ali, Louisville Slugger baseball bats, The University of Louisville, or Kentucky Fried Chicken may come to mind. But, there is so much more to Louisville. To me, Louisville is an easy place to live. It has a lot of quirkiness, too. Louisville is the largest producer of disco balls in the world. Benedictine spread was invented in Louisville. The Happy Birthday song was composed by 2 sisters in Louisville.

There is a 30 foot tall golden statue of Michelangelo’s David on Main Street right down the street from the Slugger Museum and Bat Factory. We have the largest annual fireworks show in the country, the world’s longest go-kart track, and the oldest operating Mississippi-style steamboat. And, we have plenty of bourbon distilleries.

I feel that Louisville is a community that values the arts. Our Louisville Orchestra, The Louisville Ballet, and Kentucky Shakespeare are out in the community making the classic arts available and accessible to all. We have numerous art and music festivals all year long so there is always somewhere to go to find great performances and great art. Whether it’s a show by Turner’s Circus, The Squallis Puppeteers, Stage One Family Theater, The River City Drum Corp, Drag Daddy Productions, or The Louisville Leopard Percussionists, people show up to support our arts community. Like many others, our community has had some pretty significant rough patches. But Louisville is my community. I have spent most of my life here. My family is here. My Leopards are here.

The Louisville Leopard Percussionists is a performing ensemble so the pandemic was rough on us. Not being able to come together to play music for an audience was hard for our kids and teachers alike. But, we made the most of it. When it was safe, our Leopard staff at the time, Wes Greer, Kent Klarer, Carly Rodman, and I focused on very small groups and made 17 videos in just a few months. The kids were very proud of their accomplishments and grew so much as young musicians. We were able to really focus in on individual kids to help push them to a different level of musicianship. Our kids were missing out on so much life, we were happy that we could provide them with music to help get them through.

Diane’s Music Picks…

This video is from an October 2022 performance as the warm up band for My Morning Jacket. Watching our little rock stars perform on the big stage reinforced why I do what I do in my city of Louisville.

This is a link to one of my favorite Louisville bands, Squeeze-Bot, performing Thelonious Monk’s Well You Needn’t. I’ve spent many summer evenings sitting at the picnic tables at NachBar listening to these great musicians.