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Feb 09, 2014 - Keyboard Concert Celebrates 22 Years By Honoring Founder

            From the very beginning, the annual Jazz Keyboard Concerts in Tulsa were Gayle Williamson’s baby. A founding member of the Tulsa Jazz Society as well as an active jazz pianist and bandleader, Williamson produced the first one at Saied’s Music back in 1992, as a way of celebrating an early TJS anniversary.  As the event grew, Williamson stayed at the helm. And even after 17 years, when he had to step away from the production duties because of health issues, he continued to be a part of it.

            Williamson died last August at the age of 84, but the event he started continues. And this year, its 22nd, his fellow musicians and producer Pam Van Dyke Crosby honor their late comrade by dedicating the show to him. In addition, she says, Scott McQuade – one of the four pianists on the bill – plans to play three of the songs from Williamson’s 1985 album, Statement. He’ll be accompanied by the veteran rhythm section of bassist Bill Crosby and drummer Tony Yohe, who’ll also be featured with the other three keyboardists on the bill: Joe Wilkinson, Chuck Gardner, and Jeff Newsome, all well-known names to Tulsa-area jazz fans.

            Like Williamson, producer Crosby is a founding member of the Tulsa Jazz Society, which originally presented the annual concerts. “Gayle always put them together,” she notes, “but we’d always talk about it. Over the years, we’ve always tried to pass all of it around, tried to get different people each time. This time, I guess I just picked ‘em myself,” she adds with a laugh.
            A few years ago, the Jazz Keyboard Concert became a co-production of TJS and the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame. And in addition to finding a home at the Jazz Hall of Fame’s Jazz Depot, the show underwent a streamlining, going from six performers to four. As producer Crosby explains it, with six performers, “the time just kind of got out of hand.” 

            Of the keyboardists chosen for this year’s show, two previously produced an installment of the annual concert: Gardner, who first cut the roster from six to four players, and McQuade, who produced last year’s show.

            Iowa native Gardner, a 2013 Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame inductee, became a professional musician at the age of 15, when he joined an area dance band. Later, as an Air Force musician, he accompanied major artists, studied composition with Henry Mancini, appeared on national television programs, produced recordings for Armed Forces Radio, and soloed with the NORAD Command Band at Carnegie Hall.   He and his vocalist-bassist wife, Sandy, have appeared together in major nightclubs and other venues across the country. 

            McQuade, who was profiled in Billboard Books’ The New Face of Jazz, has performed with the likes of Louis Bellson, Clark Terry, and Arturo Sandoval over his 20-year musical career. Originally from Canada, he moved to Tulsa in 2008 and immediately became one of the leading lights of the area jazz scene.

            World War II veteran Joe Wilkinson played dance music in an officer’s club in the Philippine Islands during the war and accompanied famed songwriter Irving Berlin when he toured the Philippines. He also played in and later led his own collegiate group in Arkansas, where he and the late Keyboard Concert founder first met.

            “Joe has known Gayle Williamson since he was in college,” says Crosby. “Gayle was from Arkansas, and they were both in college there at the same time.”

            Rounding out the bill is Jeff Newsome. During his time as a Booker T. Washington High School student, he studied jazz piano with Tulsa’s Ted Moses. Later, he graduated from the University of Tulsa and earned a master’s degree in jazz studies from the University of Miami. Since returning to his hometown in 2007, he’s been playing with a wide variety of acts, including the jazz group 7 Blue, Paul Benjamin’s rock band, and the Starlight Jazz Orchestra. He also worked with vocalists Crosby, Cindy Cain, Rebecca Ungerman, and Annie Ellicott in their musical revue Backstage at the Midnight Social Club

            In addition to honoring Gayle Williamson, Newsome plans a nod to another late jazz figure, the legendary pianist Dave Brubeck.

            “I’m going to do `Blue Rondo a la Turk,’” he says. “I like that tune a lot, and I like playing it, and I was just kind of thinking about [Brubeck] passing away [in December 2012].”

            “Our annual keyboard concert is a tribute to Gayle Williamson’s love of and commitment to music,” says Jason McIntosh, Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame CEO. “Even though he is no longer with us, his legacy lives on in the music he loved and shared with the community.”

              The 22nd Annual Jazz Keyboard Concert is set to begin at 5:00 p.m. Sunday, February 16, at the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame, located in downtown Tulsa’s Jazz Depot, 111 E. First Street. Tickets can be purchased at the Depot, from www.myticketoffice.com, or by calling Bettie Downing at 918-281-8609. General admission is $15, reserved table seating $20. Seniors and Jazz Hall members are admitted for $10, and high school and junior high students for $5.

            The show is a part of the Jazz Hall’s 2013-14 Winter Concert Series.

            The Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame is a 501(c)(3) non-profit cultural and educational organization, with a mission to inspire creativity and improve the quality of life for all Oklahomans through the preservation, education, and performance of jazz, our uniquely American art form. 


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