The intimate PSI Theatre at Durham Arts Council felt like the perfect space to experience the soul vibrations of Brandee Younger, along with Chelsea Baratz on tenor sax, Dezron Douglas on bass, and Otis Brown III on drums.
The band played a medley of Alice Coltrane and Dorothy Ashby, original compositions from Wax and Wane, and pieces she selected to play first and reveal afterwards, inviting the audience to guess the tunes. One was If it’s Magic by Stevie Wonder, a favorite of hers, as she states in conversation with Obvious Magazine, it is “one of those songs that makes you question everything and also feel hopeful regardless of circumstance. It’s about spreading the love.” The spread was inviting, with a warm backdrop where melodies could dance, and the audience could cozy up.
Durham Arts Council utilizes the space in PSI Theatre for various arts performances, film screenings, and community meetings. Over 3,400 folks of all ages flock to the building to attend Durham Arts Council School, a community education program for visual and performing arts, providing over 700 courses throughout the year, including summer camps for kids ages 5 to 12.
The next stop for the harpista was another community-based event, the culmination of Harp on Park, a concert series commissioned by Arts Brookfield. The organization presents free cultural experiences in public spaces at Brookfield’s properties around the world, to support creativity and innovation in music, dance, theater, film, and visual art.
Younger curated and assembled the 4-concert series exploring the ways harp is used in the 21st century to showcase the flexibility of the instrument, “I thought about who is doing something different, challenging the status,” she said to Village Voice, “and while classical harpists are a dime a dozen, the ones [who play other genres] aren’t. It’s a bold thing.”.
The “hybrid harpist” embodied that boldness here in Durham for the Art of Cool Festival. Younger collaborates throughout the community of creators, with Lauryn Hill, Ryan Leslie, Talib Kweli, Common, and Ravi Coltrane – under whose creative direction she collaborated in Universal Consciousness, a recent tribute to Alice Coltrane. While reaching across genres and forging her own style – as we witnessed at Durham Arts Council – Younger projects the rich musical traditions of Coltrane and Dorothy Ashby.
Altogether, the music and works of Brandee Younger provide a smooth lesson in the vitality of past and future collaboration in both jazz and community.
If you’re in New York this summer, Brandee Younger will be around for several shows starting June 7. For community arts programming (like Harp on Park) in New York, check out The Swings: An Exercise in Cooperation from June 10 to July 7. The installation is sponsored by Arts Brookfield and designed by Daily tous les jours, an interaction design studio with a focus on participation by empowering people to have a place in the stories that are told around them.