“The 16 tracks on this CD represent the extraordinary range of talent and musical diversity that Unison has been proud to present over the last few years,” said Stuart Bigley, the executive director of Unison. “And it is dedicated to the late and sorely missed Betty MacDonald, Odetta and Artie Traum. It’s a tremendous honor for Unison that the performances of these three legends are part of this collection.”
Odetta was a seminal African-American blues singer who sang with the greatest blues artists over the decades and whose music was part of the great tide of the Civil Rights movement.
“It’s one of her last recorded performances and it is moving,” said Bigley. The CD also highlights, “The First Lady of Jazz in the Hudson Valley,” Betty McDonald, a renowned jazz violinist and singer who was known by many in the Valley not only for her live performances but also for her nightly jazz show on WDST.
Artie Traum was a folk, jazz guitarist and composer who was also well-known and well-loved in the Hudson Valley. “We lost these three incredible musicians within the last year, and it’s made sense to dedicate this anniversary CD to them because they exemplify some of the best performers that have graced our stage and they’re sorely missed.”
There are other tracks on the CD which include a Howard Levy performance of “Amazing Grace” on harmonica. “He is the best harmonica player in the world, and every time I hear this track you just can’t believe what you’re hearing, it’s so beautiful and raw,” Bigley said.
Then there is the historic final performance of the Assad Family -- the Brazilian classical guitarists and singers who went on tour all over the world after a public broadcast showcased the family’s multi-generational talent on a TV documentary.
The Assad Duo (Sergio and Odair Assad) were already well-known classical guitarists who recorded and played with Yo Yo Ma and were regular visitors to Unison. Bigley recounts the story when he and the brothers were hanging out enjoying some drinks after a performance, when they told him about the recent success of the Assad-family documentary in Sao Paulo.
“Everyone in their family was such a talented musician and this documentary had become a run-away hit with promoters wanting them to go on tour and kick it off with a show at the Met (Metropolitan Museum of Art),” recalled Bigley. “Sergio said to me that his parents had never left San Palo and had never been on a plane and he feared that they would ‘land in New York City, walk into the Met and have a heart attack.’ So he asked me if we could bring his parents and family to Unison first to do a small concert in New Paltz before they were thrown into the Big Apple.” In the end it worked out.
“They had their first concert here and it blew the doors off,” he said. “So there’s a track of that on the CD as well.”
The CD is only one part of the 35th anniversary bash.
“We couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate this milestone than by putting together an evening of music and dance,” Bigley said. “All of these artists have worked with me to assemble a performance that showcases everything we love about the arts. It’s going to be an amazing evening.”
Act I is all about dance, performed by members of the Vanaver Caravan. Caravan Founders Bill and Livia Vanaver will be joined by the swing dance duo Michael Jagger and Evita Arace, flamenco dancer Barbara Martinez and capoeirista Gustavo Caldas. The always ebullient Vanaver kids will also make an appearance. José Moreno, Toby Stover, Evan Stover and Andy Teirstein will provide musical accompaniment on percussion, guitar and fiddle.
Act II will focus on music: folk, blues and jazz. Bass player Jay Anderson and jazz guitarist Mark Dziuba will pay homage to Betty MacDonald and Artie Traum. Amy Fradon, Leslie Ritter and Helen Avakian will perform original compositions and at least one Artie Traum song. Marc Black’s performance will include his original songs in memory of Betty and Artie and Bill Vanaver will perform a special tribute to Odetta.
Robert Bard, who recorded the CD at his Skytop Studio, is working on a top-secret grand finale.
“I’m not going to reveal what it is,” Bigley said. “But if Robert can pull this off, this will be a moment that none of us will forget.”
To purchase tickets for the Saturday, Dec. 18 show at the New Paltz High School, please call 255-1559.
Ticket prices at the door are $20 for members, $25 for non-members, $10 for students. However, you can save $2 by pre-purchasing your tickets before Dec. 17.
Winter arts at Unison
Winter blues have your child down? Unison Arts and Learning Center is offering a Winter Arts Program that can turn winter into a magical and explorative time. The program is for children ages 5 to 9 and will be led by Jill Olesker of Unison’s popular Summer Arts Program.
It is a three-day “playful program” that will have children “exploring winter’s beauty through storytelling, winter arts and crafts and walks through the sculpture garden.”
This winter camp will run from Monday, Dec. 27 through Wednesday, Dec. 29 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and will end every day with tea-time to warm the winter explorers up.
The cost is $110 for Unison members and $130 for nonmembers. Call Unison at 255-1559 to register in advance. Unison is located at 68 Mountain Rest Road in New Paltz.