MJF67, Sept. 27-29, 2024


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© Nic Coury
Elena Pinderhughes & Lionel Loueke: A Diaspora Journey
  • Grounds Artist
  • Saturday, September 23 3:00 pm - 4:00 pm Garden Stage Presented By Alaska Airlines

A five-part musical suite, A Diaspora Journey, explores the myriad of musical traditions spanning time and continents to reflect the many ways that Black people and cultures have expressed and told their stories. The suite blends and integrates musical traditions from throughout the African Diaspora, highlighting similarities in rhythms, melody, and harmony that are found in different regions and continue to evolve and change with each coming generation.

Composer and flutist Elena Pinderhughes has composed the suite with musical collaborator and guitarist Lionel Loueke. Together, their distinctive vocal techniques will be complemented by Pinderhughes’ flute and Loueke’s guitar. The suite will highlight how African diasporic musical traditions are a vital source of unity, comfort, resiliency, and strength for Black people all over the world. Compositionally, the piece will explore the history that stems from the diaspora and will incorporate a wide range of sounds and rhythms from the past through to present day. These sounds and rhythms will not only encompass a range of musical genres, but also significant geographic locations, such as Benin, Ghana, and other West African countries, Cuba, New York City, New Orleans, Memphis, and other southern American cities.

Elena Pinderhughes is a vocalist and flutist from the San Francisco Bay Area in California, who began singing and playing the flute at age seven. By age nine, she was performing and recorded her first CD, Catch 22, and at age 11, she was featured in The Music in Me, an HBO special about young musicians. Fluent in many styles, she has won numerous “best soloist” awards at festivals (including the Monterey Jazz Festival's Next Generation Jazz Festival) and from DownBeat magazine. A 2013 YoungArts Gold Award recipient, US Presidential Scholar in the Arts, and DownBeat’s 2016 “Rising-Star Flutist,” she was a member of the Grammy Band, Monterey Jazz Festival’s Next Generation Jazz Orchestra, SFJAZZ High School All-Stars, San Francisco Youth Symphony Orchestra, and Young Musicians Choral Orchestra.

Ms. Pinderhughes has performed in venues such as Carnegie Hall, the White House, and the Kennedy Center; at festivals and clubs throughout Europe, Japan, Africa, and South America, including Coachella, Monterey Jazz Festival, Marciac Festival, and Montreux Jazz Festival; and with Herbie Hancock, Hubert Laws, Kenny Barron, Christian Scott, Carlos Santana, Josh Groban, Common, John Santos, and Future.

Some of her recorded work includes appeances on Herbie Hancock’s upcoming album, Common’s Black America Again (Def Jam)Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah’s Stretch Music (Introducing Elena Pinderhughes) on Ropeadope Records, Ambrose Akinmusire’s The Imagined Savior is Far Easier to Paint, Kandace Springs' The Women Who Raised Me and Immannuel Wilkins' The 7th Hand, the latter three on Blue Note. She is currently performing and recording with a range of musicians as well as with her own group, and touring internationally with Herbie Hancock, Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, and Common.

In 2015 Ms. Pinderhughes signed with SRP Music Group — responsible for signing Rihanna, among others — and began her journey as a solo artist. She is working on her debut project, which will showcase her voice and songwriting, and bring together her musicality, harmony, rhythm, and culture to create a specific sound all her own.

Starting out on vocals and percussion, Lionel Loueke picked up the guitar late, at age 17. After his initial to exposure to jazz in Benin, he left to attend the National Institute of Art in nearby Ivory Coast. In 1994 he left Africa to pursue jazz studies at the American School of Modern Music in Paris, then went to the U.S. on a scholarship to Berklee College of Music. From there, Loueke gained acceptance to the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, where he encountered his Gilfema bandmates Biolcati, Nemeth, Parlato and other musicians with whom he would form lasting creative relationships.

In 2008 and 2009, Lionel Loueke was picked as top Rising Star guitarist in DownBeat magazine's annual Critics Poll. Praised by his mentor Herbie Hancock as “a musical painter,” Lionel Loueke combines harmonic sophistication, soaring melody, a deep knowledge of African music, and conventional and extended guitar techniques to create a warm and evocative sound of his own. JazzTimes wrote “Loueke's lines are smartly formed and deftly executed. His ear-friendly melodicism draws both from traditional African sources and a lifetime of closely studying the likes of Jim Hall and George Benson, and his rhythmic shifts come quickly and packed with surprises.”

After graduating from Berklee College of Music, Lionel Loueke was accepted to the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz in Los Angeles where he had the opportunity to study his greatest mentors: Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and Terence Blanchard. Soon after his time at the Monk Institute, Lionel Loueke began focusing exclusively on nylon-string acoustic guitar, an instrument on which he's developed a signature voice.

Lionel Loueke released his first album In a Trance (2005) on Space Time Label, then three albums on Obliqsound Label as a leader (Virgin Forest, 2006) and with Gilfema (Gilfema, 2005, Gilfema + 2, 2008). His first release on Blue Note Label Karibu (2008), featuring the trio with Hancock and Wayne Shorter as special guests, won widespread critical praise. His sophomore release for Blue Note, Mwaliko (2010), followed up acclaimed Karibu and offered a series of searching, innovative, intimate duets with Angelique Kidjo, Esperanza Spalding, Richard Bona and Marcus Gilmore - artists and allies who continue to have a profound impact on Loueke's vision as a bandleader.

Hailed as a gentle virtuoso by Jon Pareles of the New York Times, Loueke released Heritage (2012), co-produced by piano great and Blue Note label mate Robert Glasper. In 2015, Loueke chose to record Gaía, his remarkable rock-infused fourth Blue Note album, live in the studio with an intimate audience in attendance. Recent releases include Aziza (2016) with Dave Holland, Chris Potter and Eric Harland; Obsession (2017) with Celine Rudolph; The Journey (2018), Hope (2019), The Journey - The Bonuses (2020), and Gilfema 3 (2020). Loueke's latest, HH on Edition Records (2020) was a tribute to his friend and mentor Herbie Hancock and was one of the most critically-acclaimed jazz records of the year.

Loueke has appeared on numerous standout recordings such as Terence Blanchard’s Grammy-nominated Flow (2005) and Hancock’s Grammy-winning River: The Joni Letters (2008). Lionel appeared on recordings by such legends as Jack DeJohnette (Sound Travels), Charlie Haden (Land of the Sun), Kenny Barron (The Traveler) and Gonzalo Rubalcaba (XXI Century). He has also appeared on recordings by Esperanza Spalding, Joe Lovano, Gretchen Parlato, Avishai Cohen, Kendrick Scott and other leading peers.

He has also toured the world as a member of Hancock’s band for more than 10 years and additionally toured with Chick Corea. Lionel Loueke is also a member of Blue Note’s 75th anniversary all-star band with Robert Glasper, Derrick Hodge, Kendrick Scott, Ambrose Akinmusire and Marcus Strickland. These experiences all inform Loueke's extraordinary work as a leader.