The Road to Monterey: A Shared Past, Present and Future with Ambrose Akinmusire and Elena Pinderhughes
MJF frequently highlights musicians who have come through our jazz education programs. Two such artists at MJF66 share a parallel history, both in their past and present – flutist Elena Pinderhughes and trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire.
Ambose Akinmusire, our 2023 Commission Artist, born and raised in Oakland, California, attended Berkeley High School and was a participant and award winner at the Monterey’s Next Generation Jazz Festival (NGJF) and was selected twice to the Next Generation Jazz Orchestra (NGJO) in 1999 and 2000 which toured Japan. “I learned the true definition of compassion during my trips to Japan with the group,” said Ambrose. “The importance of a program like this goes far beyond music and lands on humanity itself.” In just a few years, Ambrose would prove himself to be an internationally-known creative force and unique critically acclaimed voice in jazz.
After going on the road with Steve Coleman and Five Elements, Ambrose attended the Manhattan School of Music, completed graduate school at USC, and was accepted to the Thelonious Monk Institute, where he was mentored by Herbie Hancock, Terence Blanchard, and the late Wayne Shorter. In short order, Ambrose won the Monk Institute’s International Jazz Competition in 2007, months apart from also winning theCarmine Caruso International Jazz Trumpet Solo Competition.
After he was signed to Blue Note Records, Ambrose served as a judge at the NGJF in 2010 and 2011; was MJF’s Artist-in-Residence in 2012; was a member of the MJF55 All-Stars that toured the United States for 45 shows in 2013; and was MJF’s 2015 Commission Artist, debuting “The Forgotten Places.” With two Grammy nominations, Ambrose recently released a solo album for trumpet, Beauty is Enough, recorded at Saint-Eustache, a Rennaisance Gothic cathedral in Paris. Ambrose came full circle in July of 2023 when it was announced that he was appointed the new Artistic Director of the Herbie Hancock Institute of Jazz Performance at UCLA, the successor to the Monk Institute. Ambrose’s 2023 Commission, Isakosa Ara, (“Pulse”) featuring Malian vocalist and activist Oumou Sangaré, premieres Saturday, September 23 on the Jimmy Lyons Stage at 4:30pm.
Bay Area flutist and vocalist Elena Pinderhughes had also been a multiple year participant, division winner and soloist award winner with Berkeley High School’s powerhouse combo and big band at MJF’s NGJF beginning in 2009. Elena, like Ambrose, was a two-year NGJO member in 2012 and 2013 and during her years with the NGJO, she made a 15-day performance tour to Japan, and a nine-day tour to New York City, Boston, and the Montreal Jazz Festival, with appearances at MJF55 and MJF56 with Artists-in-Residence Ambrose Akinmusire and Joe Lovano. “Monterey Jazz Festival influenced my music because I was able to talk to the musicians and see their sets up close and personal, and it was really inspiring,” said Elena.
After high school, Elena immediately began a professional career even though she was attending the Manhattan School of Music through 2017. She’s recorded and toured with a wide variety of artists and has appeared at venues from The White House to Coachella with Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, Kenny Barron, Vijay Iyer, Stefon Harris, Joshua Redman, Carlos Santana, Omar Sosa, Esperanza Spalding, and many others. Elena has appeared many times at Monterey, most recently with Herbie Hancock in 2021, Common in 2017, and Terri Lyne Carrington’s Mosaic Project in 2016.
For MJF66, Elena and her Herbie Hancock bandmate, guitarist Lionel Loueke, have joined forces for a suite of music called “A Diaspora Journey” which highlights similarities in rhythms, melody, and harmony throughout Africa and the Americas from the past to present day. Written by Elena and commissioned and debuted by Santa Cruz’s Kuumbwa Jazz in February 2023, “A Diaspora Journey” will be performed at Monterey for the first time. Catch her and Lionel on Saturday, September 23 at 3pm on the Garden Stage Presented by Alaska Airlines!