TSD Q&A: Jazz Violinist Diane Monroe on Timeless Songs of Protest

The Arts at Trinity free music series will celebrate Black History Month on Saturday with a powerful, multi-genre performance from illustrious Philadelphia jazz violinist Diane Monroe. Monroe leads an ensemble that blends music, vocals, spoken word and dance in the stirring program, “What is This Thing Called Freedom? The Transforming and Timeless Songs of Protest.”

Diane Monroe Pic

Jazz violinist Diane Monroe visits Wilmington on Sat., Feb 20, performing at Trinity Episcopal Church at 7:30

Monroe’s ensemble of artists includes Paul Jost, vocals; Germaine Ingram, vocals/dance; Charlotte Blake Alston-Speaker, vocals; Tony Miceli, vibes; Gerald Veasley, bass and Francois Zayas, drums and percussion. Their repertoire encompasses such varied songs as Sam Cooke’s A Change is Gonna Come; Billy Taylor’s I Wish I Knew How It Feels to be Free; Bob Dylan’s (The answer is) Blowin’ in the Wind; Neil Young’s Ohio; and The Beatles’ Give Peace A Chance.

We sat down with Diane to talk about this distinctive and moving program. (Performance details below.)

TSD: Diane, what motivated you to create this program?

DM: My love for these human rights and peace songs from the 60s and 70s is my primary motivation for creating this program. They’re part of the fabric of my experience growing up in Philadelphia. The music and lyrics both uplift audiences and inform on the conditions of the times. They infuse the soul with not only great melodies, harmonies, rhythms and colors, but also sing of peace, hope and the consequences of war/all violence, racism/slavery, greed, disinformation, censorship and so on. These very specific “protest songs” are supposed to be ‘of the past,’ but I believe these songs resound greatly in present time as well.

TSD: Your set list is truly varied, with pieces from so many artists and genres. Why did you choose these particular pieces?

DM: These particular works capture the many realities of my own experiences and observations – culturally, musically and environmentally.  At that time, I heard, jammed on and performed most of these songs on the piano, guitar or violin.

TSD: What would you like the audience to come away with after experiencing your performance? 

DM: I would like the performance to convey exactly what good music conveys by nature: To uplift, enjoy, stimulate thought, cause multiple feelings to surface, inspire, enlighten, spark the imagination, comfort, open minds to possibilities of change, instill humankind with a sense of unity, offer hope and much more!

TSD: Tell us how you’ll integrate the elements of music with spoken word and dance.  

DM: I’ve had great opportunities to work with not only the incredible musicians in this program, but also with dancer Germaine Ingram and storyteller, Charlotte Blake Alston. These two amazing artists are also a part of my recent musical experiences, and they bring expressions to the stage which are indescribably profound. Their gifts include Ms. Ingram’s soulful vocal renderings and melody writings, and Ms. Blake-Alston’s purely natural gift of song. Including elements of movement and spoken word gives us more discernible ways to hear, see and understand these songs of freedom, peace and protest.

Monroe’s visibility as a jazz artist began with her long-standing membership as first violinist of the Uptown String Quartet (with Lesa Terry, Maxine Roach and Eileen Folson) and the Max Roach Double Quartet.  Her compositions and arrangements have been highlighted on The Cosby Show, CBS News Sunday Morning and Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, and in worldwide performances. Monroe is a graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music and University of the Arts, and has taught at Oberlin Conservatory, Swarthmore College and Temple University. Learn more about her at DianeMonroeMusic.com.

Diane Monroe and friends will perform on Sat., Feb. 20 at 7:30pm. The concert is free to attend at Trinity Episcopal Church, 1108 N. Adams Street in downtown Wilmington.

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