FAMU faculty and Essential Theatre celebrate Black History Month with jazz concert

In celebration of Black History Month, the FAMU Music Department presented a "Coffee House" Jazz Concert on Thursday in the Foster-Tanner band rehearsal hall. 
Photo credit: Maritza Bannerman


Florida A&M University's (FAMU) Jazz Ensemble, jazz faculty and Essential Theatre presented "A Night at The Cotton Club,” Thursday evening held in the Foster-Tanner band rehearsal hall in celebration of Black History Month.

The jazz band collaborated with the Essential Theatre to host the Black History Month event that served as a tribute to the Harlem Renaissance featuring dancing, spoken word, skits and the music of Duke Ellington.

"Students in the theatre department started preparing for this concert since January. Students researched The Cotton Club, Harlem Renaissance era, identified talents, read various literature, poetry, songs and collection of material of their choice," said Evelyn Tyler, FAMU theatre director.

"It was a collaborative effort between students, jazz faculty and theatre to make this product tonight," Tyler added.

Lindsey B. Sarjeant, a professor of music and the music department chairman at FAMU, welcomed students, staff and the community to the concert.

"Each year we try to bring a sense of history to campus. The concept "The Cotton Club" in the decade of the 1930s is going to highlight the music of that period. Not only did you have music, but you had dancers and singers and this program will highlight that. This program will feature music, dance, and poetry, stuff that would normally go on in The Cotton Club," Sarjeant said.  

The Cotton Club, a major club in Harlem during the late 1920s into the 1930s, is a captivating entertainment scene with a wealthy history of amazing entertainers featuring musicians, singers, and dancers. Duke Ellington's numerous exhibitions at The Cotton Club epitomize the style, class, grace, and sophistication of the Harlem Renaissance.

The FAMU Jazz Ensemble offers a Black History Month concert every year. This year the ensemble accommodated the clarinet and the saxophone sections, which is a key component of Duke Ellington's sound.

Robert Griffin, FAMU jazz music director, had a vision with his students to explore styles of Duke Ellington's music. Griffin reached out to the theatre department for visual presentation for The Cotton Club production.

"These components combined with the chronicled setting of the lives of African-Americans amid this time created a teachable moment and driven me to the substance of tonight's performance," Griffin said.

Bailey Haynes, a second-year music education student and a singer at the jazz concert, was recruited to sing in FAMU’s jazz band by Griffin. Haynes said performing in concerts allows her to grow as a person and performer.

"Working with others and having fun, I think it allows me to grow as a singer and jazz singer. This event gives a better understanding of jazz imagery, so we can really see how far music has come and where jazz history originated from," Haynes said.  

The format of the concert commemorated the historical club featuring roundtables (club style) and waitresses that served soft drinks. Over 200 guests attended the production. Special appearances were made by FAMU president Larry Robinson, the first Mr. FAMU Charles Westley Lattimore Jr. and jazz faculty members.