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1 February 2008

Anniston Native to be Featured at Foothills Piano Festival

Blair Eddings won first place in black and white photography during the JSU Department of Art Student Show at Hammond Hall. Photo: Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star

By Shawn Ryan
Star Entertainment Editor

Reprinted here in its entirety.

As a student at Saks High School, Gary Motley was more interested in science than Chopin.

Oh, the 1979 Saks graduate played piano, including key-tickling for various drama club productions and other school what-nots. But it wasn't until he got to the University of Alabama as an undergrad that his focus zeroed in on music.

"The moment for me, I think, was hearing the Mitchell-Ruff Duo," Motley says from his office at Atlanta's Emory University, where he's director of the Jazz Studies program. "They came to the university around 1983 and hearing them just blew me away. I said, 'Yeah, I gotta deal with this.' "

Pianist Dwike Mitchell and bassist/French horn player Willie Ruff, both of whom are black, were the first jazz musicians to play the Soviet Union, going there in 1979, and the first to tour China, playing there in 1981. Ruff was born in Florence and now teaches at Yale.

Motley, who has performed with such renowned jazz players as Jon Faddis, Jon Hendricks and Kenny Garrett, took inspiration from Mitchell-Ruff and, after leaving the University of Alabama, earned degrees from the University of Montevallo and Georgia State University

These days, when not teaching, he spends a good bit of time composing music, both for his own projects and others'. His own works include a series of tribute CDs called Echoes of ..., highlighting the music of Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday and Dave Brubeck, as well as his own music some solo, some with the Gary Motley Trio on Everything I Love, Keypers, Compassion and Peaceful Moments. He also has composed music for such Broadway productions as P. Diddy's Raisin in the Sun and Whoopi Goldberg's Ma Rainey's Black Bottom.

In addition, he tours colleges around the country, giving performances and classes at such schools as Purdue University, Yale and Columbia University. The past 20 years have seen a spike in interest for jazz education, Motley says, and the opportunities for a career in music are wider.

"There are tons of kids who are interested in jazz, a lot of really good kids coming along," he says. "It's going to be tough to find gigs in music in general, but there are different opportunities. It's not like it was 50 years ago when you were playing in the clubs. Now it ranges from studio work to going out and doing concerts, to taking jazz into the schools and performing for kids, to film scoring."

Last year, Motley played Carnegie Hall for the first time at an Emory alumni event. In March, he returns for a second performance, this time accompanying Australian clarinetist/saxophonist Andy Firth. There's no way to accurately describe the feeling he gets when playing the famous hall, he says.

"It's a very moving experience," he says. "When you think of all the people who played there ... And 80 years ago this year is when (black pianist) Teddy Wilson played with Benny Goodman, the first integrated jazz concert."

About Shawn Ryan

Shawn Ryan is the travel editor and entertainment editor for The Star.

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