As a student at Saks High School, Gary Motley was more interested in science
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.
See story at The Anniston Star's website: www.annistonstar.com