Shabaka Hutchings & Knoxville Symphony Orchestra
“My core vocabulary is jazz, but I’m not trying to have the energy of someone in a suit standing stationary in front of a microphone giving a nice round sound,” Shabaka Hutchings has said. “I’m trying to just spit out fire.”
The avatar of a young London jazz scene enjoying a creative ferment unheard since the 1960s, Hutchings draws effortlessly disruptive inspiration from UK club music, U.S. hip-hop, and the calypso and soca of his youth in Barbados. His groups—most prominently Sons of Kemet, The Comet Is Coming, and Shabaka & the Ancestors—are literally redefining jazz, extracting its core of American blues to make space for the unrestricted interplay of global styles. Though he is usually cited as a saxophonist first, his rapport with the clarinet, which he picked up in school band in Barbados and then studied in London at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, reveals yet another dimension of his artistry, poised on the threshold of classical and jazz.
In 2020, Hutchings joined Britten Sinfonia at the Barbican to play Aaron Copland’s concerto for clarinet, strings, and harp. Instant repertory after Benny Goodman premiered it, the piece is a classical lens on jazz that Hutchings spins around with “circular-breathing technique that will have had woodwind nerds in ecstasies and everyone else on the edge of their seat,” according to The Guardian. At Big Ears, Hutchings performs the clarinet concerto with the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra led by Aram Demirjian, who won the prestigious Sir Georg Solti Conducting Award in 2020. The program will run roughly 75 minutes and will include other orchestral work that ties together themes and threads of the festival.