Spotlight On: Anna Wray

Anna Wray

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Resist x Improvise: An Evening for Roscoe Mitchell
Tuesday, June 5, 2018 @ 8:00 pm

Tell us about yourself and what you do.

I am a percussionist living in Bushwick, Brooklyn. I perform avant-garde jazz and new classical music and am starting to learn more about Brazilian and Cuban rhythms. Some of my favorite artists in New York right now are So Percussion, Roomful of Teeth, and Zeena Parkins. I currently study with Josh Quillen.

I was born in 1991 in Park Slope and went to the children’s YWCA program next door to Roulette. When I was five, my family, who had lived in a huge Fort Greene brownstone for nearly twenty years, moved to an old house in Sleepy Hollow, NY. I began studying music when I was six, first piano and then percussion, in private studios. The public schools also had great music programs with jazz ensembles, orchestras and musicals. I remain close to the directors at Sleepy Hollow’s Junior and High schools, offering workshops and participating in the music honor society.

After high school, I spent a number of years on the West Coast, first in Oakland, CA to attend Mills College where I pursued percussion performance, studying with percussionist William Winant and improvisation with Roscoe Mitchell. I continued my musical studies at CalArts in Los Angeles, receiving an MFA in percussion performance, studying Brazilian, Indonesian, Electronics, African, and North Indian music with percussionists, Randy Gloss, Amy Knoles, and David Johnson. After my masters, I taught full time as a general music teacher at an elementary school in Compton, Los Angeles. It was one of the most rewarding experiences in my life. I’m still in touch with my students. I returned to New York in 2017 to live closer to my family. I missed seeing my niece and nephew grow up and I really missed the New York Yankees. Also, New York City is the city where many artistic collaborations are happening.

Describe the project you are developing for Roulette.

I wrote Roscoe Mitchell in 2016, asking if he would consider writing a new work for vibraphone. He agreed, as I saved up money at my cafe job for his commission. A few months rolled by and I wanted to make more music with my good friends, Marilu Donovan and Christopher Foss, so I asked Roscoe if he could create a new work for vibraphone, harp and bassoon. In response, he told me that he had a baritone piece he wrote for Thomas Buckner and piano, that might work well with this new orchestration. We contacted my colleague, and Roscoe’s former student, Daniel Steffey to orchestra the virtuosic piano part for vibraphone, harp and bassoon. I then asked my dear friend Michael Lofton to join us as our baritone voice for the quartet. I’ve wanted to work with Michael my whole life, so I’m excited for our first performance together. One of my first memories of seing Michael perform was in the NYC Opera production of Carmen. (Unfortunately, I was crying as the curtain went up, rather than when Carmen dies, because my mother made me kill my pet Tamagotchi when she discovered it in my pocket. I hadn’t considered the noise it could make during the performance. You couldn’t turn off a Tamagotchi, without killing it. But it had become a level 4 frog from a tadpole! I must have fed the Tamagotchi in the middle of the night for weeks. However, seeing Michael in a blonde wig made everything okay.)

As the program develops, I have invited more of my colleagues to join the program, such as Brian Adler’s Human Time Machine. Through discussions with Brian Adler and Michael Lofton, we decide to focus this evening’s performance on African American social justice and equality.

What is your favorite place to eat or drink near Roulette?

Bedouin Tent, which is around the corner of Atlantic Avenue and Bond Street (Cash only!)

What is your favorite record?
The Harder They Come soundtrack (Jimmy Cliff! Toots!), Live at Roseland, NYC by Portishead, David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust, and Metamorphosis by Philip Glass. Some of these albums I grew up with, while others were introduced to me at significant times in my life. I constantly return to them, listening to the album in entirety. Each time, I find new musical elements and textures, as well as new meanings from the lyrics.

What is influencing your work right now?
Brian Adler’s Human Time Machine. Brian has taken the time to meet with me and explore more ways to approach rhythm. Such as, focusing on syncopation as a downbeat, seamlessly switching from a triplet feel to a sixteenth note feel, and developing patterns in 5. Performing in the Human Time Machine is helping me develop my voice as an improviser.

What artists are you interested in right now?
I’m interested in The Knife and MIA. Their ability to create dance songs that include a powerful political message blows me away. I love that these two artists have a sound that is so distinct, and clearly their own. I find that empowering and I hope to one day find my own.

Describe Roulette in three words.
Safe, encouraging, loving