Crosstown Arts to Host Mellotron Variations Series
Multidisciplinary event to feature dance, film, performances, and more
Crosstown Arts is pleased to present Mellotron Variations, a series of original musical compositions for the Mellotron that will be performed live alongside newly created multidisciplinary installations.
The free and open-to-the-public, multi-day festival kicks off on Tuesday, April 17 with a series of collaborative performances at Crosstown Arts in Crosstown Concourse. The main event — a Mellotron performance featuring Pat Sansone of Wilco and John Medeski from Medeski, Martin, & Wood alongside Memphis-based musicians Robby Grant and Jonathan Kirkscey — is scheduled for Saturday, April 21 with a reprise brunch planned for Sunday, April 22, both events held at Crosstown Arts.
Mellotron Variations was made possible by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, which Crosstown Arts was awarded earlier this year. The grant was one of 1,029 Art Works grants ranging from $10,000 to $100,000 awarded to fund local arts projects across the country.
The kick-off event on April 17 will feature a dance performance by New Ballet Ensemble with Lucero keyboardist Rick Steff on the Mellotron. Memphis Symphony Orchestra (MSO) horn player Robert Patterson will then debut new compositions which focus on the Mellotron in collaboration with MSO musicians. The evening will close with a premiere of a documentary featuring Memphis-based keyboardist Audie Smith.
On Saturday, April 21 at 7 p.m., Sansone and Medeski will join Kirkscey and Grant in a performance of original works for the Mellotron. Guests will have a chance to discuss the performance on Sunday, April 22 at noon at a reprise brunch that will include open discussion, a Q&A session with the performers, and encore presentations of the preview event.
This event aims to highlight the Mellotron’s role as a unique pillar in music sampling technology. The Mellotron was the world’s first pre-digital sampling keyboard, dating back to the 1960s. Each key plays a ribbon tape of pre-recorded instrument sounds. It was the precursor to the widespread use of digital sampling used in hip-hop, rap, and other contemporary music.
In April 2016, Crosstown Arts hosted a hugely popular live Mellotron performance featuring Kirkscey and Grant. That performance was recorded and made available via a limited-edition, pressed vinyl record titled Duets for Mellotron.
“We didn’t have any lofty goals for the shows in 2016, just to present a concert that we would like to see,” Mellotron Variations’ organizer Grant said. “For these upcoming performances, we want to push ourselves further by expanding the scope of our section with bigger visuals and new collaborators while also opening it up to other musicians and artists to see what they will do. Working with Crosstown Arts and getting the NEA grant has allowed us to do that.”
Robby Grant is a songwriter, performer, and producer who has recorded and released records over the past 15 years under both his name and the moniker Vending Machine. He spent the 1990s co-fronting and touring the country with Big Ass Truck and currently plays with the garage pop group Mouserocket.
Jonathan Kirkscey is a composer, cellist, and producer who performs regularly with the Memphis Symphony Orchestra and Mouserocket, and is a co-founder of Blueshift Ensemble, a contemporary classical chamber ensemble. As a film composer, Jonathan has scored several award-winning documentaries including Best of Enemies, directed by Morgan Neville, and Won’t You Be My Neighbor, a film about Fred Rogers which premieres in January 2018 at the Sundance film festival.
Winston Eggleston is a woodworker and avid collector of Mellotrons (he recently built one from scratch).
John Markham is a videographer and collaborates with the experimental group >mancontrol<. Together they created the oil-based light show that accompanied 2015’s Duets for Mellotron performance.
Pat Sansone is a multi-instrumentalist (guitar, keyboard, percussion, harpsichord) from the bands Wilco and The Autumn Defense.
John Medeski is an American jazz keyboard player and composer. Medeski is a veteran of New York’s 1990s avant-garde jazz scene and is known popularly as a member of Medeski Martin & Wood.
Robert G. Patterson is a resident composer with the Luna Nova Ensemble. Recent accomplishments include commissions from Opera Memphis, the One Coin Concert series in Osaka, Japan, and First Prize in the NATS Art Song Composition Award. In addition to his musical activities, Patterson also has been a professional software developer, and his interest in computers led him to become an expert in musical engraving using a computer.
New Ballet Ensemble and School is a thriving after school dance program in the heart of Midtown Memphis, founded in 2001. Dancers from all over the Mid-South fill their studios six days a week, training and exploring cultural forms of dance alongside a strong classical ballet curriculum. New Ballet Ensemble was awarded the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award in 2014, recognizing the country’s best creative youth development programs for using engagement in the arts and the humanities to increase self-direction, academic achievement, graduation rates, and college enrollment.