Home » Jazz Articles » Live Review » Weather Bird: Sullivan Fortner and Ambrose Akinmusire at...


Weather Bird: Sullivan Fortner and Ambrose Akinmusire at Rackham Auditorium

Weather Bird: Sullivan Fortner and Ambrose Akinmusire at Rackham Auditorium

Courtesy C. Andrew Hovan


Sign in to view read count
Weather Bird: Sullivan Fortner and Ambrose Akinmusire
Rackham Auditorium
27th Performance of the UMS 145th Annual Season
Ann Arbor, MI
March 22, 2024

When it comes to its annual concert series, Ann Arbor's University Musical Society utilizes Hill Auditorium and the Michigan Theater as the venues for the majority of its performances. When this rare appearance of pianist Sullivan Fortner and trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire was set to take place at another performance space on the campus of the University of Michigan, Rackham Auditorium, it seemed to be somewhat of an unusual choice of location.

Looking closer at the history of Rackham and at Fortner and Akinmusire's impetus for their performance, the choice seemed sagacious and very logical. Built in 1938 with funds from an endowment left by Detroit lawyer Horace Rackham, the 1040-seat auditorium boasts velvet seats and a gold-leafed ceiling. Usually the home for chamber music concerts, the hall's refined acoustics are superb. In fact, no microphones were used at all for a generous set that found Fortner and Akinmusire saluting a 1928 recording by Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines that might be the most famous jazz duet in history.

The aforementioned recording is specifically known as "Weather Bird" and it would be one of many vintage-era pieces chosen for a stunning and lengthy performance that was a revelation for fans of both artists. Akinmusire is better known for his left of center approach and avant-garde muse. Yet, he demonstrated a total mastery of his horn that was a wonder to behold. Between his mature use of dynamics and perfect intonation, Akinmusire laid claim to being one of the finest musicians of his generation. From his own "Owl Song" to "When It's Sleepy Time Down South," the breath of expression was highly appealing.

Not to be outdone, Fortner responded to the trumpeter's every move, matching the temperament from abstract to celebratory. He also revealed his own wide-ranging mastery of the piano lexicon. Be it the stride approach he applied to "Rosetta" or the rollicking swing of "West End Blues," Fortner verified himself to be a master of many styles. Although an intermission was slated to be in the offing, midway through the evening, Fortner picked up his microphone and announced that the pair was having so much fun that they intended to keep playing. A charismatic and delightful personality, he discussed the motivation for this project and the pieces that they had chosen.

As the evening reached its conclusion, Akinmusire took an opportunity to wax poetic about one of his main inspirations, the late Roy Hargrove. The well-chosen selection of "Nature Boy" brought forth burnished tones and a mature statement from the trumpeter that left the large crowd feeling enriched by this most inspired jazz pairings.




For the Love of Jazz
Get the Jazz Near You newsletter All About Jazz has been a pillar of jazz since 1995, championing it as an art form and, more importantly, supporting the musicians who create it. Our enduring commitment has made "AAJ" one of the most culturally important websites of its kind, read by hundreds of thousands of fans, musicians and industry figures every month.

You Can Help
To expand our coverage even further and develop new means to foster jazz discovery and connectivity we need your help. You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky ads plus provide access to future articles for a full year. This winning combination will vastly improve your AAJ experience and allow us to vigorously build on the pioneering work we first started in 1995. So enjoy an ad-free AAJ experience and help us remain a positive beacon for jazz by making a donation today.




Get more of a good thing!

Our weekly newsletter highlights our top stories, our special offers, and upcoming jazz events near you.