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Classical composer, jazz pianist, conductorby Todd S. Jenkins
Copyright © 2004 Todd S. Jenkins
Composer, pianist and conductor Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson, one of the most respected African-Americans in the classical music community, died of cancer on March 9, 2004. He was 72 years old.
Perkinson graduated from New York City's High School for Music and the Arts in 1949, one year after his choral composition "And Behold" won a school competition. He studied at Manhattan School of Music, receiving his master's degree in composition in 1954. Perkinson played jazz piano for a while, including a year with the Max Roach Quartet from 1964-'65. Immediately afterwards he co-founded the Symphony of the New World. He served as its associate conductor until 1970 and as acting music director in 1972-'73.
Perkinson's principal concentration was on classical music, having written compositions performed by the Chicago Sinfonietta, Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra, and various other performers. He was popular as a guest conductor for symphonies worldwide. But he also loved more popular music and wrote brilliant arrangements for Marvin Gaye, Harry Belafonte and Donald Byrd. Perkinson composed and arranged scores for television and films, including Sidney Poitier's "A Warm December" in 1972. He was composer-in-residence and musical director for a number of companies: Alvin Ailey, Dance Theatre of Harlem, Denver Center for the Performing Arts, American Theatre Lab, Negro Ensemble Company, and others.
From 1998 until his death, Perkinson was Artistic Director of the Performance Program at Columbia College's Center for Black Music Research in Chicago. He was the artistic advisor to Ensemble Stop-Time, a grant-funded group which explored the common ground between jazz, gospel and other black vernacular musics. From 1999 on, he was conductor and music director for the New Black Music Repertory Ensemble. In 2001, he conducted the world premiere of the opera "Doxology: The Doxy Canticles", by librettist Paul Carter Harrison and jazz clarinetist Wendell Logan. At the time of his death Perkinson was serving as composer-in-residence for Jacksonville, Florida's Ritz Chamber Players.
Perkinson is survived by his daughter, Joetté Thompson, and grandchildren LaFrance T. "Trey" Smith III and Skylar Thompson of Kansas City, Missouri; sister Beverly Perkinson Thomas, nieces Monica and Michelle Thomas, and nephew Curtis Thomas, all of Houston, Texas; and various cousins and other family members.
Todd S. Jenkins
Todd S. Jenkins is a member of the JJA, author of Free Jazz and Free Improvisation: An Encyclopedia (Greenwood Press, 2004) and I Know What I Know: The Music of Charles Mingus (Praeger, 2006), and a contributor to Down Beat, All About Jazz, American Songwriter and Route 66 Magazine.