Tyrone Birkett is a saxophonist, composer, producer, and speaker with extensive experience partnering art and social action. As the conceptualist, composer and musical director of the band Tyrone Birkett Emancipation, he has created Postmodern Spirituals, a project that synthesizes jazz language, black church music, soul music & Negro spirituals. Fronted by his saxophone and the declarative vocals of his wife, Paula Ralph Birkett, lyric and melody are enveloped in a sonic environment of intriguing harmonies, funk and jazz rhythmic underpinnings, shaped by painstakingly constructed arrangements that are topped off with virtuosic & soulful improvisation.
An encounter with an audience member on the street after a performance really pushed Tyrone to present this last edition of the band. “After we played our set, a young woman came up to me stating she ‘needed’ the music but we didn’t have CDs at the location. I told her to wait and I’ll get her one, but when I returned, she was gone. She said she 'needed' the CD, not 'wanted' as I remembered her face of desperation. She was in sort of distress and the music provided something for her”. This experience led to creating music that was “necessary”, purposed to bring the hope of freedom song into the 21st century, to provoke social change through art for the benefit of the disinherited and disenfranchised. And a voice against oppression of the soul by our own inner conflicts.
“I want the music to be a catharsis for expressing freedom of heart, mind, and soul. A 'lifting' of the atmosphere at least for a little while”, Tyrone remarks. To that purpose, he assembles a core set of musicians with experience in jazz, r&b and black church music. Musicians that have played with diverse acts such as gospel superstars Mary Mary, jazz trendsetter Jason Moran, r&b mainstays Faith Evans and Kelly Price and a cappella African-American music legends Sweet Honey In The Rocks to name a few. This merger of Jazz sensibilities, with Soul and Spirit music with his own conception brings a multi-dimensional experience to the listener.
For twenty-five years Tyrone has been comfortable in bringing curative and empowering art to concert stages and clubs as well as prisons, hospitals, and schools, what keeps him going?
“The joy of abstract creative ideas, and the imagining of people free and revived, which then becomes sonic realities on stage reviving the audience. It is a quest you want to take on over and over again. I want people to be free.”
Next in that mission is continued presentations of “How Can We Sing In A Strange Land” a talk/performances discussing the Freedom Song; the production of “Those Whose Backs Are Against the Wall”; a multi-movement, multi-disciplinary work on hope to the oppressed and forgotten; and ongoing release of new music in video and audio platforms in the months to come.
Influences: John Coltrane, Stevie Wonder, Steely Dan, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Walter Hawkins. Robert Glasper, Meshell Ndegeocello.
- Malcolm X & Dr. Betty Shabazz Center
- Schomburg Center for Black Culture
- Historic Mother Bethel AME Church, 150 Years of Fighting Freedom, Philadelphia, PA,
- Mattering Forum on Race @ University Settlement NY w/MacArthur Fellow Anna Deavere Smith
- Riverside Theatre at The Riverside Church
- The Greene Space at WNYC
- Blue Note Jazz Club
- Lehman Center for the Performing Arts
- York College Performing Arts Center
- Harlem Arts Festival
- United Nations - Martin Luther King Jr. Day Concert
- Rosa Parks 100th Birthday Commemoration Event in New Haven CT
- Nikki Giovanni book events “On My Journey Now: Looking at African-American History Through the Spirituals.”
- Newark 350 - Bethany Baptist Church, celebrating the 350 Anniversary of the City of Newark
International - Bermuda One in the Sun Festival, Palais des congrès de Montréal (Montreal Convention Center)
In The Fullness of Time, 2006
Postmodern Spirituals, The Promised Land, 2014
Dwyer Cultural Center
Bronx Council on the Arts - 2-time winner of BRIO (The Bronx Recognizes Its Own) Award in Instrumental Music
Puffin Foundation Grant for the Seven Star Suite
Flushing Town Hall Space Grant for “Those Whose Backs Are Against the Wall”