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  • Writer's pictureJim Bessman

Great performances, big awards to Valerie Simpson and Melinda Wagner mark ASCAP Foundation Awards

ASCAP Foundation Awards

From left, Valerie Simpson, ASCAP Foundation president Paul Williams, Melinda Wagner and ASCAP Foundation executive director Colleen McDonough

The coveted awards aside, last night’s 23rd annual ASCAP Foundation Awards presentation at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Frederick P. Rose Hall was spectacular in terms of winners’ performances.

First up was Alexis Lamb, recipient of the Morton Gould Young Composer Award for her berimbau song cycle Meia, of which she performed a sample on the bow-shaped Brazilian single-string/percussion instrument. Using a stick, Lamb beat out different notes and rhythms on the berimbau’s string, as well as the gourd attached to the middle of the bow--all while also sounding a shaker held alongside the stick. The performance proved riveting visually as well as sonically.

Musical theater songwriter/performer Joe Iconis, who received the Richard Rodgers New Horizons Award, played piano for vocalist George Salazar on “Michael in the Bathroom,” from Iconis’s forthcoming Broadway musical and film Be More Chill—and it was fabulous. After accepting the Desmond Child Anthem Award personally from Child, Kari Egilsson legitimated it with a piano solo. Madeleine Anderson, winner of the Leon Brettler Award, played guitar on an original country song that should be a hit.

The event ended with the two biggest awards, both tendered by the ASCAP Foundation itself. Its Masters Award went to Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Melinda Wagner, who remarked that music “represents the best in humans”—and is so much needed now. One of her works was then played on piano by Geoffrey Burleson, himself a celebrated musician and professor of music/director of piano studies at New York’s Hunter College.

Presenting the George M. Cohan/Friars Foundation Award to Valerie Simpson, ASCAP Foundation president Paul Williams, who with his wife Mariana had earlier handed the Mariana & Paul Williams Sunlight of the Spirit Award to Cassie Holt and Evan Miller, did the same with Simpson’s award, hailing her for her “generous heart.”

“She’s always giving,” said Williams, characterizing Simpson as “a hybrid of genius and kindness in one human being.”

Simpson added humility to the mix in suggesting “they must have run out of people if they have to give me an award this year,” then strode over to the piano.

“I was going to sing ‘Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand)’ but I feel like we’re in church already,” she said, adding, of the ASCAP Foundation, “it’s touched so many lives and young minds [that] I wouldn’t want to preach to the choir.”

Stating that she’s reached a point in her life where “it really is about the giving,” she promised “never to tie you down, I want you to keep me around”—a lead-in, of course, to her classic Motown composition “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” written with her late husband/creative partner Nick Ashford, her soul-deep performance for the SRO invited crowd bringing it to its collective feet.

Incidentally, Simpson turned over the honor of presenting the annual “Reach Out and Touch” Award in Honor of Nick Ashford to daughters Nicole and Asia Ashford, who did an admirable job, as did recipient Ryan Shaw in his vocal performance celebrating it.

The ASCAP Foundation is a public charity dedicated to nurturing the music talent of tomorrow, preserving the legacy of the past, and sustaining the creative incentive for today’s music creators. It serves the music community through a variety of educational, professional, and humanitarian programs and activities, focusing primarily on supporting music education and encouraging aspiring songwriters, composers and lyricists.

George Salazar sings Joe Iconis's "Michael in the Bathroom"



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