There is something undeniably electrifying about being in the same room as someone who is completely herself. It is the common denominator of every world-changer throughout history, such as the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whom pianist and speaker Jade Simmons honored this weekend with her tribute concert titled “The Art of Impact.”
A classical pianist since the ripe old age of 8 years old, Jade has since additionally become a highly sought-after speaker, activist, author, and performance artist, as she gradually realized that her God-given purpose was not just to play the piano.
Through storytelling and music, Jade Simmons illustrated how she came to understand her purpose of empowering others by coming back to the the things that came most naturally to her. She established her classical chops as she performed Rachmaninov, Beethoven, and Chopin, but also demonstrated her affinity for rhythm and rap through her own unique arrangements for piano and electronics.
In the middle of the show, Mrs. Simmons started talking about the responsibility all artists and educators (both amateur and professional) have to share the spotlight with others. She made some excellent points, but honestly, I don’t remember much of what she said on this matter, because before I knew it she had called the name of my classmate, jazz piano major Brendon Davis, to join her onstage, followed by my name…
Brendon and I had met Jade Simmons after a career talk she gave to SMTD students a few days before this performance, but she managed to remember our names, instruments, and promise to attend her concert. We had no idea she would call us out during the performance, but soon we were improvising at the piano altogether. She played an atmospheric, chromatic figure in the middle register, while Brendon took the bass and I took the treble range. I couldn’t tell you what we played. All I remember is feeling my heart pounding with excitement, feeling slightly concerned that I might fall off the crowded bench, and loving every note that cascaded from the three of us working selflessly together––not trying to impress anyone, only making the music that we loved together. It was powerful. I will remember that moment for a very, very long time.
The sole unifying factor behind the classical repertoire, improvisation, electronic music, and rap that made up this concert adventure was Jade Simmons. She was, at all times, her complete self. Certain types of music might not have appealed to everyone in the room, but no one could deny the excellence and authenticity behind every aspect of her performance. That’s what was so inspiring. People left Stamps Auditorium feeling like they, too, could accomplish their dreams by being their complete selves.
The evening ended with a Q&A session between Jade Simmons and Dean Dworkin, in which she shared her philosophies of the artist’s role in society and opened up about the failures she experienced in her life which propelled her to the place she is today. Now, she says, whenever she experiences failure, she becomes excited about what better opportunity will rise to take its place.
SMTD Composition and Violin Performance double major Stuart Carlson joined Jade Simmons for the final piece, which was his own arrangement of “Amazing Grace” for violin and piano. Stuart’s stunning, gentle tone sparkled alongside Jade’s improvised embellishments to the arrangement, which Stuart had encouraged her to add. The result was the sound of two people collaborating selflessly, sharing themselves with a touched audience. “How sweet the sound,” indeed!