Artist Profile: Jade Simmons

jade-simmonsHoning her musical creativity and electrifying audiences worldwide is merely the warm up for Jade Simmons. The Yamaha pianist, whose mission is to “expand the boundaries of classical music,” seeks nothing short of a musical revolution.

Simmons recently joined the Yamaha Artist roster, which includes acclaimed pianists such as Abbey Simon, Frederic Chiu, Alexander Kobrin, Oxana Yablonskaya, Olga Kern, Maria Joao Pires, Elton John, Alicia Keys, Gavin DeGraw and Norah Jones.

A musical force of nature, Simmons champions a diverse mix of repertoire from the classics to the cutting edge, designs her own concert wear, writes articles on the arts, and maintains a busy performing, speaking and lecturing schedule. Simmons will also serve as the inaugural host for the Cliburn Competition’s first interactive live Webcast later this month. This confluence of imagination, talent and drive resulted in Simmons being named as one of Ebony Magazine’s 2007 “Young Leaders Under 30.”

According to the former Miss Illinois and 1st-runner up at the 2000 Miss America Pageant, her affiliation with Yamaha “was inevitable”. Recently, when considering some of her most significant and successful performances, it became clear which brand she had come to rely on the most.

“The one thing that was consistent was Yamaha; I really believe in their product,” said Simmons. “There’s a consistency there that is lacking with other brands. There’s a comfort level there. Even when you don’t have time to warm up, when your fingers are cold, a Yamaha piano will work with you and not against you.”

The Charleston, South Carolina native recently experienced the CFIIIS concert grand piano at a recent performance Dublin, Georgia. “I was drawn to it because of the variation in colour, and the responsive action of the keys,” she recalls. “It was 4:30 and I only intended to practice 15 minutes. I didn’t leave until 7:30 when it was time to change for the performance. Despite being road weary, the instrument made me want to practice.”

“Jade is the kind of artist you formally welcome into the fold after, it turns out, you’ve been working together all along,” says Yamaha Artist Services Director James Steeber. “She makes a brilliant impression, has a presence which fills the room, and plays with authority and dedication – something which benefits Yamaha tremendously. Additionally, her outreach to young people in the name of classical music is vital.”

Simmons’ latest CD release, Revolutionary Rhythm is the first installment of “The Rhythm Project” which features repertoire that capitalises on the piano’s rhythmic and percussive nature. This connection was nurtured by her father, who plays African drums, and her mother, who plays piano. An avid bucket drummer, Simmons enthusiastically drummed with her high school and college marching bands (“number 4 bass, baby!”).

According to the artist, Revolutionary Rhythm reflects her affinities and influences, highlighting American composers Samuel Barber, John Corigliano, Russell Pinkston and in pieces by DBR, she is complemented by Hip-Hop beats she co-produced. She sums up the recording as “the musical story of a pianist enamored with rhythm, indebted to classical music, drawn to modern music and surrounded by technology and popular culture.”

After a recent performance at the CD launch, an admirer offered Simmons “one of the best compliments I ever received. He said, ‘I feel like am witnessing the beginning of a movement.’ That personifies what I am trying to do. I want people to leave enjoying the whole musical package.”

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Since her days as Miss Illinois, Simmons has spoken across the country to great acclaim, offering humorous and inspiring presentations as part of her “Where Do You Stand?!” speaking series. “The most fulfilling part of my touring is going to schools and community centers, speaking with kids and encouraging them to find their passion.” She has appeared on a variety of radio and television programs speaking on topics from the arts to youth suicide prevention, a cause that she’s “passionate about”.

As an advocate for the arts in education, she has created a presentation entitled “Mozart on the Move” for elementary school students. “My message is don’t let someone look at you and limit you,” says Simmons, who grew up listening to Lauren Hill and Missy Elliott, and is drawn to Beethoven, Timbaland and Rachmaninoff. “I am careful to say that what I do, meaning classical music, is not better than popular music,” adding that “the mixing of genres feels like second nature to me.”

At the 2000 Miss America Pageant, Simmons performed Chopin’s Etude in C-sharp minor, Op.10 No.4 live, before a television audience of millions. In 2006, she became the first ever New Music, New Places Fellow for the esteemed Concert Artists Guild organization. Under this initiative, she helps to build new audiences and generate interest in concert music by bringing traditional and new works to non-traditional and alternative venues.

Recent engagements include Symphony Hall with the Chicago Sinfonietta, Seattle’s Meany Hall, Detroit’s Institute of the arts, the National Academy of Sciences in Washington D.C. and New York’s Town Hall, Merkin Hall and Symphony Space. A soloist, recitalist and chamber musician, her performances have been broadcast on PBS and National Public Radio affiliates. Abroad, she has performed in Spain, France, Greece, Italy and The Canary Islands.

Winner of numerous awards and scholarships, Simmons is a graduate of Rice University’s prestigious Shepherd School of Music and received her Master of Piano Performance degree as a Provost Fellow. In 2001, she completed her undergraduate work at Northwestern University, where she co-founded the popular percussion and dance ensemble Boomshaka! As a follow up, Simmons formed the progressive, contemporary Collide Trio which performs a mash up of hip-hop, electronica and art music.

Simmons is Founder and Artistic Director of The Impulse Artist Series, which provides performance opportunities and career building support for emerging pianists. “It’s increasingly important that students coming out of art and music schools to present something different and exciting,” Simmons notes. “You have to be creative. I am lucky that I found a platform that is not a gimmick, but allows me to express myself as an artist.”

Simmons’ artistic and life philosophies seem to converge in her CD liner notes, where she writes: “If we’re lucky, when we die maybe a handful of people will remember us vividly. If we’re really fortunate, we will leave this earth having made an indelible impact, having rebelled for a purpose, having revolutionized something.”

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