African American pianist and composer Valerie Capers
African American pianist and composer Valerie Capers was born into a musical family that introduced her to classical and jazz music. Her father was a jazz pianist, her brother played tenor sax, and family friends included Fats Waller and Ramón Santamaría Rodríguez.
At age six, Valerie contracted a severe streptococcal infection which took her sight, but that did not stop her from pursuing the music she loved. While attending the New York Institute for the Blind, she learned Braille music notation from her piano teacher, Elizabeth Thode. Thanks to her encouragement, Valerie continued her music studies at the prestigious Julliard School, obtaining her bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and becoming the first blind graduate of the school.
Upon graduation, her brother encouraged her to study jazz and begin composing. Although initially she had trouble getting a teaching job, she eventually was hired by the Manhattan School of Music, where she was an advisor to blind students and developed a jazz curriculum.
Her compositions incorporate elements of jazz, gospel, blues, and classical, and include a Christmas cantata titled Sing About Love, and Sojourner, a work described as an "operatorio" about the life of Sojourner Truth. In 2000 a book of Capers’ intermediate jazz piano compositions was published, “so that piano students who were being trained classically could be exposed to jazz.” And in November 2022, Dr. Capers Trio accepted a month-long residency of weekly performances of originals and standards at Lincoln Center’s Sidewalk Studio.
WXXI Classical promotes and supports inclusion for musicians of all abilities through programming and special events. WXXI’s Move to Include Initiative is made possible by a generous grant from the Golisano Foundation.
MUSIC: Valerie Capers: Sweet Mr. Jelly Roll - William Chapman Nyaho, piano, CD MSR 1708
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