Guyanese pianist pays tribute to Gershwin

Guyanese pianist Hugh Sam at his recital.
Photo by Tangerine Clarke

For more than 20 years, commanding pianist, Hugh Sam has shared his talents and inspired many along his path of excellence. But on Feb. 17, many more had the great opportunity to experience his genius when he paid tribute to late, great, composer, George Gershwin, whose compositions spanned both popular and classical genres.

The overture was the beginning of an enchanting evening, of enjoyable arpeggios and harmonious music at the Third Street Music School in New York City. Sam’s use of the piano keys was euphony to the ear, as he played “Our love is here to stay,” “I’ve got rhythm,” “I love you Porgy,” followed by “S’wonderful.”

The melodies flowed fluently through every note that Sam played, as he synchronized movement of the pedal with the notes on the piano. His experience as a seasoned musician showed throughout Gershwin’s beautifully written selections. “Summertime,” “I’ve got plenty of nuttin,” and “It ain’t necessary so” from the movie, “Porgy and Bess.”

The musician’s presentation kept the audience transfixed, as he criss-crossed his hands in a lyrical movement, playing classics, “Embraceable You,” “Somebody Loves Me” and “They Can’t take that Away from Me,” accompanied by tenor Dale Smith.

The audience was swept away by the shared presentation of Sam and his sons, Andre and Greg. Together, they played, “Two Songs for Jazz Trio – But Not For Me” and “They all Laughed” that garnered a standing ovation.

It was fitting that Sam played “My Funny Valentine,” to end his recital, during the season of love, and roses.

Before immigrating to London from Guyana in 1967, where he studied at the Guildhall School of Music, Sam wrote the score for the Bauxite Company’s documentary and performed at prestigious events and historic buildings in his homeland.

In addition to writing two musicals, he arranged music for a steel orchestra, and recorded several jazz albums featuring saxophonist Harry Whittaker and late greats, drummer Art Broomes and bassist Maurice Watson.

His entrance to the music scene in New York opened new vistas and opportunities that inspired him to obtain a degree in music, which he stated was an achievement, while having to work, study, and take care of his family.

He loves American composers and is an avid connoisseur of jazz music, and thanks to his children, he is very versed in pop and motion picture music.

The University of the West Indies Steel Ensemble and Guyanese Ray Luck performed Sam’s “Trinidadian Rhapsody” for piano and steel orchestra. Due to this incredible body of work, Sam received a Caribbean Sunshine Award for his contribution to culture in the region. He was also presented with the Guyana Cultural Award for Excellence.

He has arranged Christmas songs for the New York Housing Symphony Orchestra, and an orchestral composition of “A Tale of Two Rivers” performed in Russia in 2005, and mentioned in the local newspaper, Pravda.

“I have been given many opportunities, and the Lord has been good to me,” said the composer, whose goal is to record Guyanese and Caribbean folk songs in the style of composers such as Chopin, Brahms, and Gershwin, he told, Caribbean Life.

Hugh Sam, center with sons, Andre and Greg, before taking the stage.
Photo by Tangerine Clarke

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