PEM Imagine Gala goers are in for a music performance to remember. Boston-based producer and musician Kimon Kirk conceptualized a music lounge experience complete with the musical prowess of Jamie Edwards, virtuosic guitar performance of Duke Levine and his own expressive singing and guitar playing as the Kimon Kirk Trio. PEM’s commitment to creative expression in music is ramping up. Evident in the new museum-based composer-in-residence program, this unprecedented Gala music lounge experience underlines this trend. Guests can stop in to relax and listen throughout the night in the music lounge located in the East India Marine Hall. For a closer look at their creative process, I asked Jamie, Duke and Kimon a few questions about the performances they have in store:
How does imagination play into your musicianship?
Kimon Kirk: I hope that imagination plays a significant role in a person’s musicianship. It can be a tricky thing to conjure on command, but I think all the best musicians play with imagination and inventiveness. One of my favorite musicians once said that he’s never satisfied with a performance unless something happens in it that he didn’t expect, and there’s a part of me that feels that way too. It doesn’t have to be an obvious event — sometimes even the smallest surprising moment can transform a song or performance. I really value imagination in songwriting and album production too. It’s the most wonderful thing when you can “hear” a musician’s imagination when he or she is singing, improvising or composing. In some ways I value it above anything else. In a more global way, to use your imagination to envision a better place than where you are is a bold notion, and I think an important one.
Duke Levine: Imagination is the key to original composition, improvisation, and ultimately your personal style on your instrument. Some of what I try to do, especially with my own music, is to take a vocabulary that comes from the great guitar playing of 1950s/60s country music and use it in more modern, or harmonically different settings.
Jamie Edwards: When I write and arrange music, I imagine sounds, melodies, harmonies, rhythms etc. which I then realize with instruments. I guess imagination IS my process! I think in the past I would improvise to generate ideas but now they are usually in my head. Lyrics are very often a catalyst for musical ideas. They spark imagination.
We talk a lot about creating transformative experiences at PEM. Do you try and create transformative experiences with your music?
Kimon Kirk: Without meaning to sound too highfalutin, yes. A transformative experience can occur in lots of ways — sometimes music can transform a specific event, or change the way you think about something. I think John Lennon may have done that with his song “Imagine,” and you could argue that the Beatles transformed the face of popular music and the role of artists in society by how they carried themselves as musicians and as people. On a smaller level, I really do hope that a performance changes an audience somehow. At its best, music can alter an audience’s mood and open people up to new emotions – it can excite, agitate, uplift, create sadness, or just plain entertain. Jamie Edwards and Duke Levine are transformative musicians because of how thoughtful, creative, skilled and committed they are as players and people. They bring so much to a project and a performance.
Duke Levine: I guess you could say that the act of improvising with a group, something we do, would naturally transform a composition into something new, every time. As for the audience, I would hope that they’re looking for an experience that “takes them somewhere.” The best music makes you feel any number of emotions, triggers memories, sights, smells. So, yeah, I would hope that what we play can do that for listeners.
Jamie Edwards: I may try at times to consciously create a transformative experience when writing lyrics, but with music I’m generally trying to express a mood or feeling or document something that I think is sonically interesting. Perhaps all music is transformative if it changes your mood.
How did you make your set list for the Gala?
Kimon Kirk: I don’t usually plan setlists very far in advance, but I can say that they often depend upon what the setting or venue is like, and who might be listening. For PEM’s gala I really want to make sure that the material suits the space, and I also want to make sure to play material that showcases Duke and Jamie well. They of course can play anything and are amazing at all that they do. This performance at PEM feels like a chance to explore some new sonic territory and try out some music and sounds that we haven’t played before.
Duke Levine: It’ll be pretty typical of what I do with my band on any given night. The line-up varies, so I’ll always try to make sure whatever set I put together will highlight whoever is with me. And, lucky for me, they are all genuinely brilliant musicians.
Jamie Edwards: My piano set list was made by considering the event, the space and the audience. My electronic set list (which I’m still putting together!) comes from the same considerations but also the strengths and limitations of the instruments I’ll be using. There’s also the intent to hopefully entertain at times and present some material that might be sonically unexpected.
Jamie Edwards is a musical talent: a multi-instrumentalist, composer and songwriter whose studio and touring work has taken him around the world with a who’s who of diverse artists including Aimee Mann, Michael Bublé, Sarah McLachlan, Ben Gibbard, The Cult, Lori McKenna, Ron Sexsmith, Grant-Lee Phillips, Nelly Furtado and Bryan Adams. He was the music director for Italian performance artist Maria Cassi’s “My Life With Men And Other Animals” directed by Peter Schneider (Lion King producer). His compositions include pop songs, piano music and electronic music. At PEM’s gala this expert pianist and synthesizer specialist will be performing his original compositions for solo keyboard.
Guitarist Robert “Duke” Levine was born and raised in Worcester, MA. He moved to Boston to study music and graduated from the New England Conservatory. In addition to releasing four records of instrumental guitar music, Duke Levine divides his time between the studio and the road. He has recorded and/or performed live with Mary Chapin Carpenter, Peter Wolf, Rosanne Cash, Lee Ann Womack, The J. Geils Band, Aimee Mann, Jonatha Brooke, Kathy Mattea, The Del Fuegos, Otis Rush, The Boston Pops, Bono and many others. TV appearances include The Late Show with David Letterman, The Tonight Show, Late Show with Conan O’Brien, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, Austin City Limits and Soundstage. You can hear his playing on film scores such as “Lone Star,” “The Opposite Of Sex,” “Passion Fish,” “Honeydripper” and “Music Of The Heart.” Duke’s work has been recognized by the Boston Music Awards (“Unsung Hero” of 2006, “Outstanding Instrumentalist” of 1995). dukelevine.com
Singer-songwriter, bassist, and album producer Kimon Kirk has worked with a wide range of artists including Aimee Mann, Grant-Lee Phillips, Session Americana, Sarah Borges, Amy Correia, Lori McKenna, Gaby Moreno, Dennis Brennan, PEM’s Kerry Schneider and many other musicians of diverse musical stripes. His own original band, the Meds, comprised of some of the finest musicians in Boston, encompasses catchy pop, late-night jazz, countrified soul and whatever else suits their fancy. Kimon has been an invited guest lecturer on songwriting and music performance at Berklee College of Music, Georgetown University, Boston College, Boston University and Suffolk University. At PEM’s gala he will be performing songs with his trio. kimonkirk.com
Editor’s Note: Tickets are still available to the Imagine Gala dance party on November 7. Visit pem.org/gala to purchase tickets.