A fearless and versatile talent, harpist Brandee Younger moves far afield of genre as a classically-trained musician playing in the avant-garde tradition of her sonically forward forebears Dorothy Ashby and Alice Coltrane. Ms. Younger delivers a consistently fresh take on the ancient instrument as an educator, event curator, performer and leader of the Brandee Younger Jazz Harp Quartet. Flanked by drummer E.J. Strickland, bassist Dezron Douglas and tenor saxophonists Stacy Dillard & Chelsea Baratz, Ms. Younger has produced an impressive body of work since the 2011 debut of her seminal Prelude EP, including Brandee Younger Live @ The Breeding Ground, a breakthrough performance on Revive Music’s 2015 Supreme Sonacy Vol. 1 LP, and the more recent release of her critically-acclaimed 2016 Wax & Wane LP.
Known for expressive interpretations of traditional harp repertoire as well as her continued work with a diverse cross-section of musical talents, Ms. Younger is widely recognized as a creative linchpin whose nuanced presence and willingness to push boundaries have made her irreplaceable on record and in performance. The same protean ability has found her sharing stages with jazz leaders and popular hip-hop and r&b titans including Ravi Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders, Jack Dejohnette, Reggie Workman, Common, John Legend and Lauryn Hill.
As well versed in performance art as she is the art of creative risk-taking, Brandee Younger challenges commonly-held notions in her quest to ”make the harp a more relevant force in today’s music.” Ms. Younger’s ability to seamlessly inject the harp into arrangements and venues where it has historically been overlooked is a testament to her deep love for and exemplary command of the instrument.
“Somewhere beyond the fairy forests and angel wings that harp music traditionally evokes lies Brandee Younger’s rebellion. She’s classically trained, but a typical week for her is more likely to include a jazz jam session one night and a hip-hop studio recording the next afternoon. There’s no room for coyness in her music, although her eyes betray a glimmer of mischief when she plays…” – Rajul Punjabi of The Village Voice
A native of Long Island, New York, Ms. Younger spent her formative years in Hempstead and Uniondale where she began harp studies as a teen under the tutelage of Karen Strauss. She received further instruction from harpists Rebecca Flannery, Susan Jolles, Emily Mitchell and bassist Nat Reeves. Ms. Younger went on to earn undergraduate degrees in Harp Performance and Music Business from The Hartt School of the University of Hartford. While there, she was mentored by the faculty of the Jackie McLean Institute of Jazz and African American Studies. An immersive experience detailed in an article by Nate Chinen of The New York Times.
Ms. Younger quickly found a kinship with Hartt’s jazz program, run at the time by the august alto saxophonist Jackie McLean. He told her to drop by whenever she wanted. “So I did,” she said. “Even though I was studying classical music, I would show up to the master classes, the ensemble classes. I would never bring my instrument; I would just sit there. Four years of that.” Though intimidated by the prospect of improvising, she gradually began to branch out, with encouragement.
Upon graduating from Hartt, Reeves introduced Ms. Younger to saxophonist Kenny Garrett, with whom she would sharpen her skills in both ensemble playing and improvisation. Entering New York University for graduate school six months later, she had already established an impressive résumé, having joined the harp faculty at the Hartt School Community Division, opened for Slide Hampton as a member of Hartford based collective The New Jazz Workshop and developed a working relationship with Grammy-nominated producer and artist Ryan Leslie and Grammy Award-winning producer Omen.
Building upon that foundation, Ms. Younger began working with saxophonist Ravi Coltrane on a series of concerts honoring the music of the late pianist, organist and harpist, Alice Coltrane. The study of Coltrane’s music, along with the work of harpist Dorothy Ashby, would ultimately help Ms. Younger develop her own approach to the instrument — a style that is at once striking and singular in performance.
“Coltrane asked her to play at a memorial service for his mother. Her performance ‘moved me and everyone in attendance from the first glissando,’ Mr. Coltrane recalled. ‘No harpist thus far has been more capable of combining all of the modern harp traditions — from Salzedo, through Dorothy Ashby, through Alice Coltrane — with such strength, grace and commitment.’ This was effectively Ms. Younger’s public debut, and it set the terms for a spiritual succession.” – Nate Chinen/New York Times
After years of playing as a sideman in various ensembles, Brandee Younger released her debut Prelude EP, which was originally intended for use as a demo. Released in 2011, the acclaimed indie project was recorded in an analog studio with Dezron Douglas, E.J. Strickland and vocalist Niia. The original standout track “So Alive” was later featured in the Mercedes Benz Mixed Tape compilation; Younger’s expansive and emphatically beautiful contribution subsequently lauded by Mercedes Benz as “…a compelling soul jazz composition, in which all instruments are melded to a haunting universe centered around Niia’s celestial voice. Beguiling musical subtlety in these times of loudness.”
Brandee Younger’s versatility has been her passport to an array of venues and the source of musical synthesis at the core of her work. As a classical musician, she has been a featured soloist with The Harlem Chamber Players as well as the Impulse Artist Series. She has also performed with an array of ensembles including the Eastern Connecticut Symphony, Waterbury Symphony, Soulful Symphony, Ensemble Du Monde, Camerata New York and the Red Bull Artsehcro, a “non-conformist” orchestra. As well, Ms. Younger has worked and recorded with a number of jazz luminaries including Jack DeJohnette, Pharoah Sanders, Christian McBride, Ravi Coltrane, Wycliffe Gordon, Charlie Haden, Rashied Ali, Butch Morris, Jeff “Tain” Watts, Kenny Garrett and Bill Lee. Her work in r&b and hip-hop has found her sharing studios and stages with the likes of John Legend, Common, Drake, Salaam Remi and Ms. Lauryn Hill.
Deftly fusing elements of each genre, Ms. Younger released her critically-acclaimed Wax & Wane LP in 2016. Her latest formal release is an ode to preservation and the art of pushing the envelope that finds her planting her flag as arguably one of the most fearless leaders at the fore of the latest revolution in music.
“The new album came about after Ms. Younger performed a tribute to Ms. Ashby commissioned by the Revive Music Group. She connected with Casey Benjamin of the Robert Glasper Experiment, who produced “Wax & Wane” with a contemporary flair. “Afro-Harping,” which in Ms. Ashby’s original 1968 version feels dialed in to hippie frequencies, sounds on the new album like a post-Dilla instrumental, a remix in real time.” – Nate Chinen/New York Times
Described as “an altered universe where the fluttering polyphonic exchange of the harp and flute expand and contract against a dense rhythmic display,” the album is the unlikely intersection where modern American cool collides with antiquity and the result does not feel contrived.
Brandee Younger has taught at Adelphi University, Nassau Community College, The Hartt School Community Division at the University of Hartford and currently maintains a rigorous schedule as a private instructor and teacher at Greenwich House Music School. Ms. Younger has lectured and conducted masterclasses at The Royal Conservatory of Music (Toronto), Howard University, Trinity College, The Hartt School, Elyrica Summer Music Program, Connecticut Valley Harp Intensive, NOLA Jazz & Pop Festival and she also serves as Symphonic and Jazz Harp Artist in Residence at the Cicely L. Tyson Community School of Performing and Fine Arts. In addition, she boasts a handful of bylines for Revive Music and Harp Column Magazine and holds several leadership positions as a member of the Apollo Young Patrons Steering Committee, the advisory board of the Wilbur Ware Foundation and Vice President of the Metro NYC and Long Island Chapters of the American Harp Society. Stepping away from traditional venues to bring live performance to alternative spaces, Ms. Younger recently served as curator of the weekly Harp On Park lunchtime concert series “highlighting the diversity of the harp and the contemporary importance of an ancient instrument” for Arts Brookfield.
“I want listeners to walk away with a different perspective on the harp’s place in music. For people to know that the instrument can play a fully functioning role in many settings. That it is not limited to any style or genre. In order for that to happen, expectations have to change. I will continue to do all that I can to help change them.”