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Pianist Cory Henry visits University for songwriting workshop

Presented by Brown Arts Initiative, workshop helps songwriters develop craft

Pianist Cory Henry discussed his musical influences and critiqued original songs as part of the Brown Arts Initiative’s weekly songwriting workshop Oct. 11.

Henry, the leader of the band Cory Henry and the Funk Apostles, began the workshop with an introduction to his history with music. A former member of the Brooklyn jazz band Snarky Puppy, Henry traces his roots and passion for music to his childhood time spent in church.

“I grew up playing in a Pentecostal church. … My mother played several instruments and was the lead choir director,” Henry said. “She taught me my first song at the age of three, which was ‘Amazing Grace.’ … I learned a lot from playing at church,” he added, citing musical skills like ear training.

He later discussed how he entered the world of jazz music. “When I got to about 13 years old, … I got into Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum (and) Herbie Hancock,” he said, referencing his early influences. “When I turned about 15, … I started going to this club called the Village Underground, and it was the first time that I really have ever seen a Hammond organ outside of the church,” he continued. Henry detailed how he learned jazz standards, even booking his first major gig with famous jazz saxophonist Kenny Jarrett.

After explaining his jazz education and career, Henry performed an original composition titled “Miss Purdy” on his electric keyboard. A long, partly improvisational jazz piece, the song included foot-tapping, vocalizations and complex melodies from the pianist.

Henry then transitioned into the workshopping portion of the event, which is “designed to give students and community members a chance to hone their songwriting skills,” all while fostering a creative, community based environment, according to BAI’s website. Musicians apply to the songwriting workshop via an application and recorded audition. Past featured artists have included singer Kishi Bashi and singer-songwriter Dar Williams.

Chrissy Stewart, a Providence-based singer-songwriter, shared her song, “Jamestown Rain” during the event. Stewart explained to Henry, “I just recorded an album, and we started feeling like we were forcing (the song), so we skipped it. I’m still sitting on it (because) I feel like a song tells you when it’s done.” Henry immediately began to suggest improvements and changes to the piece, such as breaking parts of the melody into separate verses.

Other songs presented by songwriters ranged from easygoing, acoustic tunes to ballads on the piano. Henry’s suggestions and critiques included focusing on the emotionality of a song and improving technical aspects, such as the arrangement of melody, bridge and chorus.

Audience member Miranda Luiz ’22 told The Herald she appreciated BAI  for hosting Henry’s workshop. “As a musician, it’s really great to see community spaces where artists can hone in on their craft,” she said. “And it’s amazing to have someone like Cory Henry to help.


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