Ptah Williams performs music of Herbie Hancock

Feb. 23 concert part of spring Jazz at Holmes lineup

Herbie Hancock is arguably the most influential jazz pianist of the last 50 years. At 8 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 23, Washington University’s Jazz at Holmes series will pay tribute to Hancock with an evening of his music performed by St. Louis’ own Ptah Williams.

“Ptah is a talented, gifted pianist and improviser — a fully formed jazz musician,” says William Lenihan, director of jazz studies in the Department of Music in Arts & Sciences, who organizes the series’ lineup.

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Lenihan notes that Williams — who has worked with major artists such as Lou Donaldson and Fontella Bass — traces his musical roots to figures like Art Tatum, Bill Evans and, of course, Hancock, whose “language, flexibility and adaptation to the ever-changing idioms of jazz and improvised music have given him a longevity comparable only to that of Miles Davis.”

The series will continue the following week, at 8 p.m. Thursday, March 1, with songs of George Gershwin, performed by two WUSTL alumni — guitarist Steve Schenkel, PhD, and pianist Kim Portnoy. Now mainstays of the St. Louis jazz scene, Schenkel, who earned a doctorate in music theory, and Portnoy, who holds a master’s degree in music composition, are both currently on faculty at Webster University.

Subsequent concerts will include original works by tenor saxophonist Paul DeMarinis, director of jazz studies at Webster (March 22); the Vince Varvel Quartet, led by the eponymous guitarist, a teacher of applied music at WUSTL (April 5); and a to-be-determined guest artist, co-sponsored by campus radio station KWUR-FM (April 12).

In addition, on March 29, Jazz at Holmes will host a trio of student ensembles from the Department of Music’s Jazz Combo Program.

“Students participating in the jazz performance program play in small groups, learning historical jazz practices,” Lenihan says. “They learn to analyze improvisations of master jazz musicians and to re-create the various styles. Students are then encouraged to find their own voice as improviser, developing their own tendencies in vocabulary and language.

“Perhaps most importantly,” Lenihan says, “these young musicians learn to play together, to find a common expressive ground, to lead, and to communicate closely.”

Performers will include Paul Antion, Elise Cramer and Adam Schefkind on alto sax; Tim Greer on tenor sax; trombonist Andrew Stober; Ben Kramer on bass; and pianists Micha Gordon, Crawford King, Brian Lynch and Jeff Stephens.

All Jazz at Holmes concerts are free and open to the public and take place from 8 to 10 p.m. in Holmes Lounge, located in Ridgley Hall, on the west side of Brookings Quadrangle.

Jazz at Holmes is sponsored by Washington University’s College of Arts & Sciences; Student Union; Congress of the South 40; Department of Music; University College and Summer School; Campus Life; Danforth University Center and Event Management; Community Service Office; Office of Student Involvement and Leadership; Greek Life Office; and Office of Residential Life.

For more information, call (314) 862-0874; visit; friend Jazz at Holmes on Facebook; or email