Surely, Mark G. Meadows and James Fernando spent many hours crafting their recent piano duo concert at Strathmore’s AMP at Pike & Rose in Rockville. Planning for “Two Pianos,” the master pianists and composers exchanged several emails about what jazz pianists they liked. Their similar likes included Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett, Oscar Peterson, and Thelonious Monk. Still using email, the pianists shared music compositions they liked. What the audience learned was that Meadows and Fernando met for the first time face-to-face at soundcheck the afternoon of their performance. No virtual meetings took place, probably a phone chat in advance, but a full multi-day, multi-hour rehearsal did not occur. That is how excellent they are.
“When you know, you know. That’s how it is with music,” Meadows said about their approach for the concert. “The only thing left to say is ‘What key?’”
Beginning the set with each plucking their piano strings announced that the audience would see something different in this concert. It was a bit of improvisation. Then I heard Duke Ellington’s “Take the A Train” emerged. Next, they played “Bluesette,” composed by jazz harmonicist Toots Thielemans followed by Chick Corea’s “Humpty Dumpty.” There were other wonderful songs that used a “call and response” approach, showing Fernando and Meadows were souls in sync. Eye contact and nodding queues kept the two connected.
Meadows and Fernando are also connected as both are alums of Strathmore’s Artist-in-Residence (AIR) program. Fernando was in the 2021 AIR class and is described as a “prodigiously gifted composer and virtuoso pianist” by World Music Report. This Berklee College of Music graduate is known for weaving jazz, classical and electronic sounds in his music. Fernando’s sixth CD, “Piano Poetry,” will be released in February.
“I recorded most of the music from my apartment,” Fernando said. “It’s a lot of short, sweet solo piano pieces with some electronics and collaborations.”
A native Washingtonian, Meadows was in the AIR program several years before Fernando.
Meadows has become an accomplished top producer of whatever he sets out to do. He was the music director for Signature Theatre’s production of “The Color Purple” musical. He also produces cabarets like his “Hotter Than July” event at Signature this past summer, featuring the music of Stevie Wonder. The music director, composer and singer keeps a busy schedule. He did an outdoor concert a few months ago for Strathmore and recently brought his group to the music hall to take Montgomery County Public Schools fifth graders on a journey to learn about the blues.
Both artists are educators, training other musicians to sharpen their musical instincts. “Two Pianos” showed the audience that Meadows and Fernando have sensibilities that delivered an impressive first-time concert collaboration.