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Jazz, classical and religious music meld on the Mountaintop

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    Daniel Zuckerman/Columbia-Greene Media Trumpeter Shareef Clayton, pianist Damien Sneed and vocalist Shenel Johns perform in Haines Falls to mark the end of the 23Arts Summer Music Festival.
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    Daniel Zuckerman/Columbia-Greene Media Pianst Damien Sneed performing in Haines Falls on Sunday.
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    Daniel Zuckerman/Columbia-Greene Media Vocalist Shenel Johns belts out a number at the Haines Falls home of Anne and Skip Pratt.
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    Daniel Zuckerman/Columbia-Greene Media Pianist Damien Sneed sings and plays the piano.
August 6, 2018 12:15 am

HAINES FALLS — The 23Arts Summer Music Festival concluded Sunday with a concert dubbed “Music & Words” featuring pianist Damien Sneed at the home of Anne and Skip Pratt in Haines Falls, with Kaaterskill Falls as the backdrop.

The festival, celebrating its fifth year, began July 13 and featured four weekends of concerts centered around jazz, classical and independent music genres.

Sneed, who has worked with legendary musicians such as Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder and Diana Ross, was accompanied later in the concert by trumpeter Shareef Clayton and vocalist Shenel Johns. The pianist played the second movement of Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Piano Sonata No. 8 in C minor, Op. 13,” because it inspired him to start composing his own music, he said during the concert. “The second movement to me just really sings,” Sneed said. “Today’s going to be a journey.”

The concert was a fusion of many genres of music including jazz, classical and religious, and Sneed performed three pieces of religious music from jazz artists Duke Ellington, Mary Lou Williams and Wynton Marsalis. All three contributed a lot to jazz and embraced all musical genres, Sneed said.

“One thing I’ve always learned is that we can never move past the contributions of those before us,” Sneed said. “They all had a love and affinity for music of all styles — classical music, sacred music, so they all decided to set their own version of sacred music.”

Marsalis is one of Sneed’s mentors and Sneed loves working with the trumpeter, who comes from a family of acclaimed jazz musicians, because he challenges Sneed to do better and stay on top of his musicianship, Sneed said after the concert. The pianist considers famed opera singer Jessye Norman a mentor from afar.

“They push me to know also about the music I’m performing, to be able to communicate that even verbally if necessary,” he said.

Sneed’s first experiences as a performer involved playing at community concerts held in people’s homes and Sunday’s show evoked those memories, he said.

“Today feels extremely special to me because I almost feel like I’m at home, even though I’m from Augusta, Georgia,” he said. “Moments like this are possible because of people like yourself that support even on this level, just to listen.”

The concert allowed visitors to breath in fresh air and enjoy the music rather than be glued to their phones, Sneed said.

“We’re so busy now in life with the advent of technological innovation, but this just had everyone sit for a moment and just to enjoy the music and enjoy each other,” he said. “It’s important to come back to basics and come back to community and the music was the unifying factor.”

Concertgoers clapped their hands and sang along to the more jazzier pieces being performed and loved the concert and setting.

Concerts such as Sneed’s are needed on the Mountaintop, Annie Borgenicht, of Hunter, said.

“Every year there’s more incredible musicians,” Borgenicht said. “I just think it’s amazing we can see music played up here.”

Howard Carlin, who has a summer home in Windham, said he loved seeing the concert at the Pratt house. He previously saw Johns perform a concert at the Mountain Top Library in Tannersville last winter, he said.

“The venue is perfect — chamber music started in people’s homes,” Carlin said.

Carlin praised the 23Arts Initiative for bringing more arts and culture to the Mountaintop.

“They improved things tremendously,” he said.

Catherine Lepp, who has a home in Lanesville, enjoyed the concert and being at the Pratt house for the first time, she said.

“This is unique to be able to get into this great environment and hear this music,” Lepp said. “I think it was a beautiful concert.”

To reach reporter Daniel Zuckerman email or follow him on Twitter @DZuckerman_CGM.