Tyrone Birkett is a saxophonist, composer and producer He has created “Postmodern Spirituals” an innovative concept re-imagining and reviving the Negro spiritual through jazz, soul and black church music; what he calls “freedom music for the 21st century”. The goal is providing curative and empowering music in troubling times. His current recording with his group Tyrone Birkett | Emancipation titled “Postmodern Spirituals: The Promised Land” is the first endeavor to showcase this concept under his newly formed record label, Araminta Music.
At age sixteen, he had the pleasure of being invited to St. Peters Lutheran in NYC, the “jazz church” to play with his trio what was even then an interesting fusion of jazz, gospel, and soul music. That same year he received the Louis Armstrong Jazz Award in high school, he than furthered his music studies at Queens College (CUNY).
“My approach is to freely incorporate elements from jazz, black church music, and soul music that I had experience in, that resonated in me, in service to the message I wanted to convey – a message of freedom” – Tyrone Birkett
“I could hear the essence of the Negro spiritual prominently in John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme and I had heard the black church influences in the jazz of Horace Silver, Charles Mingus and others. So I took what was organic and natural to me – Coltrane, jazz fusion, 70s soul music, black church music, the Spirituals and had them all converge naturally, without forcing the issue.”
As a saxophonist, Tyrone Birkett has synthesized his mentorship by jazz saxophone greats Frank Foster and Budd Johnson, years toiling in black church sanctuaries and soul-jazz into a distinctive fusion. An “outsider” artist not common to the jazz scene, he has nonetheless developed a powerful lyrical sound with shades of post-Coltraneisms and an idiosyncratic but musical melodic sense. As conceptualist and composer, he has created “Postmodern Spirituals”, a retelling of the Negro freedom song as a voice against oppression in contemporary times; whether it is the weight put upon us by the ills of society, or oppression of the soul by our own inner conflicts.
Tyrone brought this music to venues including the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Schomburg Center for Black Culture, The Greene Space at WYNC, Lehman College Center for the Performing Arts, the U.N., Montreal Convention Centre, Bermuda and Europe. His work can also be heard in inner city schools, streets, and parks – anywhere where the music can affect the atmosphere of a community in a positive way.
In addition, Tyrone has performed on stages with a set of diverse luminaries incl. Frank Foster, Shirley Caesar and Al Green, and even with Little Richard when he came to Harlem during one of his “gospel” periods. He also made a contribution to the movie “Proud” starring renowned actor Ossie Davis in his last film performance and supported Nikki Giovanni in presentations of her book “On My Journey Now: Looking at African-American History Through the Spirituals.”
Touring is planned in support of the CD “Postmodern Spirituals: The Promised Land”, and projects in development include music/dance collaborations “Terrible Beauty, Tragic Beauty” on lynching and reconciliation and “Those Whose Backs Are Against The Wall” on the disinherited and disenfranchised in the U.S.
Tyrone is a member of the Harlem Arts Alliance, Bronx Council of the Arts, and ASALH (Association for the Study of African American Life and History). He lives in the Bronx with his wife Paula Ralph-Birkett, an aspiring singer/songwriter in her own right who is featured in his work.