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Bittner coming home in Thursday Jazz Series concert

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Chris Bittner, a 24-year-old saxophonist and composer from Perquimans County, will perform both original compositions and jazz standards during his band's appearance at Arts of the Albemarle's Third Thursday Jazz Series at The Center in downtown Elizabeth City on Thursday. The free concert is from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.

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By Kesha Williams
Correspondent

Friday, June 15, 2018

From January to June, you can count on Arts of the Albemarle to present some of the best local and regional jazz artists. If you missed a previous third Thursday performance, stand by. Next Thursday, AoA will close this year’s Third Thursday Jazz Series with a performance by Chris Bittner.

Bittner, a 24-year-old saxophonist and composer from Perquimans County, recalls not long ago enjoying live concerts from the audience.

He began playing saxophone in the sixth grade and continued through high school. After graduating from Perquimans High School in 2011, he earned a bachelor’s degree in music from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. He later earned a master’s degree in music and jazz studies from The Juilliard School. He remained in New York after graduating. According to Bittner, his education in New York is ongoing.

“Being there is great because you are exposed to some of the best musicians in the world on a nightly basis,” Bittner said. “It is inspiring but humbling. You realize how far you have to go every time you pick up your horn, when you hear people who are amazing.”

Last year, Bittner’s quartet flew to Switzerland to perform at an international jazz festival that draws world-class performers as well as student musicians from New York. He credits a Juilliard professor with selecting his group to perform there. It was one of those eye-opening experiences many musicians describe after departing U.S. borders and greeting fans abroad.

“I didn't really know if I was ready but it was a great experience and I can say now that I've done it. I'd be more confident as a leader when the time comes to travel internationally again,” Bittner said.

While his quartet’s schedule this year is booked with performances in New York, Virginia and North Carolina, Bittner remains conscious of budding musicians coming along, eager to share their talent with fans. Occasionally, he accepts invitations to serve as a guest instructor for high school music classes. He offers wise counsel to young, aspiring musicians: success won’t come without commitment to personal development.

“You have to put in the time personally and practice,” he said. “You have to work at it outside of school even if you are getting a music degree. It’s important to be as prepared as you can so when you are presented with opportunities to play with different bands you are ready.

“In jazz music, a lot is based on hearing, passing down music,” he continued. “You have to retain music, commit it to memory, because it’s not always written down. Having a repertoire in your head that you can call on in any moment is important.”

Whether it’s jazz, folk, R&B, gospel or country music, Bittner said he’s ready to blow his horn. It’s a tenor saxophone, a Selmer, by the way. But don’t expect some glitzy, show biz name for it. Unlike many artists who name their instrument, Bittner said his cherished horn will remain nameless.

Bittner says the East Coast presents countless opportunities for aspiring musicians to listen, learn and perform. Through studying and performing, he’s built a network of musicians he can call on. They, too, call on him when they need him for select performances. Bittner has fond memories of playing with a folk band, “Look Homeward,” at a Floyd, Virginia, music festival. The members are friends he made while attending UNC at Greensboro.

Next week, Bittner will be coming to Elizabeth City with friends who are musical performers in Durham and Greensboro. They plan to play some original music composed by Bittner and band members. There also will be music from “The Great American Songbook,” a collection jazz fans will readily embrace.

“Jazz is America’s music and I’m excited about doing this event,” Bittner said. “This is the fun part of the lifestyle — you get to travel, sometimes home. Unlike a day job, jazz can take you all over the world.”

Bittner said he looks forward to introducing the crowd to the band and welcoming some old classmates to the performance. 

Larry Giddens is executive director of Arts of the Albemarle, where he says the staff is always eager to seat a crowd for local artists.

“A program of this caliber and magnitude could not happen without generous funding to support the efforts of the artists,” he said. “We are grateful for the Elizabeth City Foundation’s continued support of the Third Thursday Jazz Series and look forward to their continued support in the future. This year, Douglas Jackson presented the community with a wonderful group of artists.”

Giddens said AoA hopes to continue adding more artists to the Thursday Jazz Series.

Bittner’s free concert will be performed Thursday from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. at AoA’s The Center at 516 E. Main St., Elizabeth City.

For a list of Bittner’s upcoming performances visit his website, https://www.chrisbittnermusic.com/schedule.

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