Matthew Fries is looking forward to performing in the Wellspring Theatre at 6:30 pm on Wednesday, Jul 22, with his friends John Hébert on bass and Keith Hall on drums. It will be streamed online at the Gilmore Keyboard Festival website, as part of its Virtually Gilmore series. In a conversation with Cara Lieurance, Fries says he plans to play a number of his own compositions, some written years ago, some just weeks ago.
Fries is the professor of jazz piano at Western Michigan University. In late March, he had to switch to online teaching when the COVID-19 pandemic forced the school to close its doors. Fries "had to re-think" how to teach, overcome technical issues, and provide assistance to students without access to pianos at home. When many of his students became active in the Black Lives Matter protests, they challenged the status quo to the faculty in new, and sometimes uncomfortable, conversations. Fries says that the WMU jazz department is "seven white guys in love with a music that is 100 percent the result of Black culture." He plans to be more vocal in support of his students' concerns. "There's hope in the energy behind this," Fries says.