Gregg August - Dialogues on Race Volume I
Large Ensemble Jazz Album

Gregg August - "Letter To America"
Instrumental Composition

Gregg August - "Your Only Child"
Arrangement, Instrument and Vocals

Gregg August - "Sherbet (Just to be certain that the doubt stays on our side of the fence)"
Arrangement, Instrumental or A Cappella

Gregg August - "Sweet Words on Race"
Improvised Jazz Solo

Gregg August - Dialogues on Race Volume I
Engineered Album, Non-classical

Gregg August - Dialogues on Race Volume I
Recording Package


Gregg August commands a rare scope as a bassist, composer and arranger, ranging from the modern jazz and Latin scenes to the realms of classical music and the avant-garde. A longtime member of the much-praised JD Allen Trio (which NPR has declared “swings like nobody’s business”), August also performs regularly with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra in New York City and is a faculty member at the Bang on a Can Summer Music Institute at MASSMoCA in North Adams, Massachusetts. Now the Upstate New York native and longtime Brooklyn resident presents his most complete, and deeply felt, recording to date as a leader-composer: Dialogues on Race, Vol. 1, a vividly orchestrated, Mingus-evoking epic of emotion and sonic impact for a 12-piece jazz ensemble (including JD Allen on tenor saxophone), plus strings and multiple vocalists. As its title suggests, Dialogues on Race sees August explore the issue of race relations through an artful blend of instrumentals and vocal pieces, all inspired by the ever-resonant words of diverse poets Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou, Cornelius Eady, Marilyn Nelson, Francisco X. Alarcón and Carolyn Kizer. On the otherworldly “Mother Mamie’s Reflections,” the album also features the moving voice of Emmett Till’s mother reflecting on the infamous 1955 lynching of her son in Mississippi, her recollections set to a collective improvisation with bass clarinet, tuba and the visceral undertow of August’s arco bass.

Dialogues on Race
 is an album a decade in the making, the original evening-length suite having been commissioned by the Jerome Foundation and New York’s Jazz Gallery for a powerful 2009 premiere. August gradually refined the dozen pieces of Dialogues on Race for the subsequent recording sessions and assembled an ideal cast of voices: singers Frank LacyShelley Washington and Forest Van Dyke, along with narrator Wayne Smith. The main poetic inspiration for Dialogues on Race was Marilyn Nelson’s “Your Only Child,” in which she compares the suffering of Mamie Till to Mary, Mother of Christ. August’s melody for that poem winds through the entire suite, including three different versions of that song: one sung by Lacy in a jazz style, another voiced by Washington in a reverential context and a third in a rendition with August on solo arco bass.

Throughout the album, there are thrilling solos not only by Allen and August (pizzicato as well as arco), but also by John Bailey (trumpet), John Ellis(soprano saxophone), Ken Thomson (bass clarinet) and Luis Perdomo (piano), among others, with the Latin percussion of Mauricio Herrera and hard-grooving drums of Donald Edwards adding to the rich tapestry of August’s arrangements. You can see beautifully filmed live performances on YouTube of opening instrumental “Sherbet” here and the vocal “Your Only Child,” with Shelley Washington, here.

About the inspiration for Dialogues on Race, August says: “We just never seem to get past our tragic issues with race. I spent years living and working in Europe, and the problem of race relations in America especially hit me from a distance. Playing in an orchestra in Barcelona around the time of the L.A. riots, I had to explain to my colleagues there what was going on, how race enflamed things. Seeing The Untold Story of Emmett Till documentary in the early 2000s also really affected me. These things built up, and then observing Bang on a Can closely, I realized how composers like Julia Wolfe think big and tackle important themes in their music – it’s inspiring. We haven’t done this in jazz enough, really, although Jason Moran is someone admirable in this regard.

“I realize that it’s a serious, sensitive thing for a white musician, such as myself, to compose a work about a figure like Emmett Till – I felt the weight of the subject,” August adds. “I discussed it with many of my African-American friends and colleagues, and I took my time with the recording so that I could meet the challenge. Now I can’t imagine writing music today without a greater narrative purpose. If you have any kind of a platform, it’s imperative to address the world as it is, particularly with the urgency of our political moment. All the tribalism in our country makes plain that a lot of things that we might’ve thought we had gotten past, well, we haven’t. And it’s about time.”

John Ellis-Soprano
Bruce Williams-Alto
JD Allen-Tenor
Ken Thomson-Bass Clarinet
John Bailey-Trumpet/Flugelhorn
Rafi Malkiel-Trombone/Euphonium
Marcus Rojas-Tuba
Luis Perdomo-Piano
Gregg August-Bass/Composer
Donald Edwards-Drums
Mauricio Herrera-Congas/Shekeré/Castanets 
Frank Lacy-Vocals 
Shelley Washington-Vocals 
Forest VanDyke-Vocals 
Wayne Smith-Narrator 

Leah Asher-Violin 
Lena Vidulich-Violin 
Yuri Namkung-Violin 
Johnna Wu-Violin 
Wendy Richman-Viola 
Brian Zenone-Viola 
Madeline Fayette-Cello 

Poems by
Marilyn Nelson
Cornelius Eady
Fransisco Alarcón
Maya Angelou
Richard Katrovas
Carolyn Kizer 
Langston Hughes

Press for Dialogues on Race


"A complex, beautiful and often haunting work inspired by poems about racial tension by authors of multiple races...☆☆☆☆." 

"Attractive in creative musicality and unflinching in honesty, August offers the jazz world a masterwork in contemporary art that demands discussion, evaluation and dissemination."

"August’s ability to bridge worlds and a dramatic gift for pacing shine throughout this penetrating, prescient double album that shrewdly balances melody with pulse...☆☆☆☆"

"Art, it has been argued, isn’t meant to provide pleasure, but rather to provoke. August proves it can do both...☆☆☆☆"

"This album cries out with the power of an idea whose time has come...☆☆☆☆"

"Dialogues on Race is August's finest work. EDITORS PICK." 

"As its title and subject matter suggest, it’s heavy stuff, but it’s also thrilling music." 

"Gregg August, accomplished in both jazz and classical music circles, delivers an extraordinarily powerful historical perspective on the immoral deaths of young black people, and exemplifies a dialogue necessary for reform and collective healing."