Willis Delony, Boyd professor of piano and jazz studies at LSU, appreciates his day job. But, like all performing musicians, he’s been unable to play in front of a live audience for 14 months.
Delony’s free concert at 4 p.m. Sunday at First United Methodist Church is a sign that the COVID pandemic is loosening its grip on in-person entertainment. And it couldn’t happen too soon — not just for Delony, who is secure in his academic career, but especially for those for whom performing is their bread and butter.
Regardless of the economics, every musician welcomes the chance to replace streamed concerts with live performances, said Delony, who had to cancel concerts he had planned in the United States and Costa Rica.
“The energy that one can generate by reacting with people in a live, three-dimensional space, you sort of have to manufacture it if you’re doing an online performance,” he said. “Some people are watching and maybe sending in comments if you do it in a Facebook livestream, but it’s still not the same thing. It’s a bit disembodied. Performers, we rely on that to keep ourselves going as artists, to keep growing and figure out new ways to make music.”
In Delony’s case, that growth has always involved a variety of genres — classical, jazz, popular favorites — and that will be reflected in this concert, which shares the title of a new song he wrote and will perform, “Between the Notes.” The song will be part of an album to be released later this year by Centaur Records.
His concert will include improvisations on Chopin, songs by Massachusetts-based (and former New Orleans resident) Stephen Danker, Duke Ellington contemporaries Billy Strayhorn and Benny Carter, a waltz by Brazilian bossa nova master Antonio Carlos Jobim, “Dancing on the Water” by jazz composer Bob James and will end with Billy Joel’s “And So It Goes.”
It’s hard to find a concert with a more eclectic selection than that.
“I’ve made my living playing all different kinds of music, and I’m not bothered by the distinctions between categories,” Delony said. “I think Duke Ellington said this: ‘There’s only two kinds of music. It’s either good or it’s not.’ There’s great music by Chopin and Stravinsky, which I love to play, but there’s great music by Willie Nelson and Billy Joel, and I like to play that, as well.
“It’s just what has animated my musical career and what little bit of composing that I sometimes do. That’s what animates me and excites me about making music. I like to say it’s all part of the same story.”
Though there is no admission charge, reservations are required for Sunday's concert because the First United Methodist Church sanctuary will have socially distanced seating. For reservations, visit the church website, firstmethodist.org.