Significant Collaborations: Teddy Abrams and Jim James

By Janice Carter Levitch

Photo of Teddy Abrams by Chris Witzke

Teddy Abrams, music director and acclaimed conductor of the Louisville Orchestra, is collaborating with none other than Louisville native Jim James, primary songwriter of the rock band My Morning Jacket. You can experience this concert on April 6 and 7 at the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts. Collaborations like this one don’t occur often, and it should not be missed, especially if you’re a fan of both of these musically creative and incredibly talented prodigies.

“What has become magical about the Louisville Orchestra is we have another golden era – a perfect match between the orchestra, the conductor and the community,” says Michelle Winters, the organization’s director of marketing. “Most people in Louisville are curious, open and like adventure. Teddy Abrams has that same attitude and he brings it to the concerts. Creating amazing experiences for music lovers, sharing Teddy’s joy of exploring new music and making connections have become our specialty.”

When he came to Louisville to lead the orchestra in 2014, Abrams quickly earned a vast following from locals – something he shares in common with James, who is one of the most well-known musicians to come out of Louisville. “I can remember when I was high school age, people were listening to the early Jacket songs and that was in San Francisco,” he says. “So, I mean, they’ve been on the musical scene for a significant amount of time. I think what distinguishes My Morning Jacket fans is that they’re very serious music fans; they’re not just band fans. They really have a great appreciation for the musical craft and the art that goes into their songs and their performance.” It goes without saying that James is blessed with a natural vocal gift, but he has also honed his craft in other ways.

Jim James.

“Jim uses his voice in very creative ways; he has a kind of dynamic control,” Abrams comments. “He can spin notes from one volume to another over really long periods. He does things that are more associated with operatic singers who have all that specialized training.”

The collaboration between Abrams and James was sparked by James’ goal to not just play but connect with people at his shows. He speaks about music having a truly significant message of peace and togetherness, and he takes a strong stand on current issues happening in society. Abrams says, “It’s not a strong stand in a divisive way but in a really supportive way. Jim wants music to be a bridge language that allows people to come together, which is exactly what we do with the orchestra. I think that’s why we found this collaboration to be very natural and we see eye to eye, because I have so much respect for that way of making music, and it doesn’t sacrifice the quality of the music at all.”

James and Abrams have gone back and forth sharing music and collaborating for this concert. Abrams has written all of the components for the orchestra while James wrote the songs, lyrics and the melodies, artfully blending them together. “People are coming in from all over the country for this concert,” says Abrams. “Fans are hosting and putting together before and after events, and we have a few of our own that we’re working on – all kinds of things and some more big news coming soon. It’s a pretty cool thing for us. It’s rare that a whole team of people fly in for a concert.”

Don’t miss your chance to experience this wonderful orchestral performance. Opportunities like this don’t happen often. VT

Festival of American Music II

Whitney Hall at The Kentucky Center

11 a.m. April 6 and 8 p.m. April 7