Go Green, Go Grammys

The MSU College of Music came up big at the 55th Annual Grammy Awards on Feb. 10. Alumni Ben Williams and the late Clare Fischer won top honors in jazz while Associate Professor of Voice Molly Fillmore sang as Wagner's "Helmwige" for the Metropolitan Opera, which earned best opera recording.

Ben Williams, a 2007 graduate of the College of Music, shares the Grammy with the Pat Metheny Unity Band, which won best jazz instrumental album. Williams, bassist for the band, is the first recipient of the Drs. Lou A. and Roy J. Simon Endowed Scholarship Fund. He later earned his master’s degree from The Juilliard School.

“Ben has a fearless and open-minded approach to what music can be, which made him perfect for this band,” Metheny said. “Finding guys who can play great melodies has always been hard, and Ben has a natural way of using space as well as being really able to get around the instrument; a wonderful combination of skills.”

Williams released his debut album, State of Art in 2011. He was named “Up and Coming Artist” at the 2012 Jazz Journalist Association Jazz Awards and he won the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition in 2009.

“Ben is one of the most exceptional and talented jazz artists I have had the opportunity to teach,” said Rodney Whitaker, director of MSU’s Jazz Studies Program. “From the first moment I heard him play, I knew he was destined to become a star.”

Pictured above: Ben Williams, '07, left, and Pat Metheny, right, backstage at the 55th Annual GRAMMY Awards Pre-Telecast Ceremony on Feb. 10 in Los Angeles. (Photo: Rick Diamond/WireImage.com) The Unity Band CD

Clare Fischer, alumnus from the 1950s, passed away in January of 2012, but his big band jazz rhythms carry on. His last album, ¡Ritmo!, earned the Grammy for best Latin jazz album.

His studies at MSU included cello, piano, and the clarinet before graduating cum laude in 1951. He then began his graduate work in composition before being drafted by the U.S. Army. He played alto saxophone and served as an arranger for the Military Academy Band at West Point. He later returned to finish his master’s in music from MSU in 1955.

He settled in Detroit where he recorded and arranged albums as a pianist. He later moved to Hollywood in 1958 and began recording under his own name for Pacific Jazz Records. There, Fischer's passion for music intermingled with his love of Latin influences. He composed and played Latin-Jazz, earning collaboration with a variety of artists and groups including: Herbie Hancock, Branford Marsalis, Michael Jackson, Earl Klugh, Natalie Cole, Chaka Khan, Paul McCartney, Prince, Celine Dion, Robert Palmer, and others.

Fischer received many nominations over the years and earned his first of three Grammys by 1981. In December of 1999, the College of Music conferred an Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts Degree to him in recognition of his creativity and excellence as a jazz composer, arranger, and performer.

"Clare Fischer pioneered a unique voice all his own: a fusion of  jazz, Latin,  and classical elements," said James Forger, dean of the College of Music. "He influenced many artists and will forever be recognized as  a leading arranger, performer, and music educator. This Grammy is a fitting tribute to his life’s work." ¡Ritmo! CD

Molly Fillmore, associate professor of voice, sang soprano in the role of "Helmwige" in the Metropolitan Opera's "Wagner: Der Ring Des Nibelungen," which earned best opera recording.

Fillmore made her Metropolitan Opera debut in 2011 as Helmwige in the Robert LePage production of Die Walküre, conducted by James Levine. Also at the Met, she sang a principal role in Satyagraha by Philip Glass which was, like Die Walküre, shown live in movie theaters around the world as part of the Met's Live in HD series as well as on PBS stations nationwide as part of their Great Performances series. Other recent operas include the title role in Salome with San Francisco Opera and at Arizona Opera, as well as covering the role of Brünnhildefor Francesca Zambello's Ring Cycle production at San Francisco Opera.

Fillmore graduated magna cum laude from American University and received the university's Evelyn Swarthout Hayes award, which honors the student who contributes most to the performing arts in the Washington, D.C. community while maintaining a high grade point average. She holds a Master of Music degree from the University of Maryland, where she studied with Dominic Cossa, and she also attended the Franz-Schubert-Institut for the Study and Performance of the German Lied in Baden-bei-Wien, Austria. She was recently inducted into the Achievement Hall of Fame for her hometown in northeast Ohio.

Pictured above: Molly Fillmore in her role as Salome withe the Arizona Opera. (Photo: Tim Fuller) Wagner: Der Ring Des Nibelungen DVD

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