Capers, Valerie

views updated

Capers, Valerie

Capers, Valerie, pianist and vocalist; b. N.Y., May 24, 1935. While she has not recorded much, she has certainly made her mark on the scene. And when she does record, it is with a sturdy two-handed, dramatic approach and the ultimate sensitivity to her material. Before losing her sight at the age of six, she was playing piano and picking up songs by ear. Encouraged by a supportive family, she graduated from the N.Y. Inst. for the Education of the Blind where she began classical piano studies. She received her B.S. and M.S. degrees, in 1959 and 1960, respectively, from Juilliard School of Music, the first blind graduate. Although she was playing classical repertoire, she ventured into jazz with encouragement from her brother, Bobby Capers, then a saxophonist/flutist with Mongo Santamaría. She began her career in jazz as composer-arranger for Mongo Santamaria’s Afro-Cuban-jazz band, contributing his hits, El Toro (recorded on his Live at the Village Gate album), Uh-Huh, and the bossa nova, Sarai. She formed her own trio and made her 1967 recording debut on Atlantic with Portrait in Soul, and recorded a 1982 album, Affirmation. In between, she worked with Ray Brown, Slide Hampton, James Moody, Max Roach, Dizzy Gillespie, and others. She has appeared at Newport, Kool, JVC, North Sea, and other festivals, and performs regularly in N.Y. clubs. She has conducted various performances, including the 1978 Christmas jazz cantata Sing About Love at Carnegie Hall and her own “opertorio” Sojourner which premiered at N.Y/s St. Peter’s Church (1981). Her teaching credentials include stints at the Manhattan School of Music and her current position as Professor Emeritus and Artist-in-Residence at Bronx Community Coll. of the C.U.N.Y., where she was Chairman of the Department of Music and Art (1987–95). She has received numerous awards, honors, and music grants and, in 1996, was awarded an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree from Susquehanna Univ. for her achievements as a scholar, educator, and musician. Fifteen years after her 1982 recording, she made her only album currently in print.


Come on Home (1995).

—Nancy Ann Lee