Come Monday night inside Ashurst Hall on the NAU campus, those lucky enough to procure tickets will get to hear one of the most successful chamber music ensembles in the United States — the Imani Winds.

Adding to the strength of the program, will be an appearance by Anne-Marie McDermott, a consummate keyboard artist who balances a versatile career as soloist and collaborative pianist.

This rare collaborative appearance in a recital of standard and contemporary works for wind quintet and piano is sure to excite music lovers in northern Arizona.

The concert is part of the 2013-14 Horizons Concert Series at the NAU School of Music.


Since 1997, the Grammy-nominated wind quintet, based in New York, has taken a unique path, carving out a distinctive presence in the classical music world with dynamic playing and adventurous collaborations, like the one with McDermott.

The group is noted for its culturally diverse programming that bridges European, American, African and Latin American traditions. 

In fact, the members are of African American and Latin American ancestry, and the name Imani means “faith” in the Swahili language.

The group includes Valerie Coleman, flute, Toyin Spellman-Diaz, oboe, Mariam Adam, clarinet, Jeff Scott, French horn and Monica Ellis, bassoon.

Because Imani Winds has two member composers, Coleman and Scott, they share a deep commitment to commissioning new works.

In its Flagstaff program, the Imani Winds will perform “Tzigane” and “Suite: Portraits of Josephine Baker,” by flutist/composer Coleman, “Cane” (episodes in the life of Marie-Therese Coin-Coin, an African-born American slave), by Jason Moran, Paul Hindemith’s “Kleine Kammermusik, Op. 24,” and Francis Poulenc’s “Sextet for Piano and Winds,” with McDermott.


Composer Coleman said she is so lucky to have a top notch group performing her music, which allows her to write as freely as her imagination. 

“We have two in-house composers who happen to be the flutist and hornist of the group,” wrote Coleman in an email to the Daily Sun. “Even though (we) have two different approaches to writing, I would say that our styles reflect growing up in households filled with the sounds of jazz, spirituals, funk and soul, as well as Beethoven and Mozart!”

Coleman added that her composition, “Suite: Portraits of Josephine,” is a tribute to the life of “the fabulous chanteuse Josephine Baker,” and that the group transforms its sounds and colors into something beyond wind quintet, “a sound that’s reminiscent of Sidney Bechet, Debussy, and street corner bands playing the old St. Louis sound.”

The Piece “Tzigane” was written “because once again, I wanted to highlight the soloist capabilities of IW. Gypsy violin and the music of the Romani has always moved me, and so this is my way of celebrating the style and culture. It’s a highly energetic, passionate piece with a middle section that’s sultry, complete with an open improvisation section performed by clarinet. The work ends in an intense fashion.”

Coleman said IW can genre-bend with “the best of them,” and showcase the virtuoso prowess of each of its members. 


Their touring schedule has taken the five players across the globe. 

At home in America, the group has performed in the nation’s major concert venues including Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Kennedy Center, Disney Hall and Kimmel Center. 

Ellis wrote in an email about their visit to Flagstaff: “We have not been to Flagstaff before and are greatly looking forward to visiting this part of Arizona. The idea came from constantly wanting to get to parts of the country and the world for that matter that we have not been too. Fortunately our visit to Flagstaff was able to be coordinated with concerts in other parts of the state as well as Oregon. By having several concerts in a similar area, it makes it much more viable for us to come out to a particular community. Looking forward to lovely Flagstaff!”

She said the IW musicians are always excited about visiting a place they’ve never been to before, and are glad to share their art and music with communities that have not seen them before.

“Flagstaff and Arizona in general is such a beautiful part of the country, so it will be great to spend some time there, even if only a couple days,” she said. 


Ellis commented that if there is a theme to the works in the program, it is that they are all pieces the group is passionate about. 

“The first half’s repertoire does have quite a commonality to it,” she observed. “The pieces were written by our in-house composers as well as by a great friend of ours, Jason Moran, who we commissioned. The first half truly celebrates the world of urban classical music, meaning music that has some edge and soul to it but always within a refined sound and knowledge of our classical backgrounds. The second half features music that’s considered standards of the wind literature and were both written by 20th century masters, Hindemith and Poulenc. With the Poulenc we get to play with the great Anne-Marie McDermott on piano.”  

McDermott, who made her Carnegie Hall debut at 12, has specialized in numerous chamber music partnerships, including the McDermott Trio with sisters Kerry (violin) and Maureen (cello). 

She is also a regular member of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and serves as artistic director of the Vail Valley Music Festival in Colorado.

In conclusion, Ellis wrote that her fellow players are “REALLY looking forward to getting out of the relentless snowy East Coast. Thank you Arizona!”