Abbasi, Sung, Villafranca Named Guggenheim Fellows

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Jazz artists Rez Abasi, Helen Sung and Elio Vilafranco have been awarded Guggenheim fellowships for 2021. They join 184 artists, writers, scholars and scientists receiving the honor.

Presented annually by the board of trustees of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the fellowships are granted through a rigorous peer-review process of nearly 3,000 applicants.

Created in 1925 by Senator Simon and Olga Guggenheim in memory of their son John Simon Guggenheim, the Foundation has offered fellowships to exceptional individuals in pursuit of scholarship in any field of knowledge and creation in any art form, under the freest possible conditions.

“I am truly honored and grateful to be named a Guggenheim Fellow,” said guitarist and composer Abbasi. “The award is a concrete affirmation that embracing my intuition and artistic values was the right thing to do.”

Born in Karachi, Pakistan, Abbasi’s family migrated to Southern California when he was 4. Abbasi was schooled in jazz and classical music at the University of Southern California and the Manhattan School of Music. He also made a musical pilgrimage to India under the guidance of master percussionist Ustad Alla Rakha. He currently lives in New York.

Helen Sung, a pianist and composer, is a native of Houston, Texas, and graduate of the city’s High School for the Performing and Visual Arts (HSPVA). She moved from her classical piano upbringing to jazz after an epiphany during her undergraduate studies at University of Texas, Austin. She went on to become part of the inaugural class of the Thelonious Monk Institute (now the Herbie Hancock Institute) at the New England Conservatory of Music. Since then, she has developed into a leading voice in jazz piano and composition.

Born in Cuba, Villafranca was classically trained, then, too, turned to jazz. He was one of five pianists handpicked by Chick Corea to perform at the first Chick Corea Jazz Festival at Jazz at Lincoln Center. His recordings have earned him many accolades, including a Grammy nomination for Best Latin Jazz Album. He has performed and collaborated with such jazz luminaries as Paquito D’Rivera, Wynton Marsalis, Chick Corea, Billy Hart, Billy Harper, Sonny Fortune and Johnny Pancheco. Villafranca is a faculty member of Temple University, the Juilliard School of Music, New York University and Manhattan School of Music.

Since its establishment in 1925, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation has granted nearly $400 million in Fellowships to more than 18,000 individuals.

For more information, go to the Guggenheim Foundation’s website. DB



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