Arts / Performing Arts

A Pianist Takes On Prison Reform, Police Brutality and More Injustices — How Samora Pinderhughes Makes His Music Matter

This Unique Artist Brings His Healing Project to Houston's Eldorado Ballroom

BY // 03.19.24

Pianist-composer Samora Pinderhughes embodies the idea of speaking truth to power through his open-minded, unapologetically conscious approach to music. He embraces the idea of music that transcends structure and aural soundscapes to become a safe harbor for listeners.

Pinderhughes is both straightforward and resolute while addressing controversial topics. Equally important, he offers solutions focused on grief and healing to the audience — exploring a deeper connection.

Before heading to Oslo, Warsaw and Berlin later this Spring, Pinderhughes will perform The Healing Project at Houston’s Eldorado Ballroom this Thursday, March 21. The free concert follows a movie screening and will mark Pinderhughes’ first appearance in Houston.

Pianist and composer Samora Pinderhughes performs during his "The Healing Project" concert at Carnegie Hall, which was held February 10, 2023 in New York City. (Courtesy Samora Pinderhughes and Carnegie Hall)
Pianist and composer Samora Pinderhughes performs during his “The Healing Project” concert at Carnegie Hall, which was held February 10, 2023 in New York City. (Courtesy Samora Pinderhughes and Carnegie Hall)

Originally hailing from the Bay Area, Pinderhughes leans into that region’s strong history of organizing and activism with his art, film and music projects. Two major issues he continually addresses are the prison industrial complex and policing.

“My goal is that people understand these elements as collective challenges,” Pinderhughes says. “Policing is a structural issue, just as prisons are a structural issue. The whole system needs a reimagining. Similarly, when it comes to healing and caring for the losses that we have all endured, that process can only be a communal process.

“I am a strong advocate for an immediate and permanent ceasefire and an end to the genocide in Gaza. I am also a strong advocate for the movement against Cop City in Georgia, and in cities all across the country.”

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The issues in which Pinderhughes believes — prison abolition, reproductive rights, the fight against deportation and detention camps, the rights of immigrants — remain part of the national discourse ad infinitum.

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Pianist, composer, filmmaker and multidisciplinary artist Samora Pinderhughes counts Herbie Hancock, Ahmad Jamal, Nat King Cole and Wynton Kelly among pianists who have inspired him over the years. (Courtesy Samora Pinderhughes)

Pinderhughes’ work is also influenced by a wide variety of musicians. “My all time number one inspirations are Nina Simone and James Baldwin,” he says. “On the piano, I am deeply inspired by Herbie Hancock, Ahmad Jamal, Nat King Cole, Wynton Kelly and many more.”

“As a composer, I am deeply inspired by folkloric traditions around the world.”

Other musical inspirations include Marvin Gaye, Björk, Wayne Shorter, Joni Mitchell, Billy Strayhorn, Radiohead and Gustav Mahler.

Pinderhughes first released his debut album The Transformations Suite in 2016. He followed that effort with an album titled Grief in 2022. He often ends each set with his song “Process” from the Grief record.

With its emphasis on serious subject matter, Pinderhughes’ work harkens back to the era of protest jazz and spoken word made from the 1950s to 1970s. The We Insist! (1960) album released by Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln set the standard. Later, Archie Shepp’s avant-garde magnum opus Attica Blues (1972) set the tone for the discussion on prisons that Pinderhughes continues to partake in. In his own work, Pinderhughes has collaborated with Ohio death row inmate Keith LaMar for The Healing Project.

While most of the subject matters Pinderhughes and his band addresses are serious, he also has a lighter side and likes to smile. He displayed this side while performing with Common and Houston’s own Robert Glasper during August Greene’s Tiny Desk performance.

Samora Pinderhughes, pianist and composer, performed with vocalists and musicians during his Tiny Desk (Home) concert for NPR, which debuted April 15, 2022. Songs played during the set include "The Cry/Masculinity," "Holding Cell," "Grief," and "Process."
Samora Pinderhughes, pianist and composer, performed with vocalists and musicians during his Tiny Desk (Home) concert for NPR, which debuted April 15, 2022. Songs played during the set include “The Cry/Masculinity,” “Holding Cell,” “Grief,” and “Process.”

A graduate of Juilliard, Pinderhughes enjoys the counsel of a dream trifecta of mentors in playwright Anna Deavere Smith, historian Robin D. G. Kelley and composer Vijay Iyer.

“My mentors have taught me many things, chief among them being: You should never put boundaries on yourself in terms of imagining what you can create, but instead be led by idea, emotion and story,” he says. “They always remind me that artistic practice, just like the art of living, needs to be deeply filled with detail and integrity.”

Samora Pinderhughes and his band will perform The Healing Project at Eldorado Ballroom this Thursday, March, 21. Doors open at 6:30 pm. For more information, go here

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