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Duncan, Amy (Hildreth)

Duncan, Amy (Hildreth), pianist, composer, arranger, Brazilian percussionist; b. New York, NY, 5 December 1941. She grew up in Newtown, Connecticut with her parents, Robert and Edith Duncan (b. Bates, 1910) and her sister Roberta Elizabeth (b. 1940). Her parents divorced when she was 13 years old. Amy started piano lessons at age 7, but quit when she was 13 to teach herself jazz. Both of her parents were musical, her mother playing the piano and her father, who was a jazz fan, playing some guitar and clarinet.

By age 15, Amy had become a member of the Danbury, Connecticut Musicians' Union and was playing professional with local musicians. She formed her own trio, which was known as "Amy Dee and her Three," while she was still in high school. She attended Boston University in 1959 and 1960, majoring in languages and literature, but still continuing to play piano professionally in clubs around the city and on TV. In the late 60s she traveled to Mexico, and then to Brazil, where she stayed for two years. By this time she had been married, divorced and remarried, and had two daughters, Hilary and Madeleine. She took some time off from music while raising her daughters, but returned in the middle 70s, and began studying music theory with Charlie Banacos. She remained with Banacos for four years, while she developed her music, concentrating mostly on the trio format. She formed a group with guitarist Gray Sargent and bassist Charlie LaChappelle which she names as one of her most creative endeavors to date.

In the middle 70s, Amy became the pop music critic for The Christian Science Monitor, which gave her the opportunity to meet and talk with many jazz musicians who were her idols, such as Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Lionel Hampton, Woody Herman, Gerry Mulligan, Betty Carter and Anita O'Day. Amy continued to play in and around Boston in during the 70s, working most of the jazz rooms, and playing an extended stint at the Top of the Hub in the Prudential Center. In 1981, she moved to New York, feeling that there would be more opportunity for growth there. Around the time before and after her move, she performed several times at the Women's Jazz Festival in Kansas City, where she put together an All-Star band that received a glowing review from Leonard Feather in Jazz Times magazine.

During her first years in New York, she felt a growing need for a bigger sound in her music, and put together her current 10-piece band, Brass Tacks, in 1984. Inspired by a euphonium choir she had seen in concert, Amy decided to base the instrumentation of her group on brass, and particularly low brass. Avoiding saxophones and other reeds altogether, she set up an unusual formation of two trumpets, two trombones, two euphoniums and a tuba, with piano bass and drums. Using the group as a vehicle for her own compositions and arrangements, she started writing and debuted the group, Brass Tacks, in 1985 at an outdoor concert in Manhattan. She went on to play many shows with Brass Tacks in New York City, including a series of Monday nights at the Blue Note (where Randy Brecker and Lew Tabackin were guest soloists on two occasions). Later on Brass Tacks toured with political comedian Mort Sahl, as house band for his cable TV show. Many musicians have passed through the band, among them the trombonists Delfeayo Marsalis and Robin Eubanks, trumpeters Brian Lynch and Valery Ponamarev, percussionist Richie Flores and drummer Chester Thompson (drummer for Phil Collins). Soon after moving to New York, Amy was commissioned to write a jazz suite for the Danny Buraczeski dance troupe, which played at the Joyce Theater to positive reviews.

In 1989, she was a guest on Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz radio program. Around this time, she became interested in Brazilian percussion, learned how to play, and joined a local band. In 1990 The Christian Science Monitor sent her to Rio de Janeiro to cover that city's famous carnival. The following year she returned to Rio to play in the percussion bands that participate in the carnival parades. Her involvement with Brazilian percussion ended up naturally influencing her compositions for Brass Tacks. In 1993, she married Ivo Araujo, a well-known Brazilian percussionist who was living in New York, and together they formed a traditional Brazilian bateria (percussion group) called Manhattan Samba, which continues to play shows and gigs in the New York area. In 1999, Amy made a definitive move to Rio de Janeiro, where she reformed Brass Tacks with Brazilian musicians.

Recordings, videos:
Brass Tacks: My Joy (2002); She has a couple of videos with Brass Tacks from when they taped the Mort Sahl show, but not with Randy Brecker or Delfeayo (it wasn't Branford). Brian Lynch is on those, though; She still has old tapes from the Blue Note with Lew Tabackin and Randy Brecker. Also, she has several tapes of interviews that she did for the Monitor with Paul Simon, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Woody Herman, Miles Davis, and the Brazilian singer Djavan.

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