The lady in red

That “lady in red” has still got it. Although she might be dressed in any other color now.

According to Wikipedia, the second best-selling music video of all time (Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” comes in first) was “Yanni Live at the Acropolis”, released in March, 1994. The television special became a historic fund-raising coup for PBS, and the subsequent video has been seen in 65 countries by an estimated half billion people.

One of the most memorable features of that concert, both musically and visually, was the international debut of violinist Karen Briggs. Before that tour Briggs had been a virtuoso performer known only to a small circle of jazz and salsa enthusiasts. The exposure during the Yanni tour, culminating in the Acropolis performance, changed everything. As she bluntly says today (not without a chuckle), “I lost my privacy.”

Her performance in a flame-colored dress and head wrap, both alone and dueling violins with conductor Shardad Rohani, was electrifying. It was the first time I had seen her, and like millions of others around the world I wondered who “that lady in red” was. Nobody could forget her.

Since then the musical legacy of Karen Briggs has been cemented and she has appeared in hundreds of venues both large and small. In the jazz world she occupies that select pantheon of virtuosos who define the boundaries of the medium on their chosen instruments. And like all of them she’s a working musician.

After an intense spring work season I needed a break, and my wife and I decided to spend the weekend in Charleston, WV. We had attended the summer jazz festival on the campus of the university there two years ago and thought a reprise was in order. I didn’t pay much attention to the scheduled performers – it was mainly getting away for a weekend that we were after.

When we strolled onto the festival grounds quite late in the day I was energized immediately by the music pumping from the speaker towers. I’d read the Lao Tizer group would be playing but had no idea who else performed with Tizer. Imagine my amazement to see and hear Karen Briggs on stage, trading riffs with guitar hero Jeff Kollman. I really was determined not to start working that day – however I did want to carry some memories away from the event, and was very glad I had a camera with me.

Here’s hoping these snapshots of Karen Briggs and her band mates at the Charleston jazz festival might be enough to make some readers curious enough to seek out her music on your own. She’s still a force of nature. And if you’d like to catch a brief reprise of her performance from “Live at the Acropolis” here’s a link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ppgiK8R3OA

Also appearing in the photos below are band leader Lao Tizer at the keyboard, guitarist Jeff Kollman and the festival grounds on the campus of the University of Charleston. And the state capitol dome of West Virginia.

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