Lower Mills-based jazz trombonist and tubaist Bill Lowe is something of a renaissance man. In addition to having a storied music career spanning about half a century during which he worked with countless masters of the genre like Dizzie Gillespie and Thad Jones, he has also spent the years teaching as an English professor.
At the upcoming installment of the Dot Jazz Series hosted by Mandorla Music and Greater Ashmont Main Street, he and his band will offer a performance combining those two passions: music and literature.
The May 10 concert at All Saints Church in Ashmont will feature selections from a project that Lowe has been working on for the last ten years, setting parts of the 1923 Jean Toomer novel “Cane” to music.
Lowe says he has long been fascinated by the work, which is loosely structured around a series of vignettes depicting rural and urban African-American life and a black protagonist from Washington D.C. teaching in Georgia.
“It was considered by many to be the first novel of the Harlem Renaissance,” said Lowe. “It was very experimental back then, and in some ways it still is today.”
Lowe saw in the modernist novel a natural opportunity to translate its essence into other forms of art like music, theater, and dance, beginning with the third section of the book entitled “Kabnis.”
“Toomer saw it as a play, a dramatic work, and that’s also how I interpreted it,” Lowe said.
This play is the centerpiece of Lowe’s project, other parts of which are still in progress. The first production of “Kabnis” debuted last summer at the Hibernian Hall in Roxbury, but Lowe’s vision for its final form is even more expansive.
“Before I die there will be this full-blown production with video, dancers, everything,” he said.
Lowe is also a member of the Makanda Project, an ensemble formed in memory of Boston musician Makanda Ken McIntyre after his death in 2001. Friends of McIntyre discovered a trove of unperformed, unrecorded compositions that he left behind, and began working to arrange and perform them as a way to keep McIntyre’s memory alive. Several members of the Makanda Project are also involved in Lowe’s play and will be in Lowe’s band next Thursday at All Saints.
In discussing the ways that jazz has changed and migrated over the years, Lowe noted that a central purpose of the Makanda Project is to rebuild a jazz presence in communities where the music used to exist but may not be as prevalent nowadays. The group eschews the city’s more famed jazz clubs in favor of local, more accessible venues, performing routinely at Roxbury Park, the First Church in Roxbury, the Dudley Branch of the Boston Public Library, and now at All Saints.
“We wanted to do music in the neighborhoods it comes from,” said Lowe. “The community that fosters musicians tends to be primarily the African American community, but meanwhile all the venues are downtown...so there’s this tension where musicians who are successful are playing for audiences whose community is not the source of the music, and as a result the source community thinks the music is not for them. We want to make sure that’s where the home of the music is.”
The Bill Lowe Band will feature Patrice Williamson on vocals, Jason Robinson on tenor sax and flute, Kevin Harris on keyboard, Wes Brown on bass, and Royal Hartigan on drums and percussion.
The concert will begin at 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 10 at Peabody Hall in the Parish of All Saints in Dorchester. Tickets available at mandorlamusic.net.