We had the good fortune of connecting with Alexander Davis and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Alexander, maybe we can start at the very start – the idea – how did you come up with the idea for your business?
Sugar Hill Salon first came to mind when I walked the Black Heritage Trail in Boston. The trail highlights many of the buildings in which abolitionists gathered and used to create safe spaces to fight for equal rights. On this trail, I slowly realize how all of this social justice work intersects and meets in the home. Abolitionist were utilizing their own dinning rooms, livings rooms, and hidden spaces to not only create sanctuary, but a future. I couldn’t get this out of my head with all the racial tension going on that summer and was trying to figure out how I could also use my own space in creating equity as a classical musician of color. It hit me, that I too could use my own space to support, uplift, and connect black and brown musicians and composers.
This chamber music series is held in my dining room, which is a part of the vibrant black history of Harlem NY in an apartment building called “The Dunbar”, named after the African American poet, novelist, and playwright Paul Laurence Dunbar. The building has housed many prominent black community members such as W.E.B. Du Bois and Matthew Henson.” We provide free and accessible live streamed concerts via our Facebook Page with the option of suggested donation. This series is ran solely based off of the donations provided to us throughout the season and through fundraising campaigns.
Sugar Hill Salon is one of the first chamber music series that centers black and brown artistry first and allows everyone to take space. To me, chamber music is the place where social justice work can actually happen. It’s a musical form that stems from a grassroots mentality where you have the ability to not only choose the musicians and music you play, but also curate programs that allow you to have those conversations in concert. The fact that you can choose all of this while also being extremely accessible in terms of where it can happen and your audience is ideal. Art should be a reflection of who we are, our culture, our influences, and our stories. I have always been drawn to chamber music for most of my musical career and strive to make it my life’s work. I want to see more representation of race, sexuality, gender, politics and more in chamber music because it is meant for this. Everyone single concert we perform includes black and brown musicians and composers with the knowledge that diversity is beautiful to showcase.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
Along with being the founder and artistic director of the Sugar Hill Salon Chamber Music, I am a freelance bassoonist residing in New York City. My career has opened many exiting opportunities that has led me to perform in orchestras and series such as Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, Princeton Symphony Orchestra, Albany Symphony, Erie Philharmonic, and CityMusic Cleveland to say a few. I’ve also performed in summer festivals such as Ensemble Evolution, Tanglewood Music Center, Banff Music Festival, Norfolk Chamber Music Festival, Maine Chamber Music Seminar, and Imani Winds Chamber Music Festival. In addition to performing,
I’m most proud about my work as a teaching artist at The Park Avenue Armory. Majority of the work I do there consists of using interdisciplinary works of art to help black and brown students build critical consciousness and find moments of self reflection in todays society. Aside from this, I am also proud of my work as the administrative manager of Imani Winds Chamber Music Festival in NYC. A chamber music festival that also creates spaces for young aspiring black and brown musicians. Lastly, I hold a Bachelor’s Degree in Music Education and Performance from SUNY Fredonia, a Masters in Performance from Stony Brook University, a Performers Certificate in Orchestral Performance from Manhattan School of Music and is currently pursuing a Doctorate of Music at Stony Brook University.
It has definitely been a journey every step of the way. Especially when the career of a classical musician is predominantly white owned and curated. I’ve entered many spaces that were unwelcoming aside from a few mentors here and there, but I have learned many lessons along the way. Firstly, get your ego out of the way. Stop chasing titles and chase the aspects of life that mean the most to you. For me I learned if I’m not doing some sort of healing, connecting, or loving in my work, I will not be happy…regardless of the title. Secondly, be unapologetically yourself. Trying to play a role, hide who you are, or resisting to speak up about injustices only leads you to going into to more harmful spaces. Lastly, I also learned how important it is to give back and feel centered in community. We can’t keeping thinking inward in a time like this. How does what you do uplift or support immediate communities around you?
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I don’t live in LA and have never been….buuuut
Here would be my ideal day in NYC for me 🙂
Common Good Harlem
Grab a coffee and breakfast
Walk to Jackie Robinson Park on 150th
Enjoy coffee and breakfast
Rent Citi E-Bike
Ride along Riverside down to midtown
Ride Citi E-Bike to KinoKuniya
Buy new manga, journal, or etc…
(I will always be a nerd at heart)
Take the train down to Union Square
Grab lunch at Patisserie Fouet
You have to get the Pork Katsu Sando & the Basil Green Apple Dessert to finish
Walk around Soho
Ride Train back uptown
Head to Harlem Chocolate Factory
Pick up the “Bodega Dreams” & “First Night on Lenox” bonbons
Walk over to Benyam Ethiopian Cuisine for dinner
Finish by going to the movies at Magic Johnson Movie Theatre
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
The first time I ever had an awakening of how important it was to see black and brown representation within classical music was when I first met The Imani Winds. Up until that moment, I had never seen a black bassoonist, let alone a whole entire wind quintet made up of black and brown musicians. It was the very first time I ever felt a sense of belonging and purpose in my profession. It opened up my mind to so many possibilities and definitions as to what it can mean to be a performing artist in classical music. To this day, I am so incredibly thankful for their reoccurring presence in my life. I would also say growing up and listening heavily to black artists like Flutetronix, Janelle Monae, Erykah Badu, Corrine Bailey Rae, and Esperanza Spalding were large parts in opening my mind as a musician outside of classical music though they definitely intersect.
Personal Headshot: Sophie Sahara Photography Rehearsal Pictures: Jonathan Ramirez Photography