This past February, George Sams, owner of the Metropolitan Gallery, decided to close the space at 2943 Locust St. Sams had mounted art exhibitions there since taking it over in 2005 and also presented regular concerts as part of his Nu-Art Performance Series.
Musicians included Hamiet Bluiett and Oliver Lake -- natives of the St. Louis area who went on to international acclaim as members of the World Saxophone Quartet – as well as famed pianist Andrew Hill and trumpeter Eddie Henderson.
The Nu-Art Series also showcased writers and poets with deep roots in jazz, such as Quincy Troupe, Ntosake Shange, Shirley LeFlore and Curtis Lyle. And some of the most talented musicians on the St. Louis scene were featured, from Freddie Washington and Jerome “Scrooge” Harris to Erika Johnson, Gary Sykes and many others.
Sams, a native of St. Louis, played jazz trumpet and worked on the nonprofit arts scene in both San Francisco and New York before moving back here in 1988. He soon began producing musical concerts and events under the Nu-Arts banner – including a music series for young people at the Center of Creative Arts as well as jazz concerts at the Botanical Garden and other venues.
Although he decided to get out of the business of running an art gallery, he couldn’t walk away from the music and poetry.
He found a home for his most recent series of concerts, Dream Carriers, featuring poets Lyle, LeFlore, Michael Castro and Marsha Cann, at the Scott Joplin House State Historic Site at 2658 Delmar.
When I caught up with Sams for a telephone conversation about plans for the Nu-Art Performance Series in 2014, he had recently returned from New York.
“I have a place in New York City now, but I really want to maintain a presence in St. Louis,” Sams says. “I’m working with several musical artists in New York, and I’ve also been playing more trumpet, rehearsing and also doing some performances with J.D. Parran.”
Parran, a native St. Louis with roots here in the Black Artists Group, has been a fixture on the New York contemporary jazz scene for decades. And Sams hopes to get the 2014 Nu-Art Series started with a performance featuring Parran in April.
“I’m planning on doing four-to-six Nu-Art Series performances in 2014 in St. Louis,” says Sams. “It’s going to be called the Art of the Jazz Composer and Improviser. I also hope to perform at each of these concerts myself along with the featured artist.”
As far as a location for the 2014 concerts, Sams is considering several venues – including the Scott Joplin House.
“That’s still a possibility,” he says. “And I’m also checking out a location in Maplewood that’s very promising. And since I’m not here in St. Louis all the time, Chris Mullins is working with me on the Nu-Arts Series. Chris has been involved in booking jazz events in the past, and I’m looking forward to working with her.”