Get to know Jazz Fellowship Awards Finalist Sullivan Fortner

We are pleased to introduce you to SULLIVAN FORTNER, one of the five Finalists for the American Pianists Association’s 2014 – 2015 Jazz Fellowship Awards presented by REI Real Estate Services.


Where did you grow up?

I grew up in New Orleans, Louisiana

Are you from a musical family?

Yes… My family is filled with singers and a few instrumentalist on both sides.

What attracted you to the piano? 

I had a big crush on the organist at church when I was little, and would imitate her a lot. Then my mom would see me climb on top of the living room TV banging out and conducting the songs we played in church that week. After that she bought me a Fisher Price toy piano, and I was hooked ever since.


What age were you when you started to play the piano? 

I believe I was 4…


How do you deal with the pressure and being on stage? 

I’ll say to myself, “Sully, It’s almost over”… Then once it is time to start, I try to zone in on the 1st note I or the other musicians play and go from there.

Favorite venue? 

Probably the Village Vanguard in New York… The sound there is incredible. Also, it has a very rich history.

NewYork_VillageVanguard_20110111_02-1 (2)

Biggest musical influence? 

SO MANY! But if I had to narrow it down to a few institutions, it would be New Orleans culture, The Black Church Experience, New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA), Oberlin Conservatory of Music, Manhattan School of Music (MSM), Roy Hargrove and Stefon Harris. These were and still are my teachers and the shoulders I stand on.

What is an ordinary day like for you? 

An ordinary day for me varies from time to time. On a non-touring day, I would wake up late (roughly noon), eat, practice, exercise (maybe), sleep, practice, go out and hang with friends/go listen to music.

What type of music do you listen to?

Blues, Jazz, Gospel, Classical, R&B…. Then there are Classic Movie/Disney Soundtracks. Really all types though.

Favorite Restaurants?

New Orleans Food and Spirit, Copeland’s Cheesecake Bistro and Popeyes (haha)

Favorite movie(s)?

Casablanca, Coming to America, Harlem Nights and X-Men

Favorite TV show(s)?

Sanford and Son, The Cosby Show, I Love Lucy and Family Matters


Favorite color?


Favorite season?


Favorite vacation destination? 

As long as its a vacation, ANYWHERE!

On Saturday, November 8th, Finalist Sullivan Fortner will play the 2nd concert of the American Pianists Association‘s 2014 – 2015 Jazz Fellowship Awards presented by REI Real Estate Services (Christian Sands kicked off the competition in September). This concert (and the following 3 Premiere Series concerts) will begin at 8 PM at The Jazz Kitchen.

Sullivan Photo 7
photo credit: Brad Berger 

Then, Emmet Cohen on Saturday, December 6.
photo credit: Silvie Cheng

Zach Lapidus will play the first concert of 2015 on Saturday, January 24. Zach Lapidus Piano
photo credit: John Behringer

And, Kris Bowers will play the final Premiere Series concert on Saturday, February the piano with polka dot socks

The competition doesn’t stop in February!

All 5 Finalists will return to Indianapolis to perform at The Jazz Kitchen for the Semi-Finals on Friday, March 27, 2015 and at Hilbert Circle Theatre for the Finals presented by Ice Miller on Saturday, March 28, 2015.


TICKETS: 317.940.9945 |

Get to know Jazz Fellowship Awards Finalist Christian Sands

Over the next several months, we will be introducing you to each of the 5 Jazz Fellowship Awards Finalists.

Up first, Christian Sands…

CS Urban Shot_Rodney Dabney
photo credit: Rodney Dabney

1. Where did you grow up?

I grew up in a city called New Haven, CT where I spent most of my childhood. I then moved to the suburban Orange, CT. Not too far from New Haven, about 10 minutes.

2. Are you from a musical family?

I’m from a creative family. My parents played a little music when they were younger (elementary and high school) with standard lessons. Growing up, my parents did many other things as well such as writing, painting, drawing, and photography.

3. What attracted you to the piano?

The piano has always been around my life since I was a child. I grew up with it in the house, in the classroom and on stage so it has always been a huge part of my life. I loved the sound, the feel of the hammers hitting the strings, and the ability to create.

4. What age were you when you started to play the piano?

Since I could walk, I’ve always played the piano however, took formal lessons starting at 4 years old.

Christian Sands

5. How do you deal with the pressure and being on stage?

I enjoy being on stage. It gives me an opportunity to share my thinking and my creativity with new people. It’s a rush, the lights, the crowd.  I’ve been on stage since I was a young child in different settings (symphonies, jazz trios, big bands, funk groups, experimental, etc.) and every time is a new learning experience.

6. Favorite venue?

My favorite venue would have to be a concert hall. I really love the way the piano sings in a concert hall or opera house. Also when in the hall, I love when the audience is intimate with you as if you’re in a small club. When everyone’s on the same page, that’s when music happens.

7. Biggest musical influence?

My biggest musical influence would have to be the musicians of the “Young Lions” generation. People like Wynton Marsalis, Christian McBride, Kenny Garrett, Marcus Roberts, etc. The way they command the stage is astounding and inspiring. They’re coming from the tradition of bringing people into the music, but also moving it forward into new directions.

8. What is an ordinary day like for you?

An ordinary day for me running around doing errands, teaching, practicing, and getting ready for the next performance.

9. What type of music do you listen to?

I listen to as much as I can. Whether it’s Classical music, or electronic house music. From artist like James Brown and Prince to Björk and Bon Jovi. Afro Cuban and Native American folk music to Indian Raga and Arabic prayers. I try to be as well rounded as possible.

10. Favorite restaurant?

My favorite restaurant has to be Havana Central, a Cuban restaurant in New York. The food is great and the atmosphere is as if you’re in Cuba, hints of mambo and salsa playing in the background. Sometimes they bring live bands and people dance for hours. It’s excellent and a must see.

11. Favorite movie?

Favorite movie has to be the 1964 movie, Goldfinger staring Sean Connery. I love all of the James Bond movies, but Goldfinger is my favorite. My second would be Skyfall (2012) with Daniel Craig.

12. Favorite TV show(s)?

I would have to say, when it was on, Breaking Bad. Epic!

13. Favorite color?


14. Favorite season?

My favorite season is Fall.

15. Favorite vacation destination?

My favorite vacation destination is a small town called Girard, in Burke County, GA where my grandmother (mother’s mother) lives. It’s hot, but it’s peaceful and full of family and friends. It’s great place to be away from the hustle of the city once in a while and be calmly fishing with uncles or smelling grandma’s cooking.

16. Interesting facts about yourself?

Something interesting? I am somewhat of a synesthete and I used to be able to play the piano upside down.

On Saturday, September 27th, Finalist Christian Sands will kick off the American Pianists Association‘s 2014 – 2015 Jazz Fellowship Awards presented by REI Real Estate Services at the first Premiere Series concert of the competition! This concert (and the following 4 Premiere Series concerts) will begin at 8 PM at The Jazz Kitchen.

photo 4

Sullivan Fortner will perform on Saturday, November 8.
Sullivan Photo 7
photo credit: Brad Berger 

Then, Emmet Cohen on Saturday, December 6.
photo credit: Silvie Cheng

Zach Lapidus will play the first concert of 2015 on Saturday, January 24. Zach Lapidus Piano
photo credit: John Behringer

And, Kris Bowers will play the final Premiere Series concert on Saturday, February the piano with polka dot socks

The competition doesn’t stop in February!

All 5 Finalists will return to Indianapolis to perform at The Jazz Kitchen for the Semi-Finals on Friday, March 27, 2015 and at Hilbert Circle Theatre for the Finals presented by Ice Miller on Saturday, March 28, 2015.

TICKETS: 317.940.9945 |

Remembering Dr. James B. Steichen, Former President of American Pianists Association

The Indianapolis Arts Community lost an enthusiastic supporter with the passing of James B. Steichen, M.D. on May 22, 2014.


Jim was the President of American Pianists Association when I was hired as Executive Director.  He and a dedicated Board of Directors of the American Pianists Association, formerly the Beethoven Foundation, literally saved the organization immediately following the name change in the 1980s.  They were all classical piano lovers who wanted to support American pianists’ career development.  They gave of their time, talents, and resources to make sure the tradition continued.  Jim was a strong supporter of adding a jazz piano segment to the organization and I am happy to have had his support during this time as some of the Directors were somewhat reticent of that happening.

Jim was a perfectionist and expected the same of those who worked for him.  He is the only man on the planet that I would have 8 AM monthly meetings at his office and never be late.  And believe me, I needed all my T’s crossed and I’s dotted prior to the meetings.  I respected him as my boss, a family man, a man of the world, and a brilliant hand surgeon.

I must relate something he said to me that I will always remember.  He operated on my mother-in-law’s hand when she was in her 90s and living with Bob and me.  I called for the follow-up appointment and he spoke to me and said he would come by the house to see her.  While there he said, “If you ever tell anyone I made a house call, I will deny having done it!”

He and Joan were spectacular hosts when entertaining at their home.  American Pianists Association Fellows loved being hosted by them and Jim always said it was delightful being awakened by one of the Fellows practicing.  Of course, his delightful dry wit rounded out the personality of this amazing man, and I will never forget some of his comments to me.  He will be missed by many.

Jan Rost, Former Executive Director of the American Pianists Association

Playing Czechers: On Tour in Prague

Through talented serendipity- that of American Pianists Association winner Sean Chen being selected for the opening round of the 2013 Cliburn Competition, and thus being unable to travel to Europe- I was fortunate enough to receive an opportunity to perform five recitals in the Czech Republic. I had heard amazing things about Prague, but now I was able to see it for myself.


From the moment I arrived, the people I met there who were involved with the tour were among the warmest I have ever encountered. The managing director in particular, Irina Rybacek, was an incredibly wonderful and helpful person. Unlike other tours where you stay in hotels by yourself, I stayed with a host family and we had a great time getting to know each other. The apartment was in central Prague, quite close to the famous Charles Bridge. I was also able to practice at the home of a legendary pianist, Raduslav Kvapil, and he was also an exceptionally warm and generous man.


There were 5 concerts scheduled during my stay, and only two of them were in Prague. The others were in distant cities, so a group of us traveled the countryside by car for a number of days. This was a beautiful way for me to see much more of the Czech Republic, and the cities (Javornik, Unicov) were quite lovely. One of the concerts, in a town called Pisek, was canceled due to central European flooding that occurred during my stay, but fortunately the other four concerts still took place. When I was in Romania a few years earlier, that Icelandic volcano no one can pronounce erupted and I was stuck there for an extra week. I seem to attract epic natural disasters when traveling abroad.


There is so much to do in Prague, but even with limited time I was able to see a lot of memorable sites. The St. Vitus Cathedral, high on a hill overlooking the city, was absolutely stunning. Having a crisp Pilsner Urquell in a Prague bar with locals was a delight, and I also learned that Budweiser originated in the Czech Republic- and they stubbornly insisted that their version is superior. I had to agree with them.


Above all, the people I got to know and got to perform for were the best part of traveling. Many of them will remain my friends for life. I was so grateful to have been given this unique opportunity, and a return trip is definitely on my Czech-list.


- Andrew Staupe, 2013 American Pianists Association Classical Laureate


p.s. The American Pianists Association is sending Sean Chen to the Czech Republic later this month (May 28 – June 4) – stay tuned for a blog post from Sean…

Remembering Richard Ford, Former Chairman of the Board of American Pianists Association

For many, many years, Richard Ford was a tremendous supporter of the American Pianists Association with both his financial resources and his great love of classical piano music.

Richard Ford

Having served as President of the Board (1993 – 1997), he maintained his involvement with APA’s classical pianists throughout the years.  Mr. Ford engaged APA Fellows in concerts at the Honeywell Center in Wabash, Indiana, and in recitals at the Honeywell House, in addition to his own Wabash home and at his lake house.  Mr. Ford was the consummate host, quietly entertaining his family and friends and serving lovely dinners after intimate performances by APA Fellows. He also kept in close contact with former Fellows by visiting them in their home cities as he traveled the country and abroad and was constantly connecting them with new people who could be supportive.

Prior to each round of the Classical Fellowship Awards, Mr. Ford hosted a pre-competition symposium at either his home or the lake house.  In addition to ones’ musical talents, he expected APA’s young musicians to be able to navigate the social expectations of stardom, including hosting and being hosted in private homes.  Richard modeled the ideal host, providing a convivial and relaxing atmosphere for the musicians, while maintaining a rigorous decorum.  1985 Classical Fellow Frederic Chiu tells of the free artistic rein given him by Mr. Ford during the several-day workshops to which all five finalists of the Classical Fellowship Awards were invited.  Some of the subjects that Mr. Chiu covered were meditation, memory, dealing with and learning to embrace inevitable mistakes, learning a piece without practicing, and coming to terms with the consequences of going through that experience.

Mr. Chiu expressed his deep sadness at Mr. Ford’s passing this way, “One of the things that I always discover when performing in a community where the music audience is very enthusiastic is that there is always one person behind it.  And Richard was that person.  Having such a long and fruitful relationship with him, I had the privilege of coming time after time to Wabash.  Each time Richard would show me the plans for his next project, until finally he had transformed the topography and use of his surroundings–creating trails, a waterfall, and a museum.  Richard’s quiet perseverance and his organizational abilities combined to focus his resources on those things about which he was most passionate.  Wabash and the music world will miss him acutely.”

Spencer Myer, the 2006 Christel DeHaan Classical Fellow offers his condolences to friends and family this way, “I first met Richard Ford during my time as a finalist for the 2000 American Pianists Association Classical Fellowship Awards.  Richard held a ‘trial run’ performance for the five finalists’ last programs of the competition at his home in Wabash.  I was immediately struck by his generosity and warmth, all fueled by his great love for music and for the piano.  He engaged in conversation with each of the five of us with equal interest, and his ability to make one feel as if he/she were the only person in the room was evident.  During my subsequent returns to Wabash I felt equally welcome, and always felt this was a priority for Richard.  The continued life of the classical arts depends on individuals like Richard Ford, and he obviously took great joy in his love and support of the arts.  Each time I sit down to play the piano, I feel as if I am carrying on the legacy of, and paying tribute to, music lovers like Richard.  I am grateful for his life every day.”

- Helen Small, Former President and CEO of the American Pianists Association (1997 – 2008)


Richard E. Ford
75, Wabash, passed away.  Memorial Service: 1 PM May 8 at the Honeywell Center, Wabash, with calling from 3-8 PM May 7 at Grandstaff-Hentgen Funeral Service, Wabash. 

Get to know #GrandEncounters artist Emanuel Ax

The American Pianists Association is presenting Grammy Award-winning pianist, Emanuel Ax, in a solo concert at The Howard L. Schrott Center for the Arts (on the campus of Butler University) Tuesday, May 13 | 7:30 PM (this will be the final concert in the 2013-2014 Grand Encounters series). 



Where did you grow up?

I was born in Lvov, Poland and moved to Winnipeg, Canada with my family when I was a young boy.

What age were you when you started to play the piano?

I started playing the piano at age 7.

How do you deal with the pressure and being on stage?

I’m always a little nervous, ultimately it is just part of the job.

What is an ordinary day like for you?

I get up in the morning, practice for about 3 hours, eat lunch and then continue my practicing until dinnertime.

What type of music do you listen to?

I listen to opera, jazz piano, string quartets and a lot of classical piano.

Favorite restaurant(s)?

There are a few Chinese and BBQ restaurants in both New York and Chicago that I really enjoy.

Favorite movie?

Groundhog Day.


Favorite TV show(s)?

The Wire.  And, also Top Chef.

Do you have a favorite season?

Any that involve cooler weather.

Favorite vacation destination?


Interesting facts about yourself?

I am a huge sports fan.  My favorite football team is the New York Giants.  And, my wife and I are both really big fans of tennis.

Where would someone find you on a Saturday afternoon?

Preparing for a concert.


Tickets for Emanuel Ax’s Grand Encounters concert are available by calling 317.940.9945, at or by clicking the image below:


Donor Spotlight: Dr. & Mrs. Rick & Janet Barb

Meet Rick and Janet Barb, donors with a passion for supporting organizations who are doing work important to them.


In addition to medicine and faith-based interests, music is an important focus of support for both of them due to strong influences early in the couple’s lives. Although Rick’s dad would later become a dentist, he had a first career as a professional musician in movie theaters where he played saxophone. His dad also encouraged Rick to listen to Charles Munch and the Boston Symphony on the radio. Both Rick and Janet play instruments; Rick plays alto sax and Janet plays the piano and the violin.

Although the Barbs have been involved with American Pianists Association for many years, they started attending more concerts recently to bring their great-niece, Laura, who plays the piano, to hear the Classical Fellowship Awards. The couple also found themselves attending more Music Matters concerts where they met others who support APA. They began to feel closer to the organization and feel more at home.

About 10 years ago, the Barbs created a family foundation at Central Indiana Community Foundation. It is through this foundation they made a gift to support Gerard Schwarz during the 2013 ProLiance Energy Classical Fellowship Awards.

Why did you create a family foundation?
“At this stage in life we can give. And, since we can, we should.”

Why do you support the American Pianists Association?
“American Pianists Association is extremely well-managed; look at what APA is doing with what they have. No other organization in the city is doing better. We have confidence in Dr. Harrison and the rest of the staff.”

What do you hope to achieve with your donations?
“We need to develop young musicians so there is music in the future. The work APA does to nurture future audiences is also very important.”

donate button

If you would like information about how to support the American Pianists Association, please contact Julia Holbrook at 317-940-9371 or