Sixteen months ago, Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson embarked upon a multiyear collaboration with The Balvenie “to unpack the uniquely human elements that elevate the great to the exceptional.” The partnership’s one-year anniversary was celebrated this past October with the launch of Thompson’s new web series, Quest for Craft.
However, the Balvenie and Questlove took their “shared pursuit of craft and creativity” further by teaming up with the University of Arts in Philadelphia. Already known as one of the oldest schools in the United States dedicated to the study of music and the arts, the institution launched its three-year interdisciplinary Ph.D. in Creativity program in 2015. So the iconic distillery and Thompson established The Balvenie Fellowship this past October to provide one special student with “an opportunity to explore their creative journey with this scholarship.”
And last week, the first-ever recipient of this unique fellowship was finally announced: acclaimed composer and saxophonist James Brandon Lewis, who will begin his work this coming June.
“The Balvenie’s ethos is anchored in the ultimate, never-ending pursuit of craft – it’s the true driving force behind the innovation, creativity, and consistency of craft that continues to come from our distillery,” said Greg Levine, VP Marketing, The Balvenie USA. “As the union between The Balvenie and Questlove is centered around the creative process and the many forms it takes, we’re always looking to uplift others who are refining their own craft in new and exciting ways, which makes James Brandon Lewis the perfect candidate for the Ph.D. program.”
Lewis released his debut album, Moments, in April 2010. The very next year, the Buffalo, NY native unveiled a new method of composition and improvisation called Molecular Systematic Music, which combines “the fundamentals of music theory with the ideas of molecular biology.” His fusion of these disciplines was inspired by his mother’s profession as a science teacher and his childhood days spent at the Buffalo Museum of Science. Lewis’ music has been lauded by outlets such as the New York Times and NPR, and it is his intellectual daring that made him befitting of being named the program’s inaugural Balvenie fellow.
“University of the Arts seeks students who have achieved proficiency in an intellectual pursuit in any field and, in many cases, this pursuit has not been able to fit easily into existing PhD programs,” said Dr. Jonathan Fineberg, PhD in Creativity Program Director. “The work James has already done, alongside the complexity of his studies is inspiring, and we’re thrilled to have The Balvenie and Questlove by our side as he excels in this program.”
This venture between The Balvenie, University of the Arts, and Questlove aims not only to inspire those in the music space, but those throughout all creative communities.
“Inspiration, passion, and dedication to creativity and the making process is so important to myself and The Balvenie, which is why our partnership is founded on an exploration into creative minds who are doubtlessly committed to their craft,” Questlove said in a statement. “We’re honored to be granting this scholarship to James Brandon Lewis, who is already a well-established and incredible saxophonist. I’m looking forward to seeing what he achieves, while honing his craft in my hometown of Philadelphia, and the impact he will have on the music community.”