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Liner Notes: Flutist and Vocalist Elena Pinderhughes is Limitless

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Elena Pinderhughes is an extremely talented flutist and vocalist from Berkeley.
Elena Pinderhughes is an extremely talented flutist and vocalist from Berkeley.  (Darrin Baldridge)

Elena Pinderhughes has been around the East Bay music scene since before she learned how to walk.

She recorded her first published work before the age of 10, and has gone on to share stages with Herbie Hancock, and work with Carlos Santana. She’s also played NPR’s Tiny Desk with Chief Xian aTunde Adjuah (formerly Christian Scott) and even played a set at Coachella with Future.

But Elena says she wouldn’t be where she is today without family support and the musical institutions of the East Bay. Working with her brother, pianist and vocalist Samora Pinderhughes, assisted her growth at home, while organizations like the Young Musicians Choral Orchestra aided her progress in the community.

As she learned more about music, she learned about the world around her and within herself.  Her travels helped her realize the value of the diversity in her community back home. Through playing the flute in male-dominated bands, she gained a deeper understanding of the power she wields as a woman.

Now Elena is preparing for the next iteration of her career. She’s relying on the tools given to her by the Bay Area’s multi-talented musical community as she moves into the world of scoring films, making R&B music and more.

This week she tells us all about the depths of family bonds, and how jazz is conversation in musical form.


Read the transcript

Below are lightly edited excerpts of my conversation with Elena Pinderhughes

HARSHAW: What do you define as jazz? 

PINDERHUGHES: I don’t know if I have a short answer to that, but I think there’s a couple of parts of it that are really important.  It’s creativity. It’s freedom. Its legacy. It’s music that stems from the Black experience. I think it’s really a Black cultural expression that stretches and changes with people’s experiences but is rooted in different things like call and response and different harmonic traditions that we’re all familiar with, but have been stretched and changed as the times and different generations have come through. 

At its core I think it’s communication. Because when you’re playing jazz, the biggest thing is you’re listening to everybody around you, reacting. You’re communicating. 

More From the Liner Notes Series

HARSHAW: What makes the jazz scene in the Bay Area unique? 

PINDERHUGHES: I think, for me, community. I wouldn’t be who I am without that community, that mentorship, that love. The Bay Area just has this incredible group of people, musicians that lead with love. Everybody’s a mentor. Like you’d never find in the Bay Area that people aren’t willing to teach you and I think that’s unique.

No one’s going to turn you away for asking questions. They’re going to be like ‘Oh, let me let me bring you to this thing’ or ‘Let me show you where you can get this giant community of people that are just so loving, so special’ and that comes out in the music.

Rightnowish is an arts and culture podcast produced at KQED. Listen to it wherever you get your podcasts or click the play button at the top of this page and subscribe to the show on NPR One, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, TuneIn, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts.



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