by Julian Gerstin

Julian Gerstin, Ph.D. is an ethnomusicologist and percussionist specializing in music of Africa and the Caribbean. He has taught at Wesleyan University, Clark University, Marlboro College, and is currently at Keene State College. At the Vermont Jazz Center, Julian co-leads the Latin Jazz Ensemble with Eugene Uman, runs an ensemble in the Summer Jazz Workshop, and serves on the Grants Committee and as President of the Board. Julian Gerstin's percussive explorations have led him from the folk traditions of Ghana and Cuba to popular music from Nigeria to Brazil, as well as jazz styles from New Orleans brass bands to avant-garde experimentalism. He currently appears with the Caribbean/Mideastern jazz group As Yet Quintet, Afrocuban dance ensemble Grupo Palo Santo, cajun band Lil' Orphans (on washboard!), Brattleboro's Brass Band Project, and accompanies the Brattleboro Women's Chorus, River Singers, and others. Julian's scholarly interests took him to Martinique in 1993-95 and his articles on Martinican music traditions have appeared in several journals and books.

Manuel Valera, piano and keyboards, Joel Frahm, saxophones, John Benitez, bass, Joel, Mateo, drum set, Mauricio Herrera, congas.

In the mid-1980s and 1990s many jazz critics and fans were worried about the future. Where was the music going? What was left to discover? Like twelve-tone music in the classical field, free jazz seemed to have taken things as far as they could go conceptually, and lost the popular audience. That audience had flocked to jazz fusion for awhile, but many critics and serious fans hated the style. Wynton Marsalis and his crowd had reacted against both free jazz and fusion with "neo-conservatism," reaching back to the glories of swing and bebop to create a postmodern pastiche. Marsalis's music always sounded honest, his own, but it did not lead many other musicians towards new directions. A couple of other populist reactions hovered at the edges for a few years: the swing revival, and acid jazz. Neither lived up to its hype.

by Darryl Kniffen.

Darryl Kniffen is a public school music teacher, freelance drummer/percussionist, and composer. He has a bachelor's of music in music education from Crane School of Music, SUNY Potsdam and will graduate with a master's of music in music education from Crane in 2014. He resides in Wilmington, VT.

"We like to make a joyful noise" exclaimed Steve Wilson, saxophone extraordinaire, at the Vermont Jazz Center last Saturday night. Drumming great Lewis Nash, alto and soprano saxophonist Steve Wilson, and special guest, jazz great Nat Reeves on upright bass made such a joyful noise Saturday night that it can still be heard echoing off the walls of the Vermont Jazz Center. The group captivated the audience with their brilliant musical dialogue. At times the ensemble played intimate, soft and sentimental. At times they were explosive and frenetic. The group beautifully explored the full range of emotions. The ensemble's interplay and connection on stage was so brilliant that it was hard to believe they were not all somehow one "superhuman" playing all three instruments simultaneously. During the duo tunes, Lewis Nash and Steve Wilson daringly slashed their way through uncharted musical territory. In the midst of explosive chaos, these pioneers would arrive at familiar ground and play wonderfully complex rhythms in unison. Nat Reeves provided the group with a soulful, rich bottom and was a tremendous treat for all.

By Ricia Gordon

Ricia Gordon has studied jazz piano with Eugene Uman and percussion with Russell Horton, Julian Gershin and William Rodriguez. She has played in several Vermont Jazz Center student ensembles, including a four-year stint on the congas with the Latin Jazz Ensemble. She taught writing at Landmark College for nearly twenty years and has an MFA in poetry from Warren Willson College. Her poems have appeared in numerous journals, and she has been a resident at the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire.

At some point during the first set of Matt Wilson's concert (He played with Fred Haas on tenor sax and Dave Clark on contrabass.), I noticed two young boys in the first row near the drummer, a place where drum students like to sit. They were wide awake and following Wilson's every move. There's a piece of the future of jazz, I thought, two kids coming up through the tradition, part of what Wilson calls the anthropology of jazz, stepping into its story. Wilson embodies that anthropology and jazz's language with great skill and a great sense of humanity. He gives it to us with joy and passion. You can hear it in his stories and see it in his playing, in his face, in the way he hoots softly after an especially beautiful passage.

by Bill Ballard

Bill Ballard, a piano technician in the area for over forty years, became a jazz devoteein 3d Grade after seeing Louis Armstrong and his All Stars. He and his alto saxophone, Sophie, are regulars at the Vermont Jazz Center Wednesday Night Jams, the Summer Workshop, and in the BeBop Boot Camp VJC Student Ensemble.

Joshua Kwassman and his Sextet put on a concert at the Vermont Jazz Center, on Saturday March 24th, to celebrate the release of the ensemble's CD "Songs of the Brother Spirit". On the program were seven of Joshua's extended compositions, mercurial, ecstatic and contemplative. They were also more in the realm of classical chamber music, and thus very challenging for the musicians. Material like this, which stretches across multiple pages, is difficult to get right in the first rehearsals, and for real justice to be done, needs frequent maintenance regardless of how often or seldom are the public performances. The music that evening was better even than the CD's sessions, and getting to know these musicians, I would be happy to spend an evening hearing each in some other setting. The music aside, it was amazing to witness what a group of young and fiercely dedicated musicians can accomplish.

By Rob Fletcher

Rob Fletcher is a chromatic harmonica player based in Erving, MA. He plays chromatic, chord and diatonic in the harmonica trio The Harmaniacs. He also performs throughout New England in a variety of settings on guitar and voice ( Rob founded a corporate team building and training company called Quixote Consulting that specializes in music-based team building. He often writes about the power of music to help people lead stronger, happier lives in his blog At Your Best.


photo by Rob Fletcher

The Show

"I think it's important for players that want to embrace any music - you need to go hear it live a lot and be a sponge with it...just let it absorb in you. And it does take a while." - Karrin Allyson (from All About Jazz interview)

What a pleasure to see the Vermont Jazz Center filled with people for the Karrin Allyson concert. There were a lot of new faces at this sold out show. Clearly Karrin has a strong following! The quartet took to the stage for two tight sets. Singing in English, French and Portuguese, Allyson sang bossas, ballads, swing standards, bop and pop songs all arranged in a way that was all her own. She mainly featured songs from her most recent six albums, although she occasionally dug deep into her catalog. Her first album was in 1992 (I Didn't Know About You). When I listen to that album now, I hear that she 'arrived' fully formed. Thirteen albums and four Grammy Award nominations later she has continued that unique path that was first documented over twenty years ago.

At the break between sets Bill Ballard came up to me with a big smile on his face. "It's all meat!" he said. I knew what he meant. From a musician perspective, there's no fluff when she sings. Everything is done for a reason. She's careful, in the best sense of the word - she takes great care with her art. She showed care in all aspects of a performance - song choice, pacing, instrumentation, flow of the evening and altered it as needed - a careful eye revealed her subtly exhorting the band to drive a little harder at very specific moments. She picked well when to stand and sing and when to play piano while singing. She has her own way and her own sound. She's really in control and knows what she's singing. She's locked in; leaping large intervallic jumps freely maintaining that sweet sound.

She's a serious student - she knows her stuff. There's a deep knowledge of the music, a deep choice of songs, the obvious is avoided. She's a craftsman with a respect for the material she works with. She blended emotion and control and had peak moments of a sense of vulnerability within her tonal quality.

And there's also a sense of what Picasso praised as "strength in reserve". There were brief moments of fluid, effortless scat but not overpowering chorus after chorus. And there was vocalese, but not of solos - which can get challenging for me as a listener - but of melodies, which is a fresh delight.

Have voice, will travel

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Have a look at this great interview with Karrin by Richard Henke of The Commons.

Read the interview at The Commons Online

Grilled Chicken with Ray Vega

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By Julian Gerstin, Ph. D.

Julian is a percussionist specializing in the traditional music of Cuba, Martinique and Ghana. Julian's base of operations was California and Martinique prior to moving to Vermont in 2006. He has performed and recorded with numerous African groups including Kotoja, and Zulu Spear; Brazilian Samba groups such as Batucada Nana and Batucada do Leste and many others. Julian's academic credentials include several articles in scholarly publications such as The New Grove of Dictionary of Music, Latin American Music Review, He currently performs with his newly formed Afro-Caribbean jazz band, Zabap and teaches at Clark University and Keene State College.


photo by Craig S. O'Connell

After the show, about 1 a.m. at Eugene's house, Ray Vega and drummer Diego Lopez are sitting over plates of Eugene's grilled chicken--by now, it's just bones--still talking music. The question is, "What has happened to guaguancó?" which is one of the main varieties of Cuban folkloric drumming. Over the past fifteen or so years a younger generation has radically changed this style, and here's what puzzles Ray: do they or do they not know the tradition they are changing?

You see, Ray Vega knows the tradition. He really knows it. He's not afraid to mess with it creatively, but first he knows it. And that's what his concert, earlier that evening, was all about.

Thumbnail image for gregoire_maret_vermont_jazz_center_1.jpeg

How have you opened a new door on the harmonica?

Maybe I opened a new door...we'll see what happens next. It happened also by the simple fact that I was invited to be part of certain musical experiences, musical journeys that were requiring a new kind of playing. It forced me, almost, to go in that direction. Not really forced me, but it really invited me, I would say is a better word. Exactly like Steve Coleman. Because that was early on. I was like 22, 23. So he called me to do some stuff. His music, you gotta play a different way than Toots or Stevie.

I was trying to find something. I was listening to his music, to all his records, listening to the phrasing. I was really studying the different concepts he was using at the time. ..'cause he's evolving all the time. It inspired me to work really, really hard and try to find a language that could work with his music on the harmonica.

And it's the same thing with every person whom I've played with. Like Cassandra Wilson - a totally different language. She was also part of the M-base movement. You get more of that folk music/jazz. And I just wanted to find a really pure way of playing that could really work, at the same time being completely free 'cause that's what really moves me in music, is to have freedom.

And the same thing when I play with Pat [Metheny]. I had to find the language that was really perfect for his music. Same thing with Herbie [Hancock]. Same thing with Charlie Hunter - being part of the horn section was new. I had to really think about it and really try to understand my role and go with it. Also in terms of the playing, I was trying to work on different things. So it's always been like that, basically.

By Rob Fletcher

Rob Fletcher is a chromatic harmonica player based in Erving, MA. He plays chromatic, chord and diatonic in the harmonica trio The Harmaniacs. He also performs throughout New England in a variety of settings on guitar and voice ( Rob founded a corporate team building and training company called Quixote Consulting that specializes in music-based team building. He often writes about the power of music to help people lead stronger, happier lives in his blog At Your Best.


The Harmonica?

When you hear the word harmonica, what's the next word that comes to mind? For many, it's the word toy. And, in fact, that was the official designation by the Musician's Union throughout most of the last century. Nearly everyone I talk with has one at home somewhere. Harmonica may also be thought of as something relegated to blues music or played on a rack while strumming folk guitar.

The story of this mysterious instrument is more interesting than that. Swiss-born harmonica player Grégoire Maret plays the chromatic harmonica, an instrument that is a mere six inches long that plays every note on the chromatic scale for three octaves. It's the only instrument that can be played by breathing out and in. It has the range of a flute and has a side button that allows the player to access one of two harmonicas inside - one in C and one in C#. Its proximity to the player's face allows no visual reference points for the player, making it an extremely difficult instrument to master. And almost impossible for an audience to see how all that music is being made - it's a magical act.

By Louis Erlanger

Louis Erlanger is a professional guitarist and software designer, and hosts two music radio shows: After Hours on WOOL 100.1 FM in Bellows Falls Vermont, Sundays from 8-10 PM EST, streaming at, and Blue Monday on WVEW 107.7 FM in Brattleboro, Vermont, Mondays from 6-8 PM EST, streaming at Podcasts of interviews from his radio shows can be heard on his website, His software company website is


photo by Kelly Fletcher

When I was in my twenties I played guitar with a Japanese blues singer named Toru Oki. Toru was well-known in Japan and this enabled him to hire a large revue to back him up. One of the sax players in that revue was Gerald Hayes, brother of jazz drummer Louis Hayes. Gerald was a great player, but he stood out as much for his relentless sense of humor that kept the band laughing between shows.

I mention this because meeting him was the beginning of my musical investigation into Louis Hayes. I'd heard Louis' name mentioned on countless jazz radio shows, but it wasn't until meeting Gerald that I started checking out LP liner notes, where I learned of all the great people Louis accompanied - Horace Silver, Cannonball Adderley, Nat Adderley, John Coltrane, Yusef Lateef, Phil Woods, Kenny Burrell, and more. I also learned that Hayes was a protégé of Papa Jo Jones, a magician of a drummer whom I was lucky enough to see almost every week at the West End Bar on upper Broadway in New York City, across the street from my college dormitory. So I got into Louis Hayes. I saw Louis play once before I knew much about him, but I haven't seen him live since. That is why when I saw his name on the 2012-2013 Vermont Jazz Center schedule I was excited.

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