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Thelonious Monk Competition Winner, bassist Ben Williams to bring his group Sound Effect to the Vermont Jazz Center, Saturday, May 14th at 8:00 PM

The Vermont Jazz Center will welcome bassist Ben Williams and his group Sound Effect to the stage on Saturday, May 14th at 8:00 PM. Sound Effect is Ben Williams, bass; Marcus Strickland, saxophones; Alex Wintz, guitar; Willerm Delisfort on piano and Rhodes; John Davis on drums.


Ben Williams is the winner of the 2009 Thelonious Monk Competition on bass. He is also the recipient of a Grammy Award for his work with Pat Metheny's Unity Band and was voted as top overall rising star in Downbeat's 2015 Critic's Poll. Most recently, Williams was chosen as bassist for the White House's celebration of International Jazz Day. After introductions by President Obama, Irina Bokova (Director General of UNESCO), and Herbie Hancock, Williams accompanied Chucho Valdéz, Paquito D'Rivera, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Kurt Elling, Trombone Shorty, Lionel Loueke, Robert Glasper, and Herbie Hancock in a moving example of how music unites the entire world. Williams's consumate ability to support a wide range of styles is reflected in the numerous recordings he has appeared on with Pat Metheny, Jacky Terrasson, George Benson, The NEXT Collective, Eric Reed, and many more. He is an in-demand sideman and has performed with Wynton Marsalis, Roy Hargrove, Mulgrew Miller, Chaka Khan, Terrence Blanchard, Stefon Harris, Pharrell Williams, and Herbie Hancock; he appears with Don Cheadle in the new tribute to Miles Davis - "Miles Ahead."

As a result of winning the Thelonious Monk competition, Williams secured a contract with Concord Music Group. To date, he has recorded two highly acclaimed CDs with them and his 2011 release, State of Art, earned 4 ½ stars from Downbeat and topped the charts on Jazz Radio Week and iTunes.

Williams's 2015 release Coming of Age was nominated for 5 Grammys. He is now touring to feature music from this deeply personal recording which reflects his growth as a composer and emerging voice as an advocate for change. This new CD affirms Williams's ability to incorporate a brilliant mix of what's currently hip (hip-hop and funk) with a classic sensibility that reflects his deep respect for the jazz tradition and appreciation for the mentors with whom he has studied and performed.

Ben Williams' concept seamlessly knits disparate influences into unified mosaics creating compelling, beautifully constructed compositions that move the audience with infectious beats and intelligent concepts. He digs deeply into his subject matter investigating current events, interpolating and expressing challenging topics through his mesmerizing music. Williams seeks to bring meaning and healing energy to his listeners; he wrote the uplifting "Strength And Beauty" on the day of the 2012 Newtown school shooting: "The tragic news hit me hard, and this tune came to me as a way of feeling my way through the tragedy. The title was inspired later, when I saw how [jazz saxophonist] Jimmy Greene and his family responded to losing their daughter at Newtown. Their pain is something most of us can't even imagine, but the way Jimmy held it together and became a beacon of light and true strength was an inspiration to everyone."

In both of his recordings as a leader Williams uses guest artists to great effect: we hear a heartfelt tribute to Nelson Mandela with vocalist Goapele, a lush string quartet, a spoken word hip-hop tribute to Lee Morgan, and an acoustic bass cover of Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit--all supported by very funky, agile bass playing.

For his concert at the VJC Williams will be using his core quintet. He states: "I'm always looking for guys who are team players, who are great players but know how to elevate the whole band," Williams says. "They play in a way that makes everybody else around them sound better, but also bring their own voice to the music."

The most familiar sideman in William's quintet is saxophonist Marcus Strickland who initially made his mark in Roy Haynes' Fountain of Youth. He has seven albums out as a leader and has twice won Down Beat Magazine's Rising Star award and claimed JazzTimes's Best New Artist (in '06); he placed third in the 2002 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition. Strickland has appeared on over 100 albums with Robert Glasper, Orrin Evans, Dave Douglas, Roy Haynes, Jeff "Tain" Watts, Lonnie Plaxico, Lage Lund, Ben Wolfe, Jimmy Owens, and others.

Guitarist Alex Wintz has appeared on over two dozen recordings. He is a graduate of Julliard's masters in jazz program and is a National Foundation of the Arts Award winner. He was a finalist in the Montreux Jazz Guitar and Detroit Jazz Festival competitions and was a member of the Clifford Brown/Stan Getz Fellowship All Stars.

Pianist Willerm Delisfort easily shifts between jazz, blues, gospel, hip-hop and pop. He's collaborated with Fareed Haque, Grammy Award-winning artist T-Pain, Calvin Newborne, Corey Wilkes, Pharez Whitted, George Freeman, Ernest Dawkins, Red Holloway, Marquis Hill, Milton Suggs, and Christian McBride and has appeared at many festivals and venues around the world.

Ben Williams's drummer is John Davis who has earned praise for his work with Cassandra Wilson, Alicia Olatuja, Etienne Charles, Eric Reed, Eric Lewis, Sarah Charles, Christian Sands, Noah Haidu, Gilad Hekselman, Myron Walden, and many others.

On May 14th the VJC will hear the shape of jazz to come. Ben Williams's Sound Effect is an excellent example of the finest young players now touring the world - artists comfortable in genres ranging from soul and R&B to hip hop and gospel, because their training is in jazz, they have learned the skill set and language to move fluidly between these musical forms and call them all their own. Indeed, Marcus Strickland (and Nicholas Peyton) calls the style they play "Black American Music" - Sound Effect is at the vanguard of this approach. Come listen to the leading progenitors of this music at the Vermont Jazz Center.

The VJC is especially grateful for sponsorship of this event by an anonymous couple who are deeply involved with VJC's educational programs. The VJC is also grateful for the ongoing support from the Vermont Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts.  Hospitality for our artists is provided by the Hampton Inn of Brattleboro. VJC publicity is underwritten by the Brattleboro Reformer, WVPR, WVEW, WFCR and Chris Lenois of WKVT's Green Mountain Mornings.

Tickets for Ben Williams and Sound Effect concert held on May 14th at the Vermont Jazz Center are $20+ general admission, $15 for students with I.D. (contact VJC about educational discounts); available at In the Moment in Brattleboro, or online at, by email at Tickets can also be reserved by calling the Vermont Jazz Center ticket line, 802-254-9088, ext. 1. Handicapped access is available by calling the VJC at 802 254 9088.

Contact: Eugene Uman -

Sound Effect at Dizzy's

Ben Williams Bass Solo

Ben Williams on Paul Chambers

Sound Effect at NPR Tiny Desk Concert

Ben Williams' Lee Morgan Story

Smells Like Teen Spirit

Coming of Age Preview Video

Vermont Jazz Center to Inaugurate New Steinway Concert Grand Piano at Celebratory Concert with the Fred Hersch Trio this Saturday, March 12th

The Vermont Jazz Center in Brattleboro, VT has been presenting concerts, hosting jam sessions, and running ensembles using the same sweet workhorse piano for the last 15 years. During that time numerous world class pianists like Cyrus Chestnut, Gerald Clayton, Robert Glasper, Don Friedman, Armen Donelian, Hal Galper, Jason Lindner, Don Friedman, Taylor Eigsti, Luis Perdomo, Edward Simon, Carolina Calvache, and Harold Mabern--to name just a few--have shown that the Yamaha C7 piano can really sing. But there was a quality of sound that was missing and this became most clearly apparent when listening back to recordings of concerts held at VJC. It was time to start investigating how to upgrade from a Yamaha to a Steinway Concert Grand so that the pianists performing at the Vermont Jazz Center will benefit from having an instrument with enhanced nuance and greater dynamic range, a piano that truly complemented the VJC's mission of presenting top-level artists in an environment that maximizes the audience's listening experience.


In the fall of 2015, the VJC borrowed a concert-quality Steinway B (7') from the Yellow Barn Chamber Music School and was able to compare the difference between a Steinway and the Jazz Center's trusty Yamaha. After listening to pianists Uri Caine, Helio Alves and Xavier Davis, it quickly became apparent that there was a noticeable improvement in tone quality; these pianists were able to coax a more resonant, beautiful sound from the Steinway.

VJC artistic director Eugene Uman spoke of his vision to purchase a Steinway to several area piano technicians. The word was out that the Vermont Jazz Center was seriously interested in realizing its dream of providing Steinway D (nine-foot concert piano) for the pianists performing at its venue. The goal was to have an instrument ready for concerts already scheduled with top tier pianists Fred Hersch (March 12th), Renee Rosnes (April 16th) and Miro Sprague (March 26th with Michael Zsoldos).

Piano technician Crystal Fielding mentioned that there was a Steinway D for sale in Montpelier, Vermont being sold by the estate of John and Catherine Baird. Uman was shown the piano by Catherine Baird's sisters, Helen and Marjorie Merena and was instantly captivated by its majesty, resonant tone, rich bass and playability. Vermont musician Arthur Zorn agreed that "This instrument "sings" from the lowest note to the top of the keyboard. When I play it, the piano encourages my fingers, hands and arms and body to express music in a way that I have not experienced with any other instrument."

The Merenas told Uman that the piano had been sold in 1998 to the Baird's by the esteemed concert pianist, Lorin Hollander. Hollander performed with "virtually all of the major symphony orchestras in the United States and many around the world" and had been recognized by New York Times critic Howard Klein as "the leading pianist of his generation." Mr. Hollander related to the Merenas that this was a piano worthy of the Steinway showroom's 'concert basement' where "a special class (the top 1%) ...of hand-picked instruments were selected to be used exclusively by Steinway Artists for recording and concertizing at places like Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center and Alice Tully Hall." In a phone conversation with Uman, Mr. Hollander elaborated that "This one for me had that magical -what we all called the 'Rachmaninoff' - sound, where something happened that went beyond us. And sitting down at that piano ...even before sitting down, you would get nervous. I would feel a type of anxiety deep in my muscles just approaching the instrument. I don't know what's real here. I've studied science and I know what is required to make a legitimate hypothesis of reality. However, I also live in the world of the un-namable, un-measurable magic of great music. This piano had it."

The piano was purchased in early December of 2015 thanks to the munificence of the McKenzie Family Charitable Trust. Their trustee, Michael McKenzie has always kept a keen eye on VJC affairs, assuring the institution's financial ability to forward its mission. He saw this piano as a means to continue to enhance the Jazz Center's reputation as a concert venue that will attract artists who prefer to perform on instruments of this caliber.

In December the piano was moved directly from the Baird's practice studio to the workshop of the jazz center's piano technician, William Ballard. For the last three months Ballard has put his heart and soul into restoring the instrument to pristine and concert-level condition. He has replaced the strings, shaved and weighted the hammers, tuned it, and then tuned it again. Ballard examined and enhanced every possible detail by refining and calibrating all that was needed to have this piano meet its extraordinary potential.

The Vermont Jazz Center will inaugurate and celebrate its newly renovated Steinway D piano on March 12th at 8:00 PM with a performance by the grand maestro Fred Hersch--a legendary jazz pianist who will be preforming with his working trio, John Hébert on bass and Eric McPherson on drums. The Merena sisters will be present, there's a chance that Mike McKenzie will come in from Italy and of course Bill Ballard will be in his regular seat with his tools by his side should Hersch request an adjustment. Lorin Hollander Skyped in to the VJC from Cyprus with these words of encouragement - "I wanted to support you and acknowledge you and acknowledge the work that you're doing to keep live music alive. My love to all of you that are helping you create this."

Story about our new piano on VPR

For more information, the Vermont Jazz Center's website is



The Vermont Jazz Center instructors are committed to the jazz ethic of passing the tradition on and keeping it alive. Their ability to pull beautiful music out of even beginners is phenomenal. Their contributions to our community cannot be overstated.

~Susie Webster-Toleno, parent of youth ensemble students

The Vermont Jazz Center will begin their 10-week long semester of Spring/Winter educational programs, most classes will begin the week of February 8th, 2016. Visit the Jazz Center's website at for details, or call or email Office Manager, Ginger Morawski to register: 802 254 9088, Sessions are 10 weeks long (except for Youth Jazz which is 8 weeks). Starting dates are listed below and at Fees are $250 for 10 week semesters, except for Latin Jazz which is $200 and Youth Jazz which is $100. Call for scholarship/work study options. The semester will culminate in a concert with a short set performed by each of the groups on Thursday April 28th at 7:00 PM.

5:15 - 6:45 Blue Note Ensemble, Scott Mullett, instructor. February 8th starting date. 
This ensemble will focus on the repertoire from landmark Blue Note recordings of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Mullett states that this era represents for him, "the heartbeat of American jazz." The repertoire performed by this ensemble will include jazz standards and originals recorded by the bands of Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock, Cannonball Adderley, Horace Silver, Dexter Gordon, Freddie Hubbard, Lee Morgan, Hank Mobley and Wayne Shorter.

7:00 - 9:00 Valley Rock Choir, Tony Lechner, instructor. Tony Lechner, has been conducting choirs in the Northampton Massachusetts region for over a decade under the auspices of Valley Jazz Choirs. He uses the VJC to rehearse his rock choir on Monday evenings at 7:00 PM. Contact Mr. Lechner directly for starting date and fee information. To register:

3:45 -5:00 Youth Jazz Ensemble, Eugene Uman, instructor. February 23rd start date (8 week session). 
For youth age 10 - 16 who are interested in adding improvisation to their musical toolbox. This ensemble will use simple tunes written by jazz masters Miles Davis, Horace Silver, Cannonball Adderley and others as vehicles for taking off. The tunes we will start with are simple melodies that encourage participants to want to delve deeper into the jazz repertoire.

4:15 - 5:45 Latin Jazz Ensemble, Julian Gerstin and Eugene Uman, instructors. February 10th start date. 
For musicians who wish to learn and play jazz influenced by rhythms of Latin America. Emphasized styles include salsa, son, rumba, danzon, bolero and cha cha chá from Cuba (and Puerto Rico); cumbia, bambucco and porro from Colombia; bossa, samba, partido alto and samba reggae from Brazil.

5:45 - 7:30 Women's Jazz Harmony Vocal Ensemble, Anna Patton, instructor, February 11th start date
. Anna Patton will lead a women's vocal ensemble that will sing arrangements of songs from the swing era as well as contemporary pieces in the jazz idiom. The ensemble will work on blend and precision in close harmonies in the style of groups like the Andrews Sisters and Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross. We will also spend some time working on aural skills and playing with chord progressions. Recommended for singers who read music and/or have quick ears. The group is not auditioned, but does take on some challenging material.

VJC Wednesday Night Jam Sessions (ongoing)
All are invited to attend our Wednesday night jam community sessions which are held from 8:00 - 10:00 PM every week. All levels and all instruments are invited. A $3.00 donation is suggested for listeners and players. The jam sessions were especially important in past times for musicians to learn from each other and review the jazz repertoire. Today is no exception. A supportive environment prevails in order to encourage musicians who can, at a minimum, play through a melody. Most musicians also use the opportunity to explore their improvising "chops." Sessions are attended by a myriad of musicians from diverse backgrounds. High School and college students are especially urged to attend. This open jam at the Vermont Jazz Center has been taking place since 1997 and is a means for young and old to hone their skills together.

Check out the VJC's website at and find class descriptions and further information on all the VJC's offerings. For registration: 802 254 9088 or For information on class content No one will be turned away due to lack of funds, please call to find out about the VJC's scholarship and extended payment options.

List of Classes and Ensembles Vermont Jazz Center Spring/Winter 2016

  • Blue Note Ensemble 5:15 - 6:45, Scott Mullett
  • Brattleboro Rock Chorus 7:30 - 9:00, Tony Lechner
  • Youth Jazz Ensemble 3:45 - 5:00, Eugene Uman
  • Latin Jazz Ensemble 4:15 - 5:45, Gerstin/Uman
  • VJC Sextet (full) 6:00 - 7:30, Rob Freeberg
  • Jam Session 8:00 - 10:00, Uman
  • Women's Jazz Harmony 5:45 - 7:30, Anna Patton

The Vermont Jazz Center is an internationally recognized institution that provides jazz education, programming and outreach. Currently in its 40th year, it was founded in 1974 by the legendary guitarist, Attila Zoller and is now run by pianist, Eugene Uman.

The VJC features a summer jazz workshop, a monthly concert series, Wednesday night jam sessions, and frequent collaborations with area schools, arts organizations and businesses.

Mission: The Vermont Jazz Center is dedicated to creating and preserving jazz through the presentation of workshops, concerts, and instruction to a broad constituency of artists, students, and the general public.

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June 11th, 2016, 8:00 PM
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