Vermont Jazz Center
Solo Piano Fest – Something for Everyone
April 7-8, 2017
On April 7 and 8, the Vermont Jazz Center will present a day and a half-long festival including eight concerts and five educational presentations on solo jazz piano. This festival is a celebration of the Steinway D, nine-foot concert grand piano gifted to the VJC by the McKenzie Family Charitable Trust and rebuilt by piano technician Bill Ballard. VJC’s Solo Jazz Piano Fest is sponsored by a generous grant from the Thompson Trust.
Now that the VJC is home to a top-level instrument, it is the only venue in New England that supports a festival devoted exclusively to the art of solo jazz piano performance. Pianists presenting concerts and educational offerings in this festival include world renowned players Stanley Cowell, Luis Perdomo, Amina Figarova, Miro Sprague and Yoko Miwa as well as local performers Franz Robert, Alki Steriopoulos and VJC director Eugene Uman.
Solo jazz piano has a rich past that parallels the history of jazz through a specialized lens. Its deep roots are lodged in ragtime, blues and classical forms, but its development as an art-form is more aligned with the creative individuals whose contributions dramatically enhanced the expectations of the instrument’s capacity. In jazz’s early years, players like Fats Waller, James P. Johnson, Art Tatum, Teddy Wilson, Earl Hines and Eubie Blake dazzled their listeners with their unique abilities to magically transform popular tunes of the day and their own compositions into highly arranged masterpieces.
Jazz emerged at a time when the piano was a focal point of American musical culture. The years 1872 – 1932 are considered the golden age of North American piano production. During this time, there was a surge in the manufacturing of American-made upright pianos: Good quality instruments that were affordable and stayed in tune. It is telling that piano sales peaked between 1909 and 1927 and have declined ever since. During these boom years, there was an uptick in printed music and increased exposure to improvised music. The piano became a valued centerpiece in many homes and the ability to play it became an expectation placed on the younger generation. The piano was the pride of the parlor – it stood in for the classical orchestra, accompanied families of singers, and functioned as a replacement big band for dances. It was the center of attention at house parties and predated the radio and the stereo as a means for families and friends to engage directly with music. In the 20s and 30s, rent parties (dance parties where admission was charged that often featured a solo pianist), provided entertainment and social interaction while raising funds for struggling renters. This supportive environment provided fertile ground for pianists to hone their craft and to envision and manifest the instrument’s enormous potential. Ever since the tenure of Jelly Roll Morton, the self-professed inventor of jazz, musicians have demonstrated the power of the piano to do it all – dynamically, harmonically and with the rhythmical intention of the performer.
The act of preparing pieces for solo performance remains an important lesson for anyone whose goal it is to learn the jazz piano tradition as a whole. Within it, one studies texture, arranging, variation, re-harmonization, improvisation and historical context. Serious pianists find the study of early piano-based forms like ragtime and blues essential for their well-rounded development because it informs them of the roots of the genre. Learning piano styles in historical sequence forms a strong foundation that leads to the ability to authentically interpret any style of jazz piano. The later facilitates the next fundamental step in the maturation of a jazz musician: To develop one’s own voice. In the swing and bebop eras, for example, Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk learned verbatim the left-handed “stride bass” of Fats Waller and James P. Johnson and transformed it into a more modern sound that they then adapted to their own vision. To this day, forward-looking pianists like Jason Moran and Christian Sands use “old-school” techniques like stride and walking bass in performance, but they have also modernized their own personal approaches to amalgamate the recordings they have heard and studied. Throughout jazz history, it has become somewhat of a requirement for jazz pianists to include solo performances within the context of group recordings or to present complete albums that represent their solo efforts. There are many recorded examples that would be considered gems available, including works by all the above-mentioned pianists. It is recommended that passionate listeners investigate solo piano works by McCoy Tyner, Marian McPartland, Dr. Billy Taylor, Bill Evans, Abdullah Ibrahim (Dollar Brand), Mary Lou Williams, Bud Powell, Kenny Barron, Joanne Brackeen, Hank Jones, Cecil Taylor, Cedar Walton, Keith Jarrett, Jessica Williams, Hazel Scott, Tommy Flanagan, Chick Corea, Rene Rosnes, Geri Allen, Craig Taborn, Martial Solal, Fred Hersch, Hiromi and many others.
On Friday night, April 7th and Saturday from 10:00 AM until 11:00 PM on April 8th, solo jazz pianists will present a distilled form of language that provides careful listeners with a clear view of how jazz piano’s vocabulary has evolved over time. The audience will receive hints on how this is accomplished by experiencing the different approaches taken by each of the artists. It would be a worthwhile and pleasant exercise to note how each pianist borrows from the rich tradition of solo piano and molds chosen techniques to create a unique sound that embodies their own personal traits, and then to reflect on how each pianist’s sound evokes their character as both humans and musicians. The pianists will explore the instrument’s breadth of range and dynamics and will utilize its percussive, harmonic and melodic capabilities to create an overall sound that is as personal as a fingerprint. During their performances these pianists will employ devices created during hours and hours of practice that reveal their own choices, personality and identity.
Topics that might be shared during the educational offerings include discussions on each artist’s development, how they acquired their harmonic palette, their techniques for improvising, their unending search for inspiration, their arranging and re-harmonizing processes and how they practice. All the artists have been informed that the audience will be made up of both trained musicians and others with little to no musical training. It is the VJC’s goal that the educational component will leave experienced pianists with plenty to work on after the Piano Fest without talking over the heads of non-musicians whose aim is to grow from and enjoy the experience. Indeed, much of what will be taught is universal and applicable to all of us who aspire to create on a higher level.
Objectives of the festival:
1) To provide VJC audiences with an opportunity to hear the myriad ways that different pianists approach a solo presentation
2) To appreciate the beautiful tone quality of the VJC’s newly acquired instrument
3) To expose multiple generations of learners to a series of educational options that will enhance their understanding of the solo-piano idiom.
Artists featured in the VJC’s Solo Jazz Piano Festival include headliner, Stanley Cowell, who is one of the undisputed masters of his generation. Cowell is no stranger to solo piano. His performance at Live at Maybeck Recital Hall is a textbook example of how to create excitement by changing keys and textures within the course of one tune and how to create a magnificent arc over the course of a complete set. Cowell has recorded numerous albums as a leader and his discography as a sideman includes recordings with jazz luminaries Charles Tolliver, Max Roach, Jimmy Heath, J.J. Johnson, Art Pepper, Clifford Jordan, Oliver Nelson, Stan Getz, Bobby Hutcherson, Sonny Fortune, Gary Bartz and many others.
Venezuelan-born pianist Luis Perdomo has appeared on over two hundred records and has become a first-class sideman to artists like Dave Douglas, David Sanchez, Tom Harrell, Steve Turre, Ben Wolfe, Ray Barretto, Brian Lynch, David Gilmore, Conrad Herwig, Ignacio Berroa, Ralph Irizarry and Timbalaye and other great musicians. He was a member of Ravi Coltrane’s Quartet for ten years, and is a founding member of the Miguel Zenon Quartet. Perdomo recorded on three Grammy-nominated CD’s: Coltrane’s Influx, and Zenon’s Esta Plena, and Alma Adentro: The Puerto Rican Songbook. Perdomo’s recordings as a leader include: Focus Point (2005), Awareness (2006), Pathways (2008), the critically-acclaimed Universal Mind (2012), The Infancia Project (2012) Links (2013), Twenty –Two (2015) and a solo recording called Montage (2016).
Amina Figarova was born in Azerbaijan where she trained classically and then moved to the Netherlands to study at the Rotterdam Conservatory. Figarova then chose to move to the US to focus on jazz studies and composition at Berklee College of Music. A prolific composer, she has, to date, released thirteen albums as a leader using primarily musicians from Europe where her fan base is quite large. Her most recent CD features New York-based musicians Sarah Elizabeth Charles, Wayne Escofery, Anthony Wilson, Luques Curtis and Jason Brown. Amina has performed several times at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, at the Newport Jazz Festival and at major venues throughout the world. She has appeared with Toots Thielemans, Winard Harper, Larry Corryell and Claudio Roditi.
Yoko Miwa has been recognized as one of the finest pianists in Boston (Boston Phoenix) and Japan (Jazz Hihyo Magazine). Originally from Kobe, Japan, she studied under Makoto Ozone’s father Minaru. After a devastating earthquake in Kobe (1995), Miwa entered a contest for a full scholarship at Berklee School of Music and won. She is now an associate professor there and complements her busy teaching schedule with numerous performances with her own trio. She also has served as side-person in the groups of Slide Hampton, Arturo Sandoval, George Garzone, Jon Faddis, Jerry Bergonzi, Esperanza Spalding, Terri Lynne Carrington, Sheila Jordan, Kevin Mahogany, John Lockwood, Johnathan Blake and many others. A JVC Victor Recording artist, Miwa has released six albums under her own name (including Japanese releases). Her album Live at Scullers was chosen one of the best CDs of 2011 by Jazz Times.
Sprague is a New York City-based pianist who was a semifinalist in the 2015 Montreux Jazz Festival Piano Competition. He has released four studio albums as a leader. Sprague has toured the United States, Europe, Japan and the Middle East, performing with Wayne Shorter, Matt Wilson, Greg Osby, Jerry Bergonzi, Adam Cruz and Reggie Workman among others. Sprague now leads his own trio and quintet and is a member of the cooperative septet Holophonor He is a skilled vocal accompanist and has been the pianist of choice for Karrin Allyson since late 2015. He has also performed with vocalists Sheila Jordan, Jane Monheit and Samirah Evans. Sprague performed extensively in New England before moving to New York City in 2003 to attend the Manhattan School of Music where he studied with Gary Dial, Jason Moran, and Chris Rosenberg. Several years after graduating from MSM, he was selected to attend the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance at UCLA, a prestigious, tuition-free jazz masters program.
Formerly based in Brattleboro, Steriopoulos now performs and composes from his home base in Florida. He was composer in residence at La Mama and served as assistant music director for PBS’s Great Performance Series on Gershwin. Steriopoulos recorded and arranged for Richie Havens, Steven Spielberg’s Dreamworks and George Lucas’ Lucasarts. He also composed and recorded additional music for Disney’s movie Zootopia and has appeared as keyboardist with The Band and in several Broadway productions, including Tommy. Most significantly, Steriopoulos is the composer and author of the Musical 21 celebrating the life of baseball legend Roberto Clemente. 21 received its world premier at the Pittsburgh Playhouse in October of 2014.
Franz W. Robert
Franz Robert is a 19 year-old pianist who has tirelessly committed his young life to music. Starting in his early teens as a church organist and pianist, Robert became enamored with the vast world of jazz and improvisation. He composed and arranged all of the music for his first album, a quartet release called On Putney Mountain which includes astounding technical forays matched seamlessly with comfortably swinging bebop compositions. Robert puts his band-mates to the test by having them navigate his occasionally fast-paced odd metered tunes over which he is able to perform with carefree aplomb. A devotee of Bach and Haydn, Robert is in the process of preparing a fully memorized concert of solo classical piano music to be held at the VJC. The potential of Robert’s musical abilities and imagination is limitless.
Uman is the director of the Vermont Jazz Center where he organizes educational programs, curates concerts and oversees community outreach. He is also adjunct professor at Amherst College. As a student pianist at Queens College, he has studied with Sir Roland Hanna, Rob Schneiderman and Mike Longo. A devoted teacher, Uman initiated the jazz studies programs at EAFIT University and El Colegio de Música in Medellín, Colombia. His teaching materials are still being used and were published by the mayor of Medellín for use in 23 music schools throughout the city. Uman’s original music is influenced by Colombian rhythms, straight-ahead jazz, rock and gospel. Three of his compositions were featured on percussionist Sammy Figueroa’s Grammy-nominated recording And Sammy Walked In. He has released two albums as a leader featuring his band The Convergence Project.
VJC Solo Piano Fest Schedule:
April 7 and 8, 2017
Friday, April 7th
5:00 PM Yoko Miwa Educational Offering
6:00 PM Dinner break (area restaurants)
8:00 PM Feature Concert
Saturday, April 8th
11:00 AM Eugene Uman Performance
12:00 PM Amina Figarova – Educational Offering
1:00 PM Lunch (available from local caterer – on-sight)
2:00 PM Alki Steriopolis Performance
3:00 PM Luis Perdomo Educational Offering
4:00 PM Franz Robert Performance
5:00 PM Stanley Cowell Educational Offering
6:00 PM Dinner on your own (area restaurants)
8:00 PM Feature Concert
The Vermont Jazz Center is honored for the opportunity to present New England’s only Solo Jazz Piano Fest on April 7th and 8th, 2017. We are thankful to the Thompson Trust for their generous grant towards making this festival a reality. We are also grateful to the Thompson Trust for supporting our scholarship fund for over a decade. Their gifts have helped students attend VJC events and educational programs at reduced rates during this time. If anyone is unable to meet the costs of any VJC programming, including this festival, they are invited to call or email Ginger Morawski at 802 254 9088 or email@example.com for further information related to financial assistance.
The VJC is also thankful for the ongoing support from the Vermont Arts Council, the National Endowment for the Arts, and 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 the VJC’s Solo Jazz Piano Fest on April 7th and 8th at the Vermont Jazz Center are $80 for the “full-package” admission (all events) or $20 per concert for either of the two, featured performances ($20 for either Friday or Saturday alone or $40 for both nights). Tickets for Saturday’s daytime concerts and educational offerings, from 10:00 – 6:00 (full day without feature performance) are $50 or $30 per ticket for groups of 5 or more. All seats are general admission. Contact the VJC for information about educational discounts. Tickets are available at In the Moment in Brattleboro, or online at www.vtjazz.org, and by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.