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Vermont Jazz Center Presents: Helen Sung’s “Sung With Words”

Press Release – Please give author’s credit to Eugene Uman, Vermont Jazz Center, 802 254 9088,

Helen Sung to Perform her Commission “Sung With Words,” a jazz and poetry project at the Vermont Jazz Center on Saturday, March 30th at 8:00 PM

Short Summary
Who: Helen Sung (piano and compositions), Jason Palmer (trumpet), John Ellis (woodwinds), Charenée Wade and Carolyn Leonhart (Vocals), Rick Rosato (bass), Adam Cruz (drums) and Samuel Torres (percussion).
What: The poetry of Dana Gioia set to original jazz arrangements
When: Saturday, March 30th, 2019 at 8:00 PM
Where: The Vermont Jazz Center, 72 Cotton Mill Hill, #222, Brattleboro, VT 05301
Tickets available: online at, by email at, by phone 802 254 9088 x1, in person at In The Moment Records, Main St., Brattleboro, VT.

Helen Sung to Perform her Commissioned Suite “Sung With Words,” a jazz and poetry project collaboration, at the Vermont Jazz Center on Saturday, March 30th at 8:00 PM

Helen Sung presents “Sung With Words,” a project sponsored by Chamber Music America

The Vermont Jazz Center welcomes Helen Sung and celebrates her Chamber Music America sponsored suite, “Sung With Words” on Saturday, March 30th at 8:00 PM at the Vermont Jazz Center. This show is a rescheduled date from a snowed out event on January 19, 2019. The pianist/composer will present a project that embodies the alliance of poetry and jazz and then takes it to new places. The performers in the octet are Helen Sung (piano and composition), Jason Palmer (trumpet), John Ellis (woodwinds), Charenée Wade and Carolyn Leonhart (vocals), Rick Rosato (bass), Adam Cruz (drums) and Samuel Torres (percussion).

“Sung with Words” is a collaboration between Sung and former California Poet Laureate Dana Gioia. Together they have crafted a synergistic repertoire that digs deep and beckons listeners to revisit and reimagine their own jazz experiences of times gone by. The depth of the work can be found in the seriousness of the compositions, the complexity of the arrangements and the multilayered meanings of the language. Its playfulness is revealed in some of the subject matter and the coy drama that unfolds in both music and narrative. The sum of the parts is a delightful journey of poetry and song and instrumental interludes woven into ingenious musical arrangements.

In listening to the recorded Sung with Words, we sense the mutual respect that is shared between the two creators. In the project’s online promo, Sung speaks of how she initially felt intimidated by poetry until Gioia shared with her his view that “poetry is meant to be read out loud, that it’s musical.” He encouraged her to “listen to the rhythm of the words, the sounds, and the meaning will come.” Gioia’s texts are easily assimilated, they conjure up vivid imagery that transports listeners to places that are now, or once were, real. He creates poetic pictures that draw us into jazz culture. This is best illustrated by reading or hearing Gioia’s own words, as in selection from his poem “Let’s go Downtown:”

It’s a Hot Summer Night/Let’s not stay home and get in a fight/Let’s eat spicy food in a dark little dive/And let our bodies know we’re alive/Summer has come. The young are on fire/And every tattoo spells a word for desire/They’re strolling as naked as custom allows/They never say later. They only say now.

In Sung’s new album, Gioia reads this poem in its entirety without accompaniment. The energy builds when his recitation is followed by the exciting percussion grooves of Colombian conguero Samuel Torres. Rising even higher, Carmen Lundy then sings the poem over a contrapuntal, funky horn line. In her arrangements, Sung demonstrates an uncanny ability to enhance the poetry by creating discernable forms that frame Gioia’s carefully chosen words; there is no competition between the words and the music, only complementary layering, call and response.

Thanks to a generous grant from Chamber Music America and the Doris Duke Foundation, Sung has been able to travel with a fairly large band to promote this ambitious project. She will be bringing an 8-piece group to the Vermont Jazz Center in order to re-create the material from her recently released recording. This Vermont concert will be one of the final performances in a CD release tour that has played to audiences in California, Denver, Santa Cruz, New York City, Switzerland, Germany, Poland and the UK.

Instrumentalists performing in the front line include trumpeter Jason Palmer and saxophonist John Ellis. Palmer is a VJC Summer Faculty member who has toured and/or recorded with Roy Haynes, Herbie Hancock, Jimmy Smith, Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Ravi Coltrane, Mark Turner, Jeff Ballard, Lee Konitz, Phil Woods, Common, Roy Hargrove, Lewis Nash, and more. Palmer received the 2014 French American Cultural Exchange Jazz Fellowship and was named a 2011 Fellow in Music Composition by the Massachusetts Cultural Council. He took First Place in the 2009 Carmine Caruso International Jazz Trumpet Solo Competition. The June 2007 issue of Downbeat Magazine cited him as one of the “Top 25 trumpeters of the Future.” In addition to performing on over forty albums as a sideman, Palmer has recorded eight albums under his own name.

Saxophonist John Ellis has worked with John Patitucci, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Miguel Zenón, Darcy James Argue, Charlie Hunter, and pop icon Sting. His discography lists more than 100 album credits as a sideman, with more than a dozen released in 2014 alone, including acclaimed albums by Zenón, drummer Otis Brown III, pianists Helen Sung and Edward Simon, and blues/gospel/soul trio The Holmes Brothers. Ellis has released nine albums as a leader, three of those featuring his urban carnival band Double-Wide. He was the second place winner of the Thelonious Monk International Saxophone Competition in 2002.

Two vocalists will be performing Sung’s interpretations of Gioia’s poetry: Charenée Wade and Carolyn Leonhart. Ms. Wade is the recipient of a 2017 Lincoln Center New Millennial Swing award and was first runner up in the 2010 Thelonious Monk vocal competition. She was a member of the Betty Carter Jazz Ahead program and has performed at the Kennedy Center and festivals throughout the world. Wade has two albums out as a leader and can be found on recordings lead by Rufus Reed, Regina Carter, Aaron Diehl, Matt Wilson, Bobby Sanabria, E.J. Strickland, Tia Fuller and others.

Carolyn Leonhart was a third place winner in the Thelonious Monk vocal contest and as a University of Rochester senior received Downbeat’s Outstanding College Singer award. She has released five albums as a leader and appeared on dozens of recordings ranging from big band jazz to vocals for Steely Dan and Donald Fagan’s solo projects. Leonhart was a vocal instructor at Berklee School of Music for six years and currently teaches at at CUNY’s City College. She has performed throughout the world and can often be found leading her own groups at Smoke, the Iridium and the Jazz Standard in NYC.

Joining Sung in the rhythm section is bassist Rick Rosato who has toured and recorded with Gilad Hekselman, Joel Ross, Melissa Aldana, David Kikoski, and many others. He has performed with Billy Hart, Peter Bernstein, Mark Turner, Dayna Stephens, Chris Potter, Aaron Parks, Bill Stewart, Marcus Gilmore, Jeff Ballard, Ari Hoenig, Mike Moreno, Lage Lund, Charles Altura and others.

The drummer in this project is Adam Cruz, “one of the most respected drummers in New York (The New York Times). Cruz is best known for his work with Danilo Pérez, Steve Wilson, David Sanchez, Edward Simon, David Sanchez, Charlie Hunter, The Mingus Big Band and for his tenure with Chick Corea that resulted in the album Origin: A Week at the Blue Note. Cruz has recorded two albums as a leader and appeared on over 100 projects with such esteemed leaders as Eddie Palmieri, Herbie Mann, Terence Blanchard, Tom Harrell, Chris Potter, Pharaoh Sanders, John Patitucci, Paquito D’Rivera, and many others.

Rounding out the rhythm section will be Colombian percussionist Samuel Torres. In 2000 Torres was first runner up (after Pedrito Martinez, who will be performing at the VJC in May 2019) for the Monk International Jazz Competition for Hand Percussion. Torres has performed with Tito Puente, Chick Corea, Poncho Sanchez, Pete Escovedo, Dave Valentine, Michael Brecker, Alejandro Sanz, Don Byron, Claudio Roditi, Paquito D’Rivera, Caribbean Jazz Project, Jeff “Tain” Watts, Lila Downs, Candido Camero, Shakira, Sofia Rei, Edmar Castañeda, Hector Martignon, Mike Stern and many others.

In a recent article in Jazz Times Magazine, Sung speaks about how this project has transformed her into an advocate for both jazz and poetry: “Jazz is an art form where it’s so rich and so deep, so many people sacrificed so much to contribute and make it what it is today, and I think it’s the same for poetry.” Sung invites us to join her to revel in this newfound love of poetry infused with her ingenious arrangements and stellar band.

The Vermont Jazz Center is honored to present Helen Sung’s Sung with Words. The event will take place on Saturday, March 30th at 8:00 PM. This show is a rescheduled date from a snowed out event on January 19, 2019. This concert will likely sell out, so be sure to purchase tickets in advance. The VJC is grateful for this concert’s sponsors: Dave Ellis and Anne Greenewalt of Ellis Music, Mark Anagnostopulos and Janet Zinter, Mary Ellen Copeland and Ed Anthes. The VJC is also thankful for the ongoing support of Holiday Inn Express Suites of Brattleboro. VJC publicity is underwritten by the Brattleboro Reformer, WVPR, WVEW and WFCR.

Tickets for Helen Sung’s Sung With Words at the Vermont Jazz Center are $20+ general admission, $15 for students with I.D. (contact VJC about educational discounts); available online at, by email at, and in person at In the Moment Records in Brattleboro. 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.