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Vermont Jazz Center Presents its 2nd Annual Solo Piano Fest in Collaboration with the Brattleboro Music Center

Vermont Jazz Center
Solo Jazz Piano Festival 2018
April 13, 14, 15

Press Release –

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

2nd Annual Vermont Jazz Center Solo Piano Festival to Feature World Class Piano Magic

Short Summary

Who: Solo and Duo Jazz Piano concerts, master classes and forums

Kirk Lightsey, Harold Danko, Helen Sung, Christian Sands, David Berkman, Joe Davidian, Franz Robert

What: Jazz Standards and Originals performed on two Steinway grand pianos by internationally acclaimed pianists

When: Friday – Sunday, April 13, 14, 15

Friday and Saturday: Brattleboro Music Center, 72 Blanche Moyse Way, Brattleboro, VT
Sunday: The Vermont Jazz Center, 72 Cotton Mill Hill, #222, Brattleboro, VT 05301

Tickets available:
Online at, by email at, by phone 802 254 9088

Designed to appeal to lovers of jazz piano of all ages as well as professional and amateur musicians of all instruments. This year we present an enhanced educational program and two-piano duets.

The 2nd Annual VJC Solo Jazz Piano Fest is a celebration of the “orchestra of all instruments.” The piano was critical to the establishment of jazz as an art form and has influenced jazz’s development at every harmonic turn. If you love ragtime, boogie woogie, stride, swing, the Great American Songbook, bebop, free jazz or complex harmonic progressions, solo jazz piano provides a fascinating and authentic lens through which to listen to all of these styles.

Piano artists featured in this season’s festival include Kirk Lightsey, Harold Danko, Helen Sung, Christian Sands, David Berkman, Franz Robert and Joe Davidian.

The Solo Jazz Piano Fest has emerged into a joyful collaboration between the Vermont Jazz Center and the Brattleboro Music Center. The VJC will move its New York Steinway D to the BMC’s venue so that it can be nested with the BMC’s Hamburg Steinway D. This will give performers the opportunity to explore two-piano pieces in addition to their solo offerings. This second festival will also be expanded to include activities on Sunday that emphasize educational options, including a “piano forum” for student musicians and an in-depth workshop on re-harmonization with Queens College professor David Berkman. Throughout the weekend, master classes will offer windows into the processes of playing jazz piano: touch, tone, technique, repertoire and lots of stories – these master classes are a playful doorway into the lives and fascinating minds of musicians, they are not just for pianists.

The idea of two-piano duets augmenting this festival came from suggestions made by the pianists who performed at the first annual VJC Piano Festival (Luís Perdomo, Stanley Cowell, Miro Sprague, and Amina Figarova). In an attempt to make this vision a reality, VJC reached out to the BMC who quickly embraced the idea of a collaboration that included the matching of their two pianos and of using their recently built concert hall. Engaging Kirk Lightsey and Harold Danko as headliners was then pursued; their two piano recording featuring the compositions of Wayne Shorter was recently remastered and the reissue has received critical acclaim. Christian Sands and Helen Sung will also be performing duets – they have done this in LA in a tribute to Errol Garner.

In 2017, the VJC presented its first annual festival to honor solo jazz piano. It was inspired by the donation of a world-class quality Steinway Concert Grand piano to the Vermont Jazz Center by the McKenzie Family Charitable Trust. The Steinway, which was initially owned by the concert pianist and virtuoso Lorin Hollander, was then fully rebuilt by technician William Ballard. Attendee Steve Merriman wrote about his experience at the inaugural Piano Fest: “The combination of master classes and formal performance was a truly wonderful way to organize this event. The opportunity to discover a community of kinship established through a shared love of the solo piano genre and demonstrations of that genre by a fabulous array of superlative players channeling their gifts through an extraordinary instrument make for a weekend of true piano jazz bliss.”

Historical Context:
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 and their own compositions into highly arranged masterpieces.

Jazz emerged in the beginning of the 20th century when the piano was a focal point of American musical culture. It is telling that piano sales peaked between 1909 and 1927. 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 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) often featured a solo pianist that 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 learning of piano styles in historical sequence forms a strong foundation that leads to the ability to authentically interpret any style of jazz piano. 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 (a featured artist at this year’s Fest) use “old-school” techniques like stride and walking bass in their solo performances, 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 to prove their mettle. There are many recorded solo piano gems available. 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 others.

The VJC Solo/Duo Piano Festival.
From the evening of April 13th through Sunday afternoon April 15th, seven world-class 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 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.

Educational Component
Topics that might be shared during the educational offerings (master classes) 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 embrace creativity in our lives.

Objectives of the festival:
1) To provide listeners with an opportunity to hear the myriad ways that different pianists approach a solo presentation – paying attention to touch, arranging options, song choices, energy, historical contexts, etc.
2) To contrast solo piano presentations with two piano, duo performances.
3) To appreciate and contrast the beautiful tone qualities of the two featured pianos
4) To expose multiple generations of learners to a series of educational options that will enhance their understanding of the solo-piano idiom
5) To provide a forum for solo pianists to present their work

Featured Artists:

Kirk Lightsey
Headliner Kirk Lightsey is one of the undisputed masters of his generation. Born in 1937 and raised in Detroit, Lightsey was mentored and influenced by three legendary bebop pianists from that city: Barry Harris, Tommy Flanagan and Hank Jones. As a young man he toured the country, first with rhythm and blues bands, then with Yusef Lateef, Melba Liston and Ernestine Anderson. His discography includes one solo record, seventeen recordings as a leader plus almost 200 others as a sideman. He has recorded with Chet Baker, Sonny Stitt, Anita O’Day, Dexter Gordon, Jimmy Raney, Harold Danko, Brian Lynch, Attila Zoller Overcome, Ricky Ford, Woody Shaw, Jim Pepper, the Leaders, David “Fathead” Newman, George Coleman, Harold Land, Javon Jackson, David Murray, Bill Pierce, Carolos Ward, Ronny Fortune, Ali Ryerson, James Moody, Louis Hayes, Steve Nelson, and Lester Bowie

Harold Danko
Harold Danko is Professor Emeritus at Eastman School of Music. He initiated his study of jazz at the VJC with Gene Rush (former faculty member of the VJC Summer Jazz Workshop) and went on to launch a performing career that included tours with Woody Herman’s Thundering Herd, Lee Konitz, Gerry Mulligan, Chet Baker and the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra. He is an NEA Fellow and has taught at the Manhattan School of Music, Hartt College, The New School and many other universities. For five years, he wrote a monthly column called “Solo Piano” for Keyboard magazine. Danko has released over thirty albums as leader/co-leader and has performed on almost 200 albums as a sideman.

Helen Sung
As the daughter of Chinese immigrants raised in Houston, Texas, Ms. Sung, according to her website,, “embodies two diverse cultures and has discovered a musical voice and identity that are true to both – and more importantly, true to herself.” Initially a student of the Western Classical tradition (she holds a Masters in classical piano performance from the University of Texas), Sung’s first connection to jazz “felt like an emancipation” ( She was accepted into the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance in their inaugural year (1995) and studied with Ron Carter, Jimmy Heath, Sir Roland Hanna and her ensemble has toured with Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter. Upon graduation from the Monk program, she began to garner awards while performing and recording with some of the top musicians in the field such as Clark Terry, Louis Bellson, Steve Turre, Regina Carter, T.S. Monk, the Mingus Dynasty Band and many others. She has toured as a Jazz Ambassador with the US State Department and has earned awards too numerous to mention. Sung has released six albums as a leader and has appeared on about 60 recordings as a side-woman.

Christian Sands
Christian Sands received both a BA and an MA from Manhattan School of Music. While at MSM Sands received a Grammy Nomination for “Best Latin Piano Solo” for his work with Bobby Sanabria’s MSM Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra’s CD Kenya Revisited. It was during this time that Sands made his mark in the jazz scene in NYC. He caught the attention of Grammy award winning bassist Christian McBride, who asked the then 20 year-old pianist to join his trio and tour the world. Their 2013 CD release, Out Here, received a Grammy nomination for “Best Jazz Instrumental Album.” McBride said “When I first met Christian [Sands] in 2009, it marked a seminal moment in my career as a bandleader…He’s only worried about being the best musician he can possibly be. He’s the ultimate professional.” Sands can be heard performing with or on recordings of Alicia Olatuja, Ben Williams, Stefon Harris, Warren Wolf, Jaleel Shaw, Steve Wilson, the Mack Avenue Super Band, Etienne Charles, Wynton Marsalis, Diane Reeves, Shelia E, Tia Fuller, Gary Burton, Teri Lynne Carrington, Jason Moran, Geri Allen, Randy Brecker, James Moody, Bill Evans (sax), Russell Malone, Terrance Blanchard, Louis Hayes, Patti Austin, Craig Handy, Carl Allen, Kirk Whalum, Wycliffe Gordon and many others.

Joe Davidian
Davidian was born and raised in Montpelier, Vermont, where he first learned classical piano and was then introduced to jazz by his father, Rich Davidian, the Musical Director of the Vermont Jazz Ensemble. Davidian received his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Jazz Piano Performance from the University of Miami in Florida. He has released five albums as a leader and performed as a sideman for Dave Liebman, Carmen Lundy, Duffy Jackson, Kevin Mahogany, Bob Mintzer, and Ira Sullivan. “In Davidian’s playing the strength of a Keith Jarrett comes through clearly (”

Franz W. Robert
Franz Robert is a 20 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. A devotee of Bach and Haydn, Robert continues to study and preform classical music as well as jazz. The potential of Robert’s musical abilities and imagination are limitless. He is currently working on a solo recording of his own compositions as well as two independent recording projects with Charlie Schneeweis and David Lyons.

The Vermont Jazz Center is honored for the opportunity to present New England’s only Solo Jazz Piano Fest on April 13- 15, 2018. The VJC is particularly thankful to a generous anonymous sponsor, a friend of the VJC’s Summer Jazz Workshop, for supporting this endeavor. This sponsor’s gifts have helped students attend VJC events and educational programs at reduced rates for many years. The VJC is also grateful to Melissa Stoudt, another friend of the VJC Summer Jazz Workshop, who has given a generous sum to the VJC specifically earmarked to the Piano Festival. The magnanimous spirits of these donors seeps into the VJC’s mission: 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 for further information or to receive discounts on VJC programs.

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 WKVT’s Green Mountain Mornings.

Tickets for the VJC’s Solo Jazz Piano Fest at the Vermont Jazz Center are $120 for the “full-package” admission (all events) or $20 per evening feature concert (Friday and Saturday nights). Tickets for Saturday’s daytime concerts and educational offerings (10:00 – 6:00, full day without feature performance) are $80 or $50 per ticket for groups of 5 or more. Sunday’s Feature concert is $10. All seats are general admission. Contact the VJC for information about educational discounts. Tickets are available at online at, by email at, or 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.

2018 Schedule*

Friday, April 13th

8:00 PM Feature Concert: Kirk Lightsey and Harold Danko
Solo and Duo performances

Saturday, April 14th

10:00 AM Harold Danko, Q and A about Duo Performing

11:00 AM Joe Davidian, Performance

12:00 PM Harold Danko, Master Class

1:00 PM Lunch break

2:00 PM Helen Sung, Master Class

3:00 PM Headliners, Panel with juried questions

4:00 PM Franz W. Robert, Performance

5:00 PM Kirk Lightsey, Master Class

6:00 PM Dinner break

8:00 PM Feature Concert: Helen Sung and Christian Sands

Sunday, April 15th

10:00 AM Christian Sands, Master Class

11:00 AM – Piano Student Forum
1:00 PM with David Berkman and Christian Sands

2:00 – David Berkman, Master Class on Jazz Harmony and
3:30 PM Reharmonization

4:00 PM Feature Concert: David Berkman

* Due to last-minute changes in musicians’ schedules, please be prepared for modifications.

Kirk Lightsey

Trio in 2008

With Dexter Gordon in 1980

With Chet Baker in 1983

With Freddie Hubbard (album)

Live Concert in San Javier, 2016

Everything is Changed (from the album)

Harold Danko
A Suite for Three Heroes, Bud, Wayne, McCoy (solo)

To Start Again (Portugal, 2016 – solo)

Duo with Lee Konitz (1985)

W/Chet Baker (Danko’s solo on My Funny Valentine)

W/Thad Jones, Mel Lewis Quartet

W/Chet Baker, Beatrice (1987)

W/Chet Baker and Dave Shapiro (1975)

Helen Sung

McCoy Tyner’s: Four by Five (2017)

Duke Ellington’s In a Sentimental Mood (2015)

Jame’s P. Johnson’s Carolina Shout (2014)

Helen Sung Performance and Interview (Blues Alley) :

W/Ron Carter: Hope Springs Eternally

Christian Sands
Sands Trio at Dizzy’s

Sands with Christian McBride at Discover Jazz Festival in Burlington, VT

Christian Sands Trio at Montmarte

Hear Christian Sands perform with and be interviewed by Christian McBride on WNPR


Joe Davidian