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Vermont Jazz Center Presents: Sullivan Fortner Trio

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

Award-winning jazz pianist, Sullivan Fortner to Perform at the Vermont Jazz Center on Saturday, February 9th at 8:00 PM

Short Summary
Who: Sullivan Fortner, piano; Barry Stephenson, bass; Kassa Overall, drums
What: Creative arrangements of Jazz Standards and originals
When: Saturday, February 9th, 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, in person at In The Moment, Main St., Brattleboro, VT.

Award-winning jazz pianist, Sullivan Fortner to Perform at the Vermont Jazz Center on Saturday, February 9th at 8:00 PM

The Vermont Jazz Center is pleased to present American Pianists Association laureate Sullivan Fortner on Saturday, February 9th at 8:00 PM. He will be performing with bassist Barry Stephenson (best known for his work with Jon Batiste), and drummer Kassa Overall (formerly of Geri Allen’s Timeline band).

There are a handful of people whose life’s work appears laid out for them in vivid detail from an early age – Sullivan Fortner is one of them. In a 2016 interview with his undergraduate alma mater’s newspaper, The Oberlin Review, Fortner recalls being three years old and hearing the theme song for the television game show Jeopardy!. He recalls banging out the tune’s rhythms on the side of the television set and his cousin claiming “he’s a musician!” At age 4, Fortner’s family bought him a Fisher-Price toy piano which eventually led to lessons and precocious gigs (age 9) at the church where his mother was the director of the gospel choir. For a youth fixated on music, Fortner’s native city of New Orleans was the perfect environment to support his development. In high school he studied at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA) where he joins other distinguished alumni like Wynton and Branford Marsalis, Harry Connick Jr., Trombone Shorty, Nicholas Payton and Terence Blanchard in completing a rigorous youth-jazz studies program that was initiated by Ellis Marsalis and Alvin Batiste. Fortner was the valedictorian of his high school, holds a bachelor’s degree from Oberlin Conservatory and a master’s degree from the Manhattan School of music. He also is quick to credit his his mentor, NEA Jazz Master, Barry Harris as an influence.

In an interview with Neon Jazz for the 2017 Charlie Parker Jazz Festival in Kansas City, Fortner was asked why he loved jazz so much. He responded: “it’s the same reason why I hate jazz so much! It’s the only musical art form that forces you to bring your complete self to it in order for it to work. And while being vulnerable, you have to sacrifice for the music and for the other players; when the sacrifice level is the same [within the group] that’s when the music really explodes.”

Perhaps it’s that willingness to give freely and be open to the moment that makes Sullivan Fortner one of the most in-demand pianists on the scene today. This freedom and receptivity is particularly evident in Grammy winner Cécile McLorin Salvant’s 2018 album Window, which is primarily a duo record with voice and piano. Here Fortner sets up spontaneous interludes, intros and endings that dazzle and challenge Salvant to engage, push and redirect; it is a fascinating conversation between creative virtuosos. In a review on, Matt Collar comments “that Fortner and Salvant play with such élan, but still manage to never get in each other’s way.” he observes that the music created by Fortner and Salvant “speaks to their immense skill and creative empathy. Together, they play with an amorously creative and emotionally varied cornucopia of energies — so much so that you almost forget it’s just the two of them.” In the interview with the Oberlin Review, Fortner sums it up: “It’s just a lot of love, a lot of trust, and a lot of mutual respect for each other.”

This feeling of self-assured creativity is clear in Fortner’s three recordings as a leader and his thirty-plus recordings as a sideman. This willingness to venture into the unknown is complemented by Fortner’s talent and hard-earned performing abilities. His grace, vast knowledge of styles and penchant for making others sound good has been appreciated by Dianne Reeves, Wynton Marsalis, John Scofield, Cecile McLorin Salvant, Fred Hersch, Sean Jones, DeeDee Bridgewater, Roberta Gambarini, Peter Bernstein, Stefon Harris, Nicholas Peyton, Billy Hart, Dave Liebman, Gary Bartz, Etienne Charles, Christian Scott and even Paul Simon. In particular, the seven-year body of work created by Fortner with soulful trumpeter Roy Hargrove, is a salient example of two musicians communicating on a very high level. Their recordings are replete with spontaneous spars and musical exchanges that illustrate the “sacrifice” (to reuse Fortner’s word) of two masters yielding themselves to the moment; their use of the improvisational language calls to mind and pays homage to masters like Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington, and Freddie Hubbard.

Lauded as one of the top jazz pianists of his generation, Sullivan Fortner is the winner of three prestigious awards – a Leonore Annenberg Arts Fellowship, the 2015 Cole Porter Fellowship from the American Pianists Association, and the 2016 Lincoln Center Award for Emerging Artists. The American Pianists Association Cole Porter Fellowship in Jazz provided Fortner with a $50,000 prize and the opportunity to record for Mack Avenue Records, as well as two years of professional career services and development.

Accompanying Fortner in the February 9th concert at the Vermont Jazz Center will be bassist and ASCAP Foundation Louis Armstrong Award winner, Barry Stephenson. After receiving degrees from Florida State University and University of New Orleans, Stephenson joined the group of Stephen Colbert’s pianist, Jon Batiste. Since 2013, they have been touring the world playing festivals like Montreaux, Montreal, Newport, North Sea, Monterey, Umbria and others. He has also performed at Bonnaroo and Lallapalooza.

The trio’s drummer is Kassa Overall; his work ranges from jazz to hip-hop and indie-pop to avant-garde. Overall was an integral part of legendary pianist Geri Allen’s Timeline band, touring throughout the U.S. and Europe. He has made an impact on the indie-pop scene, touring with artists such as Francis and The Lights, Gordon Voidwell, TECLA and Mayer Hawthorne and the County. Laptops and samplers are key elements to Overall’s signature sound. He has toured extensively with his own band, fusing his jazz and instrumental training with his passion for contemporary electronic music. Overall graduated from the Oberlin Conservatory of Music (BM) where he studied under jazz drum legend Billy Hart. His mentors have included the late Elvin Jones, Billy Higgins, and Tootie Heath. Overall has also performed or recorded with Vijay Iyer, Das Racist, Wallace Roney, Ravi Coltrane, Billy Hart, Gary Bartz, Iron Solomon, Gordon Voidwell, and many others.
When asked in a 2016 interview for Czech Radio who were the most influential jazz pianists that spurred his development, Sullivan Fortner said “Errol Garner and Oscar Peterson were the first two pianists I heard where it really clicked. And then Art Tatum, that pretty much sealed the deal for me.” These three pianists formed the foundation of Sullivan’s style – and like these three masters, Sullivan is always grooving, creative and appreciative of the tradition. Come hear for yourself why this remarkable yet humble musician has been the recipient of such prestigious awards: his concerts are always enjoyable, pushing creative boundaries while teaching us about the living history of our music.
The Vermont Jazz Center is honored to present Mr. Sullivan Fortner, one of the best young pianists on the scene today. The event will take place on Saturday, February 9th at 8:00 PM. The VJC is grateful for this concert’s sponsors, two participants in disparate VJC educational programs who have given anonymously. 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 Sullivan Fortner’s concert 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, and 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.

Media examples:

Accompanying Dianne Reeves duo) and playing Monk’s I Mean You (with big band) at the American Pianist Association final

From Neon Interview in 2017 as part of Residency honoring Charlie Parker in Kansas City

NPR Special:

From Voice of America

With Roy Hargrove