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Samirah Evans leads an all-female group of musicians playing compositions written by women in a benefit for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England.

The Arts

Proud to be a ‘nasty woman’

Samirah Evans puts together an all-female lineup of jazz stars for Planned Parenthood benefit concert

Admission is $18 in advance and $23 at the door. Tickets can be purchased online at theartsblock.com. Doors will open at 6:30 p.m., with music starting at 7:30 p.m. The Arts Block is located at 289 Main St. in Greenfield, Mass.

BRATTLEBORO—It’s unbelievable that even though she’s been dead for over 50 years, Margaret Sanger is still under attack.

Sanger, who was born in 1879, opened the first birth control clinic in the United States and created the institutions that became Planned Parenthood. Her goal? Giving women some control over their bodies. The patriarchy objected. Vehemently. During her lifetime, Sanger was often beaten, chased, arrested, and persecuted. She died in 1966, but the battle rages on.

Ever since President Donald J. Trump took office, Planned Parenthood has come under an even more vehement attack. It’s just one of the many reasons millions of American women marched in cities across the nation on the day after his inauguration. And many of them wondered, “What more can I do?”

For renowned blues and jazz singer Samirah Evans, who marched that day in Montpelier, the answer was simple: celebrate Women’s History Month with a concert of professional female musicians performing music written exclusively by women. And give all the proceeds from the concert to Planned Parenthood of Northern New England.

Evans is calling the show “Nasty Women Take the Stage.” Trump, you might remember, said of Hillary Clinton during the third and final presidential debate, “Such a nasty woman.” It has since become a rallying cry and an internet meme.

The concert will be on Saturday, March 25, at 7:30 p.m., at the Arts Block in Greenfield, Mass.

All-star roster

The sextet for the show consists of Samirah Evans (vocals), Lena Bloch (saxophone), Jane Miller (guitar), Roberta Piket (piano), Mary Ann McSweeney (bass), and Claire Arenius (drums).

The composers are among the most famous female women in the jazz, blues, and rock genres: Billie Holiday, Abby Lincoln, Bonnie Raitt, Aretha Franklin, Anne Ross, Carol King.

Since relocating to Brattleboro from New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, Evans has been delighting audiences across the Northeast, performing or sharing stages with the likes of Charles Neville, Sheila Jordan, (Allman Brothers drummer) Jaimoe, Donald Harrison, Jr., Duke Robillard, Dr. John, Wallace Roney, John Sheldon, and Evelyn Harris.

Her touring band, Samirah Evans and Her Handsome Devils, delivers swampy, soulful takes on jazz and blues classics as well originals; while other projects, such as the George Kaye quintet “Porgy & Bess” project and her tribute to Nina Simone and Etta James in conjunction with Evelyn Harris, honor the musical and cultural roots of the music.

Evans is a member of the visiting artist faculty at Williams College and a private vocal instructor. See more at samirahevans.com.

Arenius has been performing in jazz and improvisational music for more than 30 years. A recipient of a National Endowment Music Grant, she has performed and/or recorded with many jazz greats including: Tal Farlow, Slide Hampton, Richard Davis, Archie Shepp, Marion Brown, Karrin Allyson, Charles Neville, George Mraz, Ray Copeland, Mose Allison, Barney Kessel, Yusef Lateef, Rufus Reid, Lew Soloff, Sheila Jordan, and more.

International success

Bloch was born in Moscow and immigrated to Israel in 1990. She has since traveled the world, performing in various settings in Israel, Holland, Italy, Germany, Belgium, England, Canada, Russia, Slovenia and the U.S. She holds Masters Degrees in Performance and Composition from Cologne Conservatory Germany (1999) and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst (2006).

She has also studied privately with Yusef Lateef, Joe Lovano, Dave Liebman and, most notably, Lee Konitz (2001-2014). Since 1993 Lena has been leading her own groups, writing music and arranging. Her musical influences in jazz ranging from European Classical tradition to Middle Eastern and Indian music. She also is an inventive improviser and a refreshing performer of standard jazz material.

McSweeny has played with jazz legends Dizzy Gillespie, Joanne Brackeen and Lee Konitz, Gil Goldstein, and Bucky Pizzarelli. She has also played for famous conductors Leonard Bernstein, Lalo Schifrin, and John Williams. She has arranged for and recorded with Warner Bros. artist Lea Delaria. She has toured Europe and performed with David Krakouer’s Klezmer Madness and five-time Tony award winning vocalist Audra McDonald.

Miller is a guitarist, a composer, an arranger, and the author of Introduction to Jazz Guitar (Berklee Press/Hal Leonard, 2015). She is a contributing editor to Acoustic Guitar magazine, and is a former monthly columnist for Premier Guitar magazine. She has presented master classes in Argentina, Chile, S. Korea, Colombia, and around the U.S. She is a professor in the Guitar Department at Berklee College of Music in Boston, where she has taught since 1994.

Piket is one of a handful of New York musicians who is respected for both her swinging and inventive straight-ahead jazz playing as well as her powerful and sensitive work in creative improvised music.

She has played professionally as a sidewoman with David Liebman, Rufus Reid, Michael Formanek, Lionel Hampton, Mickey Roker, Billy Mintz, Harvey Wainapel, Eliot Zigmund, Benny Golson, and the BMI/NY Jazz Orchestra, and has twice been a featured guest on Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz on National Public Radio.

Enthusiastic response

“What was really heartening was how excited all the musicians were to be a part of the event,” said Evans, who co-presents the series “Ladies in Jazz” with the Arts Block through her company, Silktone Productions. “It’s their belief in the cause that everyone agreed without hesitation.”

Here in Brattleboro, Planned Parenthood of Northern New England operates a health center that serves clients who come from Greenfield as well as from all over Windham County. It is currently raising money and seeking land to build a new facility.

Members of the Planned Parenthood NNE organization will be at the concert to talk about services provided to the Connecticut River Valley region from their location in Brattleboro.

Also coming is Ellen Story, a popular former state representative from Massachusetts, who was a champion of women’s social issues during her 12-year tenure (she didn’t seek re-election this year).

In addition, Vermont state senator Becca Balint, D-Windham, will make remarks about the importance of keeping high-quality health care affordable and accessible to women in the region.

“In this time of unprecedented attacks on women’s health and access to care at Planned Parenthood, PPNNE is grateful to supporters like Samirah and her fellow musicians for standing up for the essential health care services we provide,” said Meagan Gallagher, President and CEO of PPNNE.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #400 (Wednesday, March 22, 2017).

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