PUTNEY—The Vermont Jazz Center is in the midst of its 43rd annual Summer Jazz Workshop. This week-long program takes place on the beautiful campus of The Putney School.
The workshop encourages intermediate to professional level students from down the street and around the world to develop their musical practice and exploration. While in Vermont, they polish their improvisational and musicianship skills while enjoying a week-long hiatus in a pastoral setting.
The workshop began in 1974 when famed Hungarian guitarist Attila Zoller formed the Attila Zoller Guitar Clinics. These informal programs invited students to Zoller’s rustic home in Newfane and to study with Zoller and other masters. The sessions were fundamental in the development of young musicians like Peter Bernstein, Draa Hobbs, and many others.
The sessions went on to become a more formalized program that attained nonprofit status — officially becoming the Vermont Jazz Center — in 1989 when Zoller took on a board of directors, registered with the state, and conscripted friends like Joy Wallens-Penford, Howard Brofsky, and Gene Rush to help with the curriculum and organization.
To this day, the VJC honors Zoller’s immense spirit and attention to quality.
Over the years, the Summer Workshop has grown in numerous ways, most notably through increased numbers of students and staff, but also by developing a vocal program under the caring guidance of Sheila Jordan and Jay Clayton.
Because the workshop has now taken place for 20 years at the Putney School, a sense of rhythm has been achieved through repetition.The community simultaneously grows outward while getting deeper inward: Returning students visit each summer and nourish friendships, develop their musical skills, and cultivate their dreams.
Most students and faculty consider this week in the country to be the highlight of their year. Pianist Bob Werbel, who will be celebrating his 20th year with the program this year, told us last week “It’s my favorite week of the year, I wouldn’t miss it for anything.”
There exists a natural intergenerational balance in which participants of all ages learn from each other, gleaning from both the wisdom of jazz’s “old school” as well as from the pedagogical advancements put forth in today’s developed system of jazz education and, within this integration, forms an environment rich with the freedom that is synonymous with the word “jazz.”
The Vermont Jazz Center’s Summer Workshop emphasizes the importance of improvisation and small-group dynamics, encouraging participants to find their own voices using the jazz language. The courses offered include jazz theory, master classes in each instrument, focused listening, and faculty-led ensembles.
The atmosphere is friendly and productive; participants and teachers alike form bonds that last a lifetime. The Summer Workshop stands as the pinnacle of the VJC’s educational year thanks to a world-class faculty — teachers who are brilliant players but still have a vested interest in the unique journey brought to the program by each student.
This year’s program will feature approximately 50 instrumental and 18 vocal students under the tutelage of 23 highly regarded musician/teachers. They will encounter the excellent musical facilities at the Putney School; they will unite into instrumental and vocal ensembles and each day partake in master classes, formal performance groups, and classes in jazz composition and theory.
In the evenings — evoking the Zoller spirit — students and faculty will jam into the wee hours of the morning. The faculty will perform a concert on Thursday evening, and the students will present the culmination of their week’s work in a concert on Friday. Both concerts are open to the public (for tickets, go to vtjazz.org) and will take place at the Michael S. Currier Center at the Putney School.
On Aug. 9, at 8 p.m., the Vermont Jazz Center Faculty Concert will present vocalists Sheila Jordan and Jay Clayton, Jason Palmer (trumpet), John Yao, Ben Barnett (trombone), Stacy Dillard, Michael Zsoldos (saxophone), Camille Thurman (flute), Helen Sung, Harvey Diamond, Ray Gallon and Eugene Uman (piano), Marcus McLaurine, Malik McLaurine, George Kaye, David Picchi and Cameron Brown (bass), Franciso Mela, Brian Adler and Claire Arenius, (drums).
The ticket price for the faculty concert is $20. $15 for students. Local music students are admitted free of charge.
On Aug. 10, the VJC Summer Workshop Student Concert will showcase faculty-coached student ensembles with numerous vocalists and several piano trios. This concert will be divided into two sections, the first will start at 3:30 p.m., and the second show will resume at 8 p.m., following a dinner break.
Singers will be accompanied by a professional jazz trio and the piano trios will be assisted by and perform with a faculty bassist. Also performing will be five faculty-coached ensembles, usually composed of two or three horns, piano, bass, and drums. For the student concert, a $5 donation is suggested.