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Elizabeth Leitzel

Lakesha Benjamin will be among the young musicians showcased at the Vermont Jazz Center’s third annual Emerging Artist Festival.

The Arts

Jazz Center hosts third annual Emerging Artist Festival

‘Jazz continues to flourish, thanks mostly to the fresh contributions of its young, creative devotees’

Eugene Uman is executive artistic director of the Vermont Jazz Center.

BRATTLEBORO—The Vermont Jazz Center’s Emerging Artist Festival, set for Friday, Nov. 20 and Saturday, Nov. 21, is a celebration of the young artists whose voices are pushing the music forward or paying homage to the deep legacy of the art form.

This year, the VJC will present a livestream event that features younger musicians who are inspired by tradition and propelled by visions of possibility.

Jazz has evolved consistently since its formation in the beginning of the 20th century. By definition, it is an expansive music, influenced by advancements in popular music, the improvisational language, and increased worldwide communication. Jazz continues to flourish, thanks mostly to the fresh contributions of its young, creative devotees.

This two-day event gives voice to the new generation. All events, including live interviews with the artists, will be livestreamed on the VJC’s website at

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On Friday, Nov. 20, Italian guitar virtuoso Pasquale Grasso will bring his trio up from New York City to perform live at the VJC. With the group will be supporting vocalist Samara Joy.

Grasso, lauded by jazz guitarist Pat Metheny as “one of the best guitarists I’ve ever heard,” was mentored by the legendary bebop pianist/educator Barry Harris, while serving as his teaching assistant and, for the last 10 years, in workshops in Italy, Switzerland, France, Spain, Holland, and Slovenia.

As a jazz ambassador for the U.S. Embassy, Grasso toured Europe, Kuwait, Kazakhstan, Cyprus, Lithuania, and Ukraine and performed with many leading musicians of the international jazz scene.

Joy won the Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition in 2019. The 21-year-old singer has performed in many of New York’s prestigious jazz venues, including Dizzy’s, The Blue Note, and Mezzrow and, accompanied by jazz luminaries such as Christian McBride, Jon Faddis, Kirk Lightsey, Cyrus Chestnut, and NEA Jazz Master Dr. Barry Harris.

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On Saturday, Nov. 21, the VJC will livestream an exclusive concert video that alto saxophonist and composer Lakecia Benjamin produced specifically for opportunities like this — to get her music out to target audiences that value her vision, listeners who are curious about what is around her next corner.

Benjamin won the 2019 Downbeat Critics Poll Rising Star Award as well as the 2020 Jazz Journalists Association award for Up and Coming Jazz Musician of the Year.

She recently recorded Pursuance: The Coltranes, a tribute to the Coltranes — Alice and John — which was produced by her “godfather” and mentor Reggie Workman (who also served as John Coltrane’s bassist).

The sublime character of that recording is not that it is merely a tribute to the Coltranes but that she captures the spirit, the fire, and the essence of their music. Her delivery is as if she is channeling their authentic tradition while infusing it with young energy and influences.

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On both Friday and Saturday, the VJC will present a selection of five-minute videos prepared for this event by colleges, high schools, and independent young artists. These videos demonstrate strategies young artists are using to continue their creative work during the pandemic.

Livestreaming for this event is cost-free and open to the public, but donations to the Vermont Jazz Center will be gratefully accepted and will help to offset production costs and to bring further programming to the public.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #588 (Wednesday, November 18, 2020). This story appeared on page B2.

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