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Berklee Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice instructor Val Jeanty (Val-Inc), with Ravish Momin, one of the artists with whom she collaborates.

The Arts

‘We’re not writing the song, we’re just the vessel’

VJC Emerging Artist Festival Clinics highlighted by partnership with Berklee Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice

Eugene Uman is director of the Vermont Jazz Center. The Commons’ Deeper Dive column gives artists and arts organizations, and other nonprofits, elbow room to write in first person and/or be unabashedly opinionated, passionate, and analytical about their own creative work and events.

BRATTLEBORO—The Vermont Jazz Center will present its fourth annual Emerging Artist Festival on Saturday, Nov. 13. The event promotes new ideas and individuals affecting the future of jazz, a music that encourages creativity and lauds game-changing artists.

This year, we will partner with the Berklee Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice and will feature one of their instructors, Haitian turntablist Val Jeanty (Val-Inc).

On Wikipedia, Jeanty is identified as an afrofuturist” who incorporates “Haitian Vodou rhythms with electronic instruments.” She will be performing with 11 musicians from around the world who represent the mission of the Berklee Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice.

Founded and directed by NEA Jazz Master Terri Lyne Carrington, the Institute welcomes “students of all gender and sexual identities to achieve the goal of true gender diversity in the field [of jazz].”

Its goal is to create “more equitable conditions for all pursuing careers in jazz in an effort to work toward a necessary and lasting cultural shift in the field” through “corrective work [that modifies] the way jazz is perceived and presented, so the future of jazz looks different than its past without rendering invisible many of the art form’s creative contributors.”

Key to the Emerging Artist Festival is its educational component.

Six youth jazz ensembles from four regional schools will be performing short sets during the day and will be coached by members of the Institute. These aspiring jazz musicians will receive useful feedback that will inspire them to dig deeper into their studies, gain appreciation for the lineage of the music, and expose them to new, creative ideas.

The schools represented are Brattleboro Union High School (Steve Rice, director), Amherst College (Bruce Diehl, director), University of Massachusetts Amherst (Jeff Holmes, director) and Northfield Mount Hermon (Ron Smith, director).

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In an insightful interview found on Roulette Concert Archive, Jeanty discusses her concept of working with electronics, using the Korg Wavedrum, Akai MPC sampler, effects pedals, and turntables as a medium to represent the “organic” spirit of her drum-inspired culture.

Jeanty’s grandmother was a Mambo, a priestess of the Vodou tradition who performed healing work and guided others using complex rituals. Jeanty grew up in a Vodou family, surrounded by drumming and ritual.

At the age of 4, the tambou (conga-like) drums “moved” her and called for her to play them. As a teenager, Jeanty saw a DJ with a turntable deck; she was inspired by the sounds he created and the motion he created as he alternated between turntables, moving from left to right as if they were conga drums.

She also was excited about the possibility of working with more than two drums at a time: using samples and drum machines she could create soundscapes with 20 drums.

Her culture/spiritual path leads Jeanty to approach her music as prayer, she says: “I feel that everything I do is always a prayer — it evokes a natural state of being that can be accessed directly through sound.”

She explained that when she’s creating music, “it’s not just me, it’s what the spirit wanted to express. We’re not writing the song, we’re just the vessel, watching the song become, lucky enough to participate in the process.”

Val Jeanty works with a diverse range of artists, such as Steve Coleman, Vijay Iyer, Linda Oh, Kris Davis, Jaimie Branch, Matt Shipp, and Ravish Momin.

She collaborates with Terri Lyne Carrington, a turntablist; Tracie D. Morris, a percussionist; and Anthony Braxton as a recording engineer.

Jeanty’s performances have been showcased in New York City (at the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Brooklyn Academy of Music) and internationally (at Saalfelden Jazz Festival in Austria; in Switzerland; at Jazz à la Villette in France; and at the Venice Biennale in Italy).

* * *

Joining Val Jeanty as educators and performers will be graduate students from the Berklee Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice: Ángela Varo Moreno (violin), Milena Casado (flügelhorn), Katie Webster and Jonathan Reisin (saxophones), Hidemi Akaiwa and Camila Cortina (piano), Nadav Lavie, Gerson Lazo Quiroga, and Devon Gates (bass), and Francesca Remigi and Lily Finnegan (drums).

Over the years, the Jazz Center has presented performances featuring emerging artists, all of whom have gone on to distinguished careers.

Some of these musicians are Lakecia Benjamin, Pasquale Grasso, Samara Joy, ArcoIris Sandoval, Roxy Coss, Godwin Louis, KingKlavé (Amaury Acosta), Julius Rodriguez, Caili O’Doherty, Caroline Davis, Melissa Aldana, Integriti Reeves, Sarah Elizabeth Charles, Carolina Calvache, Marquis Hill, Jaleel Shaw, Mimi Jones, Jazzmeia Horn, Jonathan Barber, Harold López-Nussa, and numerous others.

In 2018, the Jazz Center organized the presentation of emerging artists to include master classes and performances by regional youth jazz bands. Participants of prior years’ festivals include Keene State College, The Putney School, the VJC Youth Jazz Ensemble, Cate Byrne Quartet, Zack Bartolomei, Jeremy Turgeon, the Zumbyes from Amherst College, Rei Kimura, Archer Parks, Planet Kniffen, Khalif and Talyn Neville, Montpelier High School, the UVM Post-Bop Ensemble, and the VJC Young Lions.

The Vermont Jazz Center is excited to present a festival that illustrates the great potential of our music moving forward. The only way that this is possible is through community support. This festival is presented in honor of the memory of Jonathan Flaccus, a man who cared deeply about the arts.

During his rich life, Flaccus, a longtime resident of Windham County, intentionally supported the Jazz Center, promoting causes he strongly believed in, especially youth participation. This concert is sponsored by Flaccus’s widow, Marcy Hermansader.

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The public is invited to all portions of the day.

Performances will begin at 1 p.m. on Saturday. Student groups from around the region will be coached by members of the institute throughout the day and will attend a 4:15 p.m. master class with Jeanty and members of the Berklee Institute.

The festival will culminate in an 8 p.m. performance by Jeanty and members of the Institute.

The entire event is open to vaccinated individuals (please bring proof and ID).

All portions of this event are free for students and members of the LGBTQ community. For others, admission to the in-person daytime events is $20, and the evening in-person concert Admission to the 8 p.m. concert is offered on a sliding fee scale from $20 to $40 per person, and will be capped at 120 attendees. Outright Vermont will be tabling throughout the afternoon events.

Online streaming of this concert will be offered free at vtjazz.org and facebook.com/VermontJazzCenter/live, but donations are welcome.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #638 (Wednesday, November 10, 2021). This story appeared on page B1.

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