Passing it on

Students, faculty to showcase their work at VJC’s Summer Workshop concerts

PUTNEY — The Putney School is opening its doors to the public for two days of great jazz music.

The Vermont Jazz Center (VJC) presents its summer jazz workshop in the beautiful setting of the Putney School campus, encouraging students from down the street and around the world to hone their improvisational and musicianship skills.

This year, faculty will deliver their concert on Thursday, Aug. 8. The students will offer two performances on the final evening of the workshop, Friday, Aug. 9. Both concerts are at 8 p.m. at the Putney School's Michael S. Currier Center.

VJC will present the summer workshop faculty concert featuring Sheila Jordan and Jay Clayton, vocalists; Howard Brofsky and Jeff Galindo on trumpet; Scott Mullett on saxophone; Draa Hobbs on guitar; Harvey Diamond, Ray Gallon and Eugene Uman on piano; Cameron Brown, Marcus McLaurine, George Kaye, and David Picchi on bass; Billy Drummond and Claire Arenius on drums; and Julian Gerstin on percussion.

On Friday, the Vermont Jazz Center Summer Workshop showcases faculty-coached student ensembles with numerous vocalists and several piano trios.

This concert will be divided into two sections: the first starting at 3:30 p.m., leading into a dinner break; the second show picks up at 8 p.m.

Singers will have professional jazz trio accompaniment. The piano trios will perform with a faculty bassist.

Also performing will be a number of faculty-coached ensembles, usually composed of horn, piano, bass, and drums.

The Vermont Jazz Center's summer workshop emphasizes the importance of improvisation and small-group dynamics within the context of jazz - as its website says, encouraging participants to find their own voices using the jazz language.

“Although there are other jazz workshops throughout the country, the VJC Summer Workshop is very special because everyone participating lives together on the Putney School campus,” says VJC Artistic Director Eugene Uman.

Uman goes on to note that VJC supports “a great integration of faculty and students” in a friendly and productive atmosphere, one conducive to participants and teachers forming bonds that last a lifetime.

In the evenings, he says, students and faculty evoke the spirit of VJC founder Attila Zoller in jamming “until the wee hours of the morning. We're lucky to be at the Putney School, where there are lots of rooms to work in and pianos to play, and we're fed delicious food grown on Putney Farm served by the school's terrific chefs.”

The VJC's summer workshop attained nonprofit status in 1974 when founding director Zoller, who died in 1998, officially organized the informal gatherings of guitarists he held at his home in Newfane.

“Attila thought of his life in Vermont as a summer workshop. His house in Newfane was designed for these workshops,” Uman says.

Uman says he counts as friends the people who now own Zoller's house, so he is able to more easily recreate in his imagination those early workshop days.

“In Attila's kitchen, there was a large table where students gathered around to learn, play and eat,” he says. “It was an intensive session where they could work with high-level accompanists. In the beginning, the summer workshop had four or five students, who focused on playing and theory.

“After a while the summer workshop, of course, became bigger and had to develop a curriculum for larger groups. Attila called on the help of the director of jazz studies at the University of Denver, Gene Rush, who is still alive. He's a great pianist who four years ago was on our faculty at VJC. The structure he created is still in use by us to this very day.”

Putting it all together

The summer workshop has three components: theory, master classes, and ensemble work. Students will unite into instrumental and vocal ensembles and each day partake in master classes, formal performance groups, and classes in jazz composition and theory.

“Mornings are devoted to theory, after which students spend time working with a master in their respective area, either an instrumentalist or singer,” Uman says. “In the afternoon, they play in ensembles, which are formed by levels of energy and interest.”

This year's program features approximately 40 instrumental and 20 vocal students under the tutelage of a dozen highly regarded musicians and teachers.

The students for VJC Summer Workshop come from all over the globe. Uman says, “For instance, we have had students from Japan, from France, and this year from Norway. We will also have quite a few from Keene, N.H., because one of our instructors is bringing his students. The same is true of instructors bringing their students from Chicago and the West Coast.

“Our school is tailored to a student body at the intermediate to the advanced level. This unique group of musicians is definitely intergenerational. In one of our ensembles you might find someone who is 16 playing with another musician [musically rooted] in the 1970s. We group students together not by age but by passion.”

Uman estimates the student body is composed of about 40 percent who are college age or below, and the rest adults, many of whom have retired and returned to music.

“I have worked one-on-one with dozens and dozens of these older students. I really enjoy it. Such a student might have had ended a career - say as a banker or lawyer - and decided to go back to what they really loved: music,” Uman says.

'A sensational night...'

Uman describes the VJC concerts as the culminating moment of years of students' work.

“People look forward to the concerts put on by VJC Summer Workshop,” says Uman. “The Thursday evening faculty concert is a sensational night of music with a diversity of style and lots of top notch performers. Each instructor gets a featured number. The two Friday student concerts include ensembles, piano trios, and vocalists, paired with a professional rhythm section.

“My father makes sure that he came to Vermont especially to see these student shows. Without doubt, it is the high point of the VJC Summer Workshop,” Uman says.

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