Roll up the rug for a musical cause
Samirah Evans

Roll up the rug for a musical cause

Vermont Jazz Center hosts a livestreamed swing dance benefit for VJC’s Scholarship Fund

BRATTLEBORO — What can you do on a chilly December evening after finishing a hearty winter meal? How about joining the Vermont Jazz Center community for a livestream, virtual swing dance with your sweetie?

So roll up the rug, put on your dancing shoes, and prepare your favorite beverage in anticipation of a night of swinging, danceable music.

On Saturday, Dec. 12, at 8 p.m., we at the Vermont Jazz Center will present our annual swing dance gala. Formerly scheduled as a concert with Wanda Houston and the VJC 7, the live element of this show has been scaled down from eight musicians to just two.

Samirah Evans and I will be filmed live at the VJC on Saturday night. We will be virtually hosting the VJC's 17-piece Big Band via choice video selections filmed at last year's gala.

After hearing about this shift, the co-sponsor of this show, Steve Lieberman, laughed, noting that “everything is different this year.”

So true, but with change arises opportunity.

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The mission of the Big Band's annual swing dance is to bring joyful, danceable music to those who love to move to the sounds of the classics while raising money for the VJC Scholarship Fund.

Proceeds garnered by the event will support scholarships for those who need it to attend our educational offerings during the year.

This year is no exception.

The repertoire for this concert includes such numbers as “Just One of Those Things,” “Skylark,” “Frim Fram Sauce,” and other beautiful chestnuts from the Great American Songbook.

Samirah Evans and I will perform swinging tunes as a duo that will segue into sets of three big band tunes chosen from the VJC Big Band's most recent performance honoring Nat King Cole.

The 2019 concert, filmed at the Jazz Center using three cameras by documentary filmmaker Michael Hanish, captures New York vocalist Miles Griffith performing the songs that Nat King Cole made famous, oftentimes using arrangements that were written for Cole himself.

You will hear top-flight solos from regional artists, including Bob Stabach, Michael Zsoldos, Haneef Nelson, Draa Hobbs and the VJC Big Band's music director, Rob Freeberg.

Samirah Evans is a skilled, energetic vocalist who fosters a magnetically charged relationship with her numerous fans. Perhaps that's because she puts so much of herself into her art - she makes each song her own by probing its essence and then imbuing it with her own authentic, heartfelt personality.

Adding to Evans's allure is her embodiment of the New Orleans sound and spirit; she was one of that city's most popular and in-demand singers before her move to Vermont in 2005 in the aftermath of the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

Her 1990 debut at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival began a stint of 15 consecutive years performing there as a leader or featured vocalist. She was a fixture in both clubs and concert venues throughout the Crescent City, including Snug Harbor, Tipitina's, and the House of Blues.

During her career, she has toured North and South America, Europe, and Asia, sharing stages with a multitude of New Orleans notables and legendary artists, including James Brown, B.B. King, Dr. John, Levon Helm, Aaron Neville, Charles Neville, Terence Blanchard, Donald Harrison Jr., Poncho Sanchez, Bob Dorough, Irma Thomas, Kermit Ruffins, Trombone Shorty, Sam Kininger, and Sheila Jordan.

Evans has recorded three CDs as a leader: Give Me a Moment (2002), My Little Bodhisattva (2007) and Hot Club: Live at the Vermont Jazz Center (2009). She is currently an artist associate in jazz voice at Williams College and gives private vocal instruction as a faculty member of the Vermont Jazz Center at her home studio in Brattleboro.

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The VJC Big Band is facilitated by trumpeter Rob Freeberg, who also musically directs the VJC Sextet. He is retired from serving as director of bands at New Rochelle (N.Y.) High School, where he received awards from the New York State School Music Association and conducted high school performances at Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall. He serves on the Jazz Center's board of directors and teaches in the music programs at the Putney School and Brattleboro Union High School.

The VJC Big Band was originally a collaborative project initiated by former VJC board President Howard Brofsky and board member Sherm Fox. This year, the big band celebrates 18 years of performances thanks in great part to Fox's continued persistence and organizational efforts as band manager.

The performers of the VJC Big Band include trumpeters Don Anderson, Rick Anderson, Haneef Nelson, Dave Dell and Rob Freeberg; woodwind players Michael Zsoldos, Sherm Fox, Bob Stabach, Larry Tutt, and Nick Pelton; trombonists John Wheeler, Bob Thies, Dave Sporny, and Caroline Cole; and rhythm section members George Kaye (bass), Steve Rice (drums), and me (piano).

The vocalist who performed with the Big Band in this presentation was New York-based Miles Griffith, best known for his work with Wynton Marsalis.

Griffith has performed with Max Roach, Reggie Workman, Carl Allen, T.S. Monk, Barry Harris, Jon Hendricks, Cassandra Wilson, Jamaaladeen Tacuma, Kirk Nurock, Craig Harris, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Tony Reedus, Jure Pukl, Orrin Evans, Jeff Lederer, John Ellis, Jack Walrath, Theo Bleckmann, JD Walter, Janis Siegel, Judy Niemack, Cameron Brown, Billy Hart, Don Sickler, Marion Cowings, Jay Clayton, Mary LaRose, Ron Carter, Billy Higgins, Christian McBride, Gretchen Parlato, Becca Stevens, Sachal Vasandani, Roy Hargrove, Stephen Scott, Jimmy Heath, Kevin Mahogany, Benny Green, Q-Tip, Charenée Wade, Bilal, Sir Roland Hanna, James Williams and ICU, and many others.

The music for this show is tailored for dancing and will include tempos perfect for myriad dance steps, including the fox trot, two step, Charleston, and even the cha cha. You'll be in the comfort of your own home, so it's your choice - shine or kick off your shoes, fix up your favorite beverage, prepare a space for dancing, and have a ball!

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