PUTNEY — This week, the Vermont Jazz Center (VJC) is holding its 47th annual summer jazz workshop at The Putney School, the first time since 2019 that there's been a full, in-person workshop.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 workshop was held virtually, and it was convenient to invite numerous guest teachers to participate regardless of location. For example, bassist Linda May Han Oh taught from her studio in Perth, Australia. The 2021 workshop combined online and in-person programs. Pianists studied and performed recitals at the Brattleboro Music Center, while vocalists and other instrumentalists met virtually.
This year, the VJC is back at The Putney School, where it has traditionally been held for almost a quarter-century. This workshop encourages intermediate- to professional-level students from down the street and around the world to participate. While in Vermont they polish their improvisational and musicianship skills and enjoy a 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 were fundamental in the development of young musicians such as Peter Bernstein, Draa Hobbs, and many others who would come to Zoller's rustic home in Newfane to study with him and other masters.
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 NEA Jazz Master Sheila Jordan and Jay Clayton.
Because the workshop has such a long history, a sense of rhythm has been achieved through repetition, say organizers. “Returning students visit each summer and nourish friendships, develop their musical skills, and live their dreams. Both students and faculty consider this week in the country the highlight of their year.”
Pianist Bob Werbel, who has attended the program for over 20 years, told the VJC “It's my favorite week of the year, I wouldn't miss it for anything.”
The Vermont Jazz Center's Summer Workshop emphasizes the importance of improvisation and small-group dynamics, notes the news release, encouraging participants to find their own voices using the jazz language. “The atmosphere is friendly and productive; participants and teachers alike form bonds that last a lifetime, and there exists a natural, intergenerational balance where participants of all ages learn from each other.”
It stands as “the pinnacle of the VJC's educational year,” according to a news release, “thanks to a phenomenal 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.”
Eugene Uman, the program's artistic director, and Ginger Morawski, who administrates the event, work alongside dozens of community volunteers who contribute to its operation.
This year's program features approximately 50 instrumental and 11 vocal students under the tutelage of 16 highly regarded musician-teachers.
Each day, the instrumental and vocal ensembles take part in master classes, formal performance groups, and classes in jazz composition and theory. “In the evenings - evoking the Zoller spirit - students and faculty jam until the wee hours of the morning.”
The week culminates in a series of concerts for the public at The Putney School's Michael S. Currier Center. On Thursday, Aug. 11, at 8 p.m., the Vermont Jazz Center Faculty Concert will present Sheila Jordan and Jay Clayton (vocals); Haneef Nelson and Rob Freeberg (trumpet), Ben Barnett (trombone); Michael Zsoldos (saxophone); Matthew Steckler (flute); Helen Sung, Harvey Diamond, Ray Gallon and Eugene Uman (piano); Cameron Brown (bass); Brian Adler (drums); and Julian Gerstin (percussion).The faculty concert is $20. Tickets are available at vtjazz.org. Local music students are admitted free of charge. Masks are required.
On Friday, Aug. 12, the VJC Summer Workshop Student Concert will showcase faculty-coached student ensembles with numerous vocalists and several piano trios at the Currier Center. This concert will be divided into two sections, the first will start at 3:30 p.m. After a dinner break, the second show resumes at 8 p.m.
Singers will be accompanied by a professional jazz trio, and the piano trios will be assisted and perform with a faculty bassist. Also performing will be five faculty-coached ensembles, usually comprised of two or three horns, piano, bass, and drums.
For the student concert, a $5 donation is suggested at the door. Masks are required.