A grand Brattleboro tradition

Six pianists share their artistry and their knowledge at the Vermont Jazz Center’s annual Solo Jazz Piano Festival

BRATTLEBORO-The Vermont Jazz Center celebrates the vital role of the piano in the history of jazz by hosting its annual Solo Jazz Piano Festival on April 19 and 20. The artists headlining this year's festival are Hey Rim Jeon, Aaron Parks, Alfredo Rodriguez and Jacky Terrasson; emerging artists are Yujin Han and Mathew Mueller.

On each night of the festival, two headlining pianists will present back-to-back solo sets starting at 7:30 p.m. April 19 will include performances by Hey Rim Jeon and Aaron Parks, and on April 20 we will hear Alfredo Rodriguez and Jacky Terrasson.

Saturday, April 20, is a full day of educational and concert programming. The day begins at 10 a.m. with a sequence of workshops led by the four headlining musicians. These presentations are designed to be accessible to all music lovers, not just pianists. The day will also include short sets from the two emerging artists as well as a round-table discussion with all six performers.

The Solo Jazz Piano Festival, now in its eighth year, is one of the cornerstones of the VJC's programming. The festival has presented some of the world's top pianists and most important musical innovators of this generation, including NEA Jazz Masters Toshiko Akiyoshi and Joanne Brackeen, as well as the acknowledged luminaries Stanley Cowell, Benny Green, Sullivan Fortner, Kenny Werner and many others.

The fest continues to be a unique opportunity for audiences to communicate directly with performers as they share their spiritual and historical sources of inspiration, and offer tips on their methods of learning, teaching and practicing. The VJC is honored to continue this important tradition in Brattleboro. The structure of this solo piano festival is unique in that it is geared toward community building and knowledge-sharing, using the piano as a catalyst.

Each of this year's headliners is highly regarded by jazz lovers around the world. They are all virtuosic in their abilities and have released numerous celebrated recordings as leaders and side people. But what sets this group of four apart is the way each of them conveys a completely distinct approach to the instrument, demonstrating an instantly recognizable stylistic, rhythmic, and harmonic palette.

It is this diversity, combined with the artists' rich depth of knowledge and ability to connect with audiences, that assures a fascinating show. Listeners are encouraged to check out each of the performers to enjoy the full spectrum of their approaches.

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A brief introduction to the artists' musical styles:

Hey Rim Jeon's style is characterized by rhythmical precision, graceful melodic lines and adroit technical facility. Jeon also embraces longform improvisation. She teaches courses in piano technique and the solo improvisations of Keith Jarrett at Berklee College of Musicm and the depth of her ability in both of these skill sets shines through in her solo performing.

Aaron Parks's creations are reflections of his search for beauty. Whether they're original compositions or swinging standards, his approach is all about heart. He conveys emotion without being saccharine by using expressive phrasing and captivating arrangements that encourage spaciousness.

He is also a master of timekeeping - he speaks of developing an "inner drummer" by feeling rhythm in his body and playing games with a metronome - and of creating reharmonized renditions of tunes from the Great American Songbook on the fly.

Alfredo Rodriguez brings a vast knowledge of the Latin American piano tradition, replete with the virtuosic ability necessary to convey that style. His Cuban roots saturate his sound, which is also strongly influenced by classical music.

Rodriguez began studying classical music seriously at the age of seven, and realized at the age of twelve that playing the piano would be his lifelong endeavor. He feels that the "message of music is about expressing unity and about being together, knowing where we are coming from, and trying to help each other."

Jacky Terrasson is yet another virtuosic player. A major presence in the vibrant New York jazz scene during the early 1990s, he chose to reside in his native France, where his star continues to rise. Terrasson plays in the tradition, and he loves to swing hard with lots of dynamic emphasis, emulating players like Ahmad Jamal. He also has a knack for folding unexpected pop tunes (such as those of Michael Jackson) into a jazz set.

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The VJC's Solo Jazz Piano Festival is a tribute to Mike McKenzie who for the past 27 years has provided artists performing at the VJC with the finest pianos possible, including the beautiful Steinway D Concert Grand upon which this festival was founded.

In-person tickets for the Solo Jazz Piano Festival are offered on a sliding scale from $85-$130 for the entire event; single concert options are also available. Visit to purchase. For educational group discounts, email [email protected]. Reservations can be made by calling the Vermont Jazz Center ticket line at 802-254-9088, ext. 1. Mobility access for the in-person event is available by emailing [email protected].

The online streaming of this concert will be offered free at Donations are welcome.

Eugene Uman is director of the Vermont Jazz Center. The Commons' Deeper Dive column gives artists, 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.

This Arts column was submitted to The Commons.

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