Vermont Jazz Center welcomes harmonica master Grégoire Maret

Thursday January 17, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- On Saturday at 8 p.m., the Vermont Jazz Center will present a concert led by Grégoire Maret, one of the greatest jazz chromatic harmonica players in the world.

A dedicated collaborator, Maret, is an A-list musician who can be found on recordings by Herbie Hancock, Pat Metheny, Cassandra Wilson, David Sanborn, Charlie Hunter, George Benson, Meshell Ndegeocello, Lionel Loueke and many others. He will perform with his working quartet that includes his longtime collaborator/pianist Federico Gonzalez Peña, Ben Williams on bass (winner of the 2009 Thelonious Monk Competition) and Clarence Penn on the drums.

Maret receives accolades from everyone with whom he makes music. Herbie Hancock, his former boss, stated: "Gregoire is an amazing player ... there’s no one else out there that comes close on the harmonica and he rivals the best on any instrument."

In 2005, Maret worked with Pat Metheny, recording the Grammy-award winning album, "The Way Up." Metheny commented: "Gregoire has the special communicative spirit that is rare and absolutely essential to jazz itself and yet within that spectrum he is able to find a timeless quality that speaks to any kind of listener and attracts just about every kind of musician to his playing."

Maret was nurtured by his father (a professional jazz musician) and many other mentors, including harmonica master Toots Thielemans who took Maret under his wing when he was 17 years old. Maret also holds a degree in jazz studies from the New School. Yet Maret’s music is influenced by the various rhythms and songs he has heard on his journeys around the world.

Maret’s compositions are "episodic" journeys. He often composes with his musical partner, the pianist in the group, Federico Peña. Together they create lush, complex pieces that evolve with numerous sections that build slowly, gradually opening up using careful-paced structures. The listener experiences a sense of development that is almost like Western classical musical in concept.

Pianist Peña was born in Montevideo, Uruguay. After moving to Buenos Aires, Argentina, he studied classical piano intensely until age 17. He traveled to the U.S., and after attending Berklee, moved to Washington D.C. where he met Me’shell N’Degeocello -- they have worked together for more than 20 years. Peña has also worked with Angela Boffill, Rare Essence, Pieces of a Dream, Digable Planets, Roy Hargrove, Chaka Khan, Cassandra Wilson, Marcus Miller, SMV (Stanley Clarke, Marcus Miller & Victor Wooten) and many others.

The band’s bassist is Ben Williams, who has been honored by the Fish Middleton Scholarship Competition, International Society of Bassists, Steans Music Institute, Duke Ellington Jazz Society, International Association of Jazz Educators and others. In 2009, he was the winner of the Thelonious Monk Institute International Jazz Competition. Williams received a master’s degree from the Juilliard School in 2009.

He has performed with Wynton Marsalis, Herbie Hancock, Pat Metheny, Terence Blanchard, Christian McBride, Paquito D’Rivera, Cyrus Chestnut, Benny Golson, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Roy Hargrove and many others. He has also recorded and performed regularly as a member of bands led by saxophonist Marcus Strickland, pianist Jacky Terrasson and vibraphonist Stefon Harris.

The group’s drummer is Clarence Penn. A graduate of Interlochen, Penn headed to Virginia Commonwealth to attend grad school at the suggestion of Wynton Marsalis, whose father Ellis, was a faculty member. In 1990, Penn accompanied Ellis and Wynton Marsalis to Japan, where he was recommended to Betty Carter. Penn was hired and remained with Carter for several years and then went on to play with Stanley Clarke.

Since then, he has toured, performed and recorded with Christian McBride, Michael Brecker, Dizzy Gillespie, Gary Burton, Joshua Redman, Charlie Haden, Makoto Ozone and many others.

The concert is made possible by William Schutt of Matcor Inc. as well as ongoing support of the Vermont Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts, The Hampton Inn of Brattleboro and VPR and WFCR.

Tickets are $20 general admission, $15 for students with ID. Tickets are available at In the Moment Record Store, 143 Main St., online at or by calling the Vermont Jazz Center ticket line at 802-254-9088, ext. 1.


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