BRATTLEBORO — The Vermont Jazz Center’s Big Band will present its annual scholarship gala on Dec. 2 at 8 p.m. This event is the primary fundraiser for the VJC Scholarship Fund, which grants an annual average of $27,000 in scholarships to students, offsetting fees for VJC ensembles, private lessons and its world-renowned summer jazz workshop.
This year, the band will feature clarinetist and vocalist Evan Arntzen in a tribute to one of America’s most important composers, Duke Edward Kennedy Ellington, as well as a raffle of some exciting items.
The VJC Big Band, under the leadership of musical director Rob Freeberg, is made up of area professional musicians who come together to enjoy the rewards of playing invigorating, challenging and historically significant repertoire while raising money for the VJC’s Scholarship Fund. This year’s event will also include a raffle to enhance the Scholarship Fund.
Duke Ellington’s music is widely loved. A small portion of his immense catalog are jazz standards, performed by jazz bands around the world, but Ellington’s imprint goes much deeper: his impact on the history of modern music cannot be overemphasized. According to music historian Gunther Schuller, Ellington was “the most significant composer of his genre.”
Ellington gifted the world with a repertoire that includes hundreds of popular songs including “Satin Doll,” “Do Nothing ‘till You Hear From Me,” “It Don’t Mean a Thing, if it Ain’t Got that Swing,” and “Mood Indigo,” as well as symphonic works, movie soundtracks, music for ballet and opera, and three sacred concerts.
The Ellington Orchestra remained together for over 50 years and featured legendary artists such as tenor saxophonist Ben Webster, alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges, trombonist Lawrence Brown, bassist Jimmy Blanton, and many, many others. Ellington was the recipient of nine Grammy Awards, a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and a Pulitzer Prize for music. The United States Treasury and Postal Service have issued commemorative quarters and stamps with Ellington’s image. His achievements and persona have catapulted his presence into the world of myth and legend, earning him a star on Hollywood Boulevard’s Walk of Fame. He has been immortalized in songs and compositions written by Stevie Wonder, Dave Brubeck, Charles Mingus and Miles Davis.
Ellington was recognized for his gentle manners; he was a man of grace who was wined and dined by government leaders throughout the world. He charmed Queen Elizabeth and composed “The Queen’s Suite” for her alone — a single pressing of its recording was given to her and was not commercially issued during his lifetime. Ellington was a complex individual who often composed throughout the night, greeting the day at 2 in the afternoon. He was a deep-thinker, who despite his image as an entertainer, composed music that was ahead of its time, breaking down barriers and challenging expectations. For example, in numerous interviews, Ellington expounded on how he was not a fan of the word or concept of “jazz.” He claimed that pigeon-holing the music was a marketing tool detrimental to its perception, that because it was “beyond category,” it would be better described using the phrase “free expression.”
Ellington asserted activist statements that molded peoples’ conceptions about the Black experience. Even in the early years of his career, Ellington was a leader who was cognizant of the power of his place as a prominent artist. He strategically used this energy and positioning to become a spokesperson who utilized media to raise awareness of the plight of Black Americans. For example, his 1935 film “Symphony in Black” was the precursor to his musical suite “Black Brown and Beige,” which debuted at Carnegie Hall in 1943.
The VJC is proud to present the music of Duke Ellington in this special dance concert. Almost all of the original material was composed and arranged by Ellington or Billy Strayhorn, his musical-partner of 30 years. Concert-goers will hear music that was transcribed note-for-note from the original recordings. These “charts” were later made available by Essentially Ellington, a non-profit educational program that was established and funded by Jazz at Lincoln Center to distribute initially amongst schools and they have now been made commercially available. Audiences at this show will listen and dance to the authentic musical arrangements that were played by the Ellington orchestra. The arrangements will be embellished by improvised solos from the members of the VJC Big Band including this year’s guest artist, Evan Arntzen.
December’s annual gala is the primary fundraiser for the VJC Scholarship Fund, which grants an annual average of $27,000 worth of scholarships to students, offsetting fees for ensembles, private lessons and their world-renowned summer jazz workshop. Since the pandemic, the VJC educational program is once again picking up steam. This year’s summer workshop, Emerging Artist Festival and fall semester have all been successful. Your attendance and contributions to the scholarship fund will go directly towards benefitting students who otherwise wouldn’t be able to pursue their musical objectives.
The VJC is grateful to the members of the 2022 VJC Big Band: trumpeters Don Anderson, Rick Anderson, Haneef Nelson and Rob Freeberg; woodwind players Michael Zsoldos, Sherm Fox, Matt Steckler, Carl Clements, Evan Arntzen and Donna Morse; trombonists Bruce Eidem, Dave Sporny and Caroline Cole; and rhythm section members Eugene Uman (piano), Wes Brown (bass), and Steve Rice (drums).
This Ellington-feature concert will be a hybrid event with both live stream and in-person components. Livestreamers can create intimate dance parties in their homes or choose to come to the Jazz Center to dance in-person to the sounds of a 16-piece big band. All attendees and musicians and everyone who is not actively playing wind instruments or singing will wear masks. The livestream for home viewers can be accessed on the Vermont Jazz Center’s website (www.vtjazz.org) or via its FaceBook Live page. Livestream viewers are encouraged to make an online donation to the Scholarship Fund in lieu of purchasing a ticket.
Admission is $25-plus general admission (sliding scale). No table seating is available this year in order to maximize social distancing and dancing space. Dancing is encouraged and chairs may be fewer than attendees. Anyone not actively performing will need to wear a mask. Tickets can be reserved online at vtjazz.org, by email at email@example.com and by phone 802-254-9088, ext. 1. Attendees can also call to ask about accessibility options.