BRATTLEBORO — Jeff Lederer laughs about the common confusion that arises from a tagline for his band, Shakers n’ Bakers: “Christian rock or free jazz? You decide.”
“I’m a nice Jewish boy, so I really should get this tagline about Christian rock/free jazz out of my press kit, but I just love it so much. I think it’s so funny,” said Lederer, of New York City and a 30-year summertime resident of Guilford. “I think not everyone understands that it’s a bit tongue-in-cheek when I put it in there.”
Lederer majored in religious studies as an undergraduate at Oberlin College, and eventually became fascinated with the Shakers’ way of life. The body of music performed by his group — Lederer on saxophone, his wife, Mary LaRose, and Miles Griffith on vocals, Jamie Saft on keyboards, Jennifer Vincent on bass and Allison Miller on drums — is all songs dreamed of or received in states of trance by Shaker women between the years 1837 and 1850 — performed in “kind of free jazz, calypso contemporary rock anthem styles that can’t be defined.”
“I’m not a Shaker. It’s a rather high bar to reach,” said Lederer, who notes that celibacy is among the Shakers’ core values. “My buy-in is into this unbelievably progressive, beautiful worldview and their utopian ideals of a different way to live in what they would describe as kind of a heaven on earth. So it really grabbed me.”
Performances by Shakers n’ Bakers — in which, Lederer notes, he wears a dress — will be among the shows in Little (i) Music Festival, coming to the Brattleboro area Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The festival is a celebration of the 20th anniversary of his jazz/new music record label, Little (i) Music, of which Lederer’s band is the flagship ensemble.
This three-day festival includes performances, an art opening at 118 Elliot and salsa music featuring trombonist Jimmy Bosch during Gallery Walk Friday, a children’s art workshop, culinary events and a film premiere, among other festivities. Aug. 6, which is Saturday, is the most sacred day on the Shaker calendar, marking the arrival of the group’s founder Mother Ann Lee in America in 1774.
Shakers n’ Bakers play from 4 to 6 p.m. Saturday in a show co-presented by Next Stage Arts in Putney as part of the organization’s Bandwagon Summer Series. Originally scheduled to take place on the lawn at Greenberg Associates Architects, organizers said Wednesday evening that this performance has been moved indoors to Next Stage Arts at 15 Kimball Hill Road.
“Jeff Lederer is one of those incredibly talented people hiding in the hills of Vermont part of the year,” said Keith Marks, executive director of Next Stage. “Jeff’s festival is a stroke of genius, bringing A-list New York musicians to Windham County. Every single performance over the weekend is not-to-be-missed.”
Shakers n’ Bakers will perform at The Stone Church in Brattleboro that same night, from 9 to 11 p.m.
There is some incidental symbolism behind the dress: Lederer initially had bought it thinking his wife might like to wear it during performances. “And she said, ‘I’m not going to put that thing on.’ I said, ‘Well, let me see if it fits me.’ And it fit very well. And now 20 years later, to my credit, it still fits,” he said.
The dress became homage to the way Shakers re-imagined gender power structures in the mid-1800s, Lederer noted, ahead of their time.
“As a matter of fact, we haven’t even caught up to the way that they think — not in the least,” Lederer said. “So yeah, that’s what the dress is about. And it’s fun to wear.”
The exhibit at 118 Elliot is called “Visions of Sound” and features the visual art of LaRose, Lederer’s wife, and Sara Wildavsky. LaRose will show work from her 2022 publication “Out There,” portraits of 55 exploratory jazz saxophonists of the 1960s, and Wildavsky will show her “scores” — visual works expressed in her own language of musical “staff” notation.
LaRose said she was inspired to draw the portraits after being asked to sing at a centenary celebration for the late jazz figure Yusef Lateef. To prepare, she watched a documentary, and began drawing still shots from the video, deciding to focus on jazz saxophone players.
“I just started drawing, and decided I would put this book together,” LaRose said.
The exhibit also includes collaborations with her daughter, Hallie Lederer, whose artist name is Hail — together, LaRose said, they call themselves “Hail Mary.”
The opening of the “Visions of a Sound” exhibition, which will be up through Aug. 28, overlaps with two other local events: Brattleboro’s Gallery Walk, a street fair-like celebration of arts downtown, and the launch of the Nu Mu Festival by 118 Elliot, featuring more than 20 new music events by visiting and local musicians. Part of both Little (i) Festival and Nu Mu Festival is the salsa concert, which takes place on Elliot Street at Gallery Walk. The performance will follow with a jam session at 118 Elliot.
“Nu Mu is a festival of friends. It includes both local and nationally recognized musicians and will provide an opportunity for many musicians to play together for the first time,” said John Loggia, of 118 Elliot. “118 has a hybrid approach to programming. We produce some events and others come about through various kinds of collaboration or rental. Sometimes rental is just the beginning of a collaboration.”
Outdoor events might move indoors because of rain. For updates, visit the venues’ websites. For updates on Gallery Walk events, visit brattleboro.com/downtown/gallery-walk.