Vermont Jazz Center's Big Band Gala raises funds for scholarships


BRATTLEBORO — When trombonist John Wheeler performed with the Artie Shaw Orchestra in 1984 he never imagined he would be playing the same music in southern Vermont with the Vermont Jazz Center's Big Band in 2018. Wheeler joined the VJC's big band around 2013 and has been an integral part of the band since. He was granted access to the ASO music (charts), which is so rare that the only other time when these charts have been made available is when a university band used them. It took dozens of hours of photocopying to make 26 copies for the 16 musicians in the VJC big band. Wheeler recalls that it was an excruciating exercise but he believes it will be well worth it when they perform next week.

On Friday, Dec. 7, 8 p.m., the Vermont Jazz Center presents its 16th annual Big Band Gala: A tribute to Artie Shaw. The VJC Big Band, under the leadership of musical director Rob Freeberg, is a community orchestra made up of professional musicians who come together annually to raise money for the VJC Scholarship Fund.

Artie Shaw Orchestra

This year's gala will feature the music made famous by the legendary clarinetist and bandleader Artie Shaw. The VJC will supplement its 16-piece big band with four members of the renowned ASO. Former ASO member John Wheeler (and current trombonist for the VJC Big Band) will be showcased as a soloist, and three current members of the ASO will perform with the VJC Big Band. They are vocalist Sarah Hayes, ASO music director and clarinetist Matt Koza and trumpeter Kerry Mac Killop. Together they will perform an evening of dance music using original arrangements that helped the ASO surge to stardom in the 1930s.

All money raised from this gala will go directly to the VJC's Scholarship Fund which serves as the primary funding source to assist students attending VJC's educational programs. The VJC offers an average of over $17,000 in scholarships each year to help students attend seven or eight different ensembles, take private music lessons and attend its annual summer jazz workshop.

Music for the People

"It's such an essential part of our mission to provide access to jazz education and performances without having it being restricted by a person's means," said Eugene Uman, executive artistic director of VJC. He goes on to point out that some people think of jazz as being an elitist music. "We want to change that paradigm so that it is available to everyone. We give people the opportunity to volunteer if they can't pay for their ticket. All high school and middle school students get free admission."

Uman explains that the use of the original arrangements of the ASO by a band other than the current ASO is extremely rare. He adds that the Jazz Center is extremely grateful to have been gifted the use of Shaw's esteemed repertoire for this one-time performance. "This body of work has been well-loved by generations of big band aficionados; its familiar melodies, the ingenuity of the arrangements and its nostalgic essence form a force that brings together a community of people who consider Shaw's classic repertoire to be their dance music," Uman said.

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Shaw was keenly aware of his audience's love for social dancing and the dance steps of his day. He set his orchestra's music to tempos that were perfect for the dance moves of the times. As an example, "Begin the Beguine," which will be performed at the gala has been hailed as the perfect fox trot.

According to a VJC press release, Artie Shaw was a consummate musician and a tremendous improviser; he was the featured soloist in virtually all of his early recordings and was considered the best clarinetist of his time. In fact, there was a palpable rivalry between Shaw and Benny Goodman. Shaw's obituary in the Washington Post stated: "On clarinet, Mr. Shaw had a fuller, more-dulcet tone than Goodman. Although Goodman was labeled the "King of Swing," jazz enthusiasts still debate whether Mr. Shaw better deserved the sobriquet, and his fans compensated by dubbing him the "King of the Clarinet."

Howard Brofsky and Sherm Fox

The VJC Big Band was originally the brainchild of Howard Brofsky and Sherm Fox and celebrates 16 years in 2018 thanks in great part to Fox's persistence and organizational efforts. The performers of the VJC Big Band are: trumpeters Don Anderson, Rick Anderson, Charlie Schneeweis and Rob Freeberg; woodwind players Michael Zsoldos, Sherm Fox, Bob Stabach, Larry Tutt and Nick Pelton; trombonists John Wheeler, Bob Thies and Caroline Cole, and rhythm section members Steve Cady on bass, Steve Rice on drums, and Eugene Uman on piano. The members of the community band are volunteers and receive only a small transportation stipend so that all of the money raised at the event goes directly to the VJC's scholarship fund.

Uman states that the VJC is grateful for the generosity of `stalwart supporters' Dianne Gallo and Steve Lieberman who for several years have underwritten musician's fees. He adds that the VJC is also grateful for the community support from the Brattleboro Reformer, Holiday Inn Express, WVEW, WVPR, WFCR and WKVT.

Admission, which includes a complimentary dessert and snack buffet is on a sliding scale from $25 to $45 for general admission without reserved seating or $30 to $50 for reservations that include reserved seating (table spaces are limited).

Tickets, which are expected to sell out early, are available at In the Moment Records at 143 Main St., at, and by email at

Tickets can also be reserved by calling the Vermont Jazz Center ticket line, 802-254-9088, ext. 1. The Vermont Jazz Center is located at 72 Cotton Mill Hill, #222. Handicapped access is available by calling the VJC at 802-254-9088.

To donate to the Vermont Jazz Center's Scholarship Fund, visit


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