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Cuban Pianist Elio Villafranca to explore the intertwined histories of Latin rhythm and the American Jazz Tradition at the Vermont Jazz Center on November 18th


On November 18th at 8:00 PM, the Vermont Jazz Center welcomes to its stage Elio Villafranca and The Jass Syncopators. The group includes Cuban musician Villafranca, piano; Freddie Hendrix, trumpet; Vincent Herring, saxophone; Peter Slavov, bass; Dion Parson, drums and Gabo Lugo on barril (percussion). They will be joined by dancer Julia Loiza Gutierrez-Rivera. Elio Villafranca is a Steinway Artist and a member of the faculty at Julliard School of Music.

In this project, Villafranca fuses early jazz, Ellington-influenced writing, and bebop with the syncopations of the Caribbean islands of Cuba, Puerto Rico and Haiti. Villafranca asserts that the rhythms and forms of Caribbean music directly informed the nascent sounds of the jazz developing in New Orleans during the beginning of the 20th century. In an online interview describing this project, Villafranca explains: "Jelly Roll Morton used to call one of the forms of music he played the 'Spanish tinge.' I then discovered that what he used to call the 'Spanish tinge' was really the 'Caribbean tinge.'" In other words, the sources of the rhythms that influenced Jelly Roll Morton's music were Caribbean, not Spanish. This idea forms one of the foundations of Villafranca's Caribbean Tinge project--a band and repertoire that intentionally examines how the rhythms of the Caribbean countries affected early jazz and beyond. Villafranca and his world-class ensemble perform compositions that marry two stylistic influences: one, the instrumentation, harmony and melody that evokes "American jazz"; and two, the rhythms, forms and dances that were being played in the Caribbean during the era when enslaved Africans were being brought over to the Americas. Because the rhythms the Syncopators draw from (especially the ubiquitous Congolese style performed in the region in Cuba where Villafranca grew up) are inseparable from the dances associated with them, Villafranca invites dancer Julia Loiza Gutierrez-Rivera to galvanize his compositions with the idiomatic movements that were paired with the rhythms upon which his pieces are based.

Along with rhythm, harmony and melody, Villafranca loves the minutiae of language. The name of his group, "Jass Syncopators," carries a deep historical significance. The word "jass," for example, alludes to the first documented spelling of the word "jazz" as it appeared in print (in 1915) and in the name of the first jazz group to make a commercial recording (The Original Dixieland Jass Band). Villafranca states that "'Jass Syncopators' is a combination of two things: the word 'jass' which refers to the beginning of jazz, and the word 'syncopators' which is a portion of the word 'syncopation,' which in Caribbean culture is a key element of the music." The name also alludes to Duke Ellington's 1917 performing ensemble, which he called "Duke's Serenaders"; Ellington referred to this ensemble as his "Colored Syncopators" in their promotional materials. Ellington is a major influence on Villafranca's work; one can hear that impact in both Villafranca's chord voicings and the melodic lines he employs in his arrangements. And they both shared kinship in their mutual love of rhythm: Villafranca, who was a percussion major in college, says that Ellington "has a particular way of approaching music, very rhythmic, very syncopated, it's almost as if he's thinking of the drum and the rhythm when he composes."

The concept of freedom is another important theme in Villafranca's writing, composing, and philosophy. Villafranca came of age during the time when listening to North American jazz was prohibited in Cuba. While studying at the conservatory, he would spend over half of his monthly food allowance to buy black market jazz cassettes, sacrificing food and going hungry in exchange for access to the music he loved. "In Cuba we didn't have solid freedom of speech. So this idea of getting freedom made my decision to try to move to the US easier." Growing up in this system of Cuban oppression has given Villafranca an empathetic understanding of the plight of African Americans in the United States. As a deeply intentional black immigrant living in New York with access to a large audience that pays close attention to his message, Villafranca shares his vivid perspective of the civil rights movement and the yokes of slavery through his compositions. In the promo materials for his Caribbean Tinge release, he quotes Duke Ellington, who also used music to persuasively advance civil rights: "jazz is a good barometer of freedom. In its beginnings, the United States of America spawned certain ideals of freedom and independence through which, eventually, jazz evolved. And the music is so free that many people say that it is the only unhampered, unhindered expression of complete freedom yet produced in this country."

In one of his compositions called "Congo Stomp" Villafranca uses New Orleans' Congo Square as a symbol of freedom. Prior to the emancipation, Congo Square (now Louis Armstrong Park) was a place where some slaves were permitted to congregate on Sundays to sell their crafts, play music and dance. In an interview, Villafranca mentions that Congo Square "was the only place where slaves were able to play their music and be themselves. That freedom was very special to them, but it's also special for me to come to America and to play jazz the way I wanted to play it." Villafranca's work, music composed by someone who has prevailed against systemic attempts at censorship, is a living example of freedom of expression. For the Jass Syncopators project, he symbolically knits the Congolese-based (and Cuban-distilled) Makuta and Yuka rhythms into compositions that evoke specific styles within jazz history. Villafranca is a griot, one who tells the stories of his people and brings the colorful fusion of multiple cultures to life through his compositions. He has done so by composing music that has identifiable historical and stylistic sources, and by carefully selecting musicians of varied traditions to interpret them. "I knew that I wanted to have a band formed by both American jazz musicians and Caribbean musicians," Villafranca writes. "I knew that I didn't want to tell anyone what to play other than to just feel the music the way that they wanted to feel it. It was very interesting to write music that was that open and inclusive." He continues by saying "I wanted to put together all of the sources of music that represented the Caribbean that participated in the formation of jazz. I wanted to create this environment where on one side you had [the history of] jazz and the other side a Caribbean festival."


Elio Villafranca is at the forefront of the latest generation of remarkable Cuban pianists, composers and bandleaders. In the 2010 he was nominated for two Grammy Awards. He has released three albums as a bandleader including The Source in Between (2007) which remained in the top 10 of the JazzWeek Chart for eleven weeks, and Incantations/Encantaciones (2003) which was ranked amongst the 50 best jazz albums of the year by JazzTimes magazine. In 2008, Villafranca was nominated by Jazz Corner as pianist of the year and received a NFA/Heineken Master Artist Music Grant. His music has featured artists such as Pat Martino, Jane Bunnett, Terell Stafford, and Eric Alexander. Villafranca has performed around the world as leader of his own ensembles, and, he as a sideman, he has collaborated with Wynton Marsalis, Jon Faddis, Sonny Fortune, Giovanni Hidalgo, Eddie Henderson, Miguel Zenón, Cándido Camero, and Johnny Pacheco.

The frontline of the Jazz Syncopators includes trumpeter Freddie Hendrix and alto saxophonist Vincent Herring. Hendrix has performed or recorded with the Christian McBride Big Band, Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band, The Jimmy Heath Big Band and Quintet, Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at the Lincoln Center Orchestra, Roy Hargrove Big Band, Nicholas Payton, Frank Foster's Loud Minority Big Band, the Illinois Jacquet Big Band, Mike Longo Big Band, Rufus Reid Quintet/Nonet, Billy Harper Quintet, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Bobby Watson's Horizon Band, Mulgrew Miller's Wingspan, Oliver Lake Organ Quartet, T.S. Monk Sextet, Cecil Brooks III, and the David Krakauer/Fred Wesley group. He appeared at the VJC with Carl Allen in 2015. Vincent Herring is one of the finest alto saxophonists of his generation; he is well-known in jazz circles as the saxophonist who had the unenviable job of replacing Cannonball Adderley in Nat Adderley's Quintet and knocked it out of the park. Herring has played in the legendary ensembles of Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, Horace Silver Quintet, Jack DeJohnette's Special Edition, Cedar Walton, Freddie Hubbard, Dizzy Gillespie, the Mingus Big Band, Phil Woods Sax Machine and many others. He has recorded 20 albums as a leader and has appeared on dozens of recordings as a sideman.

Villafranca's rhythm section includes Bulgarian double bassist Peter Slavov and drummer Dion Parsons. Slavov has recorded with Joe Lovano, Quincy Jones, George Garzone, Danilo Perez, Kevin Mahogany, Jamey Haddad, Francico Mela, and Alfredo Rodriguez, among others. Slavov is a member of Joe Lovano's Us Five band, recipient of the Best Small Group award from the Jazz Journalists Association of America. Dion Parsons is a Grammy Award-winning drummer and is a native of St. Thomas and specializes in music of the Caribbean. He has performed with such greats as the late Milt Jackson, Monty Alexander, Jon Faddis, Steve Grossman, Gary Bartz, Terence Blanchard, Geri Allen, Donald Harrison, Don Byron, David Sanchez, Ray Anderson, Stephen Scott, Marc Cary, Lee Konitz, Ernest Ranglin, Ron Blake, Terell Stafford, Cyrus Chestnut, Wycliffe Gordon, Babatunde Olatunji, Baaba Maal, Joanne Brackeen, Dianne Reeves, and Steve Turre. His association with these musicians has taken him all over the globe on tours to such places as Japan, Europe, Canada, the West Indies, Africa, and the Middle East.

Performing with the Jass Syncopators is Puerto Rican-born dancer Julia L. Gutiérrez-Rivera. Weaned as a child on Bomba/Plena (Puerto Rico's national rhythms) she received formal training as a part of the Children's Workshops and with Los Pleneros de la 21. She is now recognized as one of NYC's premier Bomba & Plena dancers and works with Los Pleneros de la 21, Alma Moyo and The Legacy Women. Julia has also performed with groups like La Tribu, Bambula, Plena Libre, Papo Vazquez Pirate Troubadours, and Elio Villafranca's Jass Syncopaters. 

Come find out why Wynton Marsalis welcomed Elio Villafranca to Jazz at Lincoln Center and hired him to the faculty of Julliard Music School. Marsalis states: "Pianist and composer Elio Villafranca is an inspired and visionary musician...The band swings hard and brings a traditional yet innovative style to the roots of jazz and Afro-Caribbean music. I am profoundly moved by Elio's vision and musicianship."

This concert will take place at the Vermont Jazz Center on Saturday, November 18th at 8:00 PM. The VJC is excited to present Mr. Villafranca and is delighted that he will present this important work at our Cotton Mill Venue. Tickets to this concert are likely to sell out, so purchase them in advance. The VJC is especially grateful for the sponsorship of Elio Villafranca's Jass Syncopators by our dear friend L. Carlene Raper and our board president Julian Gerstin. The VJC is also thankful for the ongoing support from Hampton Inn of Brattleboro. VJC publicity is underwritten by the Brattleboro Reformer, WVPR, WVEW, WFCR and Olga Peters of WKVT's Green Mountain Mornings.

Tickets for Elio Villafranca's Jass Syncopators at the Vermont Jazz Center are $20+ general admission, $15 for students with I.D. (contact VJC about educational discounts); available at In the Moment in Brattleboro, or online at www.vtjazz.org, by email at ginger@vtjazz.org. Tickets can also be reserved by calling the Vermont Jazz Center ticket line, 802-254-9088, ext. 1. Handicapped access is available by calling the VJC at 802 254 9088.


Live at Dizzy's

Interview - making the Caribbean Tinge:

Live at Dizzy's Congo Square:

Live at the Steinway Factory, Rhythm and Clave - a pedagogical conversation:

Conversation - the Pace Report at a Quartet Gig w/Eric Alexander

Playing more traditional Cuban music

Letter to Mother Africa w/talking drummer Abdou Mboup

Live at the Steinway Factory, Rhythm and Clave - a pedagogical conversation:

Vermont Jazz Center to launch a new semester of classes starting on September 18th


The Vermont Jazz Center will host a new ten-week session of classes beginning the week of September 18th. Courses include an expanded youth program for ages 10 - 16, an ensemble led by bebop master Scott Mullett (Blue Note Ensemble), Anna Patton's popular Soubrette Choir, the VJC's Latin Jazz Ensemble, and Julian Gerstin's Afro-Caribbean Percussion & Rhythms. Our new offering for this year is Ben Carr's Jazz Uke Ensemble.

Consider joining a combo and learn how to perform classic jazz compositions while being guided by one of the VJC's professional faculty. If you've never improvised, that's no problem. There are opportunities for all including classical musicians intrigued by jazz's structure and improvisational opportunities.

Sessions are 10 weeks long (except for Youth Jazz which is 8 weeks). Prices and starting dates are listed below and at vtjazz.org.

Schedule for VJC's Fall Education Opportunities: 2017

5:15 - 6:45 PM Blue Note Ensemble. Scott Mullett, instructor. First class meets Sept. 18th

3:45 - 5:00 Youth Jazz Ensemble. Eugene Uman, instructor First class meets Oct. 3rd
5:15 - 6:45 Uke Jazz Ensemble Ben Carr, instructor First class meets on Sept. 19th

4:15 - 5:45 Latin Jazz Ensemble. Julian Gerstin and Eugene Uman, Instructors First class meets Sept. 20th.
6:00 - 7:30 VJC Sextet (full) Rob Freeberg, director

5:45 - 7:30 Soubrette Choir. Meets at Julian Gerstin and Carlene Raper's house Anna Patton, instructor First class meets Sept. 21st.
7:00 - 8:30 Latin and African Percussion and Rhythms Julian Gerstin, instructor First class meets Sept. 21st

Information on the courses:

Blue Note Ensemble
Instructor - Scott Mullett
This ensemble will focus on the repertoire from landmark Blue Note recordings of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Mullett states that this era represents for him, "the heartbeat of American jazz." The repertoire performed by this ensemble will include jazz standards and originals recorded by the bands of Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock, Cannonball Adderley, Horace Silver, Dexter Gordon, Freddie Hubbard, Lee Morgan, Hank Mobley and Wayne Shorter.

'Ukulele Jazz Ensemble
Instructor - Ben Carr
This year's offerings include a new class for ages 16 and up. This ensemble is for those interested in exploring simple jazz arrangements and melodies on the 'ukulele. This is a fun instrument; basic skills can be acquired quickly, but to play it well you have to practice! Why not use this opportunity to take your uke playing to the next level! Delve into jazz standards and Hawaiian tunes, learn a variety of strumming techniques, and improvisation techniques. We will put together interesting arrangements and sing together as well.

Youth Jazz Ensemble
Instructor - Eugene Uman
For youth who are interested in adding improvisation to their musical toolbox. This ensemble will use simple tunes written by jazz masters Miles Davis, Horace Silver, Cannonball Adderley and others as vehicles for taking off. The tunes we will start with are simple melodies that encourage participants to want to delve deeper into the jazz repertoire.

Latin Jazz Ensemble
Instructors - Julian Gerstin and Eugene Uman
For individuals who wish to learn and play jazz influenced by rhythms of Latin America. Emphasized styles include salsa, son, rumba, danzon, bolero and cha cha chá from Cuba (and Puerto Rico); cumbia, bambucco and porro from Colombia; bossa, samba, partido alto and samba reggae from Brazil.

Soubrette Choir
Instructor - Anna Patton
The Soubrette Choir is a women's vocal ensemble that will sing three- and four-part harmony arrangements of songs from the swing era as well as contemporary pieces in the jazz idiom. The ensemble will work on blend and precision in close harmonies in the style of groups like the Andrews Sisters and Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross. We will also spend some time working on aural skills and playing with chord progressions. Recommended for singers who read music and/or have quick ears.

Afro-Caribbean Percussion & Rhythms
Instructor - Julian Gerstin
The hundreds of rhythms and instruments of the Caribbean are a treasure of music and a source of inspiration for jazz and many other styles. Julian will introduce you to instruments and songs from Cuba, Brazil, Martinique and other islands, from drums of many kinds to bells, shakers, and scrapers. Players of all types of instruments will improve their rhythmic skills and creativity.

Jam Sessions
All are invited to attend our Wednesday night jam community sessions - they're held from 8:00 - 10:00 PM every week. All levels and all instruments are invited.
Check out the VJC's website at www.vtjazz.org and find class descriptions and further information on all the VJC's offerings. The phone number at the VJC is 802 254 9088 and leave a message for Ginger, or contact her directly at ginger@vtjazz.org. You can also email Eugene Uman at eugene@vtjazz.org. No one will be turned away due to lack of funds, please call to find out about the VJC's scholarship and extended payment options.

Sessions are 10 weeks long (except for Youth Jazz which is 8 weeks). Fees are $250 for a 10 week semester, except for Latin Jazz Which is $200 and Youth Jazz which is $100.

Final Concert:
All ensembles will perform at the VJC day-long showcase during the Cotton Mill Hill's Open House on Saturday, December 2nd, 2017.

To Register, or for questions about scholarship assistance, contact Ginger Morawski at ginger@vtjazz.org. For questions about Anna Patton's classes please contact the instructor directly: annameryl@gmail.com. For all other inquiries contact Eugene Uman at eugene@vtjazz.org. For phone inquiries, 802 254 9088.

Announcing the Vermont Jazz Center's 2017-2018 Concert Season

The Cookers 9/15/17
An unmatched super-group "at the pinnacle of [its] technical prowess." -- Jazzwise Magazine

Tom Harrell Quartet
A living legend trumpeter and composer, "...one of the best...improvisers and bandleaders in jazz." -- New York Times

Camille Thurman Quartet, Emerging Artist Series 11/04/17
A saxophonist and vocalist who "blows the proverbial roof off the place..." -- All About Jazz

Elio Villafranca's Jass Syncopators 11/18/17
Recreating repertoire from the early days of New Orleans jazz, with original African and Cuban elements.

VJC Big Band Scholarship Gala 12/01/17
Our 16-piece dance band featuring special guests Kevin Mahogany and Dave Stryker.

Wycliffe Gordon's International All Stars 1/13/18
An undisputed master of traditional and straight-ahead jazz trombone.

Marquis Hill Blacktet 2/17/18
Thelonious Monk Award Winner, "a dauntingly skilled trumpeter." -- New York Times

Jazzmeia Horn, Emerging Artist Series 3/10/18
Winner of the Thelonious Monk Sarah Vaughan vocal competitions. "... has one of the best voices I've heard in over 40 years"  -- Jon Hendricks

Donny McCaslin Quartet featuring Jason Lindner 3/24/18
David Bowie's core group for his final record Blackstar.

Solo Jazz Piano Fest 04/13 to 04/15/18
In partnership with the Brattleboro Music Center at their beautiful, new facility
A festival that celebrates the refined art of solo jazz piano. Performances by jazz legends Kirk Lightsey, Harold Danko, Christian Sands and Helen Sung as well as regional favorites.

Trio da Paz 05/12/18
A Brazilian super-trio recognized as the ultimate rhythm section in samba jazz.

Eugene Uman's Convergence Project 6/09/18
Compositions drawing from modern jazz, gospel, rock and Latin American rhythms.

"Thelonious Monk Vocal Competition Winner Jazzmeia Horn, in concert at VJC, March 10th, 2018"

The Vermont Jazz Center is an internationally recognized institution that provides jazz education, programming and outreach. Currently in its 40th year, it was founded in 1974 by the legendary guitarist, Attila Zoller and is now run by pianist, Eugene Uman.

The VJC features a summer jazz workshop, a monthly concert series, Wednesday night jam sessions, and frequent collaborations with area schools, arts organizations and businesses.

Mission: The Vermont Jazz Center is dedicated to creating and preserving jazz through the presentation of workshops, concerts, and instruction to a broad constituency of artists, students, and the general public.

Keep in touch
Upcoming Concerts
Elio Villafranca's Jass Syncopators, November 18th, 2017
November 18th, 2017, 8:00 PM
VJC Big Band, December 1st, 2017
December 1st, 2017, 8:00 PM
Wycliffe Gordon's International All Stars, January 13th, 2018
January 13th, 2018, 8:00 PM
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Handicap Accessible
Concerts at the VJC are handicap accessible.

SEATING: For wheelchair or other handicapped seating at concerts, please call in advance, 802-254-9088 or 802-579-5515.

PARKING AND ENTRANCE: The Cotton Mill’s handicapped entrance is on the south side (on your right as you enter the parking lot). There is one van-accessible parking spot next to this entrance. Other handicapped spots are located along the west side of the building (facing you as you enter the parking lot. There is no handicapped entrance or elevator on this side.

ELEVATOR: To get to VJC on the second floor, you’ll need to use the freight elevator. At the handicapped entrance, pass the flight of stairs and go through the door on your left, into the building's loading area. The elevator is at the far end of the loading area. If you have someone to assist you, make sure they open and close both the elevator’s gate and main door, both from inside (to run it) and when you exit (so other people can use it). If you need assistance with the elevator, call us. We appreciate a call ahead of time but you can also call when you arrive, and we’ll send someone right down. 802-254-9088 or 802-579-5515.

RESTROOMS: Accessible restrooms are located at the far end of the building. As you exit our concert space take a left, and at the end of the hall take a right. They’re pretty far. Leave yourself time.

Please call to discuss arrangements to facilitate your enjoyment of this concert: (802) 254 9088, ext. 2.

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