The Vermont Jazz Center will present the 6th Emerging Artist Festival on Friday and Saturday, November 3rd and 4th. The event begins with youth jazz ensembles performing at 118 Elliot Gallery on Friday, November 3rd and continues at the Vermont Jazz Center on Saturday, November 4th with student groups starting at 11:00 AM. Headliner Lakecia Benjamin will present a clinic at 4:00 PM on Saturday followed by a concert with her quartet. All events are open to the public and are free to youth attendees. Concert tickets for adults are available on the VJC website (sliding scale of $25-$60). Ms. Benjamin’s concert will also be livestreamed.
The VJC Emerging Artist Festival is an occasion to celebrate the contributions of up-and-coming musicians who have not yet acquired the name recognition of older artists but strongly deserve to be heard. This year’s headlining artist’s career has had a tremendous amount of traction thanks to her talent, ability and motivation. Lakecia Benjamin will be coming to the Vermont Jazz Center on the heels of a 19-concert European tour. She will arrive in Brattleboro the day after a performance at the Library of Congress where she was a appointed a 2023 “Jazz Scholar.” The week after her Jazz Center performance, she’ll be appearing at the Blue Note in New York City.
Lakecia Benjamin performs around the world and has appeared on the covers of numerous jazz journals including Downbeat and Jazzwise. She is the winner of the 2019 Downbeat Critic’s Poll Rising Star Award as well as the Jazz Journalist’s Award for Up-and-Coming Jazz Musician of the Year. She has toured and/or recorded with jazz artists Clark Terry, Reggie Workman, Gregory Porter and Christian McBride and performed with legendary pop artists including Prince, Stevie Wonder, Alicia Keys, Missy Elliot, and the Roots. Ms. Benjamin has served as Artistic Director of Burlington’s Discover Jazz Festival and was 2023’s artist in residence at the Monterey Jazz Festival where she performed with Herbie Hancock, Dianne Reeves, John Scofield and Christian McBride.
Benjamin’s music combines funky grooves with Coltrane-influenced, post-bop language. For example, her penultimate album, Pursuance, is a tribute to both Alice and John Coltrane. The recording was co-produced by Benjamin and her mentor, Reggie Workman, a living legend who served as John Coltrane’s bassist. Benjamin is a visionary whose concept goes beyond that of a typical tribute album. She captures the spirit, fire and essence of the Coltranes’ musical and spiritual intentions, channeling their energy with youthful vigor and adding contemporary influences. On this recording she wraps in the contributions of forty artists including Ron Carter, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Meshell Ndgecello, and Jazzmeia Horn.
Phoenix, Benjamin’s most recent album, is her response to a very close call — an almost fatal car crash. It alludes to her gritty determination to move forward in the face of adversity, to find meaning in life and to embrace her faith. It’s also a commentary on our collective ascension from the pandemic. The album was listed as #1 for three consecutive weeks on the JazzWeeks radioplay charts and was featured by NPR in their “Best Of” series. This recording was co-produced by Benjamin with yet another of her mentors, the Grammy-award wining drummer, and director of the Institute for Jazz and Justice at Berklee School of Music, Terri Lyne Carrington. Benjamin’s vision includes an expansive range of tone, texture and content including spoken word delivered by Angela Davis, Sonia Sanchez and Wayne Shorter. In the Bandcamp writeup for this recording, Benjamin explains “I wanted people to not only feel what I’m saying through the songs and my saxophone, but to also verbally hear it so there’s no discrepancy on where we’re coming from.” New York Times writer Marcus Moore sums up the essence of the album and Benjamin’s musical roots in his review: “Hustle and ingenuity have defined Benjamin’s career, and her strong will, warmth and down-to-earth persona come through in the music. Equally melodic and assertive, her sound feels rooted in tradition, yet broad enough to encompass R&B and Latin music; its pronounced funk suggests allegiances to hip-hop and dance.”
Lakecia Benjamin tours with a quartet of trusted side-people. For her performance here at the VJC, she’ll be playing with Miki Hayama, a Japanese-born, Grammy-nominated pianist who moved to New York in 2003 to pursue her dream. Hayana has toured and/or recorded with Kenny Garrett, Ralph Peterson, Sean Jones, Tia Fuller, Michael Dease, Vincent Herring, Bruce Williams, Roy Hargrove, JD Allen, Greg Osby, Cindy Blackman-Santana, Nnenna Freelon, Jazzmeia Horn, Christian McBride, Eric Harland, Gary Thomas, and even Aretha Franklin. One of her recordings as a leader received a five-star rating and Gold Disc Award from Swing Journal. She received a Grammy nomination for her work as musical director, arranger and keyboardists on Nnenna Freelon’s Time Traveler.
The quartet’s bassist is Chicago-born Ivan Taylor, who was encouraged to attend Julliard by Wynton Marsalis after hearing Taylor at the 2002 Essentially Ellington competition. After moving to New York to attend Julliard he performed or recorded with Rashid Ali, the Julliard Jazz Orchestra, Louis Hayes, Nicholas Payton, Curtis fuller, Kenny Garrett, Delfeyo Marsalis, Wynton Marsalis, Robert Glasper, Take 6, Rodney Jones, Russell Malone, Steve Nelson, Connie Han, Camen Lundy, Hank Jones, Cyrus Chestnut, Jonathan Baptiste, Diana Ross, Tia Fuller, and many others. He has released two albums as a leader.
The drummer for the group is E.J. Strickland, who has recorded on over 70 albums as a sideman, including discs with Ravi Coltrane, Myron Walden, Sean Jones, Xavier Davis, Lynne Arriale, Keyon Harold, Marcus Strickland, Cassandra Wilson, Terence Blanchard, Lizz Wright, Wynton Marsalis, George Colligan, David Gilmore, Vincent Herring, and Nnenna Freelon. He has released two albums as a leader. In a New York Times feature on Benjamin’s recuperation from the car crash and the creation of Phoenix, co-producer Terri Lyne Carrington reflected on Benjamin’s work process and her place in the timeline of the jazz lineage: “She wanted to involve people that she has called elders in some ways,” Carrington said. “I think that’s really an important element [for] young musicians to recognize…All of us have to, including her, pass on what we know to the people that are coming up behind us. That’s the only way the music survives.” This attitude is critical and its perpetuation is one of the missions of the Jazz Center’s Emerging Artist Festival. We aim to recognize the significance of young artists’ contributions to the music while also illuminating their relationship with the century-long tradition of jazz artists upon whose shoulders they stand. Lakecia Benjamin is a shining example of someone who respects and embodies the jazz tradition thoroughly, but her drive to incorporate other influences, both musical and spiritual, are at the core of her essence (and sound). Benjamin is the whole package, a new important, creative voice on the scene. Her music offers us a measure of the state of jazz today and her contributions to the music are essential for those of us interested in its future.
The Emerging Artist Festival is an educational event that gives musicians of all ages the opportunity to learn from young masters. It also gives a chance for student musicians from area high schools, colleges, and universities to network, perform, learn and be inspired by each other. The Vermont Jazz Center looks forward to seeing you at these exciting events.
The VJC expresses sincere thanks to Marcy Hermansader for supporting this festival. Ms. Hermansader’s sponsorship is a gift to the community by a humble person, an artist who appreciates the power of jazz as a form of enhanced communication and an opportunity to gather in non-hierarchical, community settings. Her donation is in honor of Jonathan Flaccus, one of VJC’s most significant patrons, to whom this festival is dedicated. This is the fifth Emerging Artist Festival she has sponsored in his memory. We are grateful beyond measure for her support and for the tradition that Jonathan established during his fruitful lifetime.
Publicity is underwritten by The Commons and The Brattleboro Reformer. The VJC is also grateful to the Vermont Arts Council, the Vermont Humanities Council and New England Foundation of the Arts.
The Friday evening and Saturday afternoon student events, including the clinic by Lakecia Benjamin, are free and open to the public. Donations to the VJC Scholarship Fund are welcome in lieu of purchasing a ticket. Saturday evening’s feature concert will be both in-person and livestreamed (on VJC’s Facebook page and website). In-person tickets are offered on a sliding fee scale from $25 to $60 per person, all seating is general admission.
The livestream of the show is open to the public. We ask that those tuning in make a donation in lieu of purchasing tickets. Your donation will go directly towards supporting the costs of providing world-class music and educational programs at the VJC.
In-Person tickets for the concert: available online at vtjazz.org and by email at email@example.com. Handicapped access is available by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org