Jazz Fest trios kick off spring in April

  • Sara PettinellaThe trio led by bassist and composer Fumi Tomita, who teaches jazz at UMass Amherst, will open the “Up Jumped Spring” virtual music series April 6.   Sara Pettinella

  • Glenn MinshallAcclaimed drummer Jacob Smith, a high school senior in Northfield, will lead his jazz trio in an April 27 virtual show that’s part of “Up Jumped Spring,” filmed live at The Parlor Room. Glenn Minshall

  • UMass grad student and trombonist Carolyn DuFraine fronts a trio that will offer gypsy jazz on April 13. contributed

  • Pianist and composer Eugene Uman brings his trio on April 20 to “Up Jumped Spring,” the virtual music series produced by the Northampton jazz Festival and filmed at The Parlor Room. Image courtesy Northampton Jazz Festival

Staff Writer
Thursday, April 01, 2021

Like so many other music series, the Northampton Jazz Festival had to be canceled last year when the pandemic rolled in.

But on a more optimistic note, the jazz fest has produced a virtual music series that will screen in April — and, with fingers crossed, the festival is also hoping to stage in-person performances in early October.

What’s called “Up Jumped Spring” will feature four concerts by four jazz trios, one each week in April beginning Tuesday, April 6. In a collaboration involving Northampton Open Media and Signature Sounds, each trio has been filmed performing (without an audience) this month at The Parlor Room in Northampton. The concerts can be viewed for free on April 6, 13, 20 and 27 on Facebook, YouTube, and Northampton Community Access Channel 12.

Paul Arslanian, producer of the Northampton Jazz Festival and of the April music series, says the concerts have been scheduled for April in recognition of Jazz Appreciation Month.

Airing the shows on Tuesdays at 7:30 p.m. is a nod as well to the Northampton Jazz Workshop, also organized by Arslanian, which for 10 years — until last March — had hosted jazz shows every Tuesday in Northampton, with a rotating mix of guest artists, jam sessions, and backing provided by Arslanian’s own Green Street Trio.

Another inspiration came after Northampton Jazz Festival President Ruth Griggs spoke with organizers from the SFJazz Center in San Francisco about a weekly virtual jazz series they had put together. “I thought, ‘We can do that as well,’” Griggs said. “We need to find ways to support our musicians here.”

In a phone call, Arslanian said putting together “Up Jumped Spring,” after a year of extremely limited opportunities for producing music or hearing it live, has been a thrill for him — and for the jazz trios doing the performances.

“They were all so happy just to be able to play together,” Arslanian said. “And it was a blast for meto hear the music.”

The four trios on tap — all have local connections — offer a range of music and also represent a cross-section of age, from a high school drummer to a veteran pianist who since 1997 has produced hundreds of performances at the Vermont Jazz Center in Brattleboro.

Many of the musicians have previously played as guest artists with the Northampton Jazz Workshop, but some are new, and collectively “they offer a great example of the kind of talent and diversity that we have in jazz in the Valley,” Arslanian said.

Starting the series April 6 is a trio led by bassist and composer Fumi Tomita, a professor of music at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Tomita, who played in the New York jazz scene for over 15 years and released a new album last fall celebrating the music of Charlie Parker, is joined by drummer Austin McMahon of Boston and saxophonist and flutist Carl Clements, who teaches at Amherst College.

On April 13, the Carolyn Dufraine Trio performs; the group is led by trombonist Carolyn Dufraine, a graduate student in music at UMass. Arslanian says Dufraine will be joined by a couple of players from own of her other groups, Lucky Five, on guitar and violin for a concert featuring lots of gypsy jazz.

The April 20 shows features a trio led by pianist and composer Eugene Uman, who directs the Vermont Jazz Center and also teaches jazz at Amherst College. Playing alongside him will be bassist Steve Cady and drummer George Robinson, the latter a UMass graduate who has performed widely in the Valley.

The series wraps up April 27 with the youngest performer of “Up Jumped Spring”: drummer Jacob Smith, a senior at Northfield Mount Hermon School who’s considered one the nation’s top high school jazz drummers, according to program notes. He’ll gig with pianist Andrew Wilcox, a graduate student in jazz at UMass, and bassist Conway Campbell, Jr., a Worcester native studying at the University of Hartford.

Arslanian says these musicians, with some exceptions, have been unable to rehearse together, let alone play live, for much of the past year. Jazz being an improvisational type of music, though, that’s likely less of a handicap for the performers than it might be for others, he noted. He also said the filming for each session at The Parlor Room ran about three hours: one hour for each trio to rehearse and jam, one hour in which everyone left the venue to “clear the air,” and one hour actually to film.

“I can tell you the music sounded great once [each trio] got down to business,” he added.

For her part, Griggs said the support that Signature Sounds and Northampton Open Media, as well as some sponsors for the series, have provided has been “absolutely outstanding. We’ve had wonderful partners for this.”

According to program notes, the series is being presented in memory of Claire Bateman, a key supporter of both the Northampton Jazz Workshop and the Northampton Jazz Festival, who passed away in November 2020.

Arslanian and Griggs have also rescheduled last year’s festival for Oct. 1-2 this year, with the same musicians who been set to perform in 2020. The Oct. 1 show, called the “Jazz Strut,” features rotating groups playing sets in different restaurants and other downtown settings, while Oct. 2 will offer free performances in several city locations and one ticketed show — for the Art Blakey Centennial Celebration — at the Academy of Music.

“At some point you just have to take a chance and schedule something,” said Arslanian. “I’m hoping by October, people will be vaccinated and things will be safe enough to have indoor shows again.

For more information on Northampton Jazz Festival shows, visit northamptonjazzfest.org.