A decade of member-supported jazz: Pioneer Valley Jazz Shares opens new season

  • Vocalist and lyricist Mary LaRose from Brooklyn, New York, brings her ensemble to Goshen’s Institute of Musical Arts on Oct. 9. Robert Lowell/courtesy Pioneer Valley Jazz Shares

  • Jason Robinson of Amherst College, left, brings his new quartet to Northampton’s Community Arts Trust on Oct. 15. Courtesy Pioneer Valley Jazz Shares

  • Pianist Orrin Hatch, known for a sound that blends jazz, neo-soul, country and other influences, leads his trio at the Community Music School of Springfield on Oct. 30. Courtesy Pioneer Valley Jazz Shares

  • Swiss tenor saxophonist Christof Irniger will be joined on bass, drums and alto sax at the Shea Theater on Sept. 24 for the first concert of Pioneer Valley Jazz Shares’ 2021-2022 season. Courtesy Pioneer Valley Jazz Shares

  • Swiss tenor saxophonist Christof Irniger, left, will be joined on bass, drums and alto sax at the Shea Theater Sept. 24 for the first concert of Pioneer Valley Jazz Shares’ 2021-2022 season.  Image courtesy Pioneer Valley Jazz Shares

  • Trumpeter, composer and bandleader Steph Richards brings her four-member ensemble to Goshen’s Institute of Musical Arts on Oct. 12. Courtesy Pioneer Valley Jazz Shares

  • Glenn Siegel during his days running a jazz show at WMUA-FM at UMass Amherst. Gazette file photo

  • When Glenn Siegel and Priscilla Page got married last year after several years of being together, they asked friends and family to make gifts to Jazz Shares — and raised over $6,000 to help weather lost income from the pandemic. William Page III/courtesy Glenn Siegel

Staff Writer
Monday, September 27, 2021

Back in 2012, Glenn Siegel was looking for a way to bring more jazz shows to the Valley. A longtime producer of concerts in the area, such as the Magic Triangle Jazz Series at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Siegel eyed a successful model that had been used for small farms: community-supported agriculture.

Just as members of CSAs pay in advance for a weekly pickup of vegetables and other produce, Siegel thought jazz fans might be willing to ante up for concerts that otherwise likely couldn’t be funded.

He was right: Pioneer Valley Jazz Shares (PVJS) is now beginning its 10th season, having weathered the worst of the pandemic, and Siegel says the Valley continues to be a place where jazz musicians want to play — and audiences want to hear them.

“We’re so grateful to our shareholders,” Siegel says. “Along with some really generous business sponsors, they’re the people that have made possible everything we’ve done.”

The 2021-2022 season gets underway Sept. 24 when the Christoph Irniger Trio, along with acclaimed saxophonist Michaël Attias, comes to the Shea Theater in Turners Falls at 7:30 p.m.

Siegel, who lives in Northampton with his wife, Priscilla Page — she is the vice president of PVJS as well as a faculty member of the UMass Department of Theater — says a core group of about 85 shareholders is now part of the program, which costs $125 per person for a season that typically includes 10 shows. Over the years, Siegel says, PVJS has produced 95 jazz concerts.

Single-ticket sales and support from sponsors also underwrite the shows, Siegel and Page note, as does the fact that the jazz artists who play the concerts “are willing to do it for pretty modest fees,” Siegel says.

“They really like playing here,” he says. “A lot of them see it as a good place to start a tour in New England, not just a place where maybe they’re adding an extra show to a tour they’ve already scheduled.”

The arrival of COVID-19 last year threw a wrench in the works, as it did for most musicians and music promoters, but PVJS still managed to present 10 concerts, including some prerecordered and livestreamed online shows and some outdoor gigs.

“I feel pretty proud that we were able to do as much as we did, given the circumstances,” says Page, noting that she and Siegel sat in with staff from Amherst Media to livestream a few shows.

“That felt both a little strange but also really special, that we were the only audience members to see those shows live,” Page adds.

For this season, she and Siegel have already scheduled 10 concerts through February, including four in October, and they plan to add more in spring as a means of making up for the lack of live events in 2020-2021.

Much of this depends, Siegel cautions, on the pandemic not worsening, and by maintaining strict safety protocols at the concerts: Audience members will all need to show proof of vaccination and wear face masks.

“We’re cautiously optimistic we can make this work,” he says.

Most groups are eager to play, he notes, even if COVID may have interfered with members’ ability to rehearse regularly with one another during the past year. But given improvisation is a fundamental part of jazz, Siegel says, PVJS musicians have an advantage over, say, a symphony orchestra that needs to rehearse together.

COVID hasn’t stopped Christoph Irniger, a native of Switzerland, from traveling to the U.S. to lead his group in the Sept. 24 show at the Shea Theater. “He’s a real barnstormer who wants to get his music out there,” Siegel says.

Irniger, a tenor saxophonist and a composer, played a 2019 PVJS show in Springfield; he’ll be joined at the Shea by another European musician, Raffaele Bossard on bass, and by New York-based players Ziv Ravitz on drums and Michaël Attias on alto saxophone.

According to concert notes, Irniger’s playing is “deeply rooted” in jazz traditions but also full of exploration. As one critic says of him, “He always creates something new by leaving well-trodden sound paths. Don’t just look a little left and right, but dig deep into the bushes.”

Here’s a glance at the four PVJS shows in October:

Mary LaRose Ensemble, Institute of Musical Arts, Goshen, Oct. 9 — Brooklyn, New York vocalist Mary LaRose will launch her new album, “Out There,” for which she’s primarily written lyrics for music by Eric Dolphy, a noted American saxophonist, flute player and free jazz/bebop composer of the 1950s and early 1960s. LaRose’s husband, clarinetist Jeff Lederer, is part of the ensemble.

LaRose, who has also written lyrics to music by other jazz composers such as Ornette Coleman and Anthony Braxton, is “just a really creative singer and lyricist,” Siegel says. One of her new songs, for instance, imagines what life might have been like for Dolphy at his home in New York City.

Steph Richards & Supersense, Insititute for the Musical Arts, Oct. 12 — Trumpeter, composer and bandleader Steph Richards, who’s also based in Brooklyn, is noted for her experiments in jazz and her collaborations with pioneering artists including Henry Threadgill, Laurie Anderson and David Byrne. Siegel says her show at the IMA will also include a “scratch and sniff” element and a video.

Jason Robinson Harmonic Constituent, Northampton Community Arts Trust, Oct. 15 — Saxophonist and composer Jason Robinson, who teaches music at Amherst College, will also showcase work from his most recent album, 2020’s “Harmonic Constituent,” which was inspired by a solo trip he made in 2018 to the coastline of northern California.

Robinson, who has played with a variety of musicians over the years, will be joined by bassist Drew Gress, drummer Ches Smith and acclaimed pianist Joshua White from California.

Orrin Evans Trio, Community Music School of Springfield, Oct. 30 — New Jersey native Evans, a pianist whose music embraces a range of influences, including neo-soul, country, and hip-hop, was formerly a member of The Bad Plus, a modern jazz group that has combined avant-garde sounds with rock and pop influences.

Single tickets for all these shows are $15 and are available at the door and also at jazzshares.org, which also includes additional details about all the concerts.