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More Than Notes On a Page: Music Follows Fellowship

Because the music is largely improvised, and depends heavily on the listening skills and collective decision making of its participants, jazz is a relationship-based art. Those relationships extend to listeners and producers, as well as musicians. Collectively, we shape the music and dictate its outcomes.

The importance of relationship was highlighted as the Jessica Pavone String Trio came to the bucolic grounds of the Institute for the Musical Arts (IMA) in Goshen, MA on June 9, as part of Pioneer Valley Jazz Shares’ 10thseason. The point was also underscored by a week-long residency by Terry Jenoure’s Sextet that included work at IMA, the Shea Theater and the Northampton Center for the Arts.


Pavone’s trio: Aimée Niemann, violin, Abby Swidler, violin and viola and Pavone, viola, are on an extended tour in support of their new release, …Of Late (Astral Spirits). Sandwiched between dates in Chicago and New Haven, the Trio provided 20 local listeners with a glimpse into the unique sound world of Jessica Pavone, who composed and arranged an hour of dense, sometimes unsettling music.


Although the music was scripted, the musicians retained the latitude to choose notes, determine entrances, and create sounds within compositional parameters. The pieces, drawn mostly from the new recording, all had distinct points of view. There were the long, bended notes played in unison on the disquieting, “Done and Dusted”, for instance. Or a composition that summoned some ancient, from-the-gut country music. The band decided against electric lights in the barn, save for the tiny lamps on their music stands. By the finale, “Hidden Voices,” which slowly introduced vocals into the mix, the evening’s natural light had faded, and we sat in stunned silence as this mysterious, otherworldly music washed over us and the darkened space we occupied.


Reviews are typically confined to what transpires on stage, but the music evolves as the musicians grow, and much of that growth takes place off the bandstand. The opportunity to share meals, stories, and histories creates a web that holds the music. We introduced Jessica, Aimée and Abby to IMA and two early champions of elevating women in music: Ann Hackler and June Millington. We talked about Leroy Jenkins, the great violinist, who mentored both Pavone and our dear friend, Terry Jenoure. We discovered that Jessica’s parents graduated from the same high school I did: WC Bryant, in Astoria, Queens. In a jazz world of meager financial returns, evenings like this are priceless.


Meanwhile, from June 5-11, the violinist and vocalist Terry Jenoure invited five musical friends to spend the week in western Massachusetts to create music. Using funds provided by a South Arts’ Jazz Road Residency grant, Jenoure brought together Anglica Sanchez (piano), Joe Fonda (bass), Avery Sharpe (bass), Wayne Smith (cello) and Reggie Nicholson (drums) to perform at the Jazz Shares annual meeting/party at IMA, rehearse and interact with area artists at the Shea Theater, and give a culminating concert at 33 Hawley St, in Northampton.


For the Jazz Shares event, Jenoure divided the musicians into three groups of two, each improvising for about 15 minutes. The duo of Jenoure and Fonda segued seamlessly to Sanchez and Smith, before giving way to Sharpe and Nicholson. The pairings were inspired, and the music they produced unfolded spontaneously, but with an inevitability that seemed preordained.

Jenoure’s concert at the Northampton Center for the Arts had all six musicians on stage and featured a piece dedicated to Jenoure’s father, Maurice, who recently passed. Developed during the residency, the piece, “Letters From Papa”, included excerpts of her grandfather’s letters sent from Canada to her grandmother in Jamaica.


It was instructive to see the music grow as the group cohered. The six musicians had varying levels of familiarity with each other. Jenoure has known Sharpe, Fonda and Nicholson for decades, while Sanchez and Smith are newer colleagues. As they shared meals, made music together, and relaxed in the country, the group cohered. That’s how bands are formed. For me and my wife Priscilla Page, the chance to spend time with our out-of-town friends (Fonda, Sanchez, Nicholson), was a joy.


On a side note, Jenoure is also a superb visual artist. She has curated, “Syncopate: Homage to Jazz”, up through July 2 at Gallery A3 in Amherst.


On another side note, Felipe Salles and Lois Ahrens produced a fantastic concert, “Tiyo’s Songs of Love” with Zaccai Curtis, Avery Sharpe, and Jonathan Barber on June 12 at Bombyx in Florence, which we were also privileged to witness.


I titled a small book marking the 25th anniversary of my Magic Triangle Jazz Series, “Close to the Music.” That’s been my life’s ambition, to stay close to the music and help nurture it any way I can. Strengthening the web by spending time with creative friends and engaging with their music, is what it’s all about.

Marty Ehrlich, extraordinary reed player, music scholar, storyteller and friend, returned to the Connecticut River Valley on December 16 to perform with his trio at the Blue Room in Easthampton, MA. T

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