Northampton Jazz Workshop to Celebrate Seventh Anniversary of Eclectic Jamming
‘Constant new mix of talent’ offers unique opportunities for audience learning and experimentation
NORTHAMPTON—Paul Arslanian and the Northampton Jazz Workshop he co-founded in 2010 have much to celebrate this month.
On the heels of accepting an Arts & Humanities award from New England Public Radio for the Best Arts Organization for 2017 in March, the organizers of the Tuesday night jazz jamming sessions are planning a seventh anniversary celebration scheduled for April 18 at 7:30 p.m. at the City Sports Grille at Spare Time.
April is also Jazz Appreciation Month, and April 30 is International Jazz Day.
Don Braden, an American jazz tenor saxophonist who was raised in Louisville, Kentucky, and started playing professionally at age 15, will be that night’s guest artist. He will play from his new CD, “Conversations,” released this month with bassist Joris Teepe.
Braden is a world-class saxophonist, flutist, educator and composer and has served for 19 years as music director of the Litchfield Jazz Festival in Connecticut. This will be Braden’s fourth appearance at the Northampton Jazz Workshop.
Offering a different, acclaimed performer each week of the year is one of the things that sets the Northampton Jazz Workshop apart, Arslanian said. Its format is unusual in that, each week, the Green Street Trio—with Arslanian on piano and as organizer; bassist George Kaye; and drummer Jon Fisher—backs up a guest for the first hour of the workshop, from 7:30 to 8:30, and then members of the audience take turns participating in the open jam session.
Unique in make-up, as jazz workshops usually see the same core band perform each time followed by jamming with audience members, Arslanian said the weekly highlight of new and varied talent leads to greater learning and experimentation on the part of those who are watching and taking part. Audiences appreciate performing with vocalists and instrumentalists who are mostly from New York City and Boston, and that’s what has allowed the workshop to survive as long as it has.
A performer who has played the piano from one coast to the other, Arslanian said he doesn’t know of many jazz workshops that have survived as long as seven years without shutting down and reinventing itself. “We’ve developed an audience, and it just keeps growing and supporting us, so clubs are happy to have us,” Arslanian said.
Back when Arslanian founded the workshop with the late Dave Shapiro at the former Green Street Café, a core group of about 40 people attended performances. When Green Street Café closed in 2012, the group moved to the Clarion, and when that was slated for closure in 2015, it moved to City Sports Grille; it’s a larger venue than Green Street by far, and a regular crowd of roughly 60 to 100 is known to gather each Tuesday night of the year.
Arslanian and his colleagues, and their expansive network of nationally-known performers, provide the talent. And the eclectic region—with its Five Colleges and their music departments and professors, a popular jazz show on WFCR and a concentration of “transplanted New Yorkers who grew up with jazz and want it in their lives”—provide the grateful audience.
Listeners come from across the Pioneer Valley, as well as from Vermont, New York, Rhode Island and Connecticut.
“In the tradition of jazz, you grow up learning the music—playing it, learning it from other players, getting influenced by more experienced players,” Arslanian said, explaining the thinking behind the original formation of the workshop. “A great way to learn and grow musically is to play consistently and as often as possible in an environment where you’re allowed to experiment, try out new things along with your peers, mentors, musicians you respect and admire and especially in front of a supportive and discerning audience. We didn’t have that around here. We wanted to give people a chance to learn that way.”
The workshop has proven it can offer local performers that means of finding their own voice and approach.
To bolster the learning, Arslanian doesn’t just have a sign-up sheet for audience participation. He organically chooses members of the audience and intentionally pairs inexperienced and experienced players together, and this, too, has been a winning idea.
Appropriately, Arslanian and his colleagues will accept their NEPR award May 24 at 5:30 p.m. at the 9th Annual Arts & Humanities Awards Celebration at the Log Cabin restaurant in Holyoke.
The Northampton Jazz Workshop is funded in part by a grant from the Northampton Arts Council and is supported, in part, by The Fairfield Inn. For more information about upcoming shows, visit www.facebook.com/northamptonjazzworkshop.