A Different Planet: William Parker & David Budbill

Pianist Miro Sprague was in the audience last night (Oct. 1) for the first Solos & Duos Series concert of the season at UMass. He recently came back from a jazz piano competition in Montreaux, won by a 15 year old Chinese kid. It got me thinking how far this “winner take all, virtuosity above all” mentality is from the core values of jazz.

On stage at Bezanson Recital Hall, writer David Budbill and multi-instrumentalist William Parker displayed grit, humanity, love and understanding, but little virtuosity.

Parker is one of the most important musicians to emerge in the last 40 years. His bass playing has anchored the bands of Cecil Taylor, David S Ware and Charles Gayle, and he has been leading various ensembles for decades. The jazz scene owes him (and his wife, Patricia Parker, who was in attendance) major props for the work they do through Arts For Art in New York. You can call him a virtuoso on bass, I suppose, but his music is not about that. He is self-taught on a number of other instruments, including the wood flute and pocket trumpet, both of which he played last night. But technique as an end in itself is not what drives him.

Similarly, poet and playwright David Budbill does not wow with fancy turns of phrase or elaborately constructed sentences. His language is simple, straightforward, powerful, with the self-contained profundity of a monk. His life is now compromised by Parkinson’s disease. His delivery is slower, his reading halting. He needs help moving. At one point in the performance, his lovely wife Lois had to come to the stage to hand him the water bottle that had fallen on its side.

The first set was devoted to “A Different Planet”, a new play of Budbill’s. It was an hour-long monologue that tells the story of the fictitious Edward T. Jordan, the first African-American chemist at DuPont and later a professor at Dunbar University. Told in the first person and based on Budbill’s experience as a professor at all-black Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, the work is an insightful look at racism in America. We might think we know about the effects racism has on its victims, but this piece bore into our understanding. During the wonderful Q & A after the performance, a young white man, presumably wrestling with racism’s profound effect, broke down while asking his question.

The second half focused on Budbill’s more recent poems, dealing mostly with death and aging. The simple, declarative poems looked squarely at the subject, made all the more poignant by the poet’s health.

The reading throughout was flat and labored. It was not virtuosic, but it was moving. And isn’t that the point?

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A Different Planet: William Parker with David Budbill

Thursday, October 1 at 8 p.m., Bezanson Recital Hall
General Admission: $10; $5 students

It is hard to overestimate the impact bassist and band leader William Parker has had on creative music over the last four decades. Parker is featured on over 150 recordings under his own name and with Cecil Taylor, David S. Ware and Peter Brötzmann. A performance poet, David Budbill is the author of seven books of poems, eight plays, a novel, a collection of short stories, a picture book for children, a libretto, and dozens of essays, speeches and book reviews.

William Parker



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Bridgman Packer Dance|Truck

Thursday, October 1, Free and Open to the Public
Art in the Orchard, Park Hill Orchard, Easthampton, MA at 7 p.m., 7:30 p.m., 8 p.m.
UMass Campus, Southwest Residential Area at 10:15 p.m., 10:40 p.m., 11:05 p.m.

Friday, October 2 at 7 p.m., 7:25 p.m., 7:50 p.m., 8:15 p.m., Free and Open to the Public
Gallery Walk, Brattleboro, VT

Bridgman | Packer Dance’s highly visual and visceral work intertwines live performance and video technology, creating a magically populated stage where image and reality collide. Truck is performed inside a 17-foot U-Haul box truck with the audience viewing from the outside creating a reimagined space that dynamically combines choreography, video, sound design and music. Join us at Art in the Orchard in Easthampton, the Brattleboro Gallery Walk, or on the UMass Campus for an altogether different performance experience. “Witty, sexy, and surreal.” –The New Yorker.

Bridgman | Packer Dance


Artist Website


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Amir ElSaffar’s Two Rivers Ensemble

By Glenn Siegel

Thursday’s Pioneer Valley Jazz Shares concert by Amir ElSaffar’s Two Rivers Ensemble was remarkable in many ways, not the least of which was the performance by the drummer Dan Weiss.  Nasheet Waits, the Ensemble’s regular percussionist, was in residence for a week at the Village Vanguard with Kurt Rosenwinkel and Eric Revis. Weiss, who in recent years has propelled the bands of David Binney, Lee Konitz, Rudresh Mahanthappa and Miguel Zenon, was making his first public appearance with Amir’s celebrated sextet.  You would have never known it.

What made his debut astounding were the technical and emotional demands of the music. This was not a program of standards and over-used jazz conventions. This was ElSaffar’s “Crisis Suite”, an evening-length amalgam of super-complex rhythm and non-Western harmony, full of multiple shifts in mood. Weiss sounded completely at ease moving between ElSaffar’s co-mingled world of Iraqi maqam and jazz tradition.

After the show, both bassist Carlo DeRosa and tenor saxophonist Ole Mathisen shook their heads in disbelief at how effortlessly Weiss had lifted the bandstand in his first try; a home run in his first at bat.

Afterwards, Weiss was nonchalant about his inaugural hit with the band: “When you’ve played the drums for a while, you learn what to do.”

The concert took place in the Robyn Newhouse Hall, at the Community Music School of Springfield. The dramatic 1930s-era Art Deco hall was the former Springfield Safe Deposit and Trust Building, then Fleet Bank. The sound, thanks to engineer Steve Moser, was magnificent.

From my perspective, this concert was one of the high points of my presenting career. The evocative writing, the compelling backstory, the virtuosity of everyone on stage, the attentiveness and enthusiasm of the audience, the dramatic setting and the joyful spirit in the room, made this a peak experience.

Here’s Jonathan Stevens’ (Hungry Ghost Bakery) poetic response to the evening:


Two rivers, One bank

 First National, Second National, Community
Music & Loan!
moneyed marble makes great acoustics,
toilet vault full of sound deposits…

from Iraq to Chicago to the City of
(foreclosed) Homes, liquid assets inside a
trumpet calling this mosque to meet

“Crisis”! old abacus accounting!
dumbek tempo double-downs the
drums. The bass invests, then
withdraws. Interest rates rise & fall
with fingers on the tenor saxophone

beautiful old coins scatter out of
an oud. Old notes, torn notes,
Federal Reserve of Babylon: falling
off the score


the man is “Amir” teller: smelling the
mint growing between
the Tigris and Euphrates. His horn
is full of current-sea: unfilthy lucre
washed in waves of melody

devaluation of paper silence,
inflation of pumping oil
a seaweed on low  boil is a
double dulcimer: then this gets totally
hammered. Struck into silver
& gold, engraved with the pluck of a tar

We’re two doors down from my old office at
the Housing Allowance Program. We’re two
blocks up from this Valley’s inaccessible
stream. We’re red-lined out of the massive
mural roaring Twenties from the
wall. But we’re deep in debt –happily so- to
these counter-counter-feiters , this register
whose keys are full of spit, this re-consecrated Temple

where the gift of Jazz is given free.




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Hot Sardines

Saturday, September 26 at 8 p.m., Fine Arts Center Concert Hall, Chamber Seating
$40 all seats (Reserved Seating); Five College, GCC and 17 & under $15

Take a blustery brass lineup, layer it over a rhythm section led by a Fats Waller-style stride piano virtuoso, toss in a tap dancer, and tie the whole thing together with a magnetic, one-of-the-boys front woman whose voice recalls another era, and you have the Hot Sardines – a band that plays the hot trad jazz and sultry standards of the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s with a Parisian accent and a dash of the rich Dixieland sounds of New Orleans. Fans of Pink Martini and the Squirrel Nut Zippers: you’re gonna love the Hot Sardines!

Join us for a pre-concert “Speak-Easy” party in the lobby with cash bar starting at 6:30 p.m. Dress to impress for the period and win a prize.

Hot Sardines




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Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan presents: RICE

Choreography by Lin Hwai-min
Wednesday, September 23, 7:30 p.m., Fine Arts Center Concert Hall
General admission: $50, $45, $20; Five College, GCC and 17 & under: $15, $12, $10

Choreographer Lin Hwai-min is heralded as one of the original Dance multiculturalists drawing his inspiration from traditional Asian culture and aesthetics. With dancers trained in meditation, Qi Gong, martial arts, modern dance and ballet, his company transforms traditional Taiwanese dance vocabulary into thrilling modern celebrations of motion.  “Rice” was created to mark the troupe’s 40th anniversary and was inspired by the energy and resplendence of Chihshang in the East Rift Valley of Taiwan, home of “Emperor’s Rice.” Set to the music of Hakka folk songs – the oldest among the existing Chinese dialect, operatic arias and sounds from the fields, and against a video backdrop that depicts the life cycle of a rice paddy.

Chihshang was previously tainted by the use of chemical fertilizer; yet farming village has now regained its title as Land of Emperor Rice by adopting organic farming.

Awed by the immense waves of grain rolling across expansive fields of rice, and inspired by the environmentally-conscious farmers, Lin took the dancers to Chihshang, where they joined the farmers in harvesting the rice. Out of this experience in the field, Lin has created exuberant yet powerful movements woven through Soil, Sunlight, Wind, Water and Fire, telling the story of the land while contemplating the devastation of Earth.

A cinematographer spent two years on location capturing the cultivation of rice: flooding, sprouting, harvesting and burning. These video images – of clouds reflected in the water, rice swaying in the wind, and fire ravaging the fields – have become the essential visual elements of the production. Immersed in this landscape, the formidable Cloud Gate dancers, trained in Qi Gong and internal martial arts, enact a human drama parallel to the life cycle of rice. A work about death and rebirth, devastation and resurrection.

Rice is an international co-production by Sadler’s Wells Theatre London; HELLERAU European Center for the Arts Dresden, Germany; The National Theater & Concert Hall, the National Performing Arts Center, Taiwan, R.O.C.; NewVision Arts Festival, Hong Kong; and Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay, Singapore.

Audience members are invited to stay for a post-performance talk with the Company’s Artistic Director in Rand Theater immediately following the performance.



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Thursday, April 30 at 8pm in the Bezanson Recital Hall
General Admission: $12; Students: $7

“Violinist-composer Jason Kao Hwang, has brought a vast array of sonic wonders to his latest genre-straddling work, Burning Bridge,” writes The Washington Post. “Hwang has his finger firmly on the racing pulse of the 21st century, where everything is interconnected and boundaries of time and geography seem hopelessly quaint. If there’s a war cry for music of the new millennium, it might well be: Burn the bridges – there’s no going back.”

Burning Bridge


Jason Kao Hwang’s website 


Fab Faux

With the Hogshead Horns and Creme Tangerine Strings
Saturday, April 25, 8 p.m.,
 Fine Arts Center Concert Hall 
Performing “Abbey Road” and more!

$60, $55, $20; Five College, GCC and 17 & under $20, $15, $10
$75 non-disounted ticket includes premium seating and Meet & Greet Reception

The Fab Faux have been spoken of as “the greatest Beatles cover band — without the wigs,” by Rolling Stone senior editor, David Fricke, who wrote, “the Faux invigorate the artistry of even the Beatles’ most intricate studio masterpieces with top chops and Beatlemaniac glee. Approaching the songs with the intent of playing them live as accurately in musical reading and in spirit as possible, they will perform Abbey Road in its entirety, The Faux’s breathtaking performances tend to dispel all concert-goers’ previous notions of a Beatles tribute act. All five principals contribute vocals, making the Faux’s soaring harmonies as resonant as their multi-instrumental chops that are further enhanced by the four-piece Hogshead Horns (with Blues Brothers, Blood, Sweat & Tears and SNL band alums) and the Creme Tangerine Strings.

Join us as we celebrate the close of this season and offer a preview of the next season @ the FAC! Enjoy a pre-show dessert party on the plaza with free desserts, live entertainment and a cash bar. Tent opens at 6:30 p.m. 

Fab Faux



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Thursday, April 16, 7:30 p.m., Fine Arts Center Concert Hall
$42, $38, $15; Five College, GCC and 17 & under $15, $12, $10

Stephen Petronio’s Locomotor / Non Locomotor is an evening-length, full-company work in two parts featuring an original score by electronic hip-hop pioneer Clams Casino. Locomotor explores extreme locomotive states, casting Petronio’s virtuoso company in a careening mix of action forward and backward through time and space, while Non Locomotor begins from the spine and its ability to initiate torque and torsion, sending movement surging throughout the body. “There’s a visceral thrill to Stephen Petronio’s choreography that is unlike anything offered by other contemporary choreographers…” —The New York Times

Audience members are invited to a pre-show talk by Five College Dance professor Constance Valis Hill at the University Museum of Contemporary Art (lower level of FAC) at 6:30 p.m. and to stay for a post-performance talk with Stephen Petronio immediately following the performance. 

Stephen Petronio Dance Co.



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The Nile Project Concert

Tuesday, April 7, 7:30 pm, Fine Arts Center Concert Hall
$25, $20, $15; Five College, GCC and 17 & under $10

A new triumphal musical collaboration bringing together 15 musicians from 11 countries along the Nile river basin -Egypt to Sudan this concert is a unique phenomenon to be experienced aurally and visually.  Music so infectious, that it will get you jumping on your feet, clapping and dancing to the incredible rhythms.  Experience a powerful pan-Nile percussion section that drives this orchestra of Ethiopian masenko , saxophone, Egyptian ney, oud, violin, sisimiya and tanbur and Ugandan adungu , bass guitar and six vocalists singing in 11 different languages. Empowering this concert is the mission to inspire and educate Nile citizens to work and collaborate together to boost the sustainability of the ecosystem.
Funded through New England Foundation for the Arts Expeditions Fund

The Nile Project


Website: http://www.nileproject.org/ 
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/nileproject 
Twitter: https://twitter.com/nileproject

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