Sunday, October 9, 2011

Composers and Improvisers Back in Middletown

My long-time friend and former Middletown resident Joe Fonda called the other day to remind me of the 7th Annual Composers & Improvisers Festival taking place Saturday October 15 in the friendly confines of The Buttonwood Tree, 605 Main Street in Middletown.  As usual, Mr. Fonda has organized an impressive lineup.

Opening the evening at 7:30 p.m. will be guitarist/composer Michael Musillami in a duo setting with bassist Rich Syracuse.  Musillami (pictured left) is a California native but has been plying his musical wares on the East Coast for nearly 3 decades.  He has worked with the late saxophonist Dewey Redman and organist Richard "Groove" Holmes but is best known for his musical relationships with Connecticut-born musicians Thomas Chapin (saxophones) and Mario Pavone (bass).  He started Playscape Records in 1999 not only to release his own music but also artists such as Pavone, pianists Ted Rosenthal and Peter Madsen and drummer George Schuller.  Schuller and Fonda have been the basis of the Musillami Trio for the past 8 years.  Bassist Rich Syracuse is best known for his long relationship with pianist Lee Shaw and is a strong as well as musical player.

Speaking of strong musical bass players, Avery Sharpe (pictured left) certainly fits that description.  After studying as UMASS/Amherst with bassist Reggie Workman, Sharpe "hit the road" with saxophonist Archie Shepp and then spent 2 decades with pianist McCoy Tyner.  He's released several CDs on his own JKNM Records and also composed the music for the one-person show "Raisin Cane", featuring Jasmine Guy. Sharpe also teaches at the Litchfield (CT) Jazz Camp in the summertime.  There is a good possibility he'll be playing solo but don't let that deter you - he's a bassist who loves melody.  Avery Sharpe's set begins at 8:30 p.m.

The evening closes with a quartet of impressive brass players featuring Stephen Haynes (trumpet, cornet - pictured left)), Bill Lowe (bass trombone), Peter McEachern (tenor trombone) and Ben Stapp (tuba).  Haynes spent many years working with the legendary trumpeter and conceptualist Bill Dixon (1925 - 2010) but also has created music with pianist Cecil Taylor, violinist Leroy Jenkins and modern classical experimentalist La Monte Young.  His Trio recording, "Parrhesia" (Engine Records), with Joe Morris (guitar) and Warren Smith (percussion) was issued just last year. Over the 4+ decades of his career, Bill Lowe has played with James Brown, Eartha Kitt, Dizzy Gillespie, James "Jabbo" Ware, and hed co-led bands with guitarist Andy Jaffe as well as the Boston Repertory Orchestra. He has taught at Wesleyan, University of Pennsylvania, the New England Conservatory of Music and elsewhere.  Peter McEachern also played alongside Thomas Chapin and Mario Pavone as well as the legendary Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown. He currently teaches at the University of Connecticut and the Litchfield Jazz Camp.  Like his cohorts, Ben Stapp plays all kinds of music, from brass band to classical ensembles to improvised jazz.

This unit performs at 9:30 p.m.  For more information and reservations (recommended), call 860-347-4957 or go to

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