Vermont Jazz Center Presents: LIVE STREAM 4th Annual Solo Jazz Piano Festival

Vermont Jazz Center

Fourth Annual

Solo Jazz Piano Festival 2020

April 24 & 25

Designed to appeal to lovers of jazz piano of all ages as well as professional and amateur musicians of all instruments.

Headliners: NEA Jazz Master Toshiko Akiyoshi, Manuel Valera, Orrin Evans, Shamie Royston

Emerging Artists: Franz Robert, Maya Keren and Matt Twaddle.

Where: online at

When: Friday, April 24th from 8:00 – 10:00 PM

Saturday, April 25th, from 10:00 AM – 10:00 PM

Cost: Free, donations accepted; the live event was priced at $75 with free student admission

A Streamed Weekend of Concerts and Educational Opportunities that Celebrate the Breadth and Depth of Solo Jazz Piano

The Vermont Jazz Center is proud to present its 4th Annual Solo Jazz Piano Festival the weekend of April 24-25th in live streaming format. Each of the artists will be performing from the comfort of their own home or a close-by piano studio using digital streaming technology to present their sets live, directly on the Vermont Jazz Center’s webpage. The Festival will be run using the same format as past years: Friday and Saturday evening feature concerts, Saturday daytime classes and emerging artist concerts, and a late afternoon panel discussion amongst all the artists. The performers will be NEA Jazz Master Toshiko Akiyoshi, Manuel Valera, Orrin Evans, and Shamie Royston as headliners as well as emerging artists Franz Robert, Maya Keren and Matt Twaddle. Helen Sung will moderate Saturday afternoon’s panel discussion.

The event will be free and open to the public, donations are encouraged and can be made on line via the VJC’s website.

This year is particularly special. With the precautions taken due to COVID-19, arts organizations are limited to communicating their messages via online services. This Virtual Solo Piano Festival promotes the VJC’s mission, continuing the thread of learning and community engagement by spreading the thrill of jazz piano world-wide using resources new to the VJC’s production experience. The Jazz Center is working directly with web designer John DiGeorge of Good Bear Productions and videographer Michael Hanish of Free Lunch Media to incorporate various platforms that, when combined, create a well-rounded visual/audio experience to virtual audiences. The festival will be live streamed on Vimeo while incorporating the mass appeal of Facebook and the power of Zoom meetings to create a facsimile of a live experience.

Now in its fourth year, the Solo Jazz Piano Festival has become a treasure for lovers of music in general, not just pianists. Some of the greatest minds of the jazz world will teach and tell stories relaying personal narratives during the event. Attendees will communicate virtually with these artists via Q and A sessions at the end of their master classes. These master classes offer windows into the history and processes of playing jazz piano: touch, tone, technique, repertoire and lots of stories – they are a playful doorway into the lives and fascinating minds of musicians. It will also be an opportunity for viewers to find out how musicians are handling the paradigm of the new gig economy: what are they doing with their time, how are they managing financially, how are they finding purpose in their creative lives?

In 2017, the VJC presented its first annual festival to honor solo jazz piano. It was inspired by the donation of a world-class quality Steinway Concert Grand piano to the Vermont Jazz Center. Gifted by the McKenzie Family Charitable Trust and fully rebuilt by technician William Ballard. This piano was initially owned by the concert pianist and virtuoso Lorin Hollander. Festival attendee Steve Merriman wrote about his experience: “The combination of master classes and formal performance was a truly wonderful way to organize this event. The opportunity to discover a community of kinship established through a shared love of the solo piano genre and demonstrations of that genre by a fabulous array of superlative players channeling their gifts through an extraordinary instrument make for a weekend of true piano jazz bliss.”

This year’s performers:

Toshiko Akiyoshi

Over the course of a seven-decade career, Toshiko Akiyoshi has made a unique and vital contribution to the art of jazz. She has recorded over 60 albums as a leader, three as a solo pianist and over 20 with full jazz orchestra. In 2007, she was awarded the nation’s highest jazz honor (NEA Jazz Master) and has received 14 Grammy Award nominations, 16 DownBeat Readers’ Poll Awards, and 13 DownBeat Critics’ Poll Awards. In Japan, Akiyoshi has received numerous awards, and twice been honored by the Emperor. Ms. Akiyoshi presents “…a level of compositional and orchestral ingenuity that made her one of perhaps two or three composer-arrangers in jazz whose name could seriously be mentioned in the company of Duke Ellington… (From: The Essential Jazz Records Volume 2: Modernism to Postsmodernism. Continuum).

Orrin Evans

Philadelphia-based Orrin Evans has been categorized as a bebop player and as one of the “young lions” that emerged in the 1990s. He is now the pianist in the highly acclaimed recording and touring trio The Bad Plus. Evans currently has about 25 albums out as a leader and, although he is now a member of The Bad Plus, he will “never stop being Orrin Evans.” As the title of one of Evans’ albums, The Evolution of Oneself, demonstrates he will always be actively learning and growing as an artist, surrounding himself with some of the best players on the jazz scene including Nasheet Waits, Christian McBride, Oliver Lake, Kurt Rosenwinkel and others. Evans has performed as a sideman on dozens of albums with artists such as Sean Jones, Bobby Watson, Ralph Peterson, The Mingus Big Band, Conrad Herwig, Duane Eubanks, Steve Wilson, Roy Hargrove. He organizes and contributes compositions and arrangements to his big band, Captain Black Big Band, and is the recipient of a 2010 Pew Fellowship.

Manuel Valera
Born​ ​and​ ​raised​ ​in​ ​Havana, Cuba, ​Grammy​-​nominated ​pianist​ ​and​ ​composer​ ​Manuel​ ​Valera​ is a Guggenheim Fellow who has​ ​recorded​ ​13​ ​CDs ​as​ a​ ​​bandleader​ ​with​ ​touring​ ​projects ranging​ ​from​ ​his​ ​Grammy​-nominated ​group​ ​New​ ​Cuban​ ​Express​ ​to​ ​​modern​ ​contemporary jazz trio​ ​to​ ​solo​ ​piano. Jazz critic Howard Mandel claims that “it’s an unalloyed pleasure to discover a young man so accomplished that his potential seems boundless.” He ​is​ ​the​ ​recipient​ ​of​ ​many​ ​composition​ ​grants and commissions​ —​ ​​most​ ​notably​, three New Jazz Works awards from ​Chamber​ ​Music​ ​America, and the​ A​SCAP​ ​Young​ ​Jazz​ ​Composer​ ​Award.

Shamie Royston

Shamie Royston is, according to JazzTimes, “a vigorous, versatile pianist.” She grew up alongside her sister, the award-winning Tia Fuller, in a musical and academically-minded household. Royston appears on two of Tia Fuller’s albums, Decisive Steps and Angelic Warrior, and has released two albums as a leader. Kevin Whitehead, in reviewing her album Beautiful Liar on Fresh Air, claims that her music is “straight-ahead, tuneful, hard-swinging brand of jazz that’s always in style.” She has appeared with Christian McBride, Ginger Baker, Sean Jones, Lonnie Plaxico, Ralph Peterson, Terri Lyne Carrington, Allison Miler and many others.

Maya Keren

Maya Keren is a Philadelphia-raised pianist and composer currently pursuing a BA in Music at Princeton University. Keren participated in Lincoln Center’s Summer Jazz Academy and the Kimmel Center Creative Music Program. At Princeton, she plays in large and small ensembles directed by Darcy James Argue and Rudresh Mahanthappa. She studied with Kris Davis and Angelica Sanchez and attended the Banff International Workshop for Jazz & Creative Music in 2019. Keren was recognized by the Jazz Education Network’s Young Composer Showcase and Sisters in Jazz program and, as such, was a featured performer at the JEN Annual Convention in New Orleans.

Franz Robert

Franz Robert has performed in each of the past three VJC Piano Festivals. He has taught piano lessons and assisted ensembles at the Jazz Center since 2014. Robert was featured in the Pittsfield Jazz Festival as the 2015 Jazz Prodigy and has appeared on the main stage of the Northampton Jazz Festival. He serves as pianist for numerous churches including gospel congregations. He is the pianist of the Darryl Kniffen Band and for three years worked with the RWH (Robert, Woodward, Heath) Trio. Robert continues to be employed at Sonic Circus (studio) as a session pianist and arranger. He has performed with Kevin Mahogany, Francisco Mela, Samirah Evans, Sarah Charles, Jason Palmer, Josh Bruneau, Jason Robinson, Rich Goldstein, and Cameron Brown among others.  He has recorded one album as a leader, On Putney Mountain, and is currently writing an instructional jazz piano method book.

Matt Twaddle

Matt Twaddle is a recent graduate of the music program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He has performed with the Mid-Atlantic Collegiate Jazz Orchestra with guest conductor Warren Wolf and at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Twaddle was the recipient of four student awards from Downbeat Magazine, including Best Soloist. Upon graduation from UMass in 2019, he joined the U.S. Army Band, where he now resides as a member of the Maneuver Center of Excellence Band at Fort Benning, Georgia, performing for community outreach events as well as providing morale for service members and their families.

The Vermont Jazz Center is grateful to present artists of historical significance in its solo piano series. This year’s festival will take place on line on April 24-25, the URL for all activities is Schedule of events:

VJC SOLO JAZZ PIANO FEST – summary of activities (all events at


Day                 Time                Activity                                              

4/24/20            8:00 -10:00      Feature Concert and Interviews with

Friday  eve                               Toshiko Akiyoshi and Manuel Valera


4/25/20            10:00 AM        Masterclasses w/ Valera, Royston, Evans

Saturday day   to 6:00 PM      Concerts w/Twaddle, Roberts, Keren

Artist Panel moderated by Helen Sung


4/12/19            8:00 -10:30      Feature Concert and Interviews with

Saturday eve                           Shamie Royston and Orrin Evans



The Vermont Jazz Center is honored for the opportunity to present New England’s only Solo Jazz Piano Fest on April 24-25, 2020. The VJC is particularly thankful to Katy Oz, Norman Cohen and Diana Bingham as well as a generous anonymous sponsor who is connected with the VJC’s Summer Jazz Workshop for supporting this endeavor.

The VJC is also thankful for the ongoing support from the Vermont Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts. VJC publicity is underwritten by The Commons, the Brattleboro Reformer, WVPR, WVEW and WFCR.

Tickets for the VJC’s Solo Jazz Piano Fest at the Vermont Jazz Center are free, donations made at will go towards paying musicians’ fees and tech fees required to produce the event. Please email with any questions regarding this festival.

Video Examples:

Toshiko Akiyoshi

From 1958 recordings session – The Village (solo)

Hamilton College Jazz Archive Interview:

Solo Piano version of Ellington’s Come Sunday from 1995

Example of Big Band with Lew Tabackin

Article on Toshiko’s long and honorable history:

Link to Akiyoshi’s interview with Smithsonian Institute/Oral History Archive

Orrin Evans:

Live at the Jazz Standard (trio)

Faith in Action – explanation of his 2010 dedication to Bobby Watson

Promo for his album Half the Battle

The Evolution of Oneself – explanation of his 2015 album of the same name …on video

NPR with Bad Plus

NYT article

Shamie Royston:

Inner Strength, from 2012 release, Portraits

Manuel Valera:

Solo version of All the Things\

Summertime – Live at Rochester

With Cuban Express

Evidence with Trio

You and the Night and the Music

Recording Session with Groove Square (electric band)

Maya Keren

Performing Billie’s Bounce with Trio

Matt Twaddle

Senior Recital at UMass, Forgiveness (original composition)

Franz Robert

On Green Dolphin Street

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