American Roots Jazz Band The Afro-Centric Experience Performs at Next Stage Arts on December 10th

Next Stage Arts presents an evening with American roots jazz band The Afro-Centric Experience, on Saturday, December 10 at 7:30 pm at Next Stage Arts.

The Afro-Semitic Experience is an American roots jazz band with a difference. They are a group of Jewish-American and African-American musicians who have been performing, recording, and teaching together for over 20 years. Their friendship ignites their passion and purpose: Together, as a band, they merge their musical roots, Jewish and Afro-diasporic melodies and grooves, combining the core concepts of ase and shalom – power, action, unity, and peace. Their music embodies the radical notion that people of different faiths, races, and beliefs can come together, and celebrate and build community. Their repertoire is a mix of original compositions and arrangements of pieces curated from Jewish and African-diasporic cultures. Their music reaches out to a distinct open-minded listening audience; their intentional merging of jazz with the spiritual and the sacred has allowed them to share our music in concert as well as at worship services in houses of worship across the United States.

“The work of Afro-Semitic explores how two distinct cultures and histories have much to learn and share from one another,” says Keith Marks, Executive Director of Next Stage Arts. “They explore the intersections of diaspora, roots, and a renewed expression of peace in difficult times. And they happen to also be incredible musicians and educators.”

The group began in 1998 as a duo with David Chevan on the bass and Warren Byrd on piano. Over the years they have added many other powerful and distinctive musical voices to their mix. The current line-up includes Will Bartlett on tenor saxophone, clarinet and flute, Alvin Carter, Jr. on drum set, Saskia Laroo on trumpet, and Jocelyn Pleasant on percussion. They’ve recorded eight CDs and are in the midst of composing music for their ninth.

In addition to playing in traditionally sacred spaces, they perform at national and regional music festivals, on college campuses and the occasional jazz club.

Co-founded by African-American jazz pianist Warren Byrd, and Jewish-American jazz bassist David Chevan in 1998, The Afro-Semitic Experience is a band that combines an eclectic array of styles, sophisticated musicianship, good songwriting, deep grooves, and years of friendship with a simple message: Unity in the Community. Their music has been heard around the United States—the group has performed at festivals, in churches, synagogues, colleges, and wherever people come together to share their love and respect for community. Their performances are celebrations of community and culture that invariably get audiences up and dancing.

With their unique instrumentation, solid grooves, and their ability to get an audience on its feet, The Afro-Semitic Experience has reimagined the jazz concert. This is a band beyond category—performing an intricate tapestry of spiritual, world-beat, funk, jazz, cantorial, gospel, salsa, swing . . . soul-driven music. Their concerts are celebrations where they play great music, tell stories, and offer a positive and meaningful message: Unity in the Community.

Their recording projects have garnered critical acclaim and made numerous best-of lists. They are currently developing their newest work, My Feet Began to Pray. This will be a new collection of original compositions inspired by the social and racial justice movements, along with a few classic songs from back in the day. All imbued with passion, groove, blowing, dancing, and soaring freely in sound and spirit.

Bassist and composer David Chevan was born in Philadelphia and grew up in Amherst, Massachusetts. His passion for music has led him to explore a wide range of musical realms from singing in synagogue, to playing in Gospel groups, Polka bands, Klezmer bands, and Italian wedding bands, and finally to Jazz and contemporary composition and improvisation. He has composed music for a wide range of artists and ensembles, including several collaborations with dance and film. His most recent compositions have focused on melding jazz improvisational practice with Jewish liturgy. In addition to performing regularly in a duo with pianist Warren Byrd and leading their group, The Afro-Semitic Experience, Chevan is an active participant in the Radical Jewish Culture movement. He has recorded and performed with Frank London and plays, composes and writes arrangements for the Ayn Sof Arkestra and bigger band, he also founded the Nu Haven Kapelye, Southern New England’s largest Klezmer orchestra. He has had the opportunity to perform and record with, Joe Beck, Harold Danko, Mat Darriau, Jason Kao Hwang, Laura Wetzler, Giacomo Gates, Herb Robertson, and Cookie Segelstein. He is proud to be a member of the board of trustees of the Louis Armstrong Educational Foundation.

Pianist/Composer Warren Byrd is a Hartford, Connecticut native with an international touring schedule after many fruitful years playing Jazz throughout Southern New England and New York. Born in 1965 the youngest in a family of sixteen, he grew up in a musically fecund world. His experiences with performing began with singing in the church choir with his older siblings and lead to rich performing adventures in during his teen years, exposing him also to the vast treasures past and present of musical ideas. By the time he’d been awarded a full scholarship for Classical Vocal Studies at Hartt College of Music, he’d decided he wanted to be a Jazz artist. Through the listening, absorbing, practicing, and synthesizing of legacies of not only Jazz, but also Classical, Folk, and Popular music past and present, he formulated his approach to improvisation. In the last, twenty years, he has lended his musicianship to many groups and performers in Jazz, R&B, World, Latin, Pop, etc., as well as Dance and Theatre. A short list of performers would include Archie Shepp, Eddie Henderson, Saskia Laroo, Steve Davis, David Chevan, Mixashawn, Kenny Hamber, Alvin Carter, Nita Zarif, and many more. Along with David Chevan, in 1999 they founded as an expansion of their duo project the celebrated group the Afro-Semitic Experience, with whom they have recorded several albums.

Will Bartlett has over thirty-five years experience as a professional musician, composer, arranger, and music educator. He studied with Jimmy Heath and Lew Tabackin and has performed with Frank Foster, Lee Konitz, Slide Hampton and Roswell Rudd among many others. He was a co-leader of the Joy Spring Jazz Quintet, is a current member of the salsa/latin jazz group Mikata, and leads his own eponymous groups. As a student of the Buddhist tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh, he has been given the name Compassionate Sound of the Heart.

Alvin Benjamin Carter, Jr. is a preacher of The Gospel, husband, father, and educator and is a mainstay in the Greater Hartford arts Community. In addition to his duties as the drummer with The Afro-Semitic Experience and vibraphone giant Jay Hoggard and bandleader for R&B legend Kenny Hamber, he currently leads his own groups LEGACY: The Keepers of Tradition and The Alvin Carter Project. Known as “Babafemi” to his friends, his diverse music experience includes but is not limited to jazz, r&b, blues, latin jazz, gospel and world beat. Over the years he has performed with a “who’s who” of hometown favorites such as Nita Zarif, Nick Mathis,Tony Harrington and Touch, Charmagne, legendary guitarist Wayne Boyd, People of Goodwill and many others. He is also a lead drummer for Sankofa Kuumba Cultural Arts Consortium where he plays west Afrikan and afro-caribbean drums. Alvin is also as an “in-demand” stage and production manager having managed many events such as The Litchfield Jazz Festival, The Wesleyan Folk Music Festival, The Legends Show of Baltimore Maryland, The Sigourney Square Family Festival, and Family Day at Keney Park and The Greater Hartford Festival of Jazz.

Saskia Laroo, hailed by American public and press at large as “Lady Miles of Europe”, is one of the few women trumpet stylists, blowing for more than three decades. Born in Amsterdam, she began on trumpet at age 8, never dreaming of becoming a professional musician. That all changed when Saskia, turned 18, after briefly majoring in Mathematics at University of Amsterdam switched her focus to a career in music. She worked extensively in various groups from this point, primarily on upright bass, though eventually, on both bass and trumpet. Saskia Laroo combines today’s music by uncontrived romps into new styles, eagerly limned as “nu jazz” or “swingin’ body-music”–a vivacious blend of hip-hop, jazz, salsa, funk reggae, and world, that many other artists dare not venture. Her artistry and her groove ring vibrantly and free on her recordings journeying us through the music she has absorbed and plays from heart and soul.

Jocelyn Pleasant is a musician and educator, originally from Bloomfield, Connecticut. Her studies in percussion began at age 9 in her school band program, and then branched out to the Hartt School Community Division and the Artists Collective (Hartford, CT). She continued her studies in Washington, DC, as a Presidential Arts Scholar at The George Washington University from 2000-2004. Currently, Jocelyn is pursuing a Master’s degree in Ethnomusicology at Wesleyan University. As an educator, Jocelyn has been on staff with many schools and programs including the Artists Collective, Green Street Arts Center (Middletown, CT), Center for Creative Youth (Middletown, CT), Institute for the Musical Arts (Goshen, MA) and The Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts (Hartford, CT), teaching theory, percussion, and African/Cultural Rhythms to students of all levels. Jocelyn’s performance credits on drum set and percussion are extensive and showcase her versatility and ability to play many genres of music (jazz, blues, West African, funk, reggae, Latin, etc.). She is currently the percussionist for The Afro Semitic Experience and drummer for Orice Jenkins, both based in Connecticut. She also leads her own band, The Lost Tribe, which fuses traditional West African music and percussion with other styles of music.

Next Stage is located at 15 Kimball Hill in downtown Putney, VT. Tickets are $18 in advance / $22 at the door. Advance tickets are available at For information, call 802-387-0102. Next Stage will provide a beer, wine, and cocktail cash bar.

Next Stage serves southeastern Vermont as a regional cultural hub, arts producer, and instigator of meaningful cultural experiences. Founded in 2010 as a nonprofit organization, Next Stage Arts is a transformative, community-centered project dedicated to revitalizing Putney’s cultural and economic village center through excellence in arts programming valuing diversity as a springboard for nurturing community.

This performance is funded in part by the New England States Touring program of the New England Foundation for the Arts, made possible with funding from the National Endowment for the Arts Regional Touring Program and the six New England state arts agencies.

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