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Vermont Jazz Center Fifth Annual Solo Jazz Piano Festival

Saturday, April 24, 2021 @ 10:00 am - 10:00 pm

Vermont Jazz Center

Fifth Annual

Solo Jazz Piano Festival

April 23-24, 2021

For music-lovers who want to dig deep into the piano’s unique capacity to convey a broad range of sounds, textures and rich harmonic options; this instrument gives artists an unparalleled medium to express feelings, concepts and emotions through its unmatched versatility.

Headliners: Kris Davis, Harvey Diamond, Craig Taborn, Elio Villafranca

Emerging Artists: Hidemi Akaiwa and Camila Cortina

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

The 5th Annual Vermont Jazz Center Solo Jazz Piano Fest celebrates the piano and its essential impact on the development of jazz during its rich, 100-plus-year history. The free Friday evening and Saturday daylong program featuring four headliners and two emerging artists will take place on April 23rd and 24th and will be live streamed on the Vermont Jazz Center’s website and its FacebookLive page. Although the Fest is free of charge, donations to the VJC’s programming fund in lieu of ticket purchases are gratefully appreciated. Features of the Solo Jazz Piano festival include six performances and interviews, four master classes, and a Q&A session open to audience participation.

5th Annual Solo Jazz Piano Festival

The four headliners presenting this year are Kris Davis, Harvey Diamond, Craig Taborn and Elio Villafranca. These venerated players will be coming to Vermont to perform and teach live from the VJC’s stage using its Steinway D concert grand. Although these artists will be in-house, their evening performances and daytime masterclasses will be live streamed; due to pandemic restrictions, no in-house audience will be present. The masterclasses will discuss the artists’ concepts, inspirations and methods of preparation. Listeners can look forward to hearing the artists’ colorful narratives as they discuss their careers and exciting interactions within the jazz world. In the Q&A session, attendees are invited to ask the four headliners questions of personal and universal interest using an online platform.

5th Annual Solo Jazz Piano Festival

Two international emerging artists, Hidemi Akaiwa and Camila Cortina, will present their live streamed sets from Berklee School of Music. Each pianist will also be interviewed by VJC Director, Eugene Uman.

2021’s Annual Solo Jazz Piano Festival will be its second virtual iteration.  This year the VJC shines a spotlight on the use of the piano in jazz and celebrates those who have committed their lives to music, who have found that the piano is the best conduit to emit their creative voice. Each artist brings their own technique, personality and vision to the instrument and coaxes from it a unique sound. Initiated in 2017, the Festival was initially inspired by the donation of a world-class quality Steinway Concert Grand piano to the Vermont Jazz Center by the McKenzie Family Charitable Trust.  This instrument, which was initially owned by the virtuoso concert pianist, Lorin Hollander, was fully rebuilt by technician William Ballard upon its arrival at VJC.

Past performers at the Vermont Jazz Center’s Solo Jazz Piano Festival have included some of the top living artists from the music’s history including Stanley Cowell, Christian Sands, Helen Sung, Joanne Brackeen, Yoko Miwa, George Cables, Kenny Werner, Kirk Lightsey, Harold Danko, Miro Sprague, Amina Figarova, David Berkman, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Orrin Evans, Shamie Royston and others. It has been an honor to bring artist of this stature to Brattleboro.

Friday, April 23

Friday evening’s performances (April 23) will feature Harvey Diamond and bassist Jon Dreyer for set one and Elio Villafranca for set two. Each pianist will be interviewed for 10-15 minutes by VJC Director Eugene Uman after their performances.

Harvey Diamond

Pianist Harvey Diamond has graced the Boston area for decades with his music which is at once both deeply intricate and deeply emotional to even the most casual listener. Called “a true master” by NEA Jazz Master Dave Liebman, he has performed across the U.S. and in Europe. A student of Lennie Tristano through Tristano’s last decade, Harvey has done concert appearances with Sheila Jordan, Dave Liebman, Art Farmer, Charles Neville, Herb Pomeroy, Harvie S., John Abercrombie, George Mraz, Jay Clayton, Billy Drummond, Jason Palmer, Cameron Brown, Marcus McLaurine, Joe Hunt, Don Alias, Marc Johnson, and many others. He has released two albums as a leader and performed as sideman on several others. Cameron Brown, the bassist on his duo recording, Fair Weather, stated: “Harvey Diamond is a unique and brilliant musician: a pianist’s pianist with a remarkable touch, unimpeachable technique and enormous dynamic range. A creative and unpredictable improvisor…he draws the audience into his world and holds it spellbound.” Diamond has twice presented at the Lennie Tristano Symposium. He has performed at the Boston Globe Jazz Festival, was the featured pianist at MIT’s Herb Pomeroy First Memorial Concert, and at the New Hampshire Jazz Festival with NEA Jazz Master Sheila Jordan who claims that Harvey “plays from his heart and totally disappears into the song. He’s a real joy to sing with.” Diamond is a revered private teacher, carrying the legacy of Lennie Tristano’s teaching. Trumpeter Jason Palmer says that “Pianist Harvey Diamond is a national treasure…I hear a light, buoyant artist who exudes joy in every phrase that he plays. I really get the feeling that he considers every note that he plays to be its own concert, that’s how much love and care he puts into his work!”

Elio Villafranca

Elio Villafranca is at the forefront of the latest generation of remarkable Cuban pianists, composers and bandleaders. In 2018 his album Cinque was granted 4.5 stars by Downbeat Magazine and received a Grammy nomination. In 2018 he won the International Critic’s poll as Rising Star on keyboards, and in 2019 he was listed as Rising Star on piano. In 2010 he was nominated for two Grammy Awards. He has released three albums as a bandleader including The Source in Between (2007) which remained in the top 10 of the JazzWeek Chart for eleven weeks, and Incantations/Encantaciones (2003) which was ranked amongst the 50 best jazz albums of the year by JazzTimes magazine. In 2008, Villafranca was nominated by Jazz Corner as pianist of the year and received a NFA/Heineken Master Artist Music Grant. His music has featured artists such as Pat Martino, Jane Bunnett, Terell Stafford, and Eric Alexander. Villafranca has performed around the world as leader of his own ensembles, and has collaborated as a sideman with Wynton Marsalis, Jon Faddis, Sonny Fortune, Giovanni Hidalgo, Eddie Henderson, Miguel Zenón, Cándido Camero, and Johnny Pacheco. Villafranca fuses historical information with free-wheeling jamming over propelling grooves. In his group the Jass Syncopators for example, he uses New Orleans’ Congo Square as a symbol of freedom. Prior to the emancipation, Congo Square (now Louis Armstrong Park) was a place where some enslaved people were permitted to congregate on Sundays to sell their crafts, play music and dance. In an interview, Villafranca mentions that Congo Square “was the only place where slaves were able to play their music and be themselves. That freedom was very special to them, but it’s also special for me to come to America and to play jazz the way I wanted to play it.” Villafranca’s work is music composed by someone who has prevailed against systemic attempts at censorship, is a living example of freedom of expression. Villafranca is a griot, one who tells the stories of his people and brings the colorful fusion of multiple cultures to life through his compositions.

Saturday, April 24


On Saturday, the festival will present a mix of masterclasses, performances from emerging artists and an opportunity for the audience to connect with the performers via a Question and Answer Hour.  The titles of the masterclasses will be:

Harvey Diamond: Lessons from Tristano

Elio Villafranca – Music from the Root Up!

Kris Davis: From Monk to Ligeti

Craig Taborn: Strategies for Improvised Performances

Emerging Artist Performances

From 2:30 to 4:00 PM, two international graduate students from the Berklee Global Jazz Institute/Berklee Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice programs will offer sets and interviews. They will present their program from Boston via Zoom.

Emerging Artist Bios

Camila Cortina Bello

Camila Cortina is a pianist and composer from Cuba. Born in Havana (1988), she studied Classical Piano and Theory at Amadeo Roldan Conservatoire and later majored in Musicology, graduating summa cum laude from the Higher Institute of Arts (Havana, 2010). In 2007, Cortina earned the First Prize in Jazz Composition at the Jojazz Contest. She has won several awards as a composer of film scores. In 2010, she traveled as pianist and music director of pop and Latin Jazz bands in and around Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, performing in Bali Jazz Festival in 2012, Singjazz 2017 (Singapore), Jazz by the Bay (Perth, 2017) and Borneo Jazz Festival (Borneo, 2018). In 2018, Cortina was awarded a full scholarship to Berklee School of Music to further her studies in performance and jazz composition. As a Berklee student, she performed in the Next Generation Jazz Festival in Monterrey (2019) as pianist of Sheila del Bosque’s Trio and at Dizzy’s Club in NYC (2019). She has also performed actively as part of the Berklee Jazz Gender Justice Institute and has collaborated as orchestrator in Berklee productions Aida Cuevas Meets Berklee (2019) and Soundscapes of Spain (2020) featuring flamenco artists Ismael Fernandez and Sonia Olla. In March of 2020 Cortina received the Duke Ellington Award from Berklee Jazz composition department and the Pianist/Composer award from the piano department (April, 2020).

Hidemi Akaiwa

Hidemi Akaiwa is a Japanese pianist/composer. She started on piano at the age of three and as a youth won many classical music competitions. At the age of 30 Akaiwa shifted from a successful, corporate career to jazz music. She was awarded a full scholarship to attend Berklee College as a graduate student where she participates in the Global Jazz Institute, the Jazz and Gender Justice Program and the Planet MicroJam Institute. While at Berklee, Ms. Akaiwa received the prestigious Toshiko Akiyoshi Composition Award. She has had the privilege to study with world-class musicians Danilo Perez, Terri Lyne Carrington, Kris Davis, Billy Childs, David Fiuczynski, and many others. Her passion is to create a new art form infusing the tenets of Japanese Zen with the sounds of jazz and contemporary classical music. Akaiwa combines Japanese microtonal techniques with Western theoretical constructs using synthesizers and acoustic instruments that utilize microtonal vocabularies. Ms. Akaiwa’s message to the universe is that “it is never too late to chase dreams that emanate from your soul.”

Saturday Evening Headliners:

On Saturday evening, pianists Kris Davis and Craig Taborn will present the closing concert. The pianists have performed several times as a duo and released an album, Octopus, which was listed as one of the top 20 recordings of 2018 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the VJC’s Solo Jazz Piano Fest, due to pandemic-related logistics, Davis and Taborn will be presenting solo sets only.

Kris Davis

Pianist-composer Kris Davis was voted pianist of the year in the 2020 Downbeat Critics Poll and in the 2019 Jazz Times Critics Poll. She won both composer and pianist of the year in 2020 by the Jazz Journalists Association. The New York Times dubbed her one of the top up-and-comers, saying: “One method for deciding where to hear jazz on a given night has been to track down the pianist Kris Davis.” To date, Davis has released twelve recordings as a leader. Her newest release, Diatom Ribbons, was voted jazz album of the year in the New York Times and NPR critic’s poll. Davis works as a collaborator and side person with artists such as John Zorn, Terri Lyne Carrington, Craig Taborn, Tyshawn Sorey, Eric Revis, Johnathan Blake, Michael Formanek, Tony Malaby, Ingrid Laubrock, Mary Halvorson, Stephan Crump, Eric McPherson and Tom Rainey. Davis received a Doris Duke Impact award in 2015 and multiple commissions to compose new works from The Shifting Foundation, The Jazz Gallery/Jerome Foundation, and the Canada Council for the Arts. She is currently the Associate Director for the Berklee Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice and runs her music label, Pyroclastic Records.

Craig Taborn

Hailed by Downbeat as “one of the visionaries of the current wave,” Minneapolis native Craig Taborn has composed and performed in a wide variety of situations including jazz, new music, improvised, electronic, rock, noise and avant garde contexts. He has played and recorded with many luminaries in these fields, as well,  including Roscoe Mitchell, Wadada Leo Smith, James Carter, Lester Bowie, Dave Holland, Tim Berne, John Zorn, Evan Parker, Steve Coleman, David Torn, Chris Potter (Underground), William Parker, Vijay Iyer, Kris Davis, Nicole Mitchell, Susie Ibarra, Ikue Mori, Carl Craig, Dave Douglas, Meat Beat Manifesto with Bill Laswell, Dan Weiss, Chris Lightcap, Gerald Cleaver, David Binney and Rudresh Manhathappa.

In an interview for his current record label (ECM), Taborn revealed that “a lot of my interests revolve around trying to extend the boundaries you can create in… there’s a lot to be said for allowing things to arise out of musical necessity in the whole arc of the story being told.” Taborn’s 2011 solo recording on ECM, Avenging Angel, was reviewed by Tom Fordham who stated: “His musicality and his attention to detail is hypnotic… as is his remarkable sense of compositional narrative within a completely improvised performance.” Taborn has produced recordings in the context of several acoustic jazz trios, an electronic project (Junk Magic), the Daylight Ghosts Quartet, a piano/drums/electronics duo with Dave King (Heroic Enthusiasts) and an electro-acoustic trio with Tomeka Reid and Ches Smith as well as piano duo collaborations with Vijay Iyer (The Transient Poems), Kris Davis (Octopus) and Cory Smythe. He is also a member of the instrumental electronic art-pop group Golden Valley is Now and performs frequently on solo electronics.


With this diverse and talented set of pianists, the VJC’s 5th Annual Solo Piano Festival aims to illustrate the critical role that the piano played in the establishment of jazz as an art form. The piano has continued to influence jazz’s development at every harmonic turn. This year in particular the Solo Piano Festival emphasizes the development of the use of the piano in more modern styles: the Cuban-influenced styles of Villafranca and Cortina and the structured but free approaches of Davis and Taborn that demonstrate the significance of personal and place-based music as opposed to popular or commercial styles. These are balanced by Harvey Diamond’s dedication to swing and the Great American Songbook. All told, this year’s Festival promises to be of extremely high quality. It will give listeners a view of the periphery of solo piano styles while still connecting to the heart and soul of jazz and an investigation of aesthetics. As a microcosm of jazz, the solo piano idiom provides a fascinating and authentic lens through which to listen to understand jazz’s broader picture.

The Vermont Jazz Center is grateful to present artists of historical significance in its solo piano series. This year’s festival will take place from April 23-24, 2021.  Full list of events:





Day                 Time                Activity                                              

4/23/21            8:00 -10:00 PM           Feature Concert and Interviews

Harvey Diamond, piano with Jon Dreyer, bass

Elio Villafranca, solo piano


4/24/21            10:00 AM                   Masterclass: Harvey Diamond

11:00                           Masterclass: Elio Villafranca

12:00 PM                    Masterclass: Kris Davis


1:00 – 2:30                  Lunch Break


2:30                             Performance/Interview with Camila Cortina (Zoomed in)

3:15                             Performance/Interview with Hidemi Akaiwa (Zoomed in)

4:00                             Masterclass: Craig Taborn

5:00                             Juried Questions to Headliners


6:00 – 8:00                  Dinner Break


8:00                             Feature Concert and Interviews

Kris Davis, solo piano

Craig Taborn, solo piano



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