Expanding the musical horizons: Pioneer Valley Jazz Shares readies for new season with 22 shows and some new venues

By STEVE PFARRER

Staff Writer

Published: 08-31-2023 1:43 PM

A few years ago, Pioneer Valley Jazz Shares (PVJS), the member-supported concert series, faced the same issue all musicians, clubs, and show promoters were dealing with: a problem called COVID-19.

Like others, PVJS went online during the worst of the pandemic in 2020-2021 and weathered things as best they could; they put on 10 concerts, including some prerecorded and livestreamed shows, and a few small outdoor gigs as well.

But the program, now into its second decade, has come back strong in the last couple years, adding more concerts and reviving one old music series in particular.

Glenn Siegel, who co-founded PVJS in 2012, says he has high hopes for the 2023-2024 season, which runs from September into June. On tap: 22 concerts, two new venues, and a good selection of women performers, including bandleaders.

“We’ve been able to grow over the years,” Siegel, who lives in Northampton, said during a recent phone call. “We’ve increased the number of shareholders slowly and steadily, and we’ve gotten more interest from artists — plus we have a little more income to work with.”

Siegel previously produced a range of jazz shows, such as the Magic Triangle Series, at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. But looking to expand beyond that, in 2012 he adapted the model used for community-supported agriculture (CSA), in which members pay in advance for a weekly pickup of fresh produce from local farms.

Working with his wife, Priscilla Maria Page, Siegel created PVJS, in which members pay $125 in advance of the season, allowing them to attend 10 shows. Along with sponsorship from area businesses, those funds give PVJS a good initial pool of funds for booking artists.

“When I was at UMass, I had to say ‘no’ to a lot of musicians I would have liked to book because I was limited to six shows a year,” he said. With PVJS, he added, “I still have to say ‘no’ sometimes, but not nearly as much.”

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Siegel, now retired from UMass — Page is a writer and dramaturg and assistant professor in the university’s theater department — says PVJS membership is now up to about 125. That’s enabled the series to extend to 22 shows this year, matching the highest number ever (a figure first reached in the past season).

“We have enough shows that some people are buying a second membership for the year,” he said.

Among the performers will be celebrated pianist and composer Michele Rosewoman, who leads an 11-member ensemble that’s marking its 40th anniversary this year. The group, which comes to the Valley Oct. 24, specializes in music with Afro-Cuban roots.

And after staging concerts in 21 area venues over the years, two more will be added in 2023-2024: The Drake in Amherst, and Holyoke Media, which opened a 120-seat black box theater and studio earlier this year.

“Using the Drake will give us a presence in Amherst that we haven’t had before,” Siegel said. “And Holyoke Media has a fully equipped studio with really good lighting — it’s a really nice facility.”

Among the other venues PVJS has used, Siegel has a special regard for the Community Music School of Springfield, which he calls “a beautiful space” with a great sound system, piano, and overall vibe. Other favorites include The Institute for the Musical Arts (IMA) in Goshen and the Shea Theater in Turners Falls.

The new season opens Sept. 21 with a 7:30 p.m. show at The Parlor Room in Northampton by the Noah Preminger Quartet, led by the saxophonist of that name, a Connecticut native who Siegel calls “just a fantastic player.” Preminger, who’s 37, has already recorded 20 albums as a band leader.

Preminger’s ensemble, which includes guitar, bass, and drums, “is a little more mainstream than what we usually do,” Siegel added. “But the musicianship is just outstanding.”

Deep ties to the jazz community

From years of producing jazz shows in the Valley, Siegel and Page — she is the vice president of PVJS — have forged deep ties with musicians in the series. Many of them have previously played at UMass concerts Siegel produced, or have performed in different ensembles with PVJS.

The New York-based Michele Rosewoman, for example, first played at UMass almost 30 years ago as the leader of a quintet, Siegel noted.

Some other musicians, though familiar to Siegel and Page, will be playing some unknown music.

On Oct. 1 at the Shea Theater, saxophonist/clarinetist/composer Jeff Lederer will lead a six-member ensemble in “Schoenberg on the Beach,” his eight-part song cycle based on the early vocal music of Arnold Schoenberg, the influential composer of the early 20th century, and Anton Webern, a contemporary of Schoenberg.

“I have very little idea what this will sound like,” said Siegel, who previously produced a PVJS show featuring Lederer’s wife, vocalist Mary LaRose, who’s also part of her husband’s group. “But it seems a very creative approach to (Schoenberg’s) music.”

He and Page say they’ve also booked a number of concerts, in addition to Rosewoman’s show, featuring female band leaders such as Anna Webber, Ingrid Laubrock, Zoh Amba, Sara Serpa, Robin Holcomb, Kris Davis and Tomeka Reid.

Reid, a cellist and composer known for her unorthodox approach to her instrument and to jazz, won recognition for that work when she was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship, the “genius grant,” last year. Her ensemble plays Feb. 22, 2024 at Holyoke Media.

Last season, PVJS also revived “A World of Piano,” a program of solo pianists Siegel had produced from 2003 to 2013 at the Northampton Center for the Arts, at its former location on New South Street. The series returned to the center’s new home at 33 Hawley Street last fall, and it will be back there in February. 

Two other other upcoming PVJS shows: The Mat Maneri Quartet, which plays Oct. 15 at the Community Music School of Springfield, is led by Maneri on viola; he’s won acclaim for his improvising and is joined on piano, drums, and bass.

And on Oct. 26, the Max Johnson Trio comes to the Blue Room at CitySpace in Easthampton. Johnson, a leading double bassist and composer, is joined by Anna Webber on saxophone and flute and Michael Sarin on drums.

PVJS shows are open to the general public as well as series members if seats are available. For more information on the season’s concerts or becoming a member, visit jazzshares.org.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.

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