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Ken Maiuri’s Clubland: Jazz Shares: Organic sounds for the soul



Thursday, October 30, 2014
A farm share gives you healthy food for your body. Pioneer Valley Jazz Shares gives you nutritious sounds for your soul.

Jazz Shares is a grassroots organization of Valley music lovers led by Glenn Siegel, WMUA’s longtime administrative advisor, Friday morning radio host and producer of more than 175 concerts at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and elsewhere since the late 1980s.

Siegel’s solid reputation eventually meant he had too many performers contacting him for Valley shows and not enough opportunities for them to play; he often had to say no. The frustration of having to turn away excellent players gave him the idea to create another avenue for artists to have a gig in the area.

And so Jazz Shares was born. Just as farm share members pre-pay for a season’s worth of food, Jazz Shares members purchase full or half shares and the resulting capital allows Siegel to bring 10 varied, adventurous jazz artists to the area each year, with minimal institutional support. Shareholders receive a punch card to use as admission to concerts in the series.

The third season of Jazz Shares begins Sept. 11 at 7:30 p.m. with a performance by the Brooklyn-based Ingrid Laubrock Quintet at the Arts Trust Building at 33 Hawley Street in Northampton.

Frontwoman Laubrock plays tenor and soprano sax, joined by alto saxophonist Tim Berne, trombonist Ben Gerstein, tuba player Dan Peck and drummer Tom Rainey.

“This concert will be saxophone heaven,” said Jason Robinson, assistant professor of jazz and popular music at Amherst College, Jazz Shares member and a saxophonist himself. “Cutting edge artists of different generations — that’s Ingrid and Tim right there.”

Robinson moved to the area in 2008 and was so inspired by Siegel’s 25-years-and-counting Magic Triangle Jazz Series — “That’s my music, that’s where I come from musically,” he said with excitement and awe — that he contacted Siegel almost immediately. When Jazz Shares began, Robinson got in on the ground floor, becoming a member of the “steering committee” and volunteering his time to help work on the project’s website.

Other members — there are currently about 80 — assist in other ways, based on their own interests, talents and passions: producing the program for each concert, putting the artists up in their home, hosting a reception for the artists and fellow members.

Jazz Shares member Kathy Service runs the door for the events and has brought a variety of homemade cheesecakes to each of the 21 concerts so far.

“For people like Kathy, the local music scene is super important; it’s a part of their daily life,” Robinson said. “That’s why Jazz Shares works so well.”

Siegel is responsible for picking the artists in the series. He’s brought to town legends like Barry Altschul and William Parker, top names that include Dave Douglas, Joe Lovano and Arturo O’Farrill, rising stars such as Joshua Abrams, Harris Eisenstadt, Mary Halvorson, Angelica Sanchez and others.

“I’m trying best I can to attain a certain balance over a season, whether it’s racial, gender, instrumentation, role of melody,” Siegel said.

Diversity is in the shows themselves but also in where they take place. Siegel spreads the concerts around Hampden, Hampshire and Franklin counties to reflect the scope of the Jazz Shares membership, hosting them in unique spaces in Springfield, Greenfield, Holyoke, Goshen, Amherst and Northampton, usually drawing an audience of 75 to 100.

People do not have to be Jazz Shares members to buy tickets to the shows. “The single ticket buying audience is a crucial part of the fiscal pie,” Siegel said. “Last year we sold over $4,000 of single tickets.”

“There’s a very interesting cohort in our local community that expect adventurous music because of what Glenn has done for so long here. And that is a big part of the success of Jazz Shares,” Robinson said. “There’s a lot of trust involved with the producing that takes place. Like with a farm share, you don’t know, is it going to be a robust strawberry crop? You just don’t know. So people are willing to invest and be challenged and thrilled by music they might already be familiar with, or music they might not be familiar with. It nudges and creates a certain kind of listener, a listener that is willing to encounter the unexpected.”

I asked Robinson and Siegel why people should become Jazz Shares members. Robinson continued with the food analogy — “It tastes good!” he said with a laugh, while Siegel said, “They’re vibrantly contributing to the community by becoming shareholders.”

The community of musicians is also fostered by the program, Siegel said.

“For me, that’s a really major critical piece of it. The problem of our time is too many great musicians, too few gigs. Even door gigs [where artists only make a percentage of whatever money is made at the door] are hard to come by. Jazz Shares [shows] are modest pay days [for musicians], but just to be able to provide a pay day and a critically listening audience is super important to the music.”

“The people Glenn brings through Jazz Shares aren’t the kind of people that play, say, the Iron Horse,” Robinson said. “So if we don’t have Jazz Shares, it’s like cutting out half of the produce you would get from a farm share.”

“Or one of the food groups,” I say, thinking out loud.

“Exactly. So I think that’s what’s so exciting about this: it’s kind of about the health of our community. This is from the ground up — totally organic.”

Ken Maiuri can be reached at clublandcolumn@gmail.com.



For more information about upcoming shows or purchasing shares, visit jazzshares.org.