With her singularly enticing sound, few contemporary vocalists are as well suited to dustily vintage material as jazz-blues stylist Roberta Donnay.
The Berkshire Gateway Jazz Weekend kicks-off in grand style with a rare East Coast performance of Roberta Donnay and the Prohibition Mob Band.
Award-winning vocalist and songwriter Roberta Donnay is that rare species of musician who almost lives in another time, as she and her Prohibition Mob Band exist to revive the Jazz Age of America. Performing and recording for more than two decades, her music spans multiple genres, including writing for film and TV. As the leader of the Prohibition Mob Band, her repertoire runs the gamut of the jazz era, ranging from Louis Armstrong to Blossom Dearie, as well as her own original material.
The Prohibition Mob Band is a vintage jazz and swing band presenting 1920-1930s swing, blues, and roots music in the jazz tradition. The ensemble’s mission is to explore, celebrate, and promote America’s jazz roots by interpreting vintage material as well as contributing original works reminiscent of the Jazz Age. Roberta Donnay & the Prohibition Mob Band have been touring the U.S. since 2012. Their third CD, “My Heart Belongs To Satchmo,” is devoted to the early music of Louis Armstrong, continuing the band’s tradition of resurrecting both well-known and obscure vintage music. Previously, the group released “A Little Sugar” (2012) and “Bathtub Gin” (2015). “A Little Sugar” spent 9 weeks on the Jazz radio charts, and “Bathtub Gin” was named one of the Best Albums of 2015 by DownBeat Magazine.
Prior to forming the Prohibition Mob Band, she recorded with legendary producer Orrin Keepnews, and was a member of Dan Hicks & the Hot Licks. Her original composition “One World” was the official theme of the United Nations’ 50th anniversary. It was performed for 188 delegates in 1994 and at the official celebrations in 1995. The song has been performed at several peace and international diplomacy convocations.
Roberta Donnay has a silky, clean voice that is a small marvel of geniality, rarely dipping into touchy-feely cuteness. She’s drawn to material from the canon of American songs recorded between the two world wars. All the while, the well-groomed, jazz-inclined Prohibition Mob Band motors along spiritedly.
Award-winning vocalist Alexis Cole may be the best-kept secret in jazz, a status that’s certain to change as more people are discovering her for themselves. Indeed, a dozen albums into her career, she has become a sought after international performer. She’s appeared with her trio, with whom she both plays piano and sings, and is a frequent guest with big bands and pops orchestras including the Boston Pops and the Detroit Symphony.
The year 2009 was a big one for Alexis, releasing her first albums on and going off to Basic Training to prepare for her new job as a jazz singer for the U.S. Army. During her seven years in the Army’s Big Band, she shared the stage with ensembles as diverse as the New York Philharmonic and Kool and the Gang. She continued recording throughout her tour of duty, releasing a string of well-received albums.
Her more recent appearances have been at celebrated venues like The Carlyle, Carnegie Hall, Birdland, Jazz at Lincoln Center, and the Blue Note. She also contributed a guest turn on pianist Harold Mabern’s star-studded album Afro Blue, alongside the likes of fellow guests Norah Jones, Gregory Porter, and Jane Monheit.
Alexis heads the Jazz Vocal program at two prestigious conservatories, SUNY Purchase College, and William Paterson University, where her students have been winners of the Sarah Vaughan Competition, the Ella Fitzgerald Competition and Downbeat Student Awards, among others. In 2020 she founded the online educational community JazzVoice.com, and cofounded the annual Vocal Jazz Summit in Virginia Beach.
Alexis’ 2021 release “Sky Blossom” features big band arrangements written for her while serving in the Army as the vocalist for the West Point Band’s Jazz Knights Big Band. That recording provides much of the music for her Berkshire Gateway performance with the Amherst Jazz Orchestra.
The Amherst Jazz Orchestra is a professional big band whose mission is to explore and preserve the music of America’s original art form. Formed in 1996 by trombonist, arranger and leader Dave Sporny, the AJO membership includes the finest jazz musicians in the northeast. The 17-piece ensemble has had distinguished guest conductors such as Gunther Schuller, Herb Pomeroy, David Berger and Andrew Homzey. The AJO was in residence at the Amherst College Duke Ellington Symposium. The music presented, from rare and historical big band works to some of the newest original music for contemporary jazz orchestra, makes the Amherst Jazz Orchestra a unique ensemble.
Equally comfortable in both classical and jazz traditions, Dave Sporny has appeared in concert halls throughout the world including Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Kennedy Center, Tanglewood and Ravinia. More recently, as a member of the Silk Road Ensemble, he performed with Yo Yo Ma. He has also performed with The Tonight Show Orchestra, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey Orchestras, Les Elgart, Dave Brubeck, Marian McPartland, Max Roach, Billy Taylor, Slide Hampton, and J.J. Johnson, to name a few. In 2004 the International Association for Jazz Education presented him with a Lifetime Achievement Award.
Two of the region’s most exciting, accomplished vocal artists, Wanda Houston and Samirah Evans kick-off the Berkshire Gateway Jazz Weekend, teaming-up for an evening of classic jazz and blues duets. Their repertoire and styles run the gamut, from blues-flavored to straight-ahead jazz and popular tunes. Read More →
Diego Figueiredo is an extraordinary, fast-rising star among the world’s greatest jazz guitarists. He provides a new, fresh approach to uniting technique and emotion in a fusion of Brazilian music and jazz. His superb technique, timing and imagination have made him one of the hottest international names on the scene today. His concerts have been a great success in more than 50 countries around the world.
Diego has released 23 CDS, 3 DVDs and a book, and he has received awards at the Montreux Jazz Festival as one of the greatest guitarists in the world. A brilliant musician who keeps the tradition of the true essence of Brazilian music, at the same time he can be modern and innovative, Diego teams-up frequently with tenor saxophonist and clarinetist extraordinaire Ken Peplowski to deliver a lively, updated look at the Bossa Nova sound. Read More →
Frank Vignola is one of the most extraordinary guitarists performing before the public today. His stunning virtuosity has made him the guitarist of choice for many of the world’s top musicians, including Donald Fagen, Wynton Marsalis, Tommy Emmanuel, the Boston Pops, and guitar legend Les Paul, who named Vignola to his “Five Most Admired Guitarists List” for the Wall Street Journal. Vignola’s jaw dropping technique explains why the New York Times deemed him “one of the brightest stars of the guitar”.
Pianist, composer, arranger and trumpeter Jeff Holmes is a nationally published and commissioned composer/arranger, and a multiple recipient of National Endowment For The Arts Jazz Composition Grants. He has written music for renowned jazz musicians including John Abercrombie, Max Roach, Sheila Jordan, Yusef Lateef, Rufus Reid, and the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra.
In addition to its impressive library of big-band standards and originals, the Jeff Holmes big band’s repertoire will include a tribute to Leonard Bernstein, whose 100th birthday is being celebrated this year by many musical organizations across the globe. Bernstein’s music touched all genres, from classical to pop, opera to jazz, and Hollywood.
The Berkshire Gateway Jazz Weekend celebrates Ella Fitzgerald’s centennial birthday with a concert of arrangements she performed with Count Basie, Duke Ellington and others. Leading the way is the Vermont Jazz Center Big Band, a 16-piece ensemble of area professionals, directed by Rob Freeberg. Acclaimed vocalist Wanda Houston will front the band for this tour-de-force of the great American songbook.
Dubbed “The First Lady of Song,” Ella Fitzgerald was the most popular female jazz singer in the United States for more than half a century…and perhaps the first jazz artist to become a household name. One of today’s outstanding interpreters of vocal jazz and blues, Wanda Houston has loved and sung along with Fitzgerald’s music since she was a young girl. Originally from Chicago, Wanda grew up singing gospel music in church and with her family’s theater group. She has led an active career as an actress performing on the grand stages of Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Broadway. Like Fitzgerald, she is a great singer as well as a superb storyteller; she colors the spaces between her songs with fascinating stories of her youth and the trials and tribulations of life on the road.
One of the longest-standing, best-known and highly-respected traditional jazz groups, The New Black Eagle Jazz Band returns to the Berkshires after a three-year hiatus. Celebrating their 45th anniversary in 2016, the band has dozens of recordings to its name, including a Grammy nomination. Of their prowess and creativity, the late N.Y. Time critic John S. Wilson wrote that the band is “So far ahead of other traditional bands…there is scarcely any basis for comparison.”
In 2009, the Black Eagles teamed-up with famed guitarist Duke Robillard for a recording called “Nothing But the Blues.” After many years, they are reunited exclusively for the Berkshire Gateway Jazz Weekend.