Green Mountain Swing, central Vermont’s popular jazz and swing band is itching to get back to playing music for live audiences. The 17-member band has an extensive repertoire of songs to present and a membership eager to bring their special brand of horn-based music to the stage.
“We’ve discovered that people get excited by our music when we perform,” says band manager and trombone player Pierre Swick.
The COVID-19 pandemic cut into last year’s performance schedule. Like many Vermont musicians and groups, the pandemic also severely limited rehearsals. While the band would normally rehearse indoors at a local church beginning in March, last year was different and just a dozen members got together weekly in a field behind Camp Meade in Middlesex to rehearse and work on repertoire in the summer.
“I felt it was important to keep the entity of the band in some way and make music,” said the band’s music director, vocalist and alto-saxophone player Liz Fitzgerald.
The plan is to hold rehearsals during the warm months again, with hopes that the band will be able to perform later in the summer.
The band, which developed as an offshoot of the Waterbury Community Band in the 1990s, normally performs about a dozen gigs a year. Central Vermonters have heard them at the Brown Bag concerts in Montpelier, Lotus Lake in Williamstown, the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival and other Vermont venues.
Fitzgerald said 17 instruments comprise the typical swing band. Currently, there are 14 men and just three women performing.
“That’s pretty good for a big band,” she said. According to Fitzgerald, the majority of horn players are men. “Girls tend to play flute and clarinet for wind instruments,” she said, which explains the disparity between the sexes in this style of music. “We have tried to recruit more women, but they tend to have obligations or kids,” says Fitzgerald.
A major aspect of the band’s work revolves around its scholarship fund. While the band is paid for its performances, it was decided in 2008 to start a scholarship fund that would help students pay for lessons on their instruments.
Music Scholarship fund director Fred Abraham said the band, through the money it earns and private donations, provides music scholarships to students after nomination by their school music teacher. In a typical year, about $12,000 is raised for student scholarships. For 2021. while the band was not able to contribute to its scholarship fund as result of COVID-canceled performances, several anonymous donors stepped up and pledged enough money for $12,000 worth of scholarships.
This program has been very successful in the past with more than 200 students having received a scholarship. During the 2018-19 school year money was awarded to 28 students. So far this year with most schools either on hybrid or distance-learning schedules, there are only five students who have won scholarships.
Abraham said the scholarships have supported innovative programs with music teachers helping them, for example, purchase music software programs. The band was able to give a large grant of $2,000 to Harwood Middle School for its music program. Usually grants of $500 go to schools and students receive $250 scholarships.
Abraham said that beyond the obvious help in improving skills, being part of a music program benefits students in several ways. “Playing an instrument provides solitude when life is stressful and in building confidence,” he explained. “They are learning to socialize and how to get along with others.” The scholarship money helps provide additional work and income for private music teachers.
Fitzgerald said there are five swing bands that she knows of in Vermont. Green Mountain Swing attributes its success, says Swick, to the fact that, “Musicians love to get together to play music.” This band gets an extra lift because the scholarships, “give us a mission to spread the love of music in our local schools.”
Swick says jazz and swing music continues to draw a lot of musicians. “It’s surprising how many musicians exist around here,” he said. “It never seems to be a problem to get new members.”
The band recruits from colleges and local public schools. There is a lot of up-and-coming talent in local high schools, he said, and these students “put some of us to shame.”
While one would think young musicians would be attracted to rock ’n’ roll, Swick said, “For Swing music there seems to be an endless supply of kids coming up through the schools. I don’t think swing music will die.”
Fitzgerald said the future of the band is secure. “The band has been going for over 25 years; we will recruit new members as older members retire, and keep playing the music we love and keep everybody going.”
The 2021 performance schedule remains in limbo until the COVID-19 pandemic is under control.