by Madeline Bell, Flynn Center Programming Manager
This year the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival introduced an exciting new initiative called the Two-Beat Traveler Program. The festival provides hundreds of opportunities to experience jazz at the Flynn Center, the Waterfront, and the Church Street Marketplace; the Two-Beat Traveler brought jazz to the community. Vermont’s Ray Vega was the festival’s first Two-Beat Traveler. Ray is an accomplished trumpet player, a professor at the University of Vermont, and a vital member of Burlington’s jazz community.
The week started off with two afterschool workshops at the King Street Center. Ray spent time teaching the younger kids about rhythm and then worked with the older kids on polyrhythmic techniques. Wild drumming on colorful bucket drums developed into a steady beat once everyone learned that listening is an important part of making music. On Tuesday, Ray worked with an intimate group at the Spectrum Drop-In Center. One young man, who was originally skeptical about the workshop, began slowly to find his rhythm and his original grimace turned into a wide smile. He said that the drumming reminded him of his home in Columbia. Bridget LaRoche, Spectrum’s Drop-In and Outreach Coordinator, said the experience was “awesome, energetic, and engaging.”
Wednesday began with a workshop for Ms. Maggie’s kindergarten class at the Integrated Arts Academy. The class loved “Ray the Trumpet Man” and Ms. Maggie said that the students “were all interested in becoming a musician!” Later that afternoon, we held a percussion workshop at the Howard Center’s Resource Center during their weekly drum circle session. A group of 20 musicians, instruments in hand, eagerly greeted him as he walked in the door. Resource Center Coordinator, Jayne Weber, said that “Ray is so personable, I feel like I’ve made a new friend!” On Friday night, Ray joined the Diversity Rocks teens of the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program at their weekly meeting. Laughter quickly filled the room as the group wordlessly developed their rhythm. The workshop ended with lively improvised solos on the conga drum.
All five workshops were unique. Ray has an innate talent at reading groups of all ages and abilities and adapting the workshop to fit the needs of each audience. He quickly became the most popular guy in the room and after every workshop participants asked Ray to come back soon.
After their hands-on experience workshop participants were invited to see a live jazz performance at the Flynn Center. Each partner organization received 25 free ticket vouchers to the festival’s closing night performance of Poncho Sanchez and his Latin Jazz Band. As Poncho’s longtime friend and collaborator, Ray was the featured player that evening. After the show our partners joined us in the Amy E. Tarrant Gallery for a post-performance reception that quickly turned into an enthusiastic jam session. When teenagers are given pizza, soda, and percussion instruments everyone is bound to have a good time! Ray joined the party soon after his performance and was greeted with cheers from his new friends. He autographed tickets, posed for photos, and grabbed a drum.
The Two-Beat Traveler program was funded in part by a grant from the Vermont Community Foundation. Plans are already underway to continue the Two-Beat Traveler program during next year’s festival.