BRATTLEBORO — Jeff Lederer laughs at the common confusion that stems from a slogan for his band, Shakers n’ Bakers: “Christian rock or free jazz? You decide.
“I’m a nice Jewish boy, so I really should take that Christian rock/free jazz slogan out of my press kit, but I love it so much. I think it’s so funny,” said Lederer, of New York. and a 30-year-old summer resident of Guilford. “I think not everyone understands that it’s kind of ironic when I put it in there.”
Lederer majored in religious studies as an undergraduate at Oberlin College and eventually became fascinated with the Shakers and their way of life. The musical corpus interpreted by his group – Lederer on saxophone, his wife Mary LaRose and Miles Griffith on vocals, Jamie Saft on keyboards, Jennifer Vincent on bass and Allison Miller on drums – are all songs dreamed up or received in a state of trance. by Shaker women between the years 1837 and 1850 – performed in “a kind of free jazz, calypso contemporary rock hymn styles that cannot be defined”.
“I’m not a Shaker. That’s a pretty high bar to reach,” said Lederer, who notes that celibacy is a core Shaker value. “My buy-in is to this incredibly progressive and beautiful worldview and their utopian ideals of a different way of living in what they would describe as a kind of heaven on earth. So that really grabbed me.”
The Shakers n’ Bakers performances — in which, Lederer notes, he wears a dress — will be part of the shows at the Little(i) Music Festival, which takes place in the Brattleboro area on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The festival celebrates the 20th anniversary of its jazz/new music label, Little (i) Music, of which Lederer’s band is the flagship ensemble.
This three day and night festival includes performances, an artistic opening at 118 Elliot and salsa music with trombonist Jimmy Bosch during Gallery Walk Friday, a children’s art workshop, culinary events and a film premiere, among other festivities. August 6, which is Saturday, is the holiest day in the Shaker calendar, marking the arrival of the group’s founder, Mother Ann Lee, in America in 1774.
Shakers n’ Bakers play from 4-6pm Saturday on the lawn of Greenberg Associates Architects, 168 Westminster W Road, Putney, co-presented by Next Stage Arts in Putney as part of the organisation’s Bandwagon Summer Series.
“Jeff Lederer is one of those incredibly talented people who hides out in the hills of Vermont for part of the year,” said Keith Marks, executive director of Next Stage. “Jeff’s festival is a stroke of genius, bringing top New York musicians to Windham County. Every weekend performance is not to be missed.”
Shakers n’ Bakers will perform at The Stone Church in Brattleboro the same night, 9-11 p.m.
There’s a certain incidental symbolism behind the dress: Lederer originally bought it thinking his wife would like to wear it during performances. “And she said, ‘I’m not going to put this stuff on. I said, ‘Well, let me see if that’s okay with me.’ And it was going very well. And now, 20 years later, to my credit, it’s still going strong,” he said.
The dress became a tribute to how the Shakers reinvented gender power structures in the mid-1800s, in a way, Lederer noted, was ahead of their time.
“In fact, we haven’t even caught up to their way of thinking – not at all,” Lederer said. “So yeah, that’s what it’s all about. And it’s fun to wear.”
The exhibit at 118 Elliot is called “Visions of Sound” and features the visual art of LaRose, Lederer’s wife, and Sara Wildavsky. LaRose will show works from his 2022 publication “Out There,” portraits of 55 exploratory jazz saxophonists from the 1960s, and Wildavsky will show his “scores” – visual works expressed in his own language of “stave” musical notation.
LaRose said she was inspired to draw the portraits after being asked to sing at a centenary celebration for the late jazz figure Yusef Lateef. To prepare, she watched a documentary and began drawing still shots of the video, deciding to focus on jazz saxophonists.
“I just started drawing and decided to create this book,” La Rose said.
The exhibit also includes collaborations with his daughter, Hallie Lederer, whose stage name is Hail — together, LaRose said, they are called “Hail Mary.”
The opening of the “Visions of a Sound” exhibition, which will run until August 28, overlaps with two other local events: Brattleboro’s Gallery Walk, a street fair like celebration of the arts downtown, and the launch of the Nu Mu Festival by 118 Elliot, featuring over 20 new musical events by local and visiting musicians. The salsa concert, which takes place on Elliot Street at Gallery Walk, is part of both the Little(i) Festival and the Nu Mu Festival. The performance will follow with a jam session at 118 Elliot.
The Nu Mu festival lasts the whole month of August. A full program is available online at 118elliot.com and at facebook.com/118Elliot.
The full Little (i) Festival schedule is online at littleimusic.com. For tickets to shows at Next Stage Arts and The Stone Church, visit nextstagearts.org and stonechurchvt.com.