There’s a foundation to the sound of Main Street in Stowe on Thursday evenings — laughter from kids at the ice cream shop; clinking of pints at an outside table of a watering hole; a diesel pickup truck driving by.
There’s also something foundational about the jazz band playing amid this rush — a brush on the snare and a tap on the high hat; a pulsing badoom of a double bass; a run up and down the ivories.
The Vermont Jazz Trio has been holding down the rhythm section of the Thursday evening rush hours all summer and bringing in a special fourth member each week to become an impromptu quartet. It’s part of Stowe Vibrancy’s Main Street Live events from 5-8 p.m. each Thursday, and there are two more gigs — tonight the trio welcomes Colchester saxophonist Marty Fogel, who played with Lou Reed; next week, Sept. 2, the series ends with Bill Pierce, a nationally renowned sax player who was part of the legendary Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers in the 1980s.
Stowe percussionist Peter Schmeeckle — Vermont Jazz Trio’s bandleader — said he was in Hawai’i in the 1990s when Freddie Hubbard was playing with a band he called The Ringers. The concept reminds him of what the trio is doing every time it becomes a quartet — it adds a ringer.
“It’s kind of like busking. We’re not on the sidewalk, but we are there on Main Street,” Schmeeckle said. “And, we’re building a following, and there are people that we’ve started seeing every week, some familiar faces. They know this is happening and are coming to check it out.”
Those familiar faces come each week to see which new face the Trio — Schmeeckle, double bassist Jeremy Hill from Waterbury and pianist Remi Savard from Montpelier — will add to the mix. Former guests this summer have included guitarist Paul Asbell, and trumpeter Tom Morse.
Aimee Green has been the executive director of Stowe Vibrancy since 2019, and a lot has happened in the past two years. That included the cancellation of the Stowe Jazz Festival, leaving a jazz vacuum Stowe Vibrancy and Green were eager to fill.
“Well, 2019 was a normal year, and in 2020 we had to reinvent ourselves, and we were able to rebound and stay alive,” Green said. “This is about keeping the jazz scene alive, well and healthy.”
Play together, stay together
Before a band can add special guests, there needs to be a solid foundation. And Schmeeckle, a music teacher who runs Stowe Music Center, said, to his mind, the strongest foundation is piano, drums and bass. It’s like the holy trinity in Cajun cooking of onion, celery and bell pepper.
Two-thirds of the Vermont Jazz Trio came about a few years back when Schmeeckle met bassist Hill at a jam session during the Vermont Discover Jazz Festival. The drummer for that session was Jon Ramsay, with pianist Bruce Sklar, a jazz teacher at Harwood Union High School.
“I love jam sessions,” Schmeeckle said. “It’s kind of like pickup soccer.”
Schmeeckle, who is 48, said he and Hill are about the same age, so they know a lot of the same artists and grooves. He discovered the third member of the trio, Savard, the way one might expect to a find musician just out of high school: Facebook.
He’d heard murmurs of this young piano prodigy from Montpelier High who’d been a regular in a jam session at Waterbury’s Zenbarn, so he looked Savard up on the ubiquitous social media platform and was impressed by a video of Savard at home on a grand piano, playing a tune by virtuoso Bud Powell.
“And that’s kind of sophisticated,” he said. “If you’re a piano player and you’re playing Bud Powell, or if you’re a sax player and you can actually pull off Charlie Parker, you’ve kind of got the goods.”
The trio gigged at the Round Hearth in Stowe over the winter, while the renowned hostel was undergoing a transformation to its current iteration as an artisan market and bakery. There’s long been a piano in the Hearth, but it needed a little work, so Stowe Vibrancy chipped in to get it tip-top and Savard sat down at it, and the trio was born.
They didn’t have a name for their band yet, but the Stowe Reporter had already inadvertently given it to them, with a simple caption that read “Vermont Jazz Trio” under a photo of Schmeeckle, Hill and guitarist Paul Asbell from last September’s “Keep Music Alive” gig.
“I said, ‘We’ve already been given that name, sort of, so let’s use that,’” Schmeeckle said.
Regular jam sessions at the Round Hearth over the winter generated enough good ideas — and enough tip revenue — that the trio was able to get into the studio and cut an album.
“On the Scene,” contains 11 tracks of mostly original material — “Bolivia” by pianist Cedar Walton and “Polka Dots and Moonbeams,” first popularized by Frank Sinatra with Tommy Dorsey’s band, are the standards covered here. The originals include titles referencing current events (“Critical Race Theory”) and local haunts (“Stoweaway”).
The album is currently available on Spotify.
Throughout the formation of the jazz trio, Schmeeckle also found himself in a duet, of the romanticsort. He and Green met last year while planning and participating in the inaugural “Indigenous Peoples’ Day Rocks!” The event was able to give locals something to replace the annual British Invasion antique car show held every September and give everyone something to replace the holiday formerly known as Columbus Day.
“One thing led to another, and we became involved in a wonderful relationship,” Schmeeckle said of he and Green. “She’s a wonderful person and, basically, we’re a creative team.”