ARTBITS by Richard B. Harper

VOLUME 9 * * All Arts News On the Web * * February 24, 2005


      ArtBits always features a calendar of the goings on of Franklin County artists. Check out these events around Franklin County. Each issue includes the entire text of our weekly newspaper column.

      Stop in for live music and more at the Fairfax Music Sessions at the Foothills Bakery in Fairfax most Saturday afternoons at 1 p.m., at ChowBella or at the Overtime Saloon in St Albans 8-10 p.m. most Wednesday evenings, at the Bayside in St Albans Town most Sunday afternoons, and the Cambridge CoffeeHouses at 7 p.m. on the first and third Wednesday of every month.
     These gatherings bring new opportunities, gossip, "show-and-tell" and occasional workshops. The booked performances and acoustic Open Mike Nights feature music, readings, and more from the best new artists in Vermont.


      The "first hippie" in Bakersfield, John Cassel has helped build the music scene in Vermont for over thirty years. He is a classically trained jazz pianist who can and does play country, folk, pop, rock, and dinner music. He calls the latter the "kind of music you should talk over." And he has two new CDs out as well as an upcoming CD release party.
      Mr. Cassel hopes listeners will use Dinner Music at the Trapp Family Lodge, as background music for great conversations. Lyle Glidden reviewed Jade Lady last week in this space. Next Wednesday, March 2, Jade Lady will be officially released when Mr. Cassel assembles Bobby Militello, Dave Ellis, Paul Asbel, and at least three drummers a live concert at TBA at the Rusty Nail in Stowe.
      I found him at home in Bakersfield, noodling on his restored 1882 Steinway B.
      "They brought the grand piano up and they put it right here," he said. "Here" is the third floor music room in his eclectic home at the intersection of Cassel Road and Harmon's Way. Visitors are warned of the danger of parking in Harmon's Way. The Steinway B, one of the oldest of the modern pianos, arrived by crane. It sits at the very top of the house he built with ledge and stone and pieces of a sugar house and the ashes of the original home.
      "This is my workshop," he said. The room, with a pine cathedral ceiling, a glass divider, and hard walls looks harsh. "This room seems to have nice sound. Peter Wilder came here and helped us. He had this theory, he wanted to get futons that would get hung" from the ceiling to absorb sound and quiet the room. They never did hang the futons, but there is enough soft fabric and sharp corners to move the sound well. It has a 16 track mixer that "I don't know how to use" but does capture the tracks he needs, the piano, and two very happy dogs.
      "I recorded the beginning here, just playing the piano," he said. "All the vocals were done at Andre's [Andre Maquera's studio, West Street Digital]. He has the right everything. We are so lucky to have him in this neck of the woods.
      "I took my business stuff over to the studio and used a keyboard [to] put down the basic tracks. Andre put all the tracks on here so I would have the bed track minus the keyboard and the vocals so I could practice here and lay down my piano tracks here and then I would take it back and he could dump it all [in his all digital system]. For the last three, 'Dazzle Me,' 'Jade Lady,' and 'Lady for a Rainy Tomorrow,' the newer the song the older the piano."
      The Steinway B has the rich, full sound heard on countless hit records. Herbie Hancock's Watermelon Man and John Cassel's Jade Lady both feature the recorded Steinway B sound.
      He likes the thrashes and the quiet thrills. "I built [this room] for the piano," he said. "I mean I stole the living room. I hope we can do the living room some day, but Becky said of course you can have the living room."
      "I wasn't even going to bring out the other one," he said of Dinner Music at the Trapp Family Lodge. "Becky said she liked the dinner music.
      "Andre makes me sound OK. I did it all right here." Mr. Cassel played less commercially on the CD than at Trapp but the favorite requests he interprets are all well known. The playlist includes classics like Moonlight in Vermont and a Duke Ellington Medley to the Phantom of the Opera and the Sound of Music. "I just sat here and rolled it out.
      "They are all love songs in one way or another," he said. They are not all love songs for people, "but 'Lady for a Rainy Tomorrow' was for Becky. We were trying to get our garden going about midnight and it was starting to rain and we said lets stay up and party tonight."
      When he first came to Vermont, a band was always playing on someone's farm and he wrote the first of the songs that may become the next CD.
      "They used to call us Hippies," he said, "but I was working for a living, playing at Smugglers Notch. We would have a party, the band would be playing, hard cider would be flowing, and we didn't know what was in the punch.
      "What a great setting but the old songs I wrote at the time don't mix with the ones of today. I've been working with Andre, we re-did a lot of those songs, more bands without the horns, really good players, peddle steel, [and] he played some guitar. I would like, maybe to write a little story" of the experiences.
      He also wants to write an opera, perhaps a story of the 70s. "I don't know what it is going to be," he said. "I would like to see it happen, write it, get the songs together, and orchestrate it for the Vermont Symphony. It would be great to have it staged, [to] have the story going off and have the musicians, some of them would be interacting and some of them would not." He wants a looseness, a bit of jazz-like improvisation in which good musicians are more than "just playing the score."
      His next project is for kids and families with kids. He is thinking about some jazz arrangements of "kid recognizable" songs like Over the Rainbow so they can sing along. "Maria von Trapp has some of that," he said. He is working "with Maria to get ready for some Spanish Christmas Songs I do. She plays the melody."
      Mr. Cassel wants to return to classical music as well. When he works on a Cantata his dog sleeps under the piano.
      Mr. Cassel has appeared in large venues with Dave Brubeck, Gary Burton, Chick Corea, Maynard Ferguson, Pat Metheny, and Bonnie Raitt, and in small clubs by himself. He likes and is most comfortable in the small settings. His repertoire ranges from Jerry Lee Lewis to Cole Porter to Duke Ellington to Fats Waller to Frederic Chopin and Maurice Ravel to John Cassel. He appears Friday through Tuesday nights at the Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe and will play again this year at the Vermont Maple Festival in April and at the Jig in the Valley in July.
      Both CDs are available at As the Crow Flies, Rail City Market, and the Music Store in St. Albans, as well as Bear Pond Books, Borders, Barnes and Noble, and online at and at


      Mike Curtis of Project L.E.A.D. is creating a new inventory of artists, musicians, writers, sculptors, performers and any other creative artists in Franklin and Grand Isle counties. "We are really coming along on the whole Creative Economy angle," he said. "I think that it may be the key to getting corporate money for growth in the arts."
      Artists should e-mail for info.


MONTREAL--The 17th Annual Folk Alliance Conference in Montreal presents a Vermont Showcase with Margaret MacArthur, Deb Flanders, John Roberts and Tony Barrand today in Montreal's Convention Center, 159, rue Saint-Antoine Ouest on Level 5. The Folk Alliance Conference continues with workshops and performances at various locations through Sunday. Le Vent du Nord and La Bottine Souriante who have played for AAC here in Vermont are featured. Click here, email, or email Mark Sustic for info.

JEFFERSONVILLE--the Cambridge Arts Council presents Russ Bailey and Steve Feinbloom next Wednesday from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at 158 Main. Call 802.644.6632 for more info.


      Maintained by Robert Glaubitz, the Aria Database is a collection of information on over 1000 operatic arias. The searchable site includes translations and aria texts of most arias as well as a collection of MIDI files of operatic arias and ensembles.


      ArtBits features a quick weekly peek at the bookshelf or night stand of the folks you know in and around Franklin County. That popular feature has a page of its own at the Franklin County Bookshelf here on the AAC site.


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      This article was originally published in the St Albans Messenger and other traditional print media. It is Copyright © 2005 by Richard B. Harper. All rights reserved. Archival material is provided as-is. Links are not necessarily maintained (if a link in this article fails, try or your favorite search engine).
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