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Highlights: Saxophonist Parlays Versatility Into Piles of Gigs

  • Members of Soulfix are, from left, Will Michaels on guitar and vocals, Alison Turner on vocals and guitar, Mike Parker on saxophone, Ken Sharples on drums and Skip Truman on bass and vocals. Not pictured is Greg Baker on saxophone. (Courtesy photograph)

  • The Funky Dawgs bring their brassy mix of R&B, hip-hop and funk to Barnard Town Hall on Saturday night, March 10, as part of BarnArts Center for the Arts' 6th Annual Masquerade Jazz and Funk Winter Music Carnival. For more information see 'Best Bets.'



Valley News Staff Writer
Thursday, March 08, 2018

For his jazz performances, he goes by Michael Parker.

On the nights he plays rock, soul or funk, he answers to Mike Parker.

Just don’t call the saxophonist from South Royalton late for a gig — of which he’s playing six (weather permitting) over the next six days, including three on Saturday, and five more between next Thursday night and March 21.

“The next couple of weeks are tough,” Parker said last Friday, a few hours before a show with singer Nikki Adams at the VFW hall in White River Junction. “But it settles down a little after that.”

Not that he’s complaining: Business has been picking up steadily since Parker moved to the Upper Valley from southern New Hampshire in 2006, and especially since he formed his Soulfix quintet — now a sextet with singer and fellow Royalton resident Alison “AliT” Turner — in 2015.

“Before I came here, most of my gigs were in Boston and Cape Cod and Providence, which meant a lot of driving,” said Parker, 43, who grew up on the Rhode Island coast. “It was good to be busy, but it was a lot of traveling and I wanted more control over my own schedule.”

In the Upper Valley he found shorter drives, a lot less traffic and more wide open spaces.

“I just loved the area, the beauty of Vermont,” Parker recalled of his decision to relocate. “I live on a dirt road on top of a hill, an hour or less away from Burlington and Sunapee.”

After spending his first few years in the Upper Valley teaching private saxophone lessons, Parker started building a network of musicians by playing gigs with established bands such as Frydaddy, The Party Crashers and Wherehouse, and with solo performers such as guitarist and high school music teacher Norm Wolfe. He also plays occasionally with the Hammond-organ-centered B3 Brotherhood

When he was ready to front his own ensemble, Parker recruited guitarist Will Michaels, drummer Ken Sharples, tenor saxophonist Greg Baker and bassist Skip Truman, and offered the group’s services to venues around the Upper Valley. And a little more than a year into Soulfix’s journey, Parker saw a poster at Bentley’s in Woodstock for a solo show by Alison Turner, then barely a year out of college and into a five-year program to see if she could make a living in music.

“He tells me that got him thinking of bringing in a female singer,” Turner recalled this week. “He emailed me and asked if I was interested. At first I thought, ‘What is this?’ I’m a creature of habit, and this was a little beyond my comfort zone. But after a trial run at the Salt hill Pub in Lebanon, it felt very comfortable right away. I didn’t know how long this would last, but it’s turned out to be a lot of fun, a great learning experience. It really helped me come out of my shell a little bit.

“They’ve been so welcoming, like my mentors. None of them have egos.”

What they do have is a repertoire ranging from rock and rhythm-and-blues from the 1950s and 1960s up through the funk sound of the 1970s, much of which Parker grew to love while freelancing in Pittsburgh for several years after college. Before moving to the Upper Valley, he widened his range, performing with the likes of Herbie Hancock, Mike Stern, Gary Burton, Dave Liebman and Louie Bellson.

Parker’s grasp of multiple genres shows up in jazz shows with Wolfe and others, and in two-person appearances with Turner and singers such as Hanover’s Iva Wich.

“Word has gotten around about the versatility of what I offer,” Parker said. “I pick the songs people want to jump out of their seats and dance to, but I also get to pick a lot of what I really like, and it energizes the musicians as well.”

Saxophonist Mike Parker performs six shows over the next week, starting tonight at 6 with singer-guitarist Alison “AliT” Turner at the Taverne on the Square in Claremont. Next come shows with Soulfix on Friday night at 9 at the Crossroads Bar and Grille in South Royalton, and Saturday night at 7 at Royalton Community Radio’s fifth-anniversary celebration at Seven Stars Arts Center in Sharon. Admission is by donation to the radio station’s party.

Parker also plays admission-free jazz shows with Turner and with guitarist Norm Wolfe on Saturday afternoon at 2 at Valley Terrace in Hartford, and at 4 at Wheelock Terrace in Hanover. And on Tuesday night at 6, Parker accompanies singer Julia Davis back at Crossroads in South Royalton.

Weather or Not

As of deadline, no entertainment venues were reporting plans to postpone shows today and tonight because of the snowstorm, but music fans and theater-goers should call the appropriate box offices to make sure performances haven’t been called off.

Best Bets

Emmy and Golden Globe-winning actor Ed Asner performs veteran screenwriter Ed. Weinberger’s semiautobiographical play A Man and his Prostate at the Woodstock Town Hall Theatre tonight at 7:30. For tickets ($45 to $50) and more information, visit pentanglearts.org or call 802-457-3981.

Patricia Norton leads the first of three monthly sessions of circle singing at the Upper Valley Music Center in downtown Lebanon on Friday night at 7. Experienced improvisers as well as novice singers are welcome. The drop-in fee is $10. To learn more, visit juneberrymusic.com/circlesinging.html.

Saxophonist Michael Zsoldos, guitarist Jason Ennis, the Woodstock Union High School Jazz Funk Band and the Funky Dawgz Brass Band play the soundtrack for BarnArts’ sixth annual Masquerade Jazz and Funk Winter Music Carnival at Barnard Town Hall, on Saturday night at 6. To buy tickets ($10 to $20) and learn more, visit barnarts.org.

Harold Ford invokes “The Spirit of Johnny Cash” during a concert with his tribute band at Claremont Opera House on Saturday night at 7:30. For tickets ($22) and more information, call 603-542-4433, or visit the box office at City Hall or claremontoperahouse.org.

Jim McCue headlines the second annual St. Patrick’s Day Comedy Gala at the Lebanon Opera House on Saturday night at 8. The lineup also includes Boston-area stand-up artists Joey Carroll and Kendra Cunningham. The Brinytide duo of Lebanon-resident piper Anthony Santoro and fiddler Roger Burridge will play for the Connolly Celtic Dancers between comedians. Proceeds from the concert will benefit the New Hampshire Dairy Scholarship Fund. To reserve tickets ($32 to $37) and learn more, visit lebanonoperahouse.org or call 603-448-0400.

The Jeh Kulu Dance & Drum Theater troupe fills the Chandler Music Hall with music and footwork of west Africa on Sunday afternoon at 4. For tickets ($6 to $12) and more information, visit chandler-arts.org or call 802-728-6464.

Looking Ahead

The Boston-based ensemble Night Tree will mix Celtic, Swedish, Jewish, Afro-Cuban and American folk rhythms at the First Congregational Church of Lebanon on March 16. The concert, part of Lebanon Opera House’s On Location series, starts at 7:30 p.m. For tickets ($10 to $20) and more information, visit lebanonoperahouse.org or call 603-448-0400.

Theater/Performance Art

Northern Stage continues its production of Ayad Akhtar’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama Disgraced at the Barrette Center for the Arts in White River Junction over the coming week, starting at 2 this afternoon and 7:30 tonight. To reserve tickets ($13.75 to $57.75) and learn more about the show, which runs through March 18, visit northernstage.org or call 802-296-7000.

Shaker Bridge Theatre lowers the curtain on its production of Simon Stephens’ drama Heisenberg at Whitney Hall in Enfield this weekend, with performances tonight, Friday night and Saturday night at 7:30 and at 2:30 on Sunday afternoon. For tickets ($16 to $35), visit shakerbridgetheatre.org or call 603-448-3750.

Music

Student singers, dancers, musicians and actors from the Kearsarge Conservatory of the Performing Arts take their talents to Whipple Hall in New London on Saturday night at 7. Tickets cost $6 to $12 in advance (available at Morgan Hill Bookstore and Tatewell Gallery in New London, and at centerfortheartsnh.org) and $7 to $14 at the door. Proceeds benefit the youth arts programs of the Center for the Arts.

Stevens High School senior Adelyn Nelson and Gorham, N.H., musician DeMarco Alvarez-Leonardo play a recital of piano duets by Beethoven, Liszt and DeBussy on Sunday afternoon at 1, at the West Claremont Center for Music and the Arts. Admission is by donation.

Pianist Sherry Belisle plays alongside a surprise performer during the third annual piano duet concert on Sunday afternoon at 2, on the mezzanine at Woodstock’s Norman Williams Public Library. The music includes Rodgers & Hammerstein numbers from South Pacific and through compositions of DeBussy, Brahms, Mozart and others. Admission is by donation.

Saxophonist Michael Zsoldos and guitarist Jason Ennis play jazz during the Upper Valley Music Center’s next faculty concert on Sunday afternoon at 3, at the Upper Valley Music Center in downtown Lebanon. Admission is $15.

Saxophonist Cerci Miller and singer Dominique Eade perform this weekend’s Jazz on a Sunday Afternoon concert at 4 p.m. in the Center at Eastman in Grantham. To reserve tickets ($18 to $20) and learn more, visit josajazz.com or call 603-763-8732.

Classical guitarist Christopher Schoelen, a 2004 graduate of The Sharon Academy, plays 20th- and 21st-century works on Sunday night at 6, at the Seven Stars Arts Center in Sharon. Admission is by donation of at least $20. To learn more, visit sevenstarsarts.org and christopherschoelen.com.

Dance

The folk ensemble Birl sets the rhythm and Nils Fredland calls the steps for Muskeg Music’s next contra dance, on Saturday night at 8 at Norwich’s Tracy Hall. Admission is $6 to $10.

Bar and Club Circuit

The Burlington-based roots band Starbird pulls into Windsor Station tonight at 7. Springfield, Vt.’s John Sullivan Band visits for a session of rock on Friday night at 9:30, and Binger rocks the house on Saturday night starting at 9:30. Singer-songwriter Davey Davis performs on Tuesday night at 6.

Randy Miller leads the weekly live session of traditional Irish music at Salt hill Pub in Hanover tonight starting at 6. Tirade frontman Toby Moore plays an acoustic set of rock on Friday night at 9 and Plush Foot mixes funk and rock on Saturday night at 9.

Arthur James sings and plays the blues at Salt hill Pub in downtown Lebanon on Friday night at 9. At the same time on Saturday, Chris Powers shares some acoustic rock. And on Tuesday night from 6 to 9, fiddler Roger Burridge and piper Anthony Santoro play their weekly session of traditional Irish music.

Singer-songwriter Thomas Knight performs at Salt hill Pub in West Lebanon on Friday night at 9. And on Saturday night at 9, Alex Smith & The Mountain Sound play acoustic rock and upbeat bluegrass.

Roger Kahle joins Randy Miller at Salt hill Pub in Newport on Wednesday night at 6, for their weekly live session of traditional Irish music.

Chris Kleeman leads his blues band into Skunk Hollow Tavern in Hartland Four Corners on Friday night at 9.

The Conniption Fits rock The Engine Room in White River Junction on Saturday night at 9.

Pianist Sonny Saul plays jazz at the On the River Inn in Woodstock on Saturday and Wednesday nights from 6:30 to 9.

Open Mics

Jim Yeager hosts open mics on the following nights over the coming week: tonight at 7 at the ArtisTree Community Arts Center in South Pomfret; at Bentley’s Restaurant in Woodstock on Monday night at 7:30; at the Public House in Quechee on Tuesday night at 6; and on Wednesday from 8 to midnight at Skunk Hollow Tavern in Hartland Four Corners.

Ramunto’s Brick & Brew Pizza in Bridgewater hosts an open mic starting at 7:30 on Thursday nights. Participants get a free large cheese pizza.

String players of all ages and abilities are welcome at the weekly acoustic jam session at South Royalton’s BALE Commons on Friday night from 6:30 to 10.

E.J. Tretter and Al Carruth host the Sunapee Community CoffeeHouse’s monthly open mic on Friday night at 7 at the Methodist church in Sunapee Harbor.

Joe Stallsmith leads his weekly hootenanny of Americana, folk and bluegrass on Monday night at 6 at Salt hill Pub in Hanover.

Fiddler Jakob Breitbach leads a weekly acoustic jam session of bluegrass, Americana and old-timey music on Tuesday nights at 7 at The Filling Station Bar and Grill in White River Junction.

Tom Masterson hosts the weekly open mic at Bradford’s Colatina Exit on Tuesday nights at 8.

David Corriveau can be reached at dcorriveau@vnews.com and at 603-727-3304.

Entertainment-related news and announcements also can be sent to highlights@vnews.com.