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Soundbites: Vermont Musicians Remember Ellen Powell

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Ellen Powell - FILE : LUKE AWTRY
  • File : Luke Awtry
  • Ellen Powell

Heart and Soul: Remembering Ellen Powell

On Saturday, November 16, about 100 people gathered at the LaVigne Funeral Home in Winooski to remember an influential player in Vermont's music community, bassist Ellen Powell. According to Powell's niece, Kelly Powell, the stories people shared of the late musician and educator were "funny, heartbreaking and heartening."

Ellen died of cancer at the McClure Miller Respite House on Tuesday, November 12, at the age of 69. Known as a wellspring of creative energy and a leader in the jazz community since arriving in Vermont in the 1960s, she led the Ellen Powell Trio and the Ellen Powell Quartet, played with other bygone rock bands such as the N-Zones, and was a bass instructor at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh.

"One of the things I admired most about Ellen was that her music came straight from her heart and soul," Kelly said during a recent phone call. "The bass is the heartbeat of a combo. She was so inventive and, at the same time, very present and communicative with other musicians."

"It's been said before that she had an unforgettable sound on her instrument," jazz pianist and educator Tom Cleary recalled via phone. Bassist Rob Morse echoed that sentiment in a message to Seven Days, noting Ellen's ability to play "singable melod[ies] on an instrument that doesn't always lend itself to melodic playing."

"Her playing embodied this freedom that the role of bass has taken on in jazz," Cleary said.

Recording engineer Charles Eller, a friend and collaborator of 40 years, remembered looking forward to Ellen's "rant du jour," one of which was surely related to the Champlain Water District's use of the chemical chloramine, a policy Ellen quite publicly opposed.

"She was very political in a way that would catch me off guard," Eller said by phone. "She wasn't necessarily affiliated with the right or left. She was affiliated with right or wrong.

"She had such a big heart," Eller continued. "She had a soft spot for anybody down and out in any way."

Not only a talented musician, Ellen was also a gifted photographer. Her work primarily depicted Vermont's scenic beauty throughout the changing seasons.

Folks who never got a chance to see Ellen perform can check out several high-quality video and audio recordings available to stream online. You can hear two performances via Vermont Public Radio, one with Cleary on piano and Steve Wienert on drums, and another with Geoff Kim on guitar. And make sure to watch a stunning Ellen Powell Quartet studio performance via Vermont PBS. The nearly 30-minute clip includes many close-ups of Ellen meticulously working her instrument.

In May 2020, friends of Ellen will gather together for a big celebration of her life and artistry. The exact date and location are TBD, but we can expect it to take place in the Burlington area. Anyone who wants to be involved or updated regarding the event should sign up for email updates via bigpartyforellen@gmail.com.

BiteTorrent

Guster - COURTESY OF ALYSSE GAFKJEN
  • Courtesy Of Alysse Gafkjen
  • Guster

In a twist on the standard battle of the bands, two surf-rock outfits are going head-to-head, side by side, at ArtsRiot on Saturday, November 23. Rather than have groups perform in succession, Burlington's the High Breaks and the Mad River Valley's the Tsunamibots will share the stage for the entire night, one-upping each other as the show progresses. One band will play a song, and the other must respond with a savage rebuttal. The musical volley continues until one of two things happens: One group is crowned the winner, or the bands fuse into one giant, wave-crushing supergroup.

Note the spotlight  for Tōth's set opening for Lady Lamb on Friday, November 22, at ArtsRiot. One thing I wanted to mention but didn't have space for — damn you, piddling spotlight word count! — is the music video for his new single "Juliette." The delightfully lo-fi and borderline creepy visuals, directed by Jen Goma and Christian Peslak, show the formerly Burlington-based artist's head grafted onto a plush doll staring longingly at an avant-garde television program starring Maya Hawke. The actress is best known for playing opposite Steve Harrington (Joe Keery) on Netflix's "Stranger Things 3." Did I mention the video is creepy? Because it is.

Guster fans were over the moon to learn that the rock band would soon play two local shows on Friday, November 22, at the Higher Ground Ballroom, and Saturday, November 23, at the First Unitarian Universalist Society of Burlington. Both shows are currently sold out. But anyone with young children might want to head over to the church earlier in the day for Guster's Afternoon Singalong Hour. Tickets are still available for the family-friendly event. It should last about an hour and be super-duper cute.

Listening In

If I were a superhero, my superpower would be the ability to get songs stuck in other people's heads. Here are five songs that have been stuck in my head this week. May they also get stuck in yours. Follow sevendaysvt on Spotify for weekly playlists with tunes by artists featured in the music section.

Active Child, "Playing House"

Selena, "Techno Cumbia — Remix "

Bingo Players, "Cry (Just a Little)"

Los Del Rio, "Macarena (Bayside Boys Remix)"

The Pipettes, "Call Me (Young Galaxy Remix)"