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Panel at Montpelier to discuss women in jazz

Laurel Leader

The Montpelier Arts Center will celebrate Women's History Month by turning the spotlight on women in jazz.

Three acclaimed artists will present a panel discussion Sunday, March 26 entitled "Women in Jazz: From Classroom to Careers," a free event conceived by Paula Phillips, who heads the artist booking agency Jazz Beyond Borders, and Montpelier Arts Center director Sonya Kitchens.

Kitchens said the event is the first of a series of popular jazz talks at the Arts Center, and the first designed to commemorate Women's History Month.

Shannon, co-host and producer of radio station WPFW-89.3FM 's "The Morning Brew–Friday Edition" will moderate the discussion at 2 p.m. with New York jazz artist Laura Dreyer and Shannon Gunn, leader of the Washington-based all-women band Shannon Gunn and the Bullettes.

Dreyer and her Manhattan-Rio Connection quartet will perform Friday night at the Arts Center.

"We're always looking for new ways to bring information to our audiences," Kitchens said. "I think this is a great opportunity to celebrate women and engage with our panelists about what it means to be a jazz artist."

Candy Shannon has been a voice at WPFW, a member of the listener-sponsored Pacifica Network, for almost 20 years. She teaches audio classes at Howard University and is director of the Tech Center in the School of Communications.

Although she occasionally emcees jazz events at Montpelier, "Women in Jazz" will be her first appearance there as a speaker.

Shannon said she grew up in Detroit listening to R&B and jazz radio personalities Martha Jean "The Queen" Steinberg and Rosetta Hines. She began her television/radio career working for ABC-owned WXYZ Channel 7 in Detroit as a news writer in the 1970s.

"It's been quite a journey, and it's a privilege to share my experience and hopefully inspire young women," Shannon said.

Dreyer has traveled the world performing with some of Rio de Janeiro's top jazz musicians, along with big names like Rosemary Clooney, Dave Brubeck, Robert Palmer, Dr. Billy Taylor, Nnenna Freelon and the Diva Jazz Orchestra.

A multi-instrumentalist, composer and educator active in the New York jazz scene since relocating from the San Francisco Bay area in the 1980s, Dreyer said she was "kind of an anomaly for a while; it was a shock to see a female musician playing the saxophone.

"I've been doing this for a few decades, so I'm very pleased to be able to share my experience and knowledge," she said.

Dreyer has served on the faculties of almost a dozen music schools and written for various publications, including the Saxophone Journal, as a featured columnist.

"What I love most [about Brazilian jazz] is the combination of the different rhythms, harmony, lyrical melodies, and the capacity for emotional expression," she said.

Gunn formed her all-women band in 2011.

The Bullettes have appeared at dozens of venues in Washington, Virginia and Maryland and have recorded four albums. Last New Year's Eve, they appeared at the Grand Foyer Party at the Kennedy Center, which Gunn said was "pretty awesome."

In 2015, Gunn was named Best Trombonist in the Washington City Paper's "The Jazzies: D.C.'s Best Jazz in 2015" for her work as a member of the Bohemian Caverns Jazz Orchestra.

An instructional designer with a Masters of Music in jazz studies from George Mason University, Gunn will talk about her research on the different patterns between girls and boys performing jazz beginning in middle school.

"Jazz is the way I express myself and in ways that I wouldn't be able to with words; you can say a lot with the music," Gunn said. "I want to encourage anyone who wants to do jazz to just keep going."

The panelists will meet each other for the first time on Sunday.

"Some things were meant to happen," Phillips said. "They're just good for us."

Women in Jazz: From Classroom to Careers will be held Sunday, March 26 at Montpelier Arts Center, 9652 Muirkirk Road. Admission is free.

Laura Dreyer: Manhattan-Rio Connection will perform Friday, March 24 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25 (discounted 10 percent for Montpelier members and seniors). Call 301-377-7800.

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