Alex Toth and The Lazybirds
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Alex Toth and The Lazybirds

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Music

The best kept secret in music

Press


The sounds of jazz will be just
about everywhere in Burlington for the next week.
Alex Toth will be just about everywhere, too.

Look on stage at the Flynn Center tonight, where trumpeter
Randy Brecker is leading a tribute to Gil Evans and
Miles Davis. Toth will be one of four trumpeters backing
him up in the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival Big Band,
and the only University of Vermont student in the ensemble.

Check out the jazz-poetry sessions Wednesday at the
Firehouse Center for the Visual Arts. Toth will be there, too
, weaving his notes among the words of poet Amiri Baraka.

The 21-year-old was in the Big Band and jazz-poetry
group last year, too, punctuating those dynamic sessions
with sudden bursts of brassy air. He showed up at just
about every Meet the Artist session, taking advantage
of the opportunity to hear the wisdom of experienced
musicians performing at the Burlington Discover Jazz
Festival. And if there's a jam session to be had, whether
at Nectar's or Radio Bean, Toth can often be heard
wailing there as well.


He's one of several young jazz musicians making sweet sounds through town. He, guitarist Geoff Kim and bass player Rob Duguay, all of whom will be in Wednesday's jazz-poetry group, and pianist Shane Hardiman, who leads those Thursday evening Radio Bean jazz sessions, are among the fresh up-and-comers on the local scene who are seemingly out to dispel the notion that the face of jazz must wear a gray beard.

The slightly built Toth stands out for his omnipresence, his flamboyant style and his hunger to improve in a field where he's demonstrated impressive ability.

"I just, like, throw my entire being into it," he said.

Subhed: Practice and practice
Toth surveyed his options in fourth grade when he joined his elementary-school's concert band in Lambertville, N.J. The guitar seemed cool, but not so unique or portable. Clarinet and flute? Those were for girls. Trombone? Too long for a short kid. Saxophone? Too complicated.

"The trumpet only had three buttons," Toth recalled as he sat recently on the front steps of the UVM Music Building, "so I'm like, 'Yeah ... .'"

By junior high, Toth was transcribing trumpet solos from Davis and guitar solos from Jimi Hendrix and Jorma Kaukonen. He became familiar with those musicians through the passionate love for music of his father, an employee of the New Jersey Department of Transportation. Toth said his mother, a fashion designer, gave him his intensity and creativity.

He came to UVM three years ago, and in his freshman year, his fondness for music became obsession. Two weeks before a campus battle-of-the-bands show, Toth formed a funk group with UVM musicians including Kim and Duguay that turned him on to the Burlington music scene. "You've got all this vibrant music, rock groups and reggae groups," Toth said.

He became a music major with a concentration in jazz, and hasn't stopped playing since. He hooked up with Hardiman's jam sessions, and often sat in with Jim Branca when the blues guitarist had weekly gigs at Nectar's. He's in a Latin-flavored band called Guagua that will play Monday at Nectar's and at next weekend's Concert in the Park. He plays with the Spielpalast Cabaret, is in a reggae band and a 19-piece funk band. This week's jazz-poetry set, he said, "rings of hip-hop."

Toth has a knack for improvisation that's built for jazz, and said he brings an energy and charisma to his performances. The music appeals to Toth because it's so challenging, even difficult at times.

"Jazz is constantly humbling," he said. Sometimes he'll take off on an improvisation and think he's nailing it down. "Then all of a sudden you'll be playing and your head gets caught up and you can't make the changes. I feel I need to go back to the woodshed so to speak and just practice and practice."


Pushing buttons
Alex Stewart, an associate professor and director of UVM's jazz-studies program, has watched Toth develop. "It's remarkable," Stewart, who plays flute, clarinet and sax, said of Toth's growth. "The first time I heard him I was struck by the passion he put into it and his soulfulness. But he had trouble getting his ideas out of his horn."

Stewart said Toth has traits that will help him improve. "He has an intelligence," said Stewart, who's musical director of the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival Big Band. "He does possess strong analytical skills. He's able to look at a situation and see how it can be improved, including his own interaction with other musicians."

Sometimes, Toth's headstrong nature causes problems. "It does lead to occasional conflicts, especially with other musicians who are committed," Stewart said.

"I don't like getting in people's faces, but I like pushing buttons," Toth said. "I'm definitely a troublemaker."

Usually, though, his energy is a positive thing. Stewart saw that on a recent jazz-studies trip to Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. After a long day of music workshops and traveling, Stewart said he and the students would pull into a town dreaming of sleep while Toth was asking, "'Where are we playing tonight?'

"He was insatiable," Stewart said. "He just has this energy that's fanatic."

He said one thing Toth needs to learn is how to temper his trademark sharp explosions of sound with a more delicate touch.

"He just has to find further maturity, develop his chops more. I think he's beginning to find the more lyrical side," Stewart said. "We used to joke about him finding 'the gentle side of Alex Toth.'" Finding a voice
Toth, who will be a senior this fall, toyed with the idea after his sophomore year of going to music school in New York City but said Stewart helped talk him out of it. Toth is glad he did because he said he's received great schooling by playing with Hardiman, Duguay and a host of other Burlington musicians, including Toth's girlfriend and fellow UVM student, singer and saxophone player Annakalmia "Kal" Traver.

Stewart told Toth, "There's plenty of time to go to New York when you have found your voice, when you are well-equipped to be a player." He said Toth is becoming well-equipped by playing in a smaller community with a lively music scene.

"It's a great place to play and get your act together," Stewart said. "You can find your own voice here, which I think Alex is doing. He's not just learning a bunch of licks and trying to sound like someone else."

Toth and Stewart took part in a recent practice at UVM's Music Building for Wednesday's jazz-poetry event. They were rehearsing the piece "Freedom Jazz Dance" to words read from the poetry of Baraka. Toth took an active role in trying to figure out cues the band members should follow.

"It comes in on four, so how are you going to cue that?" Toth asked Duguay, the bass player. The band tried to play with the tighter cues Toth recommended, but Stewart said it wasn't as fun as when the band played more free-form. They tried that looser method again; Toth jumped into a wild solo, leaning forward with his eyes closed, then leaning back, his face turning red as he squeezed out startling shrieks, attention-grabbing bellows and smooth-flowing tones.

Kim, the guitarist, said sometimes band members have to work with Toth to control his style; in return Toth increases his fellow musicians' power. "He can energize a band," Kim said.

Stewart pictures Toth leading a prominent band someday soon. Toth would love that. "I definitely want to have my own projects," he said.

He can see himself in a few years bringing his own trio into the FlynnSpace during the jazz festival. Maybe it would be a trio named The Alex Toth Revolution; that moniker reflecting his brash style became a good-natured joke in last year's Discover Jazz Festival Big Band but closely matches what he'd like to bring to the world of jazz.

"I want to be innovative," he said. "I don't want to be so stuck in the tradition, though being innovative is part of the tradition."

If he cuts back on the cigarettes and stays humble, Toth said, he can go places. "I'm somebody who's going to bring jazz to a lot of people."

Contact Brent Hallenbeck at 660-1844 or bhallenb@bfp.burlingtonfreepress.com BOX hed: The Toth tour

Alex Toth and his trumpet will be making the rounds of the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival this week, including these shows:

7 tonight, "Sketches of Spain" and "Porgy and Bess": Celebrating the Gil Evans/Miles Davis Collaboration, featuring Randy Brecker (trumpet) with the Burlington Discover Jazz Big Band and guest conductor Joe Muccioli, plus the Jennifer Hartswick Ensemble, Flynn Center. $15-$25. 863-5966.
9 p.m. Monday, Guagua with Red Hot Juba, Nectar's. Free. 658-4771 or www.liveatnectars.com.
7 and 9 p.m. Wednesday, "Beboparaka: A Celebration of the Life and Works of Poet Amiri Baraka," Firehouse Center for the Visual Arts. $7. 865-7166.
Noon Saturday, Church Street Jazz Parade and Concert in the Park with Sambatucada!, Guagua, Madera, Pandango and Grupo Sabor, City Hall Park, free.

For more information, visit www.discoverjazz.com.
- Burlington Free Press


splendor in the brass
RUTH HOROWITZ
Seven Days
June 15, 2005


Alex Toth is one busy fella. At the ripe old age of 21, he's already among Burlington's most in-demand musicians. You might've already noticed the lithe kid with the trumpet, blowing hot with the likes of Gua Gua, Rob Duguay, Mountain Mojo Authority and, most recently, the Spielpalast Cabaret Band and alt-rockers Swale. He's also been jamming with Beboparaka, a free-form collective combining spoken word, funk and jazz. "It can happen at anywhere at any time," Toth says of music making. A student in UVM's jazz program, he enters his senior year this fall. Where he goes after that is anyone's guess. If you haven't caught him yet, do it -- so you can say you heard him back in the day. - Seven Days


Discography

album on the way,
Alex Toth & The Lazybirds,
"Vermont Sky Session."

Photos

Feeling a bit camera shy

Bio

The cats in this group have been on the streets in the clubs, restaurants, coffeehouses, theatres, churches, and major venues for over four years rooting themselves in jazz and everything around it. Members of this band are rooted in down home funk, reggae, Afro-Cuban, Brazilian, rock, and straight-ahead jazz. The leader of this group, Alex Toth, has been leaving serious and long-lasting tracks on the great town of Burlington, VT, playing at almost all of the 20 or so venues around with many groups. This kid's got what it takes.

"If you haven’t caught him yet, do it—so you can say you heard him back in the day.” –Casey Rea, 7Days

"I liked what you did… it showed a lot of humor. I just enjoyed your playing in general… your approach… You sound good, man...I can tell you put in a lot of time.” –Wynton Marsalis to Toth after hearing his playing

The Players:
Alex Toth (22)— trumpet and flugelhorn — has been playing since the age of 10. During high school he attended the New Jersey Performing Art’s Center Jazz for Teens program and worked with tenor sax great, Don Braden, drummer Ralph Peterson, and others. Since his 2nd year at UVM he has been highly active in and around Burlington and UVM. As part of the UVM Big Band for 4 years he has worked with Paquito D’Rivera, Arturo O’Farrill, Rufus Reid, Wynton Marsalis (see photo below) and many more. Toth has been in the trumpet section for Burington’s Discover Jazz Fest Big Band for the past two years, in 2004 playing the music of Frank Zappa with Ed Palermo, Napoleon Murphy Brock, and Ike Willis. In the 2005 Discover big band he played the music of Miles’ and Gil Evans’, Sketches of Spain, with Randy Brecker and conducted by the world’s leading expert on Gil Evans music, Joe Muccioli. Also in 2005, Alex toured around Vermont, hitting major venues and opera houses with the Spielpalast Cabaret. The past two years also found him in a unique jazz poetry collective with tenor sax man Dr. Alexander Stewart and accomplished UVM English professors and writers Major Jackson and John Gennari. This project was funded by Burlington City Arts and appeared at the Firehouse gallery, Nectar’s and club Metronome. He currently plays in the sensational latin group, Guagua, and leads his own group, putting him in performance settings around 4 nights a week.

Peter Krag (20) — piano — studies jazz piano at the University of Vermont where he studies with mentors Dr. Alexander Stewart and Prof. Tom Cleary. With the artists that UVM attracts, Peter recently worked with pianist and composer John Stech and will soon be working with the jazz composer Maria Schneider. He is a part of the UVM Big Band and Latin Combo, as well as student formed bands: Soulvation Army and Alex Toth Lazy Bird Quintet. He involves himself with the Burlington scene by playing at various venues and playing with local Burlington musicians in a jazz quartet called the Red Thread. He is an accompanist for the Vermont Suzuki Violins and is a composer/arranger. Walden School and Walnut Hill is where Peter gained experience composing and working beside professional musicians. At Walnut Hill, Benjamin Zander, the conductor of the Boston Philharmonics, helped Peter gain a great deal of musicianship in classical music. Walden School, a school for composition, is where Peter wrote pieces for the Non Sequitur ensemble, and was awarded a commission to write for the Prism Sax Quartet which premiered his work in New York and Philadelphia. He has had the opportunity to work with composers such as Tom Lopez from the Oberlin Conservatory, James Mobberley, Pauline Oliveros, and vermont residing composers Dr. Thomas Read and Dennis Kitsz. Peter says he is fortunate to be at UVM and a part of the Burlington scene that supports his appetite for good music and friends.

Annakalmia "Kal" Traver (22) — alto sax, flute, and vocals — studies jazz voice and alto saxophone at the University of Vermont. She is an active member of the Burlington-based Afro-Caribbean Jazz group, Gua Gua, and has appeared in numerous local acts including the Soulvation Army, the Burlington Spielpalast Cabaret Band, Mountain Mojo Authority and various UVM combos. She recently traveled to New York City to perform with the UVM Big Band as lead singer. Her studies at UVM have lead her to meet and work with such jazz greats as Oliver Lake, Rufus Reed, Chico O'Farill, Paquito D'Rivera, Wayne Horvitz, John Stetch and members of the Either Orchestra. She also had the opportunity to study for a week with Jason Moran, DK Dyson and Ralph Alessi at the School for Improvisational Music in New York City. In the winters of '03 and'05 she traveled with her music classes to Cuba and the Dominican Republic to attend workshops in Afro-Caribbean music and to engage in cultural exchange with other musicians. Annakalmia is also a talented composer, poet, and multi-linguist.

Danny Ryan (19) — drums and percussion — has been drumming since the age of 5. Th