Big names for a small town


LEE — The Frank Vignola Trio will arrive in the Berkshires on Friday night — 15 months after jazz guitarist Frank Vignola survived a near-fatal off-road vehicle accident — to headline the 7th annual Berkshire Gateway Jazz Weekend.

Vignola returned to the stage in December, having recovered from eight broken bones, two collapsed lungs and massive internal bleeding suffered after crashing his ATV into a tree in March 2017. Since then, he has physically and musically returned to form.

"I can say, with a real amount of confidence, when I play, there's no pain," he said.

Vignola's decade-long musical partner, jazz guitarist Vinny Raniolo and bass player Elias Bailey round out the trio that will play during the jazz weekend, a collaboration of the Lee Chamber of Commerce, Berkshire Gateway Preservation and Berkshires Jazz Inc. Berkshires Jazz also stages the Pittsfield CityJazz Festival in October.

The three-day downtown festival opens Friday evening and closes Sunday with a jazz brunch from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Starving Artist Cafe and Creperie on Main Street.

The weekend activities hit their stride Saturday with food vendors and local jazz musicians in the church park next to the town hall. Classic cars from the Roaring '20s to the World Wat II era, when jazz was the most popular music of the day, also will be on display, according to festival organizers.

Vignola is no stranger to the Berkshires — he performed twice in Pittsfield — but makes his debut in Lee on Friday, merely by chance. He had cancelled all his scheduled shows through 2018, unsure when he would perform again. By September 2017, the Long Island, N.Y., native was physically on the rebound and received an invitation for his trio to play in Lee (festival organizers were unaware of his accident and injuries).

Vignola accepted, knowing he would be more than ready by June.

The unexpected downtime, ironically, helped Vignola musically. "I never practiced so much in my life for several months. My musicality is good and I started to grow new material," he said.

Sought after by Donald Fagen, Wynton Marsalis, Tommy Emmanuel, The Boston Pops and other top musicians, Vignola looks forward to the intimate setting of a small-town church.

"If I can get a few hundred people to hear me play, that's big in the jazz guitar world," he said.

The Jeff Holmes Big Band will hit the main stage Saturday night with a 17-musician ensemble featuring Holmes' wife, vocalist Dawning Holmes. The band's repertoire will include a tribute to the late Leonard Bernstein, who would have turned 100 this year, along with original works from composer/pianist Jeff Holmes and Big Band standards.

"We love to do the classics; it's good to start with songs people know," he said.

Jeff Holmes won a Grammy in 2006 for his role on keyboard on the Paul Winter Consort album, "Silver Solstice."

The Jeff Holmes Big Band is also making its inaugural appearance in Lee, though not so for Jeff and Dawning. Last July, Dawning Holmes sang "God Bless the Child" and "Soul Vaccination," while her husband was lead trumpet during Greg Caputo's Big Band tribute to Buddy Rich at the First Congregational Church.

Trumpeter, pianist and composer Jeff Holmes is a western Massachusetts fixture, having formed the band 30 years ago. Equally as long, he has been director of jazz studies at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. Over the years, several of his former students have joined his veteran band members, all who get a chance to do a solo bit with the group. Jeff Holmes said the audience on Saturday can expect jazz classics and his original compositions.

"I do make it a point to feature as many band members during a show," he said. "It's good for the audience to see the individual talents."

Both feature concerts are at 8 p.m. at the First Congregational Church behind Lee Memorial Town Hall.


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