Aaronsburg musician Jay Vonada has been a fixture on the music scene in central Pennsylvania for the past five years, leading a variety of ensembles. He has led duos, trios and quartets at fairs, festivals, wineries, breweries, nursing homes and assisted-living communities throughout Pennsylvania and Maryland.
On June 2, Vonada will release his fifth CD, “Expressions,” his first quartet CD since his debut recording “Jammin’ ” in 2008, which featured trombone, keyboard, bass and drums.
His latest release features Vonada on trombone; Mac Himes on guitar; Bob Hart on bass; and Kevin Lowe on drums. A CD release party is scheduled for June 6 at the Green Drake Gallery and Arts Center in Millheim.
The album was recorded in November in Altoona at Data Music Services with Dave Villani serving as recording engineer. The recording will feature eight original compositions by Vonada.
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The band is made up of colleagues Vonada has worked with for many years in different capacities. He first met Himes over a decade ago when Don Keat, a local baritone sax player, wanted to form an octet that paid tribute to the music of Phil Woods.
“Mac and I have played many duo gigs at nursing homes, assisted-living communities and independent living communities,” he said. “When we haven’t played in a long time it doesn’t take long to get back in sync. He is a total professional.”
Hart has been making his way on the music scene in State College and beyond, touring nationally with vocalist Kat Edmonson in the fall of 2014 and a tour in Japan this spring.
“He is an amazing musician and person and can adapt to any style of music,” Vonada said. “He’s also a fantastic guitar player, so he’s been a great addition to this band.”
Vonada has known Lowe since 2008, when Lowe played in a group co-led by Vonada and bass trombonist Mike Loewen. Slide Zone, an eight-piece band, included five trombones and a rhythm section. Lowe, a founding member of Vonada’s Organ Trio West, also played several gigs at the old Zola New World Bistro in State College.
“Kevin, just like Bob, is very eclectic in that he plays many styles of music and is very good at adapting to any situation,” Vonada said. “He is also a fabulous orchestrator and arranger, writing and arranging charts for many different ensembles including Zeropoint Big Band, which is a 16-piece band.”
Although this ensemble has Vonada’s name in front of it, it is truly a collaboration when it comes to the music.
“Even though all eight tunes are written by me, we as a band would come up with an arrangement at the recording session,” he said. “So the whole process is a collaborative effort.”
When Vonada started his journey to being a full-time jazz trombonist, one of his goals was to bring this music to the area. Though the region does have an appreciation for music, jazz doesn’t seem to be quite as popular as other genres.
“There is only one venue that has been established in the State College area that has jazz every week, and that is The Deli, which I’m glad to say I’ve been a part of since 2011,” he said. “The American Ale House and Grill has had a big band play once a month since 2000, so I think there is progress. But there are many great players in this area and there should be more venues out there to support them.”
The quartet will play June 21 at South Hills School of Business and Technology as part of the summer concert series, where they will focus on tunes from the Great American Songbook and some originals. The group will also perform at the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts on July 9 and at the Bellefonte Arts and Crafts Fair on Aug.14.
Vonada has found that playing nursing homes and assisted-living communities has not only been financially beneficial for him but personally beneficial for the residents and for him.
“To see them sing along or put a smile on their faces goes a long way, so playing for them has been very rewarding,” he said. “For this show I hope to see people come out and enjoy this live music. I hope to pack them in and see everyone have an enjoyable time.”