Founding director Glenn Siegel curated the annual UMass Amherst’s Magic Triangle Jazz Series for the past three decades.
This year marks the end of an era for the series, which presented a broad range of musical styles performed by artists at different points in their careers. The Magic Triangle series has included some of the most celebrated jazz musicians in jazz history.
Ahead of his retirement, Siegel spoke with Zydalis Bauer to reflect on the history and legacy of this long-running event.
Glenn Siegel describes one of the most memorable performances he witnessed during the three decades of curating the series in a digital exclusive clip.
Read the full transcript:
Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: This year marks the end of an era for the UMass Amherst Magic Triangle Jazz series.
For the past three decades, Glenn Siegel, founding director, curated this annual event, which presented performances from artists with broad ranges of styles and artists at all stages of their careers, including some of the most celebrated musicians in jazz history.
As Siegel prepares for his retirement, he spoke with me to take a look back at the history of this long-running event.
Glenn Siegel, Magic Triangle Jazz Series: I had two jobs at UMass. One was working for WMUR, the student and community radio station on campus, and I was a jazz DJ there, as well as a professional staff person there.
And then I started working for the Fine Arts Center, so a bunch of us jazz DJs went over to Dr. Fred Tillis, the visionary director of the Fine Arts Center, first director, and asked him if he would collaborate with us to produce concerts on campus.
Zydalis Bauer: And what was the significance of the name? It always drew me: Magic Triangle Jazz Series.
Where did that come from?
Glenn Siegel: THE original conception was to produce trios on — in this series. So, the first year we did that.
And the name comes from a record that I love called “Magic Triangle,” which featured Don Pullen, Joseph Jarman, and Don Moyer, three heroes of mine. So that’s where the name came from.
After the first year, we decided to blow up that concept, and since then we produced different sized ensembles.
Zydalis Bauer: In an article written by Jason Robinson, which was commemorating the 25th anniversary of this series, he mentioned that he’s had numerous occasions to ask you why you do what you do, but he suggests that anybody that speaks to you should ask you the same.
So, following, you know, that suggestion, why do you do this? What has motivated you to continuously put on this event for the Amherst area, for the community year after year?
Glenn Siegel: I’ve always been drawn to music that sort of outside of the mainstream and wanted to produce artists who had not been to western Massachusetts before or recently, and also people who were expanding the boundaries of this music.
Zydalis Bauer: Having curated over 275 concerts, bringing a range of creative musicians to this area, like you mentioned, such as Yusef Lateef and Sam Rivers, that’s just to name a few.
What have been some of the triumphs and even challenges with putting on a series of this caliber?
Glenn Siegel: There’s always a lot of moving parts in producing live music events, and so, we’ve had snowstorms and missed flights and things like that.
But the musicians are so wonderful. They’re natural storytellers, both musically and off the bandstand. So, the highlights are so numerous, it’s really hard to pin down.
Producing a concert with Cecil Taylor, who is one of the icons of our music, was a real treat. You know, doing a concert with Lester Bowie, the great trumpet player from Art Ensemble of Chicago, was a highlight.
I produced a concert with his New York Organ Quintet with James Carter and Don Moyer and Ameena Myers and Frank Lacy. That was a real highlight.
Andrew Hill, one of my all time heroes, a great pianist and composer, was really special. And that was at a time when not too many people were producing Andrew Hill. And so, I like to think that I made a small contribution in reestablishing him among the jazz greats.
So, Yusef Lateef, as you mentioned, was a real highlight. I got to produce a concert with Brother Yusef when he turned 80 years old in Bowker Auditorium, and then again when he turned 90, a duo with Adam Rudolph, which also was the last concert that we did.
Zydalis Bauer: Now, although this region is very notorious for, I think, the creativity, the concerts, the art — the architecture, as you were mentioning with Cecil.
But I really am interested in hearing what you think, looking back at the history of the Magic Jazz Triangle Jazz Series, what do you think really set this series apart from all of the other creative endeavors that happen in this region?
Glenn Siegel: Well, I’d like to think that the artists that I produced, by and large, were people who other presenters would not have brought to the Valley, in part because their music was more adventurous or Avant Garde than most presenters are comfortable with. Or they — they had critical reputations, but they weren’t in the public eye in the same way, but they were — they had stature.
So, I think, in part, that’s what I’m most proud of. And that’s, I think, the lasting legacy of the series, is that we brought to the Valley artists who wouldn’t have come otherwise or been invited otherwise.
Zydalis Bauer: Yeah, and speaking of the Valley, I know that in 2019 you were named jazz hero by the Jazz Journalists Associations. And you mentioned that, you know, being at that ceremony, you were probably one of the few that was at that — at that ceremony that didn’t come from a big city. You know, you came from a unique region. And so I think that’s an amazing legacy.
So, how did this series really benefit Amherst and our community?
Glenn Siegel: Well, I think it raised the profile of UMass and the Pioneer Valley as a destination for creative music. You know, in talking to musicians over the years, people knew about Amherst.
And, you know, a lot of…this music doesn’t get produced, even in big cities, other than New York, Chicago, perhaps. There was more activity in the Pioneer Valley and in Amherst than there was in many, many major cities in the US.
And so I’m eternally grateful for the UMass community for hosting Magic Triangle all these years.
Zydalis Bauer: You’ve said that the artists who participated in this series for the past 30 years really provide essentially a healing ceremony during these concerts. And honestly, for even for myself, it always amazes me the emotional response that music can trigger.
Can you tell me some examples that you in what ways you’ve witnessed this happen during some of these series? And is there a moment that that truly stands out for you?
Glenn Siegel: Well, that — that idea of our concerts being, essentially, a healing ceremony comes from a quote from William Parker, one of the great bass players who I’ve been lucky enough to present numerous times over the years.
And I really believe that this creative music that I’ve devoted my life to is a spiritual endeavor. And I can tell by the way that the musicians react to our audiences — our audiences are very tuned in to the music. Some of them are experts in the music and have long histories of listening and — and playing; others are newcomers.
But the music is so heartfelt and so emotionally immediate that people respond, and musicians talk about this circle that is made between audience and performers, which spurs the musicians to greater heights.
Zydalis Bauer: So now, Glenn, as this chapter has ended for the Magic Triangle series, what will you miss the most about it?
And how do you really think that this legacy — this legacy should continue in the — in this community and in this area?
Glenn Siegel: I’m lucky enough to continue producing concerts. My wife and I, Priscilla Paige, started Pioneer Valley Jazz shares ten years ago. And in fact, Dave Fraser was kind enough to profile Jazz Shares in October of this past year.
I hope that other presenters will pick up the mantle. There are so many musicians that deserve to be heard by Pioneer Valley audiences. So, I’m hopeful that as the years unfold, ambitious producers and historians will find what we’ve done and — and revive it or build on it and create a new generation of concerts and opportunities for musicians.