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Mountain Home Magazine

That's Jackie!

Feb 28, 2022 09:00AM ● By Karey Solomon

The program for last year’s Endless Mountain Music Festival’s two weeks of summer concerts had already been set…and advertised…and printed. Orchestra members were already inbound from all corners of the globe for the annual little Brigadoon in our mountains, the soloists a veritable musical who’s who. And featured on the EMMF program for the first time was Artie Shaw’s Concerto for Clarinet.

But, in those crazy days of covid, all of a sudden there was no clarinet soloist arriving for the challenging Shaw concerto. Enter EMMF violinist Karen Banos, who had a clarinetist friend she’d played with in the South Florida Symphony Orchestra. And so it was that Jackie Gillette came to the stage at Mansfield University’s Steadman Auditorium to belt out Shaw’s hip, jazzy, slidey clarinet concerto. The audience loved her.

“It was unbelievable that she was able to step in when she did,” says conductor and EMMF Artistic Director Stephen Gunzenhauser. “She came to my attention, and I found out she had done the concerto a few months previously, and it was terrific. I’m a clarinetist by instrument. I’ve played the concerto, and I’m particularly critical. She did an absolutely remarkable job and she made it sound easy.”

Jackie is returning to Wellsboro the first weekend in March as a headliner at the EMMF Cabin Fever Jazz Weekend. Last summer, her partner, fellow clarinetist David Valbueno, also joined Jackie in performance with EMMF. “Coming out of the pandemic, to be given the opportunity to travel and play the concerto, it was like a dream,” she reflects. “I love it. It’s such a fun piece to play! The conductor and everyone at Endless Mountain took a chance on me. And it was a blast. Everyone was so friendly. I’m so happy to come back and play for the jazz festival.”

“Jackie Gillette & Friends” opens at 7:30 p.m. on Friday evening, March 4, at the Penn Wells Hotel in Wellsboro, with a program of music by old time jazz greats like Bennie Goodman and Boniface Ferdinand Leonard “Buddy” DeFranco. She’ll be accompanied by drummer Andres Valbuena, David’s brother, and jazz pianist Bram Wijands, EMMF’s beloved, perennial performer who will be the headliner on Saturday night. “He’s known as ‘The Swing King of Kansas City,’” Jackie notes.

“The venue and performances are cabaret-style,” says Cindy Long, Executive Director of the EMMF, about their annual fundraiser. Seating is limited to about a hundred people, so for tickets and more information visit or call (570) 787-7800. “People come because they love the festival. A lot of people follow our guest artists. It’s a lot of fun.” Dinner reservations for either night should be made directly at the Penn Wells at (570) 724-2111.

“I’m classically trained, even though I grew up listening to this music,” Jackie says, adding, “The pieces I chose are an homage to those original jazz clarinetists.” She’s delighted with the opportunity to build her own concert. “This music is definitely fun, and also very free,” she says. “It has a form, but there’s a lot you can do with it.” Included in the performance are Buddy DeFranco’s evocative “Autumn Leaves” and Benny Goodman’s rollicking 1928 classic “Clarinetitis.”

Jackie is a graduate of the Eastman Conservatory of Music in Rochester and the Lynn Conservatory of Music in Boca Raton, Florida. Coming from a family of non-musicians, she has a particular motivation for making the music she plays accessible. “Any time I do something with music, I want the audience to enjoy it, whether they know the music or not.” And putting together her own program is a particular joy. “It’s seeing the whole process from beginning to end. You start with the music and then you rehearse and it becomes real.”

In mid-spring 2020, Jackie and David began a chamber music series called “Sunday Serenades” on Facebook Live. “We saw our friends were losing work as gigs were cancelled, so we set up concerts, created posters, and created an event each Sunday. It was something we could do to help.” There were about twenty concerts. Performers were compensated for their work with viewers’ contributions.

When not organizing or making music, she’s often teaching it. In 2015 she traveled to Zimbabwe and South Africa as a guest artist to teach young musicians and perform with the Music Inspire Africa organization. She also gives private lessons in piano and clarinet.

She currently works as program coordinator for the Youth Orchestra of St. Luke, scheduling rehearsals, workshops, activities and lessons, writing a newsletter and facilitating music for students drawn from five schools in the Hell’s Kitchen area of New York City. “I love that I can work with kids and put my energy and creativity into it,” she says. Bram will be doing a workshop at Williamson High School from 10:00 a.m. to noon on Friday, March 4, where he will be helping the students write a world premier for their school. Jackie will be giving a master class for young local musicians with Bram and the jazz band at 1:00 p.m. at Wellsboro Area High School.

“My goal as a musician is, whatever I do and whatever I create, I want to put myself in it and I want people to say, ‘That’s Jackie!’”

She and David had only one regret last summer. She says they hadn’t realized how much beauty surrounded them, so they didn’t bring a car or budget time to explore the region. Fortunately, they’ll be back this summer to make up for the omission.

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