Equally at home performing new contemporary and experimental works, playing to picture, improvising on jazz pieces, backing songwriters, and more, Anna’s Ghost plays and performs at most MFA in Music Composition residencies and features an ever-changing roster of multi-talented instrumentalists. This adaptive group reforms itself in different configurations each semester, welcoming back VCFA veteran musicians and introducing exciting new players to the program. Musicians at the top of their field lend their individual artistry to create a cohesive sound.
The ensemble’s name, Anna’s Ghost, refers to the legend of Anna, the resident ghost of Vermont College of Fine Arts, whose story you can read about here.
Brian Shankar Adler, drums & percussion
Mariel Bildsten, trombone
John Clark, french horn
Russ Johnson, trumpet
Lisa Mezzacappa, bass
Red Wierenga, piano & keyboards
Brian Shankar Adler
Brian Shankar Adler is a multidisciplinary drummer, percussionist, and composer. His work transcends the terrain between genre and geographic region, asking: how can we find connection through rhythm? Adler has been described as being “a polyrhythmic force… New York City gritty yet still somehow capable of evoking the delicacy of a summer breeze…” by Brad Cohan, JazzTimes.
Brian Shankar Adler grew up in an ashram in the mountains of upstate New York and began his rhythmic studies on the Indian mridang at age five. He received a jazz percussion scholarship to attend New England Conservatory where he was encouraged to discover his own artistic voice through jazz, Indian, South American, and western classical music traditions. In Boston, Adler collaborated with Korean vocalist Sunny Kim, releasing three albums and touring the northeast and Europe.
In 2005, with a globally influenced sonic palette and a forward-thinking rhythmic language in tow, Adler moved to New York City. He performed from street corners and dive bars, to Carnegie Hall, Jazz Standard, Lincoln Center, Roulette, Rubin Museum, and The Stone. In 2013, Adler was a guest soloist with La Bomba de Tiempo in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He performed and recorded for Chelsea Clinton’s film, OF MANY, Kamala Sankaram’s operas Thumbprint (LA Opera), A Rose (Houston Grand Opera), and The Jungle Book (Glimmerglass), and Elizabeth Swados’ final two theatrical productions, The Nomad and The Golem. In 2019, Adler traveled to Kuwait to perform with oudist Ahmed Alshaiba. Adler has also worked with Kinan Azmeh, Cochemea, Sheila Jordan, Guillermo Klein, The Michael Leonhart Orchestra, Frank London, Kate McGarry, Meg Okura, Talujon, Emilio Teubal, and Ray Vega. He is a member of the eclectic rock band Bombay Rickey and performs environmental-activism with Bash the Trash.
Brian Shankar Adler has been recorded on over thirty-five albums including his most recent works, For a Gallery on the Moon (Chant Records, 2020) and Fourth Dimension (Chant Records, 2019). His music video “Mantra” won best music video at Transcinema International Film Festival in Peru and official selection at Quiet City Film Festival in New York City. Adler’s work has been featured in Jason Bivin’s book Spirits Rejoice, Newsweek, JazzTimes, NPR, Downbeat, and Modern Drummer Magazine.
Through a three-year residency at Barbès, plus performances at Roulette and the Queens World Fair, Adler developed Human Time Machine: an improvising percussion ensemble that uses hand signals to generate and develop rhythmic ideas in real time. In 2013, he published A World of Percussion, connecting rhythm, language, mathematics, and environment through a study of shared musical concepts from around the globe. Receiving a seed grant from the National Guild For Community Arts Education, Adler adapted A World of Percussion for creative agers (55+) in the Seacoast community of New Hampshire.
Brian Shankar Adler resides in Portland, ME. He is on faculty at Bates College, University of Maine, and Vermont Jazz Center. He is also a DJ at WMPG.
Mariel Bildsten is a trombonist based in New York City. Mariel currently works as a bandleader and side-woman, playing in jazz big bands and small groups, as well as Afro-Latin music, rock, funk, and R&B bands. She is the lead trombonist in Arturo O’Farrill’s Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra and tours internationally with the rock band Brass Against. She has performed at Jazz at Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, Radio City, O2 Arena, Birdland Jazz Club, the Apollo Theater, the Chicago Jazz Festival, Perth International Arts Festival, Caramoor Jazz Festival, Smalls Jazz Club, and Smoke Jazz Club, among other venues. Mariel has also performed alongside Dee Dee Bridgewater, Roy Hargrove, Wycliffe Gordon, Brian Lynch, Cyrus Chestnut, Lew Soloff, and Frank Lacy. Her own groups, ranging from duo to septet, have headlined jazz festivals, played around the country, and gig regularly in New York City.
John Clark was born in Brooklyn and grew up in Rochester, New York. In 1966 he received a BA from the University of Rochester, where he also studied horn with Verne Reynolds at the Eastman School of Music. From 1967 until 1971 he played in the United States Coast Guard Band. Clark received an MM degree (with honors) from the New England Conservatory of Music in 1973. He studied composition and improvisation with Jaki Byard, Ran Blake, and George Russell; and horn with James Stagliano, Thomas Newell, and Paul Ingraham. In 1991 he received a patent for the “hornette,” an instrument with the same range as a French Horn but with a forward-facing bell for greater projection. He taught at the State University of New York at Purchase from 2001 until 2008, subsequently moving to faculty at Manhattan School of Music.
Clark has performed or recorded with a wide variety of musicians, including in jazz Gary Bartz, Carla Bley, Ornette Coleman, Gil Evans, John Faddis, Johnny Griffin, Dave Grusin, Jerome Harris, Jim Hall, Jimmy Heath, Anthony Jackson, Leroy Jenkins, Howard Johnson, Oliver Lake, Joe Lovano, Pat Metheny, Grachan Moncur, Gerry Mulligan, Jaco Pastorius, Rachel Z, Paquito D’Rivera, Mike Richmond, John Scofield, Frank Sinatra, Lew Soloff, Spyro Gyra, David Taylor, Toots Thielemans, the Turtle Island String Quartet, McCoy Tyner, Glen Velez, Paul Winter Consort, Akiko Yano, and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.
Outside of jazz, he has worked with the Aspen Wind Quintet, Ashford and Simpson, the Brooklyn Philharmonic, the Fugees, Isaac Hayes, Billy Joel, B. B. King, LL Cool J, Joni Mitchell, Linda Ronstadt, Diana Ross, Carly Simon, Sting, Speculum Musicae, and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.
He has performed as a studio musician for many films, including MISSION TO MARS, FARGO, and POCAHONTAS.
Trumpeter Russ Johnson is a recent Midwest transplant after spending 23 years as an important member of New York City’s jazz community. He has 7 recordings as a leader or co-leader and performed on more than 75 recordings as a sideman. Russ has worked alongside many of the legendary figures in jazz including Lee Konitz, Steve Swallow, Bill Frisell, and Joe Lovano. In addition, he has recorded and/or performed with a long list of the most prominent musicians currently on the international jazz scene, including Myra Melford, Ken Vandermark, and Tony Malaby. Russ has performed in more than 40 countries across the globe. His groups have recently performed at the Chicago, Winter Jazz Fest (NYC) Hyde Park (Chicago), and Bergamo (Italy) jazz festivals.
Russ is also active as an educator/clinician, having taught at colleges and universities across the US and Europe. He currently serves as Director of Jazz Studies at the University of Wisconsin Parkside, where he won the university wide “Stella Gray” Teaching Excellence award in 2016.
Lisa Mezzacappa is a San Francisco Bay Area-based composer, bassist, bandleader, and producer. Called “one of the most imaginative figures on the Bay Area creative jazz scene” by The Mercury News and “a Bay Area treasure” by KQED public radio, she has been an active part of California’s vibrant music community for nearly 20 years. Mezzacappa’s activities as a composer and bandleader include ethereal chamber music, electro-acoustic works, avant-garde jazz, music for groups from duo to large ensemble, and collaborations with film, dance, and visual art.
Recent projects include Cosmicomics, a series of compositions inspired by Italo Calvino’s stories about the origins of the universe; avantNOIR, a suite for sextet rooted in noir fiction; Organelle, a chamber suite for improvisers grounded in scientific processes on micro and cosmic scales; Glorious Ravage, an evening-length song cycle for large ensemble and films drawn from the writings of Victorian lady adventurers; and Touch Bass, a collaboration with choreographer Risa Jaroslow for three dancers and three bassists. Current projects include the duo B. Experimental Band which performs original compositions for improvisers bimonthly in Oakland, CA; and premiering in 2020, The Electronic Lover, an opera podcast created in collaboration with writer Beth Lisick.
Mezzacappa has released her music on the New World, Clean Feed, NoBusiness, Leo, and NotTwo record labels, and her work has been supported on the national level by the MAP Fund, the Foundation for Contemporary Arts, the Aaron Copland Fund, and the Andy Warhol Foundation; and by Bay Area funders the Wattis Foundation, Zellerbach Family Foundation, and Intermusic SF. She has been artist-in-residence at the Cité International des Arts in Paris, Fr; Djerassi Resident Artists Program, Headlands Center for the Arts and the Banff International Jazz Workshop. She was a participant in the Jazz Composers Orchestra Institute, a program of American Composers Orchestra and the Jazz Studies Institute at Columbia University.
In addition to leading her own projects in the US and Europe, Mezzacappa has performed as a sideperson with heroes such as Fred Frith, Marco Eneidi, Rhys Chatham, the Paul Dresher Ensemble, Mark Dresser’s SIM Bass Ensemble, Nicole Mitchell, Ned Rothenberg, Myra Melford, Vinny Golia and many others. These days, she plays often with Rob Ewing’s quartet SIFTER, with David James’ GPS, with the Nathan Clevenger Group, with Ian Carey’s Wood/Metal/Plastic, with Cory Wright’s Green Mitchell trio, and Randy McKean’s Bristle, in addition to the ongoing, lifelong collaboration duo B., with drummer Jason Levis.
As curator, she programs the annual JazzPOP concert seres at the UCLA Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, now in its 15th year; and co-organizes the new Do-Over Music Series in Oakland, CA with drummer Jordan Glenn. Previously, she founded the live cinema series, Mission Eye & Ear, at Artists’ Television Access, co-founded the Monday Makeout creative music series in the Mission District of San Francisco with trumpeter Darren Johnston, and initiated the Best Coast Jazz Composers series at San Francisco’s Center for New Music. She also periodically hosts the “Festival-of-Us,” a festival celebrating Bay Area creative jazz and improvised music.
Red Wierenga is a pianist, accordionist, respectronicist, improviser, and composer based in New York City. His longest creative association is with the Respect Sextet, called “a group which has released one of the most compelling recordings of the year” by the Wall Street Journal, and “one of the best and most ambitious new ensembles in jazz” by Signal To Noise. He has performed and/or recorded with artists including The Claudia Quintet, Ensemble Signal, Bang on a Can Opera, the Fireworks Ensemble, and David Crowell. Wierenga builds and performs with new interfaces for electroacoustic improvisation, working with analog and digital synthesizers.
He received his bachelor’s degree from the Eastman School of Music, studying with Harold Danko, Ralph Alessi, and Kevin Puts. After having studied at the Institute of Sonology in The Hague with Joel Ryan and Paul Berg, he received his PhD from CUNY Graduate Center, where he was an Enhanced Chancellor’s Fellow and where his teachers included Jason Eckardt, Douglas Geers, and David Grubbs. He has taught at Baruch College and currently teaches in Brooklyn College’s Sonic Arts MFA program.