Alumni Spotlight: Fran Vielma ’16 MM

Fran 2

NEC alumnus Fran Vielma ’16 MM is a critically acclaimed and award-winning multi-percussionist, composer, and educator. He moved from Venezuela to the United States in 2010 and immersed himself in the study of world music. His versatility in different genres of music—from Caribbean to Afro-Venezuelan to jazz—has led to his involvement in a number of projects, tours, and festivals around the world.

Fran was recently awarded a New Jazz Works National Grant from Chamber Music America, which supports the creation of new works by U.S.-based composer-led jazz ensembles and helps to assure that these compositions will be heard through live performances and recordings. Read the full press release here.  

He is currently a member of the Jazz Faculty at the Peabody Institute where he conducts the Pan-American Jazz Ensemble and teaches Jazz Theory and Jazz Composition & Arranging.

Fran shares how NEC invigorated his passion for exploring world music and supported his efforts to bring music to his hometown of Mérida, Venezuela.

“NEC has been a milestone in my career. The level of excellence, support, and respect for everyone’s vision is invaluable and is something I try to encourage and practice with my students and colleagues.”


Why did you choose NEC?

NEC was always in my plans when I moved to the United States to study music in 2010. Its faculty and programs were very appealing to me and I knew that I would be able to explore all of my musical interests—a combination of contemporary jazz, contemporary and traditional western music, and improvisation.

What are some of your favorite memories from your time at NEC?

In 2015, I had the opportunity to travel to the Panama Jazz Festival as part of the NEC Jazz Ambassadors. My bandmates, Mike Dick ’15 MM (drums), Isaac Wilson '15 (piano), Daniel Raney '15, '17 MM (acoustic bass), Kevin Sun '15 (saxes), and I performed several times and led a masterclass.

Later that year, I brought my bandmates to my hometown Mérida, Venezuela, along with the Chair of the Jazz Department, Dr. Ken Schaphorst ’84 MM. Our residency included a concert where Schaphorst conducted the Mérida Jazz Big Band and an intensive 2-day seminar with the students of the Contemporary Jazz and Popular Music Program at the University of Andes.

I also remember the time when I performed my compositions for Dave Holland during one of his residencies. His direct feedback on my works and the hybrid percussion set-up I used with my small ensemble was invaluable. 

How have your NEC experiences shaped your artistic approach?

NEC has been a milestone in my career. The level of excellence, support, and respect for everyone’s vision is unparalleled and is something I try to encourage and practice with my students and colleagues.

Share any other stories about what has inspired you at NEC and beyond.

Billy Hart motivated me to constantly research different musical traditions of the world, to be in continuous renovation, and to be open to collaborate with colleagues of different generations and artistic backgrounds.  

I also appreciated studying with Jerry Bergonzi and learning from his vision and methodology as an improviser. Joe Morris’s Improvisation classes were another highlight. Both experiences continue to remind me to be fearless when performing and composing.

And last but not least, my mentor Dr. Schaphorst, who humbly agreed to travel to my hometown to share his incredible wealth of knowledge. 

What have you been up to since graduating from NEC? What projects have you been working on?

I have been touring the continent with my Venezuelan Jazz Collective—we released an album in 2018 that was selected as one of the Best Latin Jazz Albums by New York City Jazz Records—and playing with a few different contemporary jazz projects around the world. I’ve worked with both steel-pan player Josanne Francis Group and Kamarata Jazz, led by pianist Cesar Orozco, with whom I have recorded his most recent albums.

Last year, I joined the Jazz Faculty of the Peabody Institute in Baltimore where I currently conduct the Pan-American Jazz Ensemble and teach Jazz Theory and Jazz Composition & Arranging. Previously, I served as adjunct faculty of World Music at the Music Department of Salem State University in Massachusetts.

I have been developing an educational project - Hidden Treasure Music Workshop - through a Fellowship I was awarded by the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities.

I am starting to work on my commission for Chamber Music America and am grateful to be among this years’ awardees of the prestigious New Jazz Works grant. 

Learn more about Fran:

Degree: Masters, Jazz Studies - Performance

Grad Year: 2016


Instagram: @franvielmaperc


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