Dan Liptak’s APEX Ensemble 


APEX January


From the grooves of Snarky Puppy and the great San Francisco Bay 60’s Funk, to the great arrangements of the San Francisco Jazz Collective Stevie Wonder Project, Originals of Vermonters Brian Boyes and Rob Morse, to originals from the jazz/funk/rock masters Freddie Hubbard, SF Jazz Collective, Snarky Puppy and Rick Hirsch, APEX represents the pinnacle of Instrumental music.  Blending the lines between funk, rock, fusion, jazz and even chamber music, APEX is is unique blend and mixture of music as diverse and the musicians performing.

Featuring an all star line up of the best non-traditional musicians Vermont has to offer who’ve played with groups such as the Big Bang Bhangra Brass Band,  TURNmusic, Saturn People’s Sound Collective, Movement of the People, The Renegade Groove, Too Hot To Handle, Afinque, Kat Wright’s Soul Band, Vermont Jazz Ensemble, The Vermont Symphony Orchestra amongst others.  10 piece APEX is a horn driven musical experience sure to invigorate your mind, body and soul.

APEX is:

Dan Liptak – Tenor saxophone/Soprano saxophone

Evan Crandell – Alto saxophone

Tom Cate/Jessica Friedman – Bari saxophone/Bass Clarinet

Brian Boyes– Trumpet

Matt Avery – Trombone

Matt Harpster – Guitar

Ira Friedman  – Piano and keyboards

Pat Markley – Bass

Nic Cannizzaro – Percussion

Andy Gagnon – Percussion

Lloyd Dugger – Vocalist

Shannon Dugger – Vocalist

Stefanie Weigand – Vocalist












“New band alert! Welcome to the fray, Apex. Led by local saxophonist Dan Liptak, the 10-person ensemble features members from several notable outfits, including Kat Wright & the Indomitable Soul Band, Saturn People’s Sound Collective, the Grippo Funk Band and Afinque, to name a few. According to a recent press release, the group trades in the “grooves of Snarky Puppy” and hearkens to the heydays of 1960s Bay Area funk, blending “funk, rock, fusion, jazz and even chamber music.” Interesting, no? They’ll be at Positive Pie 2 in Montpelier this Friday, December 13.”




In case you missed it last winter, Vermont’s APEX Ensemble are reconvening to perform their selected interpretations from Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life. The band previously performed their selections at the Spruce Peak Performing Arts Center in February, 2016. Now the troupe is headed to ArtsRiot in Burlington, on Saturday, November 19.
APEX are a 10-piece, horn-heavy ensemble, stacked with experienced Vermont-based jazz, funk and rock musicians. For this performance, their ranks rise to 13.

At the band’s core, or perhaps its apex, is multi-instrumentalist Dan Liptak, who also performs with TURNmusic, among other projects. A graduate of the Hartt School conservatory in Connecticut, Liptak describes APEX Ensemble’s take on jazz as being a rambunctious cousin of contemporary classical music.


“It’s not your grandfather’s swing band on a Sunday afternoon,” Liptak explains in a recent interview at Red Hen Bakery in Middlesex. “It’s more complex harmonically and tonally. It’s not easy listening. It’s kind of a melting pot of jazz, classical, funk, rock and world music, as opposed to big band jazz.”

Adapting Songs for APEX was a massive undertaking. Vocalist Lloyd Dugger was tasked with identifying which tracks to include and setting the key for each song. From their, the instrumentalists arranged their own parts before putting it all together.

“We’re not just covering the album note for note,” says Liptak. “We’re putting our own feel on it.”

Liptak notes that APEX do not perform any original music. When possible, he and his bandmates looks to local composers for material, such as James Harvey. At their nearly sold-out performance at Spruce Peak, Liptak says that audience members reacted more positively to their Wonder interpretations than their other works, the latter of which can often be sonically challenging.

APEX’s cup runneth over with local talent, and features Evan Cradell (Too Hot to Handle, Renegade Groove), Brian Boyes (Viperhouse, TURNmusic), Matt Avery (Grippo Funk Band, Kat Wright and the Indomitable Soul Band), Tom Cate (the Saturn People’s Sound Collective, Vermont Jazz Ensemble), Ira Friedman (Jennifer Hartswick Band, Dave Keller Band), Nicola Cannizzaro (Carlos Santana, Miami Sound Machine), Andy Gagnon (the Collin Craig Continuum, the Bad Sky), Pat Markley (P’tit Trio), Matt Harpster (the Bohemian Blues Quartet, Nadir Trio), Lloyd Dugger (the Chad Hollister Band, the Big Bang Bhangra Brass Band), Stefanie Weigland (TURNmusic, the Vermont Philharmonic) and Shannon Dugger (Lyric Theatre, Stowe Theatre Guild) — and these are just a fraction of the bands and artists with whom these musicians have played.

Wonder released Songs in the Key of Life in 1976 as a double album, which features hits “Sir Duke” and “Isn’t She Lovely.” It addresses social, political and spiritual issues, as well as more traditional themes of love and togetherness.

Vermont Arts – Tom Huntington, Times Argus 6/15/17

APEX Ensemble performing its interpretations of Stevie Wonder songs at ArtRiot in Burlington last November. PHOTO BY MONIKA RIVARD

A rising star on the Vermont music scene, 30-year-old woodwind musician and Moretown native Dan Liptak has a lot going on.

In addition to teaching instrumental music at Crossett Brook Middle School in Duxbury, Liptak — who moved back to Moretown after graduating from the prestigious Hartt School of Music in Hartford, Conn. — plays in the new music ensemble TURNmusic and the eclectic world music-driven collective Big Bang Bhangra Brass Band, led by Plainfield musician Brian Boyes. And he leads his own group, the sizable APEX Ensemble, which he formed four years ago as a 10-piece instrumental group that fuses jazz, rock and funk and performs music by a variety of composers.

On June 22, APEX will be 13 members strong for a headline show at the Higher Ground Showcase Lounge in South Burlington. The two-set show will culminate with the group’s interpretations of Stevie Wonder’s classic 1976 album, “Songs in the Key of Life.” This is the third concert by APEX to feature such a program, the first being a sold-out show at Spruce Peak Performing Arts Center in Stowe in early 2016. The APEX lineup includes a number of noteworthy Vermont musicians, many of whom also play in Big Bang Bhangra and other big bands. In addition to Liptak on tenor and alto sax, APEX includes Evan Crandell on alto sax, Tom Cate on baritone sax and bass clarinet, Brian Boyes on trumpet, Matt Avery on trombone, Matt Harpster on guitar, Patrick J. Markley on bass, Ira Friedman on keyboards, Nicola Cannizzaro on percussion, Andy Gagnon on percussion and vocals, and vocalists Lloyd Dugger, Shannon Dugger and Stefanie Weigand.

Following are excerpts from a recent phone interview with Liptak.

Q: How did the “Songs in the Key of Life” shows come about?

A: We’d been playing for a couple years, playing instrumental music, and we had an offer to play at Spruce Peak Performing Arts Center. They wanted a theme to the concert. I’d been wanting to play this album for


a long time, and this was the perfect opportunity to do it. And we sold that concert out, which gave us a lot of confidence to bring it elsewhere.

Q: Why did you choose this album, in particular?

A: I wanted to do a Stevie Wonder thing, and it’s such a quintessential album. That album is just such a masterpiece. Everyone can relate to it. And it’s fun going back and listening to it and finding new connections to it.

Q: How would you describe your interpretations of the songs?

A: A lot of the tunes, we’ll change the feel of the song. Like we might say, “We’ll do a gospel feel on this one,” or “We’re going to speed this one up” or “We’re going to do a Latin feel.” We change around some of the styles, and we might change the form around a little bit — add in a horn solo, because we have five incredible horn players and it’s nice to feature them. So it’s kind of our take and our fresh look at it.

Q: Is the Stevie Wonder music something you’re going to keep doing, or are you going to tackle a different album down the road? What’s next for APEX?

A: We’re talking right now about doing a show in the fall, and we’ll probably do a Stevie Wonder set and we’ll share the bill with someone else. And then, I’d like to get back to kind of where we started, which was just playing instrumental music. We’re doing a show at Spruce Peak in February of 2018, and that’s going to be all music by Vermont musicians.

Q: APEX and Big Bang Bhangra seem to be kindred spirits of sorts, in that both bands bring different approaches to big band music.

A: Yeah, we have all these people that love all these different types of music. And the Bhangra stuff is wild. That’s such a cool group, because it’s a blend of all

APEX bandleader Dan Liptak performing at ArtRiot in Burlington last November. PHOTO BY MONIKA RIVARD

these different types of music. There’s a whole bunch of original music in there. And then (Brian Boyes) throws in this traditional Indian wedding dance music, and it’s a New Orleans-type band.

Q: And you have vocalists in APEX for the Stevie Wonder material.

A: Yeah, Lloyd Dugger, who is the lead singer of the show, was a music teacher here in central Vermont at U-32 High School. Local audiences will know him very well. And then we have two female singers. Stephanie Weigand is a chorus teacher at Harwood Union High School. She’s an incredible vocalist. And Shannon Dugger, who is Lloyd’s wife.

Q: It seems like there is a great community of musicians around here, which might surprise people about Vermont.

A: Yeah, the amount of incredible artists per capita is ridiculous. And that’s kind of how this whole thing was born, from playing with all these people together and saying, “Hey, we have these common interests in music. Let’s do something together.”

Q: What’s the plan for the Higher Ground show?

A: We’re going to do a set of our instrumentals first. The music that we’re playing for the first set is kind of wild, but very much in the vein of funk-rock and jazz, though I wouldn’t classify it as a jazz show. So we’ll do an hour of that, and we’ll do an hour and a half of Stevie Wonder. The show kind of lends itself to a pretty wide range of listeners. At the last one, a lot of people were like, “I wasn’t expecting to like the first set of music as much as I did.” Because it’s definitely different. It’s not Stevie Wonder, but it’s really great stuff. It’s fun.


Soundbites – Jordan Adams, 7 Days 2/21/18

Peak Perfection


  • APEX Ensemble

APEX Ensemble, the massive modern jazz ensemble known for its interpretations of well-known works — such as Stevie Wonder‘s Songs in the Key of Life — is back at Stowe’s Spruce Peak Performing Arts Center on Saturday, February 24. For this show, rather than reimagining the works of big-time celebs, APEX looks to composers from its home state for inspiration — a couple of whom are actually members of the band.

Saturday’s outing features exclusively the works of Vermont-based composers. The group performs the work of APEX trumpeter Brian Boyes and keyboardist Ira Friedman, along with compositions from noteworthy VT artists Erik NielsenPatricia JulienBruce SklarRob Morse and Kyle Saulnier, a formerly NYC-based musician who recently relocated to Colchester. In addition to Boyes and Friedman, Nielsen, Julien and Sklar will be in attendance for a meet and greet after the show.



Vermont Arts – Tom Huntington, Times Argus 2/17/18

APEX Ensemble, a sizable jazz-funk ensemble of noteworthy Vermont musicians – known for its compelling interpretations of Stevie Wonder’s classic 1976 album, “Songs in the Key of Life” – serves up a program of all-Vermont music Feb. 24 at the intimate Spruce Peak Performing Arts Center in Stowe.

Led by woodwind musician and Moreton native Dan Liptak, 31, a rising star on the Vermont jazz scene, the 11-piece group will be blending, bending and blurring such genres as jazz, big band, rock and world music. They’ll perform compositions by the likes of Brian Boyes of Plainfield, Erik Nielsen of Brookfield, Patricia Julien of Burlington, Ira Friedman of Montpelier, Bruce Sklar of West Windsor, Kyle Saulnier of Burlington/New York City, and Rob Morse of East Montpelier.

Sklar, Julien, Friedman, Nielsen and Boyes will all be in attendance or performing in the concert, and will participate in a meet-and-greet in the lobby after the show. Composers performing in the show include Boyes on trumpet and Friedman on piano and keyboards. The rest of the band includes Liptak on tenor and soprano sax, Evan Crandell on alto sax and flute, Jessica Friedman on baritone sax and bass clarinet, Nate Reit on trombone, Matt Harpster on guitar, Pat Markley on bass, Nic Cannizzaro and Andy Gagnon on percussion, and vocalist Stefanie Weigand.

In addition to teaching instrumental music at Crossett Brook Middle School in Duxbury, Liptak – who moved back to Moretown after graduating from the prestigious Hartt School of Music in Hartford, Conn. – plays in the new music ensemble TURNmusic and the eclectic world music-driven collective Big Bang Bhangra Brass Band, led by Boyes.

Liptak formed APEX Ensemble – which “features Vermont’s best non-traditional musicians,” according to a press release – five years ago as a 10-piece instrumental group that fuses jazz, rock and funk and performs music by a variety of composers.

Band members also perform in such freewheeling big bands as Saturn People’s Sound Collective, Movement of the People and the Renegade Groove, in addition to Too Hot to Handle, Afinque, Kat Wright, the Vermont Jazz Ensemble and the Vermont Symphony Orchestra.

“I’m super excited about this concert,” says Liptak about the Spruce Peak show, “as it’s giving a voice to a few Vermont composers who don’t have a group like this to showcase their music.”





2.24.18 @ Spruce Peak Performing Arts

Apex Spruce-1

11.19.17 @ Arts Riot


6.22.17 @ Higher Ground. Songs in the Key of Life


11.19.16 @ ARTS RIOT



6.4.16 – Leunigs, Burlington VT

7.22.16 – APEX in the Alley, Waterbury VT – MORE INFO SOON!

2.20.16 – Spruce Peak Performing Arts Center


8.28.15 – Radio Bean 11:30 PM Burlington VT

7.24.15 – Axels Alley. Waterbury VT, curated by TURNmusic

6.5.15 – Radio Bean – Burlington Discover Jazz Fest

5.8.15 – Two Brothers Tavern. Middlebury VT


1.30.15 – APEX. Radio Bean. Burlington VT

1.23.15 – APEX. Radio Bean. Burlington VT

1.16.15 – APEX. Radio Bean. Burlington VT

1.9.15 – APEX. Radio Bean. Burlington VT

1.2.15 – APEX. Radio Bean. Burlington VT

6.6.14 – Club Metronome, Burlington VT












Metronome 2.8.14:

Afro Blue

Balancing Act

Red Clay



What is Hip

Young Stuff



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