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Preview: Vocal Jazz Ensemble Showcase | The Gustavian Weekly

By Anh Tran - Staff Writer | May 3, 2019 | Variety

This weekend, the Vocal Jazz Ensemble members will be showcasing and celebrating the work they have worked on since the beginning of the spring semester.

The concert takes place at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, May 5 in Björling Recital Hall, featuring guest vocalist/pianist Christine Hitt. This event is free and open to the public.

While previous Vocal Jazz Showcases took place in the Courtyard Café, this upcoming showcase will be in a more formal setting. However, Dr. Masa Ishikawa, director of the Vocal Jazz Ensemble, expects a typical jazz audience, that enjoys and interacts with the music and the musicians.

The showcase consists of two parts: Vocal Jazz solo and Vocal Jazz ensemble.

The first part—Vocal Jazz solo—features Vocal Jazz members performing their own jazz standards solo, with a rhythm section. The second part—Vocal Jazz ensemble—features the Vocal Jazz Ensemble performing three pieces as a group, both with a rhythm section and a capella.

Solo standard pieces for the Vocal Jazz Solo portion includes: “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” “The Way You Look Tonight,” “Stormy Weather,” “Don’t Know Why,” “Someone to Watch Over Me,” “Nature Boy,” “My Baby Just Cares for Me,” “Angel Eyes,” “It’s Only a Paper Moon,” “When I Fall in Love,” and “Cheek to Cheek.”

For this section, First-year Music Education Major Anya Menk will be individually singing and playing the piano for her own re-harmonized rendition of the piece “When I Fall in Love.”

“The pieces [for the ensemble section] are “Gingerbread Boy,” “Do Nothin’ Till You Hear From Me,” and “Peace.” “Peace” is my favorite piece; it is arranged by our director, Masa Ishikawa. He took the original piece written by Nora Jones and completely reimagined it, and it is so fun to sing,” Menk said.

In the second half of the concert, guest artist Christine Hitt will join the ensemble in two pieces “Do Nothin’ Till You Hear from Me,” and “Peace.” In addition, she will be singing her solo piece—”Wade in the Water.”

“Members of the ensemble come to rehearsals regularly (Mondays and Wednesdays from 3:30-4:30 p.m.) and practice the repertoire outside of class. Practicing vocal jazz is different though because a lot of it comes from listening to jazz a lot and internalizing the feel of the music. In vocal jazz, we have the opportunity to “scat,” which is essentially just vocal improv over chord changes—it is really fun to mess around with different licks and melodies to make the scat solos unique and different,” Menk said.

Besides Menk, the Vocal Jazz Ensemble includes ten other singers and the rhythm sections.

“My favorite part of vocal jazz is the people in it. Rehearsals are so enjoyable when the people are so amazing to work with. We’re so lucky to be able to work with our wonderful director, Masa. He goes the extra mile to ensure everyone in the ensemble is confident in their parts and he has done so much work for the group as a whole. Vocal jazz is that time in the week where I can just sing and have a great time with great people and make some great music,” Menk said.

The ensemble has five sopranos: Kristi Manning, Audrey Powell, Jocelyn Jaimez, and Alanna Rein; three altos: Stella Hadjiyanis, Anya Menk, and Nora Mohamed; two tenors: Andrew DeLuca and Nathan Thompson; and two baritones: Andrew Peterson and Caleb Gampson.

According to Dr. Ishikawa, these jazz singers come from very different backgrounds.

“Some of them already had choral experience before joining Vocal, while some of them play instruments in other ensembles and had never sung before they joined Vocal Jazz. And this makes working with them an exciting experience, because they are all drawn to vocal jazz because of their shared interest,” Dr. Ishikawa said.

“I have been in Vocal Jazz this whole year. I actually saw Vocal Jazz perform last year when I was still in high school, and I remember thinking “I want to be in that.” Vocal jazz has always been the realm of music that I enjoy the most-I wasn’t able to pursue it until I got to Gustavus, and I am super thankful that there are so many wonderful opportunities for music students here at Gustavus,” Menk said.

What distinguishes the Vocal Jazz Ensemble from other vocal ensembles is that the Vocal Jazz ensemble performs with a rhythm section, consisting of a piano, bass, and drum.

For the solo portion of the showcase, Dr. Ishikawa will be on the piano, Timothy Hirsh on the bass, and Jonathan Hickox-Young on the drums.

For the ensemble portion, Austyn Menk will be on the piano, Zander Boettcher on the bass, and Jason Smith on the drums.

“I look forward to the music. I am so excited to hear our guest artist, Christine Hitt, from Eau Claire. She is an accomplished jazz musician,and we are very lucky to be able to work with her and hear her perform. It is also very exciting to present the repertoire we have been working on this semester; it’s really great to see the progression of the music and how far we’ve come from the start of the semester,” Menk said.

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