The Lotte Lehmann Concert Hall resounded with the vocal talents of Giuliana Gabrielle, Patricia Reyes and Jenelle Fong on Thursday, April 28, and I was lucky enough to have born witness to the musical delights of the UC Santa Barbara Jazz Ensemble. Since I hadn’t attended a UCSB music concert before, I sat in sheer anticipation for the swinging evening of live vocal Jazz to begin. A few minutes past eight o’clock, the lights went down and the band made their way to their seats.
The double bass player, Thomas Semow, plucked a few baritone notes, leaving the audience waiting anxiously for the first number to begin. With the band now settled in their seats, silence again engulfed the auditorium. This stillness was soon broken as director Jon Nathan walked charismatically onto the stage, clicking his fingers. After four clicks, the band erupted into a smooth, effortlessly cool rendition of Cole Porter’s “Love For Sale”, and guitarist Cody Krivacic astounding the audience with his beautifully adroit solo playing.
This impressively taut instrumental gave a mouth-watering taste of the musical aptitude that was yet to come.
The first vocalist to take to the stage was second-year Voice major Giuliana Gabrielle. This year had been her second year singing for the UCSB Jazz Ensemble, which was made clear by the chemistry that sparked between her resplendent vocals and the professionalism of the band. Her opening song, Ella Fitzgerald’s “This Can’t be Love” was sung with elegance and control, and was a real listening pleasure. Gabrielle swayed coolly as she performed her set of three tracks, complimenting her vocal abilities with an aurora of confidence and levelheadedness.
Next to take to the microphone was third-year Patricia Reyes, who began her performing career at the age of thirteen as a pastoral musician in various churches around her home city of San Diego.
Walking onto the stage to a catchy bassline, Reyes’ first number, “Honeysuckle Rose”, arranged by the great Quincy Jones, soon got the audience’s toes tapping. A special mention must also go to alto saxophonist Thaddeus Brown, who asserted his authority as a true pro by standing up and playing an enormously impressive solo. Reyes’ voice was spellbinding from the start, and throughout her three-song set she sang across a vast vocal range, hitting some impressively high notes. She was clearly in her element whilst up on stage, and blew the audience away with her third song, “Imagine my Frustration,” which was sung with passion and eloquence. At times, she was almost shouting the words to the song, yet with such rhythmic articulacy you really had to hear it for yourself to fully comprehend its magnificence.
After Reyes’ set, Giuliana returned to the stage along with first-year Jenelle Fong, who was making her UCSB musical debut. It was then that the audience was treated to the most tremendous vocal Jazz renditions as the trio harmonised together beautifully, each singer bouncing off the other. It was a treat for the audience to see three such talented vocalists performing together. It was also great to see a trombone solo from Brett Esaki in the bluesy number “All Right, Okay, You Win,” offering a nice bit of variety to the evening’s music.
After three songs as a trio, Giulianna and Patricia left the stage, leaving Fong to have her time to shine. After a problem with the height of the microphone stand, Fong sung her first track with microphone in hand, which was a welcomed change and really seemed to set her free on stage. She sang with a great level of maturity and continued to impress the audience with two more tracks, ending her set with a spectacular rendition of “Out of Nowhere,” arranged by Bill Liston.
“I was really surprised with how well it went,” said Fong after the show. “I was really nervous since it was my first performance, but I’m so happy now I’ve done it”.
Fong’s enthusiasm was also shared by audience members.
“I loved the last song”, said UCSB first-year Brooke Cossaboom, which was in referral to the infectious “It Don’t Mean a Thing If it Ain’t Got That Swing” which the three singers ended the evening with. “The three-way harmonies were amazing, and I especially liked the different instrumental solos throughout the show.”
I also got a chance to talk to director Jon Nathan afterwards.
“I’m happy and proud,” said Nathan. “There was a lot of music to learn, and very little time to learn it in. Due to differing schedules, everybody had to practice separately. The first time we did all practice together was the afternoon before the performance!”
Nathan also said the song selection was very difficult.
“As it’s a big band I have only a limited repertoire, and have to consider all sorts of factors, such as is the band capable, does the song have educational value, is the song within the vocalists range, and which key is it in, just to name a few,” he said. “I look at what is available to me and take it from there, but tonight I think we got the balance just right between ballads and more upbeat songs.”
When all’s said and done it was a very slick performance. A vast range of Jazz was attempted, and was certainly successfully accomplished. The transition between songs and vocalists was quick and painless, and the levels were just right, with no single instrument or voice too loud or quiet.
The next performance by the Jazz Ensemble is on May 22, and promises to include funk, Be-Bop and “Acid” Jazz.