By Jessica Hergert
The Bart Luedeke Center Theater was jiving Sunday evening to a special jazz concert called “What is Old is New Again,” performed by the Vox Blue and Vox Blue Too ensembles.
The groups, composed of students from the Princeton and Lawrenceville campuses, treated the audience to a multitude of sounds, tempos and rhythms in the one-night performance.
Directed by visiting assistant professor of popular music at Westminster Choir College Tim Brent, the two-act show allowed vocalists’ talents to come together and showcase a seemingly forgotten style of music.
After 11 weeks of work, the groups performed 18 songs, some of which had four- to-five-part harmonies, said Brent. This meant every performer had to be “absolutely perfect.”
As excited friends and family members settled in their seats, Vox Blue took the stage wearing black with hints of teal — a nod to the group’s name.
The semi-circle of singers relied on each other to deliver the difficult measures while keeping a close eye on Brent, who was simultaneously manning the keyboard and conducting.
With an enthusiastic count-off by Brent — accompanied by bassist Ian Kenselaar from Rutgers University, New Brunswick, and drummer Kyle Duppstadt from Mason Gross School of the Arts — the theater came to life as the six women and two men began their first number titled “Le Nommage.”
The ensemble stepped in place, keeping the tempo, while senior music major Shayna Holness and senior music education and teaching major Destiny Cooper took center stage with solos.
Without wasting a beat, the next piece titled “I’m Old Fashioned” started, showcasing Holness again, as well as freshman musical theater major Kristen Wisneski, with solos.
The first two songs kept up with traditional jazz flair, challenging the solos to perform improvised scatting.
“They are making things up and creating things spontaneously for you,” Brent told the audience. “It is usually customary in a jazz setting to hear somebody come up saying, ‘Doobie doobie, scoobie scoobie’ but they didn’t forget the words. [They are] creating original and unique melodious in real time that they will never do again.”
The fourth number “Dear Ella” slowed the tempo of the concert with senior musical theater major Mary Sudol’s controlled voice leading the piece.
As the song ended, the two male vocalists exited the stage, leaving the six women to perform a unique, a cappella rendition of the classic nursery rhyme “Rock-a-Bye Baby.”
The women’s teamwork was evident as they looked to each other for pacing and cues within the multiple harmony piece that got audience members snapping their fingers to the beat.
The following two songs, “Cottontail” and “Willow Weep for Me,” sounded like they were from two different shows. “Cottontail” took on the speed of a hopping rabbit while “Willow Weep for Me” was a slow, sultry song.
Junior popular music studies major Erin-Marquise Watson, channeling his inner Stevie Wonder, closed the first act with soul as the group accompanied him in “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing” and a rendition of “As” arranged by Brent himself.
The Stevie Wonder pieces featured solos from junior musical theater major Alei Russo, freshman musical theater major Lilly Gorski and sophomore popular music studies Taj Howard, as well as the other performers.
After a short intermission, Vox Blue Too — consisting of 10 women and six men — took its turn on stage.
Wearing black with purple accents, the ensemble opened with an emotionally charged song titled the piece that weaved the message of Martin Luther King Jr. with gospel-like jazz.
Sophomore acting major Jake Diedrich took the first solo of the act during “Shed a Little Light,” followed by freshman music education major Kelly Zuzic in a piece titled “Come Rain or Come Shine.”
Zuzic, among other soloists, received a large round of applause from fellow students in the front row who came to support their friends.
The show’s sound switched yet again when a unique version of “Crazy,” originally made famous by Gnarls Barkley, was transformed into a contemporary jazz piece.
“Let Your Light Shine” was next, featuring solos by Deidrich and junior health sciences major Henry Toke. The beautiful piece led into another familiar piece: a rendition of The Beatles’ “Paperback Writer” arranged by Brent.
With soloist and senior music education major Kyle Blackburn guiding the group, “Paperback Writer” was a hit with the audience. A highlight was a duet beatbox interlude by Diedrich and sophomore music education major Luke Wroblewski.
Next, the group formed a line at the front of the stage for an a cappella performance of “Shenandoah” followed by an upbeat jazz number called “Bli Blip,” which featured previous soloists as well as senior voice performance major Jacelyn Brown.
The final two songs, “Love Makes the World Go ‘Round” and “You’re Makin’ Me Crazy,” showcased the group’s talent, even incorporating traditional New Orleans-style jazz.
“It was such a pleasure to explore and create with my fellow artists,” Wisneski said of the show. “We put in a lot of individual work and time into cultivating a crisp, artistically informed, collaborative, and energized performance. It was certainly a challenge but, as Brent so wisely advised us, it was our job to make it look easy. And I believe we did just that.”
Printed in the 12/6/17 edition.