Vocalese, standards, swing and all that jazz

Two premier ensembles of a dozen jazz vocalists along with their accompanists from the University of North Texas returned to Richland’s Fannin Hall for a second year as guest artists for the noontime recital Sept. 18.

Leading off with three numbers was the very hip group known as Avenue C, imaginatively named after the street in Denton where the UNT music building is located. The musicians, nattily clad in various combinations of black and crimson, were only casually directed by Professor Marion Powers who drifted on one occasion out into the audience to observe her protégées in action.

The three men and nine women ducked and bobbed their way through “The Birds and the Bees” by Inara George and Greg Kursten as arranged by UNT’s usual vocal jazz leader, Jennifer Barnes. “Infant Eyes” by Wayne Shorter was arranged by Kerry Marsh and “Bli Blip” by Duke Ellington and Sid Kuller, as arranged by Darmon Meader, was also performed.

Interspersed between spirited solos by Corbin Bullard and Jessica Fuller were some agile riffs by bassist Dylan Castilleja and guitarist Dallas Dillard.

The vocal jazz ensenble, Avenue C performs a concert in Fannin Hall on Sept. 18.

The vocal jazz ensenble, Avenue C performs a concert in Fannin Hall on Sept. 18.

The second troupe, known simply as The Jazz Singers, received top billing. These outstanding singers were as attractively bedecked as the others but this time in black and deep blue.

Their repertoire included five pieces that featured almost every one of the five males and seven females as soloists at various times. Perhaps indicative of the overall vocal jazz genre, which includes both traditional and modern themes, were the titles of their songs: “Airegin,” “Here’s to Life,” “Moanin,” “My Ideal” and “Estrogenia.”

The last song, which contained several interesting syncopated rhythms, was composed by the group’s temporary director, Professor Anna Jalkeus. In addition to the always happy and smiling finger-snapping presentations by the vocalists, their accompaniment, especially by guitarist Joel White and bassist Byron Crenshaw, was spectacular.

When the music ended, Jalkeus gave a short pitch for UNT to any students at Richland interested in vocal jazz as a specialty career. After fielding several astute audience questions, she asked all the performers to take a moment to describe their backgrounds and how they happened to become jazz artists.

As the microphone was passed along the row of shining faces, it became very apparent that a common thread was an early and enthusiastic exposure to music and a growing appreciation for the expressive capabilities of jazz. A final round of ringing applause echoed the audience’s hearty agreement.