Concordia stages its own house of blues

The Music Department of Concordia University offered a very nice show last week, featuring the talents of singers and musicians in a bluesy Jazzical called When Bessie and Jelly Jam! featuring the music of Bessie Smith and Jelly Roll Morton.
The singers were students of Concordia professor and performer Jeri Brown.
The show took place last Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, as the final part of the student’s class with Brown.
The stage of the Oscar Peterson Concert Hall was decorated with simple theatre props: a desk, chairs and a coat hanger, livened with plants and flowers here and there.
It was arranged to look both like a hospital from the play The Death of Bessie Smith, by Edward Albee, and a speakeasy from the musical Jelly’s Last Jam.
The jazz orchestra on the left of the stage completed the scene.
“Every year I look at my students, what their background and their stage presence are like, and I create a show out of it,” says Brown, who also directed the choir. “This year it was going towards blues, rather than other styles.”
The show was separated in different segments. It started with a choir of students and band members singing spirituals.
At this point, the singers didn’t quite seem to have the confidence necessary for the whole show.
Smiles were scarce, and the sound could have been more uniform, as the performers were not listening to each other, and some voices were piercing through and off key.
Fortunately, this problem was solved along the way.
The band then went to take its rightful place, and the show went on. The students acted an excerpt from The Death of Bessie Smith followed by King Porter Stomp, from Jelly’s Last Jam.
One of the high points of the show came next, when Leslie Benjamin sang the Dirty No-Do-Gooder’s blues.
She has an amazingly mastered voice, with a touch of roughness perfect for the blues.
This seemed to raise the bar for the rest of the singers, who came back to sing their songs with more enthusiasm than ever.
During the intermission a few students came to sing in a more sober atmosphere, standing beside the piano, with the band playing in the back, allowing the public to really see them shine.
The second half of the show consisted of some refreshing swing and the return of the choir to sing a reprise of the King Porter Stomp.
Overall, the show was worth seeing if you’re a talent seeker or a member of the singers’ family, but it lacked a little professionalism, both in the performances and the stage direction.
Of course, this is understandable, since it was all the work of students. But they could have used some fine tuning.
Luckily, the energy was there, at least for the second part.
And since it was free for students, there’s no real reason to complain. Sadly, people will have to wait a whole year, for the next class to present its project.

Jeri Brown will be performing at the Maison de la Culture N.D.G. (3755 Botrel) on Thursday, and at Upstairs (1254 Mackay) on Friday and Saturday.


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