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Samara Joy opened the Symphony Center Jazz season with a bang


Symphony Center’s respected jazz series, which broke the ground on the city scene when it debuted in 1994, celebrates its 30th season this year.

Last Friday’s opening headline? He will turn 24 next month.

That singer was Samara Joy, who performed on the most prestigious stages of jazz in just two years as a university graduate. Earlier this year, Joy’s sophomore album, “Linger Awhile,” won the Grammy for best jazz vocal album. And best new artist overall, making him the first jazz musician to gain such recognition since Esperanza Spalding’s win in 2011. Not since Cécile McLorin Salvant has a vocalist grasped the genre so completely and thrillingly. Joy’s soft, mid-low pitch, which can warm even the majestic Orchestra Hall like a furnace, is worthy of comparison with Sarah Vaughan. There’s a dash of Ella Fitzgerald as she playfully ping-pongs up and down the register.

But Samara is Samara. If he hadn’t mentioned TikTok, where he forms a significant portion of his fan base, in his bio and on-stage comments, his voice might have been the voice of another time.

Joy is still young, of course, which means her instrument will change. But the idea of ​​her soulful, effortlessly acrobatic voice maturing further is like imagining California redwoods after a surprise growth spurt. On Friday, after the upward-shining flourish on “Guess Who I Saw Today”—the Joy calling card she’s masterfully blended with Stevie Wonder’s “Lately” in recent months—I wondered, honestly and without exaggeration: Is there something in her voice? can’t To do?

But it grows, it grows. Those who attended Friday’s Symphony Center concert after any of Joy’s three local shows last year would have seen the same artist in 4D. top ten chapel The onstage passages of Mingus’ “Reincarnation of a Lovebird,” a vocal featuring Joy’s own lyrics, gave us a quick transition through her recordings from that gold-mine sound to the floating wisps at the top of her range. Even when her seven-piece band entered, she easily moved past them with her operatic voice, with its hall-filling voice and powerful vibrato.

It’s not just Joy’s voice that’s incredibly mature: The girl knows how to work the crowd. As the band vamped behind her, Joy flowed seamlessly from her introductory renditions to Benny Carter’s “A Kiss from You” with the ease of a seasoned performer. Later, she went out of her way to accommodate a group of DePaul students in the audience (she was sitting a few rows behind me in the lower balcony, judging by their joyful chirping) and devilishly wondered if the university would let her graduate with them. After COVID ruined his own ceremony at SUNY Purchase.

That moment – DePaul’s shout – spoke volumes. Joy, who became a star overnight, was able to tour with the best names in the industry. Instead, he made a point of sharing the chance he deserved with other precocious young talents. Most of his current bandmates are others in their 20s who have just finished school: trombonist Donavan Austin, tenor saxophonist Kendric McCallister and bassist Michael Migliore all joined Purchase with Joy, and trumpeter Jason Charos and alto saxophonist David are graduates of the University of Miami’s Frost School. Mason. , they are also in their early 20s.

Instead of jettisoning the crowd-pleasers from his two studio albums (a third holiday EP was released the day of the concert), he centered his Friday set on his bandmates’ craftsmanship. Trombonist Austin is also a troubadour of exuberant, unbalanced arrangements; the terrific asymmetrical horn code on “A Kiss From You” and the sultry original on “A Fool in Love Is Called Clown.” Austin’s compositional mastery is such that one could surmise that he was the arranger behind Friday’s version of Ronnell Bright’s “Sweet Pumpkin” long before Joy announced it onstage.

Trumpeter Charos is also a relentless arranger, penning a rhythmically vital reimagining of Horace Silver’s “Nica’s Dream” (again with Joy’s original words). Sensational 20-year-old pianist Cameron Campbell, an all-encompassing marvel of dexterity and chromaticity, shined here and in Joy’s now signature uptempo rendition of “Tight.” It’s no surprise that McCallister was also taken with a big showing recently: His intense, often impressionistic tenor solos hit the ears again and again on Friday.

The jubilation ended with Axel Stordahl, Paul Weston and Sammy Cahn smilingly setting the chorus to “Day by Day” to “Day by day / I’m falling more in love with Chicago…” Are you more in love with Samara Joy too?

Hannah Edgar is a freelance critic.

The Rubin Institute of Music Criticism helps fund our classical music coverage. The Chicago Tribune retains editorial control over assignments and content.


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