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Sounds Local

Sounds Local: Ladies in Jazz

  • Submitted photo<br/>Sheila Jordan, top, the 2012 recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters Fellowship, will perform Saturday at the Arts Block in Greenfield as part of the Ladies in Jazz series started by fellow jazz singer Samirah Evans.

    Submitted photo
    Sheila Jordan, top, the 2012 recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters Fellowship, will perform Saturday at the Arts Block in Greenfield as part of the Ladies in Jazz series started by fellow jazz singer Samirah Evans.

  •        Submitted photo<br/>Sheila Jordan, the 2012 recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters Fellowship, will perform Saturday at the Arts Block in Greenfield as part of the Ladies in Jazz series started by fellow jazz singer Samirah Evans, pictured.

    Submitted photo
    Sheila Jordan, the 2012 recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters Fellowship, will perform Saturday at the Arts Block in Greenfield as part of the Ladies in Jazz series started by fellow jazz singer Samirah Evans, pictured.

  • Recorder file photo/Trish Crapo<br/>Paul Newlin, Whately founder of the Watermelon Wednesday summer concert series, slices watermelon. Recorder/Trish Crapo

    Recorder file photo/Trish Crapo
    Paul Newlin, Whately founder of the Watermelon Wednesday summer concert series, slices watermelon. Recorder/Trish Crapo

  • Submitted photo<br/>Sheila Jordan, top, the 2012 recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters Fellowship, will perform Saturday at the Arts Block in Greenfield as part of the Ladies in Jazz series started by fellow jazz singer Samirah Evans.
  •        Submitted photo<br/>Sheila Jordan, the 2012 recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters Fellowship, will perform Saturday at the Arts Block in Greenfield as part of the Ladies in Jazz series started by fellow jazz singer Samirah Evans, pictured.
  • Recorder file photo/Trish Crapo<br/>Paul Newlin, Whately founder of the Watermelon Wednesday summer concert series, slices watermelon. Recorder/Trish Crapo

When jazz singer Samirah Evans left New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and settled in Brattleboro, Vt., she left a successful career behind and had to reestablish herself in a very different musical environment. One place where she has found a welcoming home is the Arts Block in Greenfield. Whether she is shaking up the dance floor with her band the Handsome Devils, ringing in the New Year with John Sheldon or bringing down the house with some jazz standards, Evans has discovered an appreciative audience here in Franklin County.

This weekend, Evans will return to the Arts Block at 289 Main St. when she launches the 2014 season of her Ladies in Jazz series with a show on Saturday, May 31, at 8 p.m. Joining her will be another jazz vocalist, Sheila Jordan. Each concert in the Ladies in Jazz series presents Evans with another female vocalist or instrumentalist. The series launched in 2012.

Jordan is one of the premier singers in the jazz world and the 2012 recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters Fellowship, the highest honor our nation gives to jazz artists.

Jordan is a superb scat singer, the term for singers who improvise melodies and rhythms using their voices as an instrument. She started singing in the clubs of Detroit and, in the early 1960s, moved to New York, where she continues to reside. A disciple of Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker, Jordan, in addition to her work as a solo artist, has appeared on the recordings of many established jazz artists. Jazz writer Scott Yanow describes her as “one of the most consistently creative of all the jazz singers.” Jordan is also a faculty member for Jazz in July at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and the Vermont Jazz Center in Brattleboro.

One of Evan’s first performances in Brattleboro found her sharing the stage with Jordan during a production of the jazz and Beat Generation revue “Beatnik Cafe.” The women later discovered that one of Evans’ musical mentors, bebop pianist Willie Metcalf Jr., used to accompany Jordan back when she was playing clubs in Detroit.

“I felt an immediate connection to Sheila during the “Beatnik Café production — not only as a performer but as a human being,” Evans said. “I’ve considered her a new mentor for me since moving to New England and I’m thrilled she agreed to be featured in my Ladies in Jazz series.” 

Evans came up with the idea for doing the Ladies in Jazz series when the Arts Block approached her about doing a monthly residency. She thought that a series featuring different performers might work out better.

“The idea hit me to share the spotlight with other female jazz artists, something I did often in New Orleans,” said Evans. “This concept has enabled me to establish a musical camaraderie in this area that I have so missed.”

Evans added that doing these shows translates into sharing audiences, which means fresh performances for fans and new patrons for the club.

“It also allows me to change up rhythm sections from time to time, which keeps me on my toes musically and encourages me to explore new repertoire ideas,” she said. “The idea for me has been an all around win-win situation.”

As for Saturday’s show, the program will consist of solo performances by both Evans and Jordan and a few duets. The singers will be backed by the Claire Arenius Trio, which consists of Arenius on drums, Eugene Uman on piano and Wayne Roberts on bass.

Jordan will conduct a workshop at the Vermont Jazz Center on Friday. The participants will be featured Saturday during a group song. Two of the workshop participants are local musicians: Mary Witt, vocalist for the O-Tones, and singer-songwriter and guitarist Marcia Gomes, who was featured in “For Colored Girls” with Evelyn Harris at a number of venues this spring.

Evans will team up with pianist Miro Sprague this summer when he returns from college to rejoin her Handsome Devils. They will perform at the Iron Horse Music Hall in Northampton on Saturday, July 5, at 7 p.m. Future shows for the Ladies in Jazz series will be announced at a later date.

Advance tickets are $17 and can be purchased at www.theartsblock.com or by calling 413-774-0150. Tickets at the door are $20, $10 for students with an ID. Doors open at 7 p.m. The Smithsonian Cafe will be serving dinner prior to the show.

Watermelon Wednesdays announces 2014 season

Is there anything better than a hot summer night filled with good music and watermelon? We can enjoy all three when the Watermelon Wednesdays summer concert series launches its 15th season with Dutch violinist Tim Kliphuis and mandolin player Dan Stiernberg. The two will kick of the summer with an evening of high-energy gypsy swing on Wednesday, June 18, at 7 p.m.

The Watermelon Wednesday shows are held at the historic West Whately Chapel in, of course, Whately. The chapel is located at the intersection of Conway and Williamsburg roads. The rustic old chapel is not only picturesque, but provides listeners with the kind of intimate listening experience usually reserved for house concerts.

The series is run by Paul Newlin of Whately, who draws on his own experience as a musician and longtime music lover when booking the shows.

The series has grown over the years to encompass all types of acoustic music, including classical, folk, bluegrass, jazz and more. Newlin brings in topflight talent who are among the finest artists in their respective genres.

If you are wondering where the watermelon factors in, concert-goers are treated to watermelon outside during intermission!

The 2014 calendar:

June 18: Tim Kliphuis and Dan Stiernberg (gypsy swing)

June 26: The Boxcars (bluegrass)  

July 2: Chiara String Quartet (classical)

July 9: Acheray (music from South America)

July 16: Mike Barnett, Jake Jolliff, Tony Trischka (bluegrass, eclectic)

July 30: Brittany Haas, Paul Kowert, Jordan Tice (old-time and new-time stringband)

Aug. 13: Ivan Milev, Entcho Todorov (Eastern European traditional and not so)

Aug. 20: Heather Maloney & Darlingside (contemporary folk-original)

Aug. 27: Liz Carroll, Jake Charron (Irish traditional)

Sept. 10: Rani Arbo & Daisy Mayhem (contemporary folk)

A few details to keep in mind: shows are held on Wednesdays, except for the June 26 show with The Boxcars, which will be a Thursday; Showtime is at 7:30 p.m. with doors opening at 7:15.

Ticket prices vary per show but you can find prices, purchase tickets, and also locate directions to the chapel at www.watermelonwednesdays.com. Tickets for all shows are on sale now. It is strongly recommended that you purchase tickets in advance as these shows have a tendency to sell out. Tickets will be sold at the door if available. Oh, and one more bit of good news — the chapel is now air-conditioned.

Sheryl Hunter is a music writer who lives in Easthampton. Her work has appeared in various regional and national magazines. You can contact her at soundslocal@yahoo.com

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