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Archive for August 10th, 2008

JazzFest Photos (post #3)

Sunday, August 10th, 2008

Sunny Wilkinson = Class Act

Sunny Wilkinson (Jazz vocalist) finished up our day at JazzFest Lansing 2008. We first met her “backstage” at the green room (place where performers wait before their show). As she entered the room, she greeted us warmly, telling us that she had seen us perform at the Meridian Township 4th of July event and that she liked our work. (I am allowed to be delighted that she said this.)

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Backstage there is much to be done… contracts to handle, posters to sign… we had just finished up with the volunteers (hi, Rosy!) and we needed to move on so that others could do the same. But what a kind and generous lady Ms. Wilkinson was, even in a minute or so of greetings.

Later we made our way around Turner Street. First we headed toward the Lansing Symphony Big Band, but it was so crowded we could not get very close. We enjoyed the music and dancing from a distance.

Next we worked our way over to Mama Bear’s Cafe. Part of our JazzFest contract required that we perform something that had never been performed before in front of a live audience. We performed Brian’s tune “Mama Bear Bounce.” (Click link to see Brian’s solo Youtube video of the tune.)

Of course, when we got to Mama Bear’s Cafe that night we just had to go in and play it for Chica (AKA Mama Bear). That was quite fun!

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As we made our way back down Turner Street we found ourselves at the stage for Sunny’s show, and there were two open seats in the front row. We grabbed them happily and sat down for the duration.

Again, I was bowled over by the focused grace of Ms. Wilkinson… she acknowledged the sound tech by name and asked the audience to applaud his work. She could easily be a diva, she certainly has the credentials and talent to be tolerated even if difficult. Instead, she exhibited nothing but grace and generosity. Clearly her band is her team, and she acknowledged them all warmly during the show as well (she had a bass player, a drummer and a keyboardist, though the drummer somehow is not quite visible in these photos).

sunnycloseup4sm.jpgMuch has been written about her “pipes” already, by many writers over several decades. I had never heard her live before, though I’ve read about her for a long time and heard a few pieces on the radio.

I was blown away by her vocal agility, her expression, total control over her vocal instrument. Remember, I sing very simple and pure melodies, that’s my own musical niche. Sunny Wilkinson can make it simple if that expresses the point best, but she can really work the notes in great detail if that is what is needed.

At one point she was singing something so complex, both melodically and rhythmically, that I first thought she was improvising. Then I realized that no, her piano player was playing exactly the same thing. Later I talked to Brian about it, how impressed I was. He made it all make sense. He said “Lynn, she knows some chords you do not know.” Yup, there you go.

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It is interesting, I love the human voice so much that I have a hard time listening to music without vocals. I do not need to understand the words (Ms. Wilkinson performed a lot of Brazilian music in Portugese that night). However, somehow my ear needs a voice to follow in order to make sense of a piece. A lot of modern jazz is purely instrumental and I have never been good at understanding it, no matter how talented the instrumentalists.

So there I sat listening to a sort of music that I don’t know much about, and I observed this woman who is really beautiful to look at: graceful, tall and performing with full passion. I drank in her vocal work with her three spectacular band members, putting together a wonderful show.

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I was mesmerized. Wow.

Class act. Total. Class. Act. She has a new album out, for the record. She’s a fine talent and clearly a fine person. Maybe you would like to check out her website?

Sunday NY Times Article on Ukuleles

Sunday, August 10th, 2008

(Extra, Extra, read all about it… we interrupt Jazzfest coverage to announce current news!)

Presbytera is more on top of the press today than I am… she found a thoughtful article about ukuleles in the New York Times today. Thanks for letting me know, Presbytera!

I’m happy to be a tiny part of the new ukulele energy. Interviewed in the article is Jim Beloff who we know from the ukulele festival circuit, and also because we opened for him at the Uketopia concert in Lansing at Creole Gallery. Years ago, when The Fabulous Heftones were a relatively new act.

They also interviewed the deeply talented Jake Shimabukuro, who puts a young rock-and-roll energy into his electric ukulele playing. One of the years we played Midwest Ukefest in Indianapolis, we performed two acts before Jake was the finale. The event was sponsored by an elementary-school ukulele band, the Keystrummers. Those kids went nuts, they were huge fans.

There are a few folks who read my blog because they are into ukuleles, and found me through my writings about uke festivals and the like. Perhaps a few others may also be interested in the article. I enjoyed it.

Photos: 1) Taken in 2004, Liz and Jim Beloff performing at some time during the ukulele even in the Pocanos Mountains of Pennsylvania; 2) The Fabulous Heftones opening for Jim Beloff at Uketopia, Creole Gallery, Lansing, maybe 2003 or 2004.