Jazz Room concerts to start Jan. 20
By Lou Fancher
Jazz music is arguably the most fluid, portable American art form.
Steeped in West African heritage, carried from the United States to countries worldwide in the early 1900s and reinvigorated by cross-cultural influences and social change, contemporary jazz constantly widens its embrace as it harbors the improvisation, highly rehearsed skill and free expression at its core.
Celebrating the power of music that connects communities, jazz vocalist Eve Marie Shahoian is launching The Jazz Room, a bimonthly concert series at the Village Theatre & Art Gallery in Danville. The Jan. 20 kickoff performance will feature Shahoian joined by professional Bay Area musicians.
Also on the bill, the Jazz Room will showcase student musicians in the Athenian Advanced Jazz Band led by Stephen Herrick; the San Ramon Valley High School Jazz Vocal Ensemble under the direction of Ken Abrams; and five young singers in Shahoian’s Harmonix vocal ensemble.
Shahoian, of Danville, has been in the business for decades. Maturing from child voice prodigy and appearances on “The Tonight Show” and other television and radio shows to main stage performances with bands and orchestras, she established herself as a singer/songwriter with recordings that include her debut CD, “Waiting for You,” and an upcoming March release, “Believe.” Her connections in the industry bring high-caliber guest artists to the series: two-time Grammy Award-winning violinist Mads Tolling, The Kelly Park Big Band, the vocal ensemble Special Blend, pianist Frank Martin and guitarist Mike Williams.
“I had a vision of wanting to bring people together,” Shahoian says. “There aren’t enough opportunities for local, young talent to work with seasoned, world-class musicians. I plan to have jams and open-mic nights. My hope is that there’ll be something for everyone.”
Concerts in the theater and the more intimate art gallery will provide rare access to instrumentalists like Tolling.
“He’s intuitive, improvises beautifully and is a classically trained violinist with a vast skill set,” says Shahoian.
Tolling and Shahoian have worked together in the past, and the artists say their classical music training is an identifying and connecting factor in the collaboration.
“She brings a classical sound to the music, and as the violin is traditionally a classical instrument, I get to go back to my roots,” says Tolling. “There are pop elements as well. For me to come up with my own parts when we recorded and eventually played a few shows was fun. It’s a creative journey.”
Tolling will perform with Shahoian, the Kelly Park Big Band, and offer a “sneak peek” at his new CD, “Playing the 60s,” and material for a show at Oakland’s Yoshi’s on Jan. 29 that launches a cross-country tour with his band and drummer Kenny Washington.
“He and the other professionals are lending their talents for this show, and I’m donating a portion of ticket sales to the school programs,” says Shahoian.
As Jazz Room establishes itself, she plans to pay the professionals and hopes the opportunity to support school music programs will continue.
Herrick says the 12 students in the Athenian Advanced Combo (the “A-Train”) have not only played with professionals before, they’ve produced their own gigs. He says a reflection of the music’s “transcendence above oppression is performing in a band that requires tight, selfless ensemble playing as they dive into the blues, the easy energy of swing or other categories under the jazz umbrella.”
“Our whole culture is losing sight of the importance of jazz and more sophisticated forms of music in general. It’s getting harder each year to get kids interested in music that demands a high level of practice and preparation. On the other hand, once they are inspired and motivated, there’s no holding them back,” Herrick said.
Similarly, Abrams says his eight-member jazz vocal ensemble finds that the “upbeat kick and terrific melody” of songs like “April in Paris” soars — and sharing the music with an appreciative audience is exciting. Students, he says, enjoy the tight harmonies and intricacy of jazz, but what cements their interest is actually an overall love of music.
“They honestly like it all. They enjoy beat-boxing old ’70s tunes, but they equally love singing an a cappella (unaccompanied) ballad like ‘Moon River.’ ”
Shahoian is still finalizing the playlist but says she gravitates to Gershwin, Cole Porter, jazz standards and songs that are melodic.
“It has to be music that speaks to me. If I can relate to the lyrics, I can communicate the sentiment. Shaping a program, I tend to choose songs that are about love.”
Sharing the love, she says has been made easier by the Town of Danville’s support and Jazz Room’s “home” at Village Theatre.