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Monty Alexander Jazz Festival Spotlights High School Talent
By Becca Newell
It’d be a dream for any high schooler in a choir to share a stage with a professional jazz vocalist. For members of the Easton High School Warrior Chorale, it’s soon to be a reality.
The 20 or so singers will perform an opening set on Sunday, September 2nd, at Brianna Thomas’ matinee performance during the last day of the Monty Alexander Jazz Festival.
“They’re wonderful chorally and they sing four-part harmonies really well. Their timing is really tight and they’re really very professional,” says John Malin, recalling his first time seeing the Warrior Chorale. “I was very impressed with them.”
Over the last few years, Malin and Festival Founder Al Sikes have discussed expanding the Festival beyond its professional bill and extending its community outreach efforts. Each year, MAJF offers a “community concert” —a free performance that was originally established to provide an introduction to jazz, familiarizing concert-goers with the incredibly diverse and somewhat misunderstood genre.
And while that program continues to blossom with exciting performances, like this year’s Saturday morning concert featuring piano prodigy Matthew Whitaker, there was a local element that was missing. That led Malin and Sikes to discuss incorporating a high school choir into the program. When Malin attended a choir competition hosted by Easton High School last fall, he knew he’d found something special.
“They did a sort of gospel number and I thought ‘Wow! They are fabulous,” he says, explaining how he immediately approached director Andrea Davis after the performance about the choir’s participation in the Festival. “It all just flowed from there.”
Comprising high schoolers—from 14- to 18-year-olds—the group will perform about a handful of numbers, Malin says. The setlist includes some relatively traditional jazz numbers, along with a gospel song.
“The kids are really excited,” he adds.
After what is sure to be an incredible set by the Warrior Chorale, Thomas will take the stage. With a soulfully strong voice—often likened to Mahalia Jackson, a comparison only accomplished by the most gifted singers—Thomas has played clubs and festivals for over a decade.
The singer-songwriter made her initial entrance into the professional jazz world with ‘30s-style swing, but later focused her musical finesse on ballad standards, scatting, and blues.
In 2014, Thomas released her debut album “You Must Believe in Love”. Critics alike raved how the album wonderfully demonstrated her impressive vocal range, envy-inducing scat skills, and emotional depth.
“[She] may be the best young straight-ahead jazz singer of her generation,” wrote Will Friedwald in a review for the Wall Street Journal.
Like the Warrior Chorale’s musical selections, Thomas’ performance will blend two genres, gospel and jazz. Titled “Traces of Mahalia and Ella,” it’ll be the perfect accompaniment for a Sunday afternoon.
Catch the Easton High School Warrior Chorale and Brianna Thomas at 2 p.m. Sunday, September 2nd, at the Avalon Theatre. Tickets are $25. To purchase, visit Jazzonthechesapeake.
The Monty Alexander Jazz Festival is partially underwritten by the Maryland State Arts Council and the Talbot County Arts Council. Jazz on the Chesapeake is a program of Chesapeake Music.