RICHTON PARK, ILL.—(ENEWSPF)—December 16, 2017
By: Richard Barry
A century of jazz was celebrated tonight when more than 265 Southland College Prep singers, dancers, band members and a new string ensemble staged the charter high school’s annual Winter Festival at Governors State University’s Center for the Performing Arts.
The two-hour production traced the history of jazz from its New Orleans birthplace with tributes to such musical titans as Louie Armstrong, Billy Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Michael Jackson, Toni Braxton, Quincy Jones and Sade, to contemporary artist Mariah Carey..
Built around the theme of “Jazzing in the Snow” by producer and musical director Fred Nelson, III, the production featured a series of skits written and directed by Lauren Wells, Drama Director and performed by a 23-member cast.
Jaelen Cain played a former jazz trumpet player down on his luck who introduced musical giants he knew in the past to three students on a mission to write a musical appreciation class paper on the history of jazz. The featured trio members were played by Jordan Lawton, Sydney Mells, and Reginald Henderson.
“Every genre of music entertains and teaches us. This year’s Southland College Prep Winter Festival, centered around the spontaneity and improvisation of jazz, offers an excellent insight into the rich artistic heritage of an original American form of music. We’re thrilled that virtually half of Southland’s enrollment of 530 students participated in staging this production and showcasing their many talents as musicians, singers, dancers and actors,” said Dr. Blondean Y. Davis, CEO.
The production opened with spirited performances of “Three Jazzy Kings” and “A Jazzy Christmas” by the 105-member Southland College Prep Ambassador Band under the direction of Joseph Lawrence.
Southland’s Jazz Band, featuring soloists Anu Solola on trumpet and Donnell Farrow on vibraphone, contrasted the traditional piece, “O Holy Night,” with the popular “Jingle Bell Rock.” Soloists Alexis Berry and Deanna Clerkley played alto sax and Mary Robinson performed on tenor sax.
Neshay Sanders delivered a sprightly solo rendition of “Winter Wonderland,” arranged by Nelson.
The 68-member Southland Singers, led by Choral Director Dr. Stirling Culp, performed a stirring rendition of “Jazz Gloria” and “Grown Up Christmas List,” with soloists Cornelius Garner and Oscar Griffin.
The group also performed “Christmas Baby Please Come Home” and “Reason for the Season” and an energetic “Frosty’s Rag,” featuring soloist Chezney Rowlett and Rayshawn Stevens, who was the number’s center of attention
Southland Dancers, a 52-member group under the direction of Gloria Chatman, performed two spiritual pieces, “Ave Maria,” and “Amen.”
Assistant Choral Director Elizabeth Norman-Sojourner, who has entertained audiences across the U.S. and overseas, sang an “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” medley.
The dancers also tapped out a vigorous rendition of The “Little Drummer Boy.”
In a tribute to jazz artist Quincy Jones, “Killer Joe,” was performed by the Southland Dancers featuring Jeanice Haley and Kristopher Gross.
“Final Melody,” an ensemble of five male Southland singers who performed in the tradition of pioneer African-American jazz groups, sang “Hallelujah.”
Shawn Denton, Jr., Robert Downer, Darius Greghorn, Josh Metoyer and Brendan Stewart’s rich voices resonated with the capacity house.
“Christmastime is Here,” was performed by a five-saxophone ensemble of Alexis Berry, Maia Boyd, Deanna Clerkley, Mary Robinson and Brittany Downer.
A highlight of the evening was Dr. Davis’ announcement that a new string ensemble will form the nucleus of the Southland College Prep Orchestra, currently under development.
An ensemble of Southland strings, accompanied by members of The Musical Arts Institute under the direction of Carolyn Reardon, contrasted “Jazzy Old St. Nick” with the classical piece, “Pacem Noel.”
A finale built around a Mariah Carey recording of “All I Want for Christmas is You,” punctuated with falling snowflakes and accompanied by the Southland Band playing in the theatre balcony and projected live on a giant on-stage screen, brought the festive evening to a rousing close.
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