On Thursday Sept. 17 at 8 p.m., SUNY New Paltz adjunct instructor and musician Teri Roiger performed a celebration of Billie Holiday’s work at McKenna Theatre.
The evening commemorated the acclaimed jazz singer’s centennial year. Roiger played the part of Ms. Holiday while her husband, SUNY New Paltz professor John Menegon played bass and Wayne Hawkins played piano. Other special guests joined the stage as well.
“When I first heard Billie Holiday, I felt emotions I had not remembered feeling before,” Roiger said. “She could make a normal pop song sound like a masterpiece.”
According to Roiger, the show came into fruition because she is working on an album in tribute to a hundred years of Billie Holiday’s (known as Lady Day) soulful sultry sound. Her album “Billie 101” will debut on April 7, 2016; what would have been Holiday’s 101st birthday.
The concert began with a bang as Roiger, cloaked in a black evening gown, sang “A Fine Romance.” In the spirit of jazz music, spontaneous instrumental solos scattered throughout the performance while she belted out iconic lyrics like, “But you’re as cold as yesterday’s mashed potatoes.”
In the middle of the set, Roiger gifted the audience with a suite of Holiday songs. The “Lady Day Suite” seemingly transformed McKenna theatre into a swinging jazz nightclub and lyrics lay suspended in the air like a cloud of smoke.
After the performance, an ear shattering applause rang throughout the space. One audience member bellowed, “Yeah!”
Later, Roiger brought down the house with the beautiful ballad, “Good Morning Heartache.” Then, just as quickly as the somber notes ended she burst into the upbeat tempo of, “I’m Gonna Lock My Heart and Throw Away the Key.”
Roiger began scatting after just a few notes, then she proceeded to turn around, hand the microphone over to her husband and in one seemingly choreographed motion, he retorted with a few staccato scats of his own. Only the quiet rattle of the drum accompanied their mesmerizing conversation.
According to Menegon, he too shares a personal connection to Holiday’s music. His favorite songs of the evening were: “Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans?,” “You Don’t Know What Love is,” and “Wholly Earth.”
“All of the tunes in the performance reflect a vast history of my own personal experience listening to Billie Holiday records.” Menegon said. “That’s over 40 years of listening.”
As the night came to a close Roiger made it clear that not all of the songs were Holiday originals. There were quite a few by other jazz vocalists, including the finale, “Wholly Earth” by Abbey Lincoln.
Roiger strongly believes that Lincoln carried on where Lady Day left off and after the concert she sold copies of her album, “Dear Abbey: The Music of Abbey Lincoln.”
Third-year anthropology major Molly Massiello attended the concert for her History of Jazz class taught by Roiger. Massiello found the event to be a wonderful opportunity to recognize what she has been learning in class.
“When musicians really love what they do and have good energy it goes right back into the crowd,” she said.