An Evening of Jazzy Vocals: New Paltz Jazz Vocal Ensembles Perform on Campus

Photo by Matt Nash.

Itching for a spin on jazz classics? Take a cue from two of SUNY New Paltz’s vocal jazz groups — the 220 and 115 ensembles, named for their rehearsal rooms and directed by adjunct professor Teri Roiger — who performed at the Studley Theatre on Monday, Nov. 28. The first in a three-part series of student jazz concerts, the concert presented a well-rounded selection of the genre’s classics, many of which were reinterpreted in the style of other artists.

The 220 ensemble took the stage first with “Twisted,” carried from start to finish by the steady vocals of Talia Cifali, Caitlin Connelly and Blake Kimmel. The song, originally a Wardell Gray tenor saxophone solo, was rewritten in vocalese by Annie Ross while preserving its brisk melodic motion. 

Next in the set was “Moanin,” which brought a slower, bluesier sound with more harmonious vocals punctuated by the ensemble’s instrumentalists. Midway through the piece, the vocals took a backseat as Julia Giroux on vibes and Dylan Jones on guitar played tennis with a detailed, yet chilled-out solo.

“Afro Blue” followed, treating the Studley Theatre’s audience to an unusual rhythm composed by Mongo Santamaría, lyrics by Oscar Brown, Jr. and popularized by John Coltrane. 

The 220 ended their performance with Miles Davis’ “Four,” featuring every member of the ensemble. In addition to including high-speed scat singing from Cifali, Connelly and Kimmel, and presenting some demanding solos from Giroux and Jones, “Four” showcased a back-and-forth solo similar to “Moanin,” contrasting smooth electric bass from Jennifer Russo with Alec Goldstein’s rowdy drums. 

After a brief intermission, the 115 ensemble performed, opening with Duke Pearson’s “Jeannine.” The piece featured harmonious scat singing from Gabby Frometa, Brianna Hackshaw, Rose Stoller and Meghan Tobias, in addition to an extended piano solo from Matt Carvin.

The 115 continued with Thelonious Monk’s “Round Midnight,” a jazz standard that conjured the atmosphere of a city café on a rainy day before getting a bit more pep in its step. The piece featured an extended, expressive guitar solo from Tamara Sastow.

The night’s penultimate performance was a blues collage composed of John Coltrane’s “Mr. P.C.” and “Equinox,” Dizzy Gillespie’s “Birks’ Works” and John Carisi’s “Israel.” With plenty of variation to go around, every part got a chance to step into the spotlight, including Francis Mejia on bass and Wesley Henry on drums, who poured gusto into a call-and-response. Last in the concert was Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields’ “On The Sunny Side of the Street,” featuring each of the ensemble once more. 

“It’s a lot of work, putting together a concert like that. People tend to look at musicians as dime-a-dozen like anyone can sing, but there’s a lot of practice and thought that goes into it,” said the 220 ensemble’s Blake Kimmel, a fourth-year music major concentrating in recording and electronic music. “While there are solos, it’s not a solo effort; it’s about how what you’re doing meshes with what everyone else is doing. I’m really thankful that my group communicated so well, and we came out sounding even better than I thought.”