The Sacramento Choral Calendar
26th Annual Folsom Jazz Festival
Jazz Choir Competition - January 24, 2015
by Griffin Toffler
This is a review of the choral competition at the Jazz Festival. For more information about the Festival as a whole, you can look up my companion article about the Folsom Jazz Festival Band and Combo Competition (click here). I am starting with a review of the Folsom High School Choir, which I chose to feature because of its excellence and because Folsom High School is the host of the event and therefore does not compete, even though they are given a rating and this year their rating was the highest of the choral groups.
Folsom High School Choir I was directed by Curtis Gaesser. (For more on Curtis Gaesser, see my companion review on the Folsom Jazz Festival Jazz Band competition.) The names of the musicians are not given in written form, so I can only report what instruments were played, as I could not get the information that was announced by the students at the microphones.
The group started with a rendition of “Give Me the Simple Life” by Harry Ruby and Rube Bloom. It was sung a cappella and masterfully done with some excellent vocal solos. The next number was “Canyon Dust,” written in 2011 by Becca Stevens, a contemporary composer/singer/performer in New York City. This piece had difficult rhythmic changes that the choir made sound easy. I wish I could tell you the name of the pianist. He was awesome. “The Hymn of Acxiom,” written by American songwriter Vienna Teng in 2013 followed. This is an unusual piece with strange harmonies that get under your skin. The choir was amazing, extracting raw emotion from the work. The enunciation was also excellent. I got chills listening to this one. The set finished with “Feelin' Good,” written by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse for the 1964 musical The Roar of the Greasepaint—The Smell of the Crowd.
Birds flying high you know how I feel.
It's a new dawn.
It's a new life for me
There was expert solo scat singing, and one of the singers took to the flute for an accomplished solo. This upbeat piece was delightful and convincing, and I was enticed to "feelin' good." The accompaniment was stand-up bass, piano and drums. The hall was packed for this performance, and the choir received a well-deserved standing ovation. I recommend you get out to hear this choir. It is not often you get a spine-tingler of a musical performance, whatever the genre. For me, the spine tingling experience is a litmus test that I am seeing the real thing.
Your next opportunity to see Folsom Lake High School Choir is at a fundraiser on Saturday, March 14, 2015 at 6:00 p.m. at the Folsom Community Center, 52 Natoma St. in Folsom. Here is a link to the event.
Downey High School, located near Los Angeles, had a cool sound, and did a lovely rendition and arrangement of the standard, “Tenderly.” They were accompanied by stand-up bass, drums, keyboard, and rhythm guitar.
Corte Madera 7 is from Portola Valley. The choir was all girls and the oldest appeared to be about 13. They certainly deserved to be in the competition because their skill level was that good. When the youngest (maybe 8 or 9 years old) hit the mic for a scat solo, the audience responded with cheers. They sang three pieces including “Hit That Jive, Jack!,” first performed in 1941 by Tolbert Skeets and His Gentlemen of Swing. They were accompanied by a stand-up bass, drums and piano.
Natomas High School was composed of 12 boys and girls and a bass, piano and drums. This was the first group that I saw that was dressed more creatively. The colors were black and gold but the clothes were not identical. There were no neckties but one boy did sport a bow tie. It had a nice look. They performed 3 songs accompanied by bass, piano and drums. They started with “Beautiful Love,” a waltz written by the Wayne King Orchestra in 1931. They also performed the standard, “Tenderly,” arranged by Steve Zegree. The finale was “Virtual Insanity” by the British funk and acid jazz band, Jamiroquai and arranged by Kerry Marsh. These kids are great and every number was expertly done, so they are definitely worth going to see. Natomas was one of the winning choirs and since they are a local group, you can see them perform in May.
The Choral Competition is a welcome performance of songs chosen for appropriate and mostly positive lyrics. It is great to go to a concert knowing that you will be uplifted. The performances were entertaining and fun to watch and many seemed downright professional. Each singer had their own microphone, and I found the mix to be very good and attentively done for each performing group. There are many other reasons you will want to attend this event. One could be to increase your repertoire if you are a musician yourself. I got exposed to so many good songs which I would not have otherwise come across. As I continue to search for songs of superior musicianship and positive lyrics for myself and for my students, this affordable event is a go-to for me for years to come.
If you are looking for an amazing day of jazz choral singing at an affordable price, you have hit the jackpot. You are sure to see top-quality groups if you look up when and where the winning groups of the previous year will be singing before attending in 2016. You will definitely want to check out the hottest choral group in the California School System, Folsom High School Jazz Choir. The only reason they did not win the competition is that they are the host school and are not officially allowed to compete.
An added bonus is that your attendance includes entry to see the featured artists. The Festival is sure to bring in some great internationally known talent for the final show of the evening, so do take advantage of that! You can read more about that concert in my review on the band competition. (Click here.) And here they are, the winners of the choral competition in 2015:
#1 Natomas Charter School
So look up the program online and print it out when next year comes around. Then go pay your $12 and seek out the chosen choirs, and I can assure you that you'll have a great experience. But don't forget: it isn't about winning a competition. All of these kids are winners simply by being there, and your support is going to be felt, whatever school you choose to tune into.
Griffin Toffler attended Longy School of Music and Morehead University as a music major for 3 years. Although she went on to be successful in her field after obtaining an MA in Clinical Psychology at John F. Kennedy University, she has often thought of returning to college to complete her degree in music education. She is currently taking conducting classes at CSU Stanislaus. Her first voice teacher, Olga Averino, was a major influence in Griffin's life. Griffin hopes to, in some small way, pass on to others some of the wisdom she learned from Madame Averino. Her website is www.griffintoffler.com.