Melodies engulf Knox Center in jazz extravaganza


George Morin / The Advocate

Members of Jazzology perform a song during the annual Vocal Gala in the Knox Center on March 28.

By Nina Cestaro, Staff Writer

The Knox Center was transformed into an intimate jazz venue featuring the Vocal Jazz Choir, Jazzology, Jazzanova and Claudia Villela, who performed for a lively crowd of students and music aficionados on March 28.

Some of the acts demonstrated great potential, even though they are still at the beginning of their vocal careers.

One act that stood out was Villela.

The organizers really knew what they were doing by positioning Villela as the headliner. Her charisma and buoyancy carried the audience to a deeper appreciation of jazz.

Villela, from Brazil, soared through her five-octave range playfully and positively. Everyone gathered at the 4th Annual Vocal Gala was truly spellbound by her vocal range and charisma. 

Amazingly, she could project as much power away from the microphone as toward it, singing four bars on one breath.

A highlight of the evening, the group Jazzology and Villela teamed up to perform an improvised version of the French song, “Gran de Sons.”

“Surprisingly, they had not practiced it together until that night,” tenor singer and Jazzology member Evan Miller said.

“That’s what jazz singing really is.”

Eddie Jefferson, a celebrated jazz vocalist and lyricist, created the craft of vocal jazz to include improvised words, phrases and utterances to plain songs.

Miller said that his band felt influenced by Villela.

When queried about her relationship to music, Villela said, “It’s a daily commitment. (The gift) could be taken away any day so I don’t take it for granted.”

Miller felt proud of his group’s accomplishments that night.

He admitted that music professor Stephanie Austin can be a demanding teacher, yet a supportive and nice person in general, from whom to study music.

He said he feels ready to continue studying music at the state university of his choice when he transfers in the fall.

Stephanie Rios, who sang soprano with Jazzology, said her favorite song performed was “California Dreaming,” written by the Mamas and the Papas. It was done soulfully and in a unique way toward the end of the show.

She said, “Sharing a stage with someone like Villela is humbling.”

Dr. Austin directed the student portion of the show. Of the evening she said, “I feel that this show continued the excitement, musicality and integrity for which we strive in all of our concerts. All of the students worked very hard to present an engaging show that as also dedicated to the jazz art form. Each group found a way to shine in its own way.”

Adjunct music professor Roger Letson, a former music professor at De Anza College,  had been an instructor of Villela’s years ago, when she had first arrived from Brazil. He used his host position to introduce the members of each band and crack jokes.

Carol Kessinger said it’s her first semester taking voice classes at Contra Costa College, but not her first time singing. Her group, the Jazz Singers, sang a spirited version of “One Note Samba.”

She said,  “Dr. Austin is second to none in her professionalism and inspiration.” Kessinger sang with eight others in the newest group performing that night. 

The house band consisted of Greg German on drums, Kristin Strom on saxophone, Karla Kaufmann on bass and Walter Bankovich was pianist.