Kerckhoff Coffee House will be tinged with an air of nostalgia and sent back in time through fresh takes on jazz standards. Four ethnomusicology students will take the stage Monday night with their renditions for “A Night of Jazz,” presented by the Cultural Affairs Commission Concert Series.
“A Night of Jazz” will consist of individual vocal performances by fourth-year student Elena Loper, second-year student Natalie Brainin, second-year student May Claire La Plante and first-year student Ryan Nealon.
Their original arrangements of classic jazz standards such as “September in the Rain,” “They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” “Skylark” and “La Vie en rose” will be accompanied by an instrumental combo and on piano by jazz performance adjunct associate professor Michele Weir, who has been guiding the four students in their jazz combo ethnomusicology class throughout the year.
Ethnomusicology 177, a yearlong intensive course open to music majors by audition, requires the four performers under Weir’s tutelage to constantly compose, refine and perform the jazz arrangements that they will be presenting.
“Michele takes known songs and has us arrange something new, and dig deep and get emotional about it,” Nealon said. “The best thing that this class has taught me is that I can say what I want to say through my music.”
Refinement of self-expression is key for Nealon, who is the lead singer of his band, Moonlight Express; he, like his fellow performers, has his own musical pursuits outside of vocal jazz.
Loper said coming from a range of contrasting musical backgrounds has significantly shaped the style of the arrangements they will be performing.
“It’s really fun for me because I sing a lot of different styles, like folk with my band, We the Folk, and classical,” Loper said. “It’s great to hear their different styles come through jazz.”
For Brainin, whose father is a jazz guitarist and whose love for jazz is deep-seated, the class has conversely helped develop her technique and increase her appreciation for jazz and other music as well.
“This class has been really great for helping me work on my own vocal technique, and not just with jazz, but with my own compositions as well,” Brainin said. “I’ve been able to expand my piano and kind of been able to refine my style and get into a new genre.”
Improvisation, which draws many to jazz, will be an integral part of the performance and is what Brainin has come to further value about the genre.
“There’s this intelligence that comes with jazz that my dad has always hyped me up on since I was little, and I finally understand where he’s coming from,” Brainin said. “When you’re doing something creative, it’s not just spur of the moment. … It’s kind of like a trick up your sleeve.”
Despite regular performances to each other in class, this concert will be a departure from the standard Schoenberg Hall quarterly performance because of its greater accessibility to the general UCLA student body, Brainin said.
The concert pairs Schoenberg Hall and the small classes it offers with the rest of the UCLA community by taking place at a venue well-attended by the general student population, integrating the two sometimes-separated worlds.
“It’ll be a really good way to see what we’re doing in the jazz department and get interested,” Brainin said.
Amid the stress of midterms, the performance should be a relaxing break, Loper said.
“There’ll be a lot of really fun, upbeat tunes,” Loper said. “Michele’s playing piano for us – she’s amazing – and Ryan, Natalie and May Claire are really talented.”