Jazz Orchestra heats up cold night with Ella Fitzgerald show

Guest vocalist helps round out Springfield group’s first full season.

Saturday evening’s chilly temperatures were countered by the hot sounds of jazz coming from the John Legend Theater.

It was where a crowd of 425 listened to the Springfield Symphony Jazz Orchestra (SSJO) round out its first full season with guest vocalist Carmen Bradford paying tribute to one jazz’s most legendary voices in the program “Ella Fitzgerald, First Lady of Song.”

The 17-piece group took on songs by Chick Webb, a bandleader who Fitzgerald first performed for, and Duke Ellington, who she also sang for, the Gershwins, Quincy Jones and others.

The Jazz Orchestra performed several recognizable standards including “A Tisket a Tasket,” “April in Paris,” Someone to Watch Over Me” and “Sweet Georgia Brown.”

“When it comes to Ella Fitzgerald, singers universally smile and get scared,” Todd Stoll, SSJO director and trumpeter, told the crowd of the challenges of doing her justice.

Although she has performed with Fitzgerald at the London Palladium and at Carnegie Hall, Bradford admitted to the crowd she was nervous and battling allergies. Nominated for a 2022 Grammy Award, she commanded audience attention with not just her vocals but her stories.

As a youngster, she happened across Fitzgerald twice at a department store perfume counter and little did Bradford know the two would cross paths many times and her influence was always there.

Dressed in a sparkly black top and red skirt for the show’s first half and later a sparkly gown, Bradford found audience inspiration by recognizing a 6-year-old boy in a red shirt. She hopes that he can help keep this music alive for future generations.

“If you don’t bring your babies, this music is gonna’ die,” she told the crowd. “They can’t live on Beyonce and (Justin) Bieber alone.”

The boy, Gabriel Jaskowiak, was a little reluctant about the shout-out. Mom Amy Jaskowiak claimed it was Gabriel who saw the News-Sun preview story on the concert that motivated her to attend.

She recently moved back to Springfield, where she was in the North High School Jazz group, which opened the show.

“I’ve been a fan off Ella’s since elementary school,” she said.

Amy Jaskowiak also hopes her son also develops that interest with this show being a potential start. For now, Gabriel perked up when asked if he liked the current hit “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” from the recent Disney animated film “Encanto,” smiling and nodding he did.

Each of the Jazz Orchestra members had a chance to shine including one of its youngest, 22-year-old saxophonist Lauren Elliott from Detroit. She started with the group at age 19 and looks forward to future performances.

“I love coming down here to Springfield. The people are so warm and inviting, and Carmen really worked the crowd,” Elliott said.

Stoll also paid tribute to his school roots by having the Springfield High School Jazz Band perform. He played at the former North High and his dad before him played in the former South High, the building in which the John Legend Theater now resides.

It was the first live show in two years for the group, under the direction of Brad Dragics and featured 10 musicians.

Following the show, Stoll said he was tired yet satisfied to have the season in and for the future.

“We want to keep doing this from a standpoint of music and the community. We’re glad for the very diverse crowd that turns out for our concerts,” he said.

Stoll said the Jazz Orchestra would like to expand and add a third concert for its 2022-2023 season and continue its educational outreach opportunities.

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