Divine Divas of Jazz Cabaret show is diamond in the rough

Posted by admin on October 21, 2011

by Tom Alvarez, Indianapolis Performing Arts Examiner
June 2, 2011

According to Monika Herzig, one of the driving forces behind Divine Divas of Jazz, presented Thursday by ISIS of Indiana and the Cabaret at the Columbia Club, women account for only 3 percent of all professional jazz musicians. A musician and recording artist, Herzig also holds a doctorate in music education and jazz studies at Indiana University, where she is now a faculty member, and knows about the subject firsthand.

That’s why she and vocalist Heather Ramsey founded ISIS, whose mission is to promote “the wealth of female involvement in music creation and celebrating the achievement of women in all genres of music through musical events, staged by women with women for everyone.”

According to Monika Herzig, one of the driving forces behind Divine Divas of Jazz, presented Thursday by ISIS of Indiana and the Cabaret at the Columbia Club, women account for only 3 percent of all professional jazz musicians. A musician and recording artist, Herzig also holds a doctorate in music education and jazz studies at Indiana University, where she is now a faculty member, and knows about the subject firsthand.

That’s why she and vocalist Heather Ramsey founded ISIS, whose mission is to promote “the wealth of female involvement in music creation and celebrating the achievement of women in all genres of music through musical events, staged by women with women for everyone.”
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Pianist Herzig, who also served as emcee, directed a band of four other women: Carolyn Dutton on violin, Jennifer Kirk on bass, Chelsea Niccum on saxophone and Jordan West on drums. They accompanied vocalists Jackie Allen, Shannon Forsell, Carol Rhyne Harris and Heather Ramsey in a celebration of women in jazz

Opening the show with Herzig’s own composition, “Italian Taxi Ride,” the band established itself as a group of fine musicians who just happen to be women, as they interpreted Herzig’s deft musical capturing of the harrowing experience of being at the mercy of a cab driver in chaotic street traffic.

In a program that mostly consisted of jazz standards, with some original material, the performers who stood out the most were Allen, a Chicago-based jazz singer and Blue Note Records recording artist, and Ramsey, also a recording artist, who frequently performs both locally and nationally.

Displaying a lush, sensuous vocal delivery reminiscent of Eartha Kitt, Allen was distinctive in “You Become My Song” and seductively flirtatious in “Do Wrong Shoes.”

Possessing a strong stage presence and potent vocal range, Ramsey engaged the audience thoroughly during “One Note Samba” and Hoagy Carmichael’s “Georgia On My Mind.” Carmichael, it was pointed out during the evening’s proceedings, once played piano at the Columbia Club but was fired for playing jazz.

Singing an inventive Herzig arrangement of “Night and Day,” Allen and Ramsey were charismatic and appealing as they sang a duet of this Cole Porter classic. Herzig added a lovely introductory solo on piano.

Forsell, managing and artistic director of the Cabaret, also happens to be one of Indianapolis’ most popular vocalists. Always turning in a solid performance, she did not disappoint when she sang a torchy “The Nearness of You” and “Summertime,” during which she was joined by well-known singer Brenda Williams, making a surprise appearance. The two women, who sang for years together at the former American Cabaret Theatre at the Athenaeum in downtown Indianapolis, delighted the audience with their natural chemistry and powerhouse vocals.

Singing “Save Your Love for Me” and “You Do Something for Me,” Carol Rhyne Harris, though possessing a pleasant enough voice and an affinity for jazz styling, was unfortunately overshadowed by the other vocalists on the bill. What she lacked in vocal ability and stage presence, though, she made up for with a pleasing personality that seemed to connect with an audience eager to support each performer.

As it turned out, Harris is the sister of renowned jazz organist Melvin Rhyne, who is best known for his work with jazz legend and fellow Indianapolis native Wes Montgomery. Present at the show to support his sister, Rhyne was introduced and was invited on stage by Allen, who had worked with him previously. When asked to sing by someone in the audience who obviously had no idea that he does not, Rhyne good-naturedly declined and quickly returned to his seat.

There is much to praise about a program built on such a positive premise; however, certain weaknesses cannot be overlooked. While interacting with the audience between songs, Herzig, sounding like the instructor she is, shared interesting historical information and anecdotes regarding program selection, as well as commentary that included information about ISIS activities and events. For purposes of pacing, less commentary and more music might have made for a snappier presentation. Unfortunately, the entire presentation suffered from a lack of polish. A good example is during certain introductions, when Herzig looked out into the audience, calling out to performers “Are you here?”

Nowhere was the aforementioned lack of polish more noticeable than in the closing number, when the entire cast came on stage to perform “You’ve Got a Friend.” Featuring members of the ensemble singing solos, duets and in unison, the resulting outcome was one of failed execution. Gaffes included off-key singing and awkward staging, leaving this writer to wonder, “Did they not rehearse this number?”

Fortunately, the singers redeemed themselves during their encore when they performed a spirited rendition of “Route 66,” giving Allen, Ramsey and Williams a chance to show off their scatting skills, with good jazz sensibilities shown by all.

Click here to read Tom’s review.

 

"One of Indianapolis' most fashionable downtown nightspots..."

Tom Alvarez, Examiner.com

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