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November 8, 2001 Jeri Brown's students love the chance to jazz it up



Jeri Brown

Associate Professor Jeri Brown

Jazz vocal repertoire students

Students in the Jazz Vocal Repertoire class — in rehearsal, and ready to entertain

Photos by Andrew Dobrowolskyj

by Lesley-Anne Benjamin

Blue sequins, red velvet, black lace — it’s not your typical classroom dress code, but Jeri Brown’s Jazz Vocal Repertoire is not a typical course.

“My philosophy for the course is that in order for a singer to understand the repertoire of jazz they need to experience it,” she said. “When students leave the course they can always go and research more repertoire, but can they really swing? Can they feel the emotion that a singer feels on stage in the spotlight, delivering a song that depicts the times? That’s what this production is about.”

The production When Bessie and Jelly Jam combines the self- proclaimed King of Jazz, Jelly Roll Morton, and the Empress of the Blues, Bessie Smith, with singing, dancing, acting and a whole lot of attitude. The show, being presented at the Oscar Peterson Concert Hall Nov. 14 through 16, borrows from Broadway’s Jelly’s Last Jam and the short play The Death of Bessie Smith and includes a tribute to Bessie Smith’s compositions.

Student Karim Forde, who plays the roll of Jelly Roll Morton, has been in a jazz vocal repertoire production before, and says students should value the experience. “It’s another level, a whole different ball game,” he said.

According to Forde, Jelly is a really deep character who found security in his music. Jeri’s teaching allows him to get into his character and, he hopes, portray it with authenticity.

“It’s not like you have a book in front of you. You have no choice but to live the character. It becomes part of you, and when the show is over it stays with you,” he said.

In addition to providing students with a unique way to absorb the history and repertoire of jazz, Brown’s course creates a supportive, non-competitive environment that allows students to use jazz to express their individual strengths.

It’s an environment that’s especially comforting to Lydia Leiffer, who has been Brown’s student for three years. She first walked into the class after a terrible accident left her barely able to speak. Brown was able to get her up on a stage singing.

“She removes fear and creates miracles. I feel totally blessed,”” Leiffer said. “The atmosphere is one of love — you see and appreciate the uniqueness of every person in the class. She’s a miracle worker, and the shows are better than Broadway.”

When Bessie and Jelly Jam will be playing at the Oscar Peterson Concert Hall November 14 through 16 at 8 p.m. General admission is $5, free for students with ID.