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June 29, 2007

Cedric Dent helps vocal jazz campers upgrade their skills

Kalamazoo Gazette (MI):

A Christmas song in June? Students at the Steve Zegree Vocal Jazz Camp at Western Michigan University didn't appear to question having to learn a new version of “O Come All Ye Faithful'' on Thursday. The arrangement of the song was a version created by the Grammy Award-winning group Take 6 and was taught by one of the group's members, Cedric Dent, fresh in town from Nashville, Tenn. “You flip on your gospel switch there and it is more choral before that,'' Dent told the students as he coached them on how to sing a part of the song at a rehearsal. “I know I'm throwing a lot at you here,'' he said.

Dent was the guest artist of the camp this year, following past guest artists such as jazz singer Curtis Stigers, opera baritone Tim Noble, who also sings jazz, and Darmon Meader, of the jazz vocal group New York Voices. The five-day camp culminates at 7:30 tonight at WMU's Dalton Center in a free concert. The 48 camp students, who range in age from 15 years old to adults with grandchildren, have been working on 20 group songs for the show.

The students also have been singing and perfecting solo numbers at The Union Cabaret and Grille, 125 S. Kalamazoo Mall, every night this week for their personal enrichment. Twenty-four of the 48 students sang in rapid-fire succession each night backed by a professional jazz band. During the day, the students practiced jazz singing and learned the history of jazz. On Thursday, Dent worked with students on a choral arrangement of “O Come All Ye Faithful'' from Take 6's 1991 CD “He Is Christmas'' and an arrangement of “Family of Love, Family of God,'' from the group's 2006 CD “Feels Good.''

Since the Christmas song had elements of choral music and gospel music, learning both styles helped the students become stronger singers, camp director Zegree said. “The big thing was hearing and seeing Cedric Dent, right before us, playing for us, filling in some of the solo parts of the song,'' said camp student Julia McCune, 19, of LaCrosse, Wis., after the rehearsal.

The $475-camp began four years ago with about 40 students and is up to its capacity of 48 students this year. The enrollment was kept low to allow students to get lots of personal attention from program instructors. It also was kept low to allow each student to sing twice during the week at The Union.

One group of 24 students sang on Monday and Wednesday nights and another group of 24 students sang on Tuesday and Thursday nights. Many students sang classic jazz ballads, songs composed by Cole Porter, George Gershwin and Hoagie Carmichael. Patrons at The Union liked student Katie Ernst, 18, of Naperville, Ill., so much that, following her performance Thursday evening, they gave her a standing ovation. Table conversations ceased as Ernst sang and played the acoustic bass at the same time.

“To gain the stage experience, to sing in front of an enthusiastic crowd is everything,'' said camp student Jennifer Boone, 32, of Baltimore, Md., after singing a slow, powerful rendition of “Stomping At The Savoy.'' Many students said they enrolled in the camp to hone their skills for a career in professional singing. A few adult students, who are choral directors in other cities, came to the camp to strengthen their existing abilities.

“We give them an experience of what it is like to be trained as a young professional singer,'' Zegree said at the end of the students' Thursday night performance at The Union. “Beyond that, we try to instill a lot of our philosophies on how to be a successful musician and a successful human being.''

While students have been working toward perfecting songs to be presented in tonight's performance, “it is more about the process (of learning) than the product,'' said camp student Smith Graham, 16, of Chandler, Ariz. “This (camp) raises the bar and matures you,'' Smith said.

Posted by acapnews at June 29, 2007 10:28 PM

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