From American pops to symphonic jazz in Breckenridge | SummitDaily.com

From American pops to symphonic jazz in Breckenridge

Erica Marciniec
Special to the Daily

The Breckenridge Music Festival welcomes two greats from the world of jazz to its pops series this month. First, British vocalist Helen Welch returns with her trio to sing a jazzy take on "new" American songs. Then on Aug. 6 the BMF Orchestra presents an evening of symphonic jazz and American classics with the Marcus Roberts Trio, under the baton of Michael Christie, a conductor who spent 13 years leading the Colorado Music Festival.

'THE NEW AMERICAN SONGBOOK'

Helen Welch made her Breckenridge debut two years ago at the opening night concert of the 2014 summer festival season. This year she returns to the High Country with "The NEW American Songbook," a selection of songs ranging from Dolly Parton's "Jolene" and Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides Now" to Stevie Wonder's "Sir Duke."

"About a year and a half ago, I was looking for inspiration for a new show," Welch said. "Everyone is doing the American songbook. I thought, 'Why not do all the song writers since the Golden Era?" Thus her program includes songs by more recent greats including Billy Joel, Chick Corea, James Taylor, Bob Dylan and more. Three of the songs she plans to perform are on "Spellbound," her new CD. "It's a huge deal because people who know me know I'm fussy about what I record."

Welch travels with a jazz trio, and describes herself as "a sort of soulful pop singer with some jazz elements mixed in." Think Ella Fitzgerald meets Aretha Franklin mixed with Karen Carpenter.

"I call myself a song stylist," she said. "I like to take songs and do something fresh with them, give them a different spin. Although they will be songs everyone knows, I think people will like the fresh treatment."

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Add a dose of the "cheeky British humor" the now Ohio-based vocalist is known for, and audiences can expect an evening of "fun as well as great music."

MARCUS ROBERTS TRIO

On Aug. 6, the Marcus Roberts Trio teams with the Breckenridge Music Festival Orchestra to perform American compositions with an improvisatory spin, including a jazzed-up version of Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue," and "Freedom," the third movement from Roberts' own composition, "Spirit of the Blues."

A modern American composer, teacher and virtuoso jazz musician who lost his eyesight at age 5, Roberts was raised in a gospel tradition and went on to study classical piano before touring with Wynton Marsalis. The Marcus Roberts Trio formed in 1994 and is known for developing a new approach to jazz trio performance — instead of the piano leading, all group members shape the sound together equally. The group will weave improvisation into the first half of Saturday's concert, and the orchestra will follow with Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man" and Bernstein's "Fancy Free" in the second half.

"They do such a marvelous rendition of 'Rhapsody in Blue,' full of freedom and fun — it really bowled the audience over," conductor Christie said of the group's performance with the Colorado Music Festival Orchestra a few years back. "Often in a concert performance we become quite fixated on playing exactly what the composers wrote. I've learned from working with lots of living composers — they still want people to have some freedom to do what feels musically right. I think it's just a powerful reminder that in the heart of hearts of composers, they want performers to use their music as a tool of self-expression as well."

In "Spirit of the Blues," Roberts "gives his own voice on how the jazz and symphonic idioms meet," Christie noted, and "Fanfare for the Common Man" is included in honor of the Olympics.

"We took the opportunity with the program to let it be pure Americana," he said. "We wanted it to touch people in a lot of different ways, to remind them of all the great things that happen in this country."

Up-and-coming drummer Bryan Carter will stand in for Jason Marsalis with the trio, joining Rodney Jordan on bass with Roberts on piano. Carter is a graduate of The Juilliard School's jazz studies program and was recently selected as house drummer for a new NBC variety show from the producers of "Saturday Night Live" called "Maya and Marty."

From the Marcus Roberts Trio to the BMF Orchestra, "there's a lot for everybody onstage to do," Christie said of Saturday's concert. "I feel like everyone's in it together in this program. It's real, pure Americana with a lot of energy and lots of groove."

Erica Marciniec is a paid writer with the Breckenridge Music Festival.

IF YOU GO

What: The NEW American Songbook starring Helen Welch

When: 7:30-9:30 p.m. Wednesday, August 3

More info: http://www.helenwelch.com

What: Marcus Roberts Trio with the BMF Orchestra, conducted by Michael Christie

When: 7:30-9:30 p.m. Saturday, August 6

More info: http://www.marcusroberts.com

Where: Riverwalk Center, 150 W. Adams Ave., Breckenridge

Tickets: $30-45; $7 youth; $10 student with ID. Call the Riverwalk Center Ticket Office at (970) 547-3100, or visit breckenridgemusicfestival.com.