REVIEW: Samara Joy at Hill Auditorium

With a nearly sold-out Hill Auditorium last Wednesday, March 27th, it’s needless to say that Samara Joy was long-awaited in the Ann Arbor community.

Samara Joy is a Grammy-Award-winning jazz singer who is touring the US and the EU on a nearly sold-out international tour. At just 24 years old, she is a trailblazing force in jazz for Gen Z. She sheds new light on jazz classics alongside her deep understanding of the canon and the singers before her. Joy has thoroughly charmed her Gen Z equivalents and beyond.

Joy was joined by her 7-piece band: Connor Rohrer (piano), Pail Sikivie (bass), Evan Sherman (drums), David Mason (A. Sax), Kendrick McCallister (T. Sax), Jason Charos (Trumpet), and Donovan Austin (Trombone). Most (if not all) of the arrangements they played came from her band, each one unique with a new character. No two tunes were alike, Joy’s set was diverse and exciting, featuring her vocal virtuosity at all times.

This was undoubtedly one of my favorite jazz performances of all time. Joy has a powerful and genuine presence, along with a naturally stunning voice. She mentioned influence from the great Betty Carter, which is apparent in her vocalism, but she brings a style to jazz vocals that is uniquely hers. She fearlessly floats through her top register, taking many phrases up the octave, yet doesn’t neglect her sultry lower notes and striking belt. She uses her voice as an instrument—just as the others in her band.

Joy’s setlist was nuanced and well-paced—a sensitive collection of jazz standards, instrumental tunes she wrote lyrics for, and original music trombonist Donovan Austin. One of my favorite moments in the show was Joy’s Grammy Winning tune, “Tight” written by the great Betty Carter. She has totally made this song her own—with her vocal playfulness and rich belts amid the crisp arrangement.

She played tunes I have seldom heard vocalists sing, such as Sun Ra’s “Dreams Come True”, Rob Obrite’s “Sweet Pumpkin” and Barry Harris’ “Now and Then”. I loved her arrangments of these—I can’t think of them without her voice now!

She often ends with the Grand/Boyd tune from her album Linger Awhile entitled “Guess Who I Saw Today”, and it was expectedly, the encore of the evening. A standing ovation sent the great Samara Joy off, leaving the room buzzing with our own Joy.




March 27th, 7:30pm. Photo thanks to Downbeat.

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