REVIEW: Samara Joy comes to Ann Arbor

Let me start this off by saying that I don’t have much experience in music. It started with the obligatory piano lessons in first grade from my Korean parents, then a short-lived, shame-riddled violin career in eighth grade that never left the classroom. That’s all to say that I have little to no credentials to be reviewing Samara Joy, two-time Grammy-winning jazz vocalist at only twenty-four. Yet here I am, still listening to her hit album, Linger Awhile, and writing my thoughts on her performance. This “review” will be drawn from the haphazard notes I took from March 27, meant to be more of a poetic retelling of my experience than a critique of the evening.

Joy’s performance began with a phone loudly ringing and a baby’s cry slowly fading off as they were escorted out from their seat. Still, Samara’s lilting voice reverberated as she took the audience across the map of her musical notes. The accompanying band fell into her rhythm, Evan Sherman on the drums shining in particular as his light beats sped through the composition. The crowd stilled as Joy went through her vocal runs, until we broke into cheers of awe. Following family tradition, Samara joy began singing in church and later at a jazz band at Fordham High School for the Arts. She later attended SUNY Purchase’s jazz studies program, meeting the late Barry Harris, to whom Linger Awhile is dedicated to.

Throughout the program, there were moments where each artist could shine; Jason Charos on trumpet took the stage in You Stepped Out of a Dream (Nacio Herb Brown, lyrics by Gus Kahn) as Samara stepped to the side, her vocals accompanying the lead of his trumpet. Trombonist Donovan Austin got the limelight as he performed his original A Fool In Love Is A Clown, a slower rendition from the previous song. Transitions between instrumentation and vocals were incredibly seamless, the synergy pulsating from the stage.

The lighting team were part of this synergy; the slow shift of magenta into blues, rimmed with a golden light at the perimeter. A truly beautiful moment was when the light shifted into a red pink hue as A Kiss From You (Benny Carter) opened up, and later, into a soft purple as Now and Then (Barry Harris), arranged by alto saxophonist David Mason, was performed.

Perhaps one of my favorites was Samara Joy’s take on Sweet Bumpkin, originally written by Ronnell Bright and later covered by Gloria Lynne. The genre blending, the plays with silences, pauses, skips of beat, before sliding back into a playful burst of energy. Kendric McCallister on tenor saxophone particularly shined during this performance. And of course, I have to give a shoutout to the classic bossa nova Chega de Saudade (Antônio Carlos Jobim, lyrics by Vinícius de Moraes), which has been a top track in one of my many playlists, truly highlighting the beautiful duo performance between Charos and Donavan Austin on trombone.

More information of Samara Joy’s tour can be found on her website, and if you can’t make it to one of these venues, I highly recommend you all to listen to her music on any of your streaming platforms. A big thank you to UMS for their amazing programs; more can be found on their site!

Image thanks to the University Musical Society.

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