© Haseena Marikar

All That Jazz

Jennifer Heemstra, the iconic entrepreneur, pianist and social activist (Yes, I actually said that) of cultural enlightenment and change, who has in three brief years made this city her second home and brought some great American talent to its audiences, presented in the latest of this year’s series, the dramatic and exciting soprano/contralto, Chelsea Quoyne (amazing vocal range) in a generous collection of concerts titled “All That Jazz”. I would strongly advise a deep breath here, there was no other way to put it.

An evening concert at Kala Mandir’s enormous auditorium on the 3rd, a morning event at the Newtown School on the 4th, with 300 kids in the audience where they played The Star Spangled Banner and pieces by American composers, closing with eight children on stage to sing John Legend’s All of Me and on the 5th evening at the Hyatt Regency- a gala, started this series of concerts, oh so breathlessly back to back!

The evening at the Hyatt Regency on the 5th, began with cocktails and little delicious bites, the narrow foyer soon filled with the city’s familiar and new faces, all vying for the Hyatts’ epicurean hospitality, by invitation from the Kolkata Classics Club.

Strictly on time, the duo appeared on stage resplendent in Concept Creations by Kommal Sood and introduced themselves with information on the songs to come, and witty anecdotes, while the little auditorium filled to capacity. The program was more or less the same as the first evening.

All that Jazz, from the film Chicago set the spirit of vocal energy. Chelsea’s versatile voice and dynamic delivery, perfectly off set by the piano. Both musicians complement each other perfectly.

© Haseena Marikar

In complete contrast, ‘I Feel Pretty’, from West Side story by Bernstein, the haunting ‘Summertime’ from George Gershwin’s ‘Porgy and Bess’ and the switch in style and musical range of the Habanera from Verdi’s ‘Carmen’ with all the passionate drama of opera.

From the musical Evita, ‘Don’t Cry For Me Argentina’ though perhaps not in the category of jazz, is certainly a Broadway favourite of great sentiment to the poignant ‘Nessun Dorma’ from Puccini’s Turandot.

Given that Chelsea arrived at 3.00 am on the 3rd and coped with a brief rest, a brief rehearsal with pianist and host Jennifer, followed by costume fittings , it is amazing that they delivered so emotionally musical and joyful a performance on the same evening. The show must go on and go on it did.

The jazz standards ‘I’ll be seeing you’ by Sammy Fain and Irving Kahal, from the Broadway show ‘Right This Way’ and Cole Porter’s ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin’ followed by ‘Black Coffee’ and ‘Fever’ the latter with tentative finger snapping by the audience. ‘Maybe This Time from Cabaret, (a great Liza Minelli voice here) the Edith Piaff favourite ‘La Vie an Rose and finally, to bring the house down, ‘The Girl in 14G by Tesori and Scanlan. Chelsea’s voice has remarkable range and power, used with operatic drama and seductive power. She has been praised for her ‘dramatic temperament and unique charm to please any audience’. Jennifer Heemstra is as always, the perfect collaborator with any instrument.

On the 6th morning, at the Calcutta International School, to a well controlled and appreciative audience of the middle school and the staff, a scintillating program with the inclusion of a medley from ‘The Sound of Music’ the story of Turandot humorously and dramatically explained by Jennifer and followed by ‘Nessun Dorma’ and, with student collaboration on stage, ‘Darkness and Light’ by John Legend.

And then on to Nepal; on the 11th, masterclasses at the Kathmandu Jazz Conservatory, The Nepal Music Centre and Sushila Arts Academy.

The most meaningful event for Jennifer was performing on the 12th at Maiti Nepal, a non-profit organisation dedicated to helping victims of sex trafficking. Currently it operates a rehab home in Kathmandu, transit homes in the Indo -Nepal border towns, preventive homes in the countryside and an academy in Kathmandu.

This performance was at the invitation of Anuradha Koirala (CNN hero) whom Jenny met at a conference on anti trafficking, in Delhi.

Despite language barriers, they were able to engage 400 women and children, sitting on the grass as they swayed in rhythm to ‘I Feel Pretty’ and finger snapped to ‘Fever’.

Another meaningful event was performing at the ‘True Stories Art Exhibition inaugural event which brought awareness to human trafficking and Human rights.

The great enterprise is testimony to the power of the arts and music in the fight against human exploitation.

We do not bid farewell to Jennifer and Chelsea Quoyne for they will be back again and yet again as more people join them in this bid for compassionate unity and justice in a tortured world.

© Haseena Marikar