by David Cuffy
Women in Jazz 2014 ended on a musical high at Fiesta Plaza in Movietowne, Port-of-Spain on April 26 with Glenda Collens confidently giving her own voice and interpretation to several jazz standards and original compositions.
It didn't take long to find out that this was going to be a unique concert, an adventure into the world of a well-honed musician who holds a Bachelor in Music in Voice Performance from Boston University, and has been featured in solo recitals in London, France and Italy, and in many of Rapso group 3Canal's Carnival productions, as well as her own production Swing Out Live which was nominated for six Cacique Awards.
With just Everald "Red Man" Watson on the djembe (African drum) as accompaniment, she opened with the jazz standard Nature Boy, vocalised by Nat “King” Cole in 1948, to set the stage for an hour-long performance in which she paid homage to some of the world’s best songwriters and musicians in her own inimitable style.
Many would have heard Dave Brubeck’s Take Five before. It was written by Paul Desmond in the key of E-flat minor, and is famous for its distinctive two-chord piano vamp; catchy blues-scale saxophone melody; imaginative, jolting drum solo; and use of the unusual quintuple (5/4) time from which its name is derived.
Collens offered listeners a rare and brilliant showcase of the song’s lyrics that state in part: “Won't you stop and take a little time out with me. Just take five. Stop your busy day and take the time out to see if I'm alive. Just take five.” Competently complementing the work were Dale Dolly on keyboard, Dawud Orr on saxophone, Remy Coryat on drums, and Shane Collens on bass, with vocal accompaniment coming from Shazina Ramsumair and Kevin Humphrey.
Slowing the tempo, she followed with Summertime, recognised as one of the most covered songs in the history of recorded music, with more than 33,000 covers by groups and solo performers. It was composed by George Gershwin for the 1935 opera Porgy and Bess, with lyrics by DuBose Heyward.
While maintaining the elements of jazz and the song styles used by negroes during the early 20th century contained in the song’s orchestration, Glenda took the work to a different level with a beautiful variation on the melody.
Highlight on the playbill was the showcase of Four Women, a song written by jazz singer, composer, pianist and arranger Nina Simone, released on the 1966 album Wild Is The Wind that tells the story of four different African-American women (invented by Simone) (Aunt Sarah, Saffronia, Sweet Thing, and Peaches), each representing an African-American stereotype in society at the time.
Joining Glenda, and using low-key and moody, but powerful, singing to convey the melodrama of the song, were Nyota Nelson-Jiranek, Shazina Ramsumair, and Maricia Cagan. Their combined effort earned the evening’s loudest acclamation.
Glenda, who was trained as a classical singer abroad, and had to fight a debilitating illness, during that period, that threatened her ability to sing, then showcased a couple of original compositions written by her husband Shane (the bass player) and herself. They included Rush Hour and You and Me, the latter bringing to a high-energy close the sixth year she has been performing at the Women In Jazz concerts.