Harlem jazz musicians will recreate intimate club vibe

A man with his curly hair held with a headband sits with his hands folded on a piano.
Emmet Cohen
By Heather Longley “Live at Emmet's Place,” modeled after the Roaring Twenties-era rent parties hosted by neighborhood artists, was Emmet Cohen's response to pandemic quarantine. The jazz pianist's weekly online program continues to be a very accessible event, literally in that it's available to anyone with Internet access anywhere in the world. But it's also relatable and candid — a singer catching one last sip from a red plastic Solo cup, musicians wearing T-shirts and no shoes, a plant trailing from its hanging pot. For Center for the Performing Arts sponsor and patron Nancy Gamble, watching Cohen's weekly jazz program was a welcome distraction from pandemic isolation. “The energy that he brought to my living room on those Monday nights — it was really important that I had something to look forward to,” she said. “And it was fun to watch who he would bring to perform with him.” Following the success of his online concert series, the Emmet Cohen Trio will return to the Center for the Performing Arts at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 19, in Eisenhower Auditorium. Visit Center for the Performing Arts online or call 814-863-0255 for more information. The trio's return to the Penn State stage will feature a return guest from his livestream, Armenian-born vocalist Lucy Yeghiazaryan (of red Solo cup lore). “Lucy was a big part of that [livestream] movement with us, so I welcome any opportunity to appear with her live,” Cohen said. In addition to the performance history they share, he said was also intrigued by Yeghiazaryan's personal history and how that organic entry to American jazz contributed to her sense of musicality. “Until the time she was 10 years old, she was just hearing Armenian folk songs,” Cohen said. “She brings that real folk sensibility to jazz, which is also a folk music of America. Lucy is special in that way, but she's also internalized a lot of the lexicon of jazz. … She just has this very unique sensibility to bring people into the music.” The New York-based vocalist attributed her father's love of music for the evolution of her own. “My father had certain connections during the Soviet era and was able to 'sneak' in a few records of people like Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Mahalia Jackson and Ray Charles,” she said. “We would listen to this limited collection throughout my childhood, but only intermittently, because I grew up with no electricity in the 1990s. Once we immigrated to the states in the early 2000s, I finally heard people like Charlie Parker and Sarah Vaughan for the first time.” Gamble, a fan of Emmet's music and upbeat delivery since his first appearance at Penn State in 2018, said she is looking forward to “feeling his energy and being back again in live concert mode with the jazz pianist.” Yeghiazaryan, a fan of the Great American Songbook, said she aims to recreate the intimate vibe from “Live at Emmet's Place” wherever she performs. “My aim at every concert is to make an audience feel as though we are a family gathered around the hearth,” the singer said. Free community Jam Session A day before the concert, Cohen will host a public Jam Session, at 7 p.m. Monday, Sept. 18, in School of Music Recital Hall. The event is free for everyone, but registration is required. He said the improvisational event will be fun for everyone, but it also serves a practical purpose. “Everywhere in the world we go, we like to integrate,” Cohen said. “That can come in the form of just a jam session, where we get together and play with artists, local artists, student artists, even older members of the community who come and just try to feed our concept and our energy into that in the most positive way possible.” “I think that's what great art does and what great jazz can do, especially the improvisational aspect of it, … where we're really playing with each other and being present in the moment,” he said. Attendees may bring an instrument to join the experience, or they are welcome to watch the event. Heather Longley is a communications specialist at the Center for the Performing Arts.

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