On Sunday afternoon, music lovers in the courtyard of Senior Hall at Stephens College will be treated to wine, cheese and “Jazz on the Lawn.” The college’s a cappella jazz choir, the Velvetones, will perform with renowned jazz harpist and pianist Corky Hale.
The all-female octet will open for Hale in the benefit performance to help the Velvetones raise money for a trip to New York’s Carnegie Hall, where they have been invited to sing at a jazz extravaganza in the spring.
Pamela Ellsworth-Smith, who founded and leads the ensemble, said Phil Mattson, the head of the extravaganza’s selection committee, invited the Velvetones to audition because of a connection she had. It was the group’s musical ability that cemented its spot on the program.
“They’re a very talented group,” she said. “They were selected as one of eight to 10 groups nationwide who sent in tapes to perform at Carnegie. That’s a very real and deserved honor.”
“Jazz on the Lawn” is a retake on a “Celebrate the Music” event done seven years ago to celebrate the creation of a music minor at Stephens.
After talking with college President Wendy Libby, Ellsworth-Smith decided the Velvetones’ invitation to Carnegie was good reason to revive the celebration.
“It’s going to be a really great afternoon, really mellow and relaxed; people can eat and listen to music outside in a beautiful setting,” said Velvetone Kendra Kastendieck.
The Velvetones will open the afternoon with selections from “Smokey Joe’s Café,” which Hale’s husband, Mike Stoller, composed and wrote. Stoller is expected to attend.
“It’s so cool because (Hale) is such an amazing jazz musician, (Stoller) will be there and a lot of the songs we’ll be singing at ‘Jazz on the Lawn,’ he wrote,” Hale said.
Of the award winning song-writing team Leiber & Stoller, Hale’s husband is credited for Elvis Presley hits “Hound Dog” and “Jail House Rock.”
Hale has performed all over the world, with musical legends such as Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett.
“I’ve played Madison Square Garden, Carnegie Hall and toured 44 states with the likes of Liberace and George Michael,” she said. “I know the thrill of playing Carnegie. I’m excited for these women and what they are about to experience.”
Kastendieck said she is looking forward to the New York performance. “It’s such a great opportunity for us and Stephens,” she said. “Not only do we get to showcase ourselves and our talents, but we get to stand in Carnegie Hall and represent all the fine women of Stephens — what an amazing honor and privilege.”
While in New York, the group will rehearse for the performance, which includes eight to 10 minutes of singing by themselves and a finale featuring all of the groups performing at the extravaganza.
Although the Velvetones have raised some money, they still need more to afford their five-day stay in New York.
“It will cost approximately $1,300 per singer, but we already have some of it,” said Ellsworth-Smith. “The Velvetones generate a lot of revenue because they perform so often. We’ve also received various donations from an alum and other places.”
Ellsworth-Smith said the group is planning other fund-raisers.
“They will continue to perform to raise money,” she said. “And in February, they will do singing Valentine Grams.”