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Local group to perform with jazz star

Vocalease preparing for Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra performances with Denzal Sinclaire next weekend

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Members of River East Collegiate's Vocalease vocal jazz group are shown.

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Members of River East Collegiate's Vocalease vocal jazz group are shown. Photo Store

Some River East Collegiate students are getting the chance to grace the stage with one of Canada’s top jazz vocalists.

The school’s vocal jazz group, Vocalease, has been preparing for much of the school year to perform at a Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra concert with Denzal Sinclaire, a Vancouver-based performer, on Feb. 8 and 9. Sinclaire has been nominated for multiple Juno Awards, and was named Best Male Jazz Vocalist by Jazz Report for four consecutive years.

Vocalease will perform at the evening concerts on both nights at 7:30 p.m. at the Winnipeg Art Gallery (300 Memorial Blvd.), while Garden City Collegiate’s Groove group will perform the Sunday matinee at 2 p.m.

Backing up Sinclaire, the group will perform Splanky and The Very Thought of You, the latter of which it performed at its winter concert.

Grade 12 student Claire Johnston, who plays tuba and ukulele in addition to singing, is looking forward to debuting Splanky, a tune arranged for the Count Basie Orchestra by Neal Hefti.

"It’ll be really exciting to do Splanky for the first time and be able to do it with him (Sinclaire)," Johnston said.

"And with a big band, it’ll be fun to do," added Grade 11 student Cuinn Joseph.

Vocalease director Nicole Ens said she forged a connection with WJO artistic director Richard Gillis when they were performing at a musical event at the same time, and the group has built from there.

Ens said she first saw Sinclaire perform at the Brandon Jazz Festival in 2003, and she was mightily impressed with his performance, making it that much more meaningful to be able to work alongside him this time around.

"As a teacher, you try to inspire your students," she said. "He’s inspired me. In 2003 at the Brandon Jazz Festival, I did not forget that performance.

"I hope that they can experience a bigger dream than just being in an audience — they’re going to be singing with him."

Ens appreciates how Sinclaire brings new arrangements and feels to standard tunes.

Joseph, who also plays classical guitar, and trumpet, said he and Sinclaire both have vocal stylings patterned after Nat King Cole, so he hopes to get a boost from being part of the performance.

"If I’m able to see someone who’s a Juno Award nominee, maybe that will drive me to a higher level of jazz," he said. "I’m excited to perform in front of a different kind of audience — an audience that comes to see high-level jazz, they’re coming to see Denzal Sinclaire, they’re coming to see the WJO."

Grade 12 student Courtney Giesbrecht plans to continue studying music after high school, as she plays classical euphonium, piano, trombone, and organ. She plans to specialize in the euphonium and eventually become a music educator.

Joseph and Johnston aren’t sure whether they’ll pursue music as a career, but intend to remain musical after graduation.

Tickets are $34 for adults and $15 for students, and will be available at winnipegjazzorchestra.com, at McNally Robinson (1120 Grant Ave.) or Jazz Winnipeg (7-100 Arthur St.).

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