South Orange Couple Honors Jazz Legend at SOPAC
The Sounds Of Sarah Vaughan will revisit the legendary singer's music in a very special performance by local pros at SOPAC.
A South Orange couple, comprised of a Broadway actress/singer and a Grammy-winning trombonist, are putting on a concert tribute to one of jazz’s greatest voices on Friday at the South Orange Performing Arts Center (SOPAC).
Jason Jackson and Rosena M. Hill have too many career highlights to mention, save to say they are a talented duo who have assembled their best seven-piece ensemble for the program that will celebrate the life and career of the legendary Sarah Vaughan, a Newark native and National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master Award recipient.
“She had one of the greatest voices of our time,” Hill told Patch in an interview. “She was a part of the beginning of the bebop era. She was fearless… They called her ‘The Divine One’; it was true. I feel like she should be remembered and celebrated for the nearly 50-year career she had that was cut short by her death of cancer.”
Vaughan ended her performing career in 1989 and passed away of lung cancer a year later at age 66. Born and raised in Newark, Vaughan was drawn to the city’s thriving music scene. By her mid-teens, she was performing in clubs, singing and playing piano. By her early 20s, Vaughan had an extensive touring resume, and as a soloist she quickly found stardom, dazzling audiences with her incredible vocal range and eclectic style.
“I feel like she has opened up many doors for me,” said Hill. “Her life as a singer, wanting to just sing songs that she desired to sing—it didn’t matter if it was negro spirituals or if it was Brazilian music or pop, commercial, swing, bebop, doo-wop, classical, Sarah Vaughan did not put herself in a box. She sang what felt good to her.”
With the number of parallels between their vocal backgrounds, Hill is the right singer to pay tribute to Vaughan. Both began singing in church, both sang classical music and they each share a love for musical theatre.
“There was always a part of me that was like, ‘Well, I don’t really sound like this person or that person; I don’t really sound like Ella [Fitzgerald].’ I was just trying to find my voice,” Hill said. “I went on to school thinking I was going to be an opera diva. Then I was exposed to musical theatre in a sense where I felt that I could do it.”
But it’s Jackson who gets the credit for nurturing his wife’s love of jazz. The couple met while working in the Broadway production of The Color Purple in 2007—Jackson as a trombonist in the orchestra and Hill performing as one of the ‘church ladies’—and the two bonded by playing jazz standards together and by Jackson exposing his future wife to his world of jazz, which includes work with Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, Dizzy Gillespie All Star Big Band, Roy Hargove Big Band and Charles Tolliver Big Band.
“When I was in college, I used to put Sarah Vaughan on and I connected with her because she was incredible [at scatting]…” said Jackson. “She could really blow. And I didn’t know until later, but she actually started as a pianist. She really came from an instrumentalist point of view. I really connected with that, and of course fell in love with her voice. She’s been one of my favorite vocalists.”
The two promised the performance would be a very special one. As with any self-respective ‘jazzer,’ Jackson has rearranged some of the songs to reflect the group’s own musical point of view. Together, the couple performs as Jack & Hill Music, putting on shows just like The Sounds of Sarah Vaughan.
“We do everything, from the research to the writing—Jason does basically all the arrangements,” said Hill. “We barely sleep, but we love music and we’re very passionate about having other people feel the love of this music, feel the swing of it, feel the truth of it. Live music is something that we want to be a part of…”
The couple hopes that Friday’s performance at SOPAC is the inaugural performance of the show, which they want to take on the road. And, as musicians, touring with one another would be a welcome change, as their careers take them away from one another by far and wide throughout the year.
“Thank God, we’re both two people that, first of all, love each other and respect each other’s music and really admire each other’s abilities,” said Jackson. “When Rosena sings, I cry, I lose it. And I think she feels the same way about me, and that really helps us. It’s definitely a constant growing. We were so lucky to have found each other.”
Tickets are available online on SOPAC's website or by phone by calling (973) 313-ARTS (2787). The box office is located in the main lobby Monday - Saturday 12-6 p.m.