UNLV Jazz Ensemble Pays Tribute to Late Singer
The UNLV Jazz Ensemble conducts a concert every February in tribute to various African-American musicians during Black History Month.
In addition to acknowledging African-American musicians, the UNLV jazz department also performed in memory of Alicia Cunningham, a vocalist who died on Dec. 23, 2014 of breast cancer.
Alicia Cunningham recorded and performed music alongside her husband, Don, for more than 45 years.
“She was that kind of person who knew how to make you smile both on and off the stage,” said professor and Jazz Department Director Dave Loeb, 63.
The jazz ensemble performed six instrumentals during the first thirty minutes of the concert, including Sammy Nestico’s “Magic Flea” and “Corner Pocket” by Freddie Green.
Loeb provided a brief history of each piece prior to the band performing. Each instrumental featured three one-minute solos. The remainder of the concert was dedicated to the vocalists.
The first to take center stage was Don Cunningham, who reminisced about his late wife before his performance.
“Every time I heard Alicia sing, I felt this energy and adrenaline inside me that I never felt before,” Cunningham said. “Even to this date, I still feel that energy, so therefore I know she is singing above the clouds.”
He sang Horace Silver’s “Nica’s Dream” before receiving a standing ovation from the crowd.
Other singers included music performance major Gary Fowler, Freddie Eckstine, Genevieve Dew and UNLV vocal instructor JoBelle Yonely.
Cunningham also performed the final piece of the night: Duke Ellington’s 1940 composition “Cotton Tail.”
Unlike previous vocal performances, however, Cunningham provided a three-minute conga drum solo while scat singing, drawing another standing ovation from the crowd.
The concert received positive reviews from UNLV students.
“I was overwhelmingly shocked of how exceptional the performance was,” said sociology major Alan Michaels, 23. “I didn’t think that I was going to love it that much, since I was doing this for extra credit for a class, but hearing big band music live is quite an experience.”
UNLV trombone professor Nathan Tanouye, 40, also believed that the department’s performance on Feb. 3 was more memorable than previous years.
“This was the first Black History Month performance where we had a wide range of vocal charts, as well as instrumentals,” Tanouye said. “It definitely added more variety and culture to this concert.”
He also mentioned that this was the first year that the jazz department’s annual Black History Month performance featured more than three vocalists.
The jazz department’s next performance is Monday, March 23 in the Black Box Theatre of the Alta Ham Fine Arts Building from 7:30 until 9:30 p.m. This concert features the department’s Jazz Ensemble I.
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