Ukiah Symphony presents "Paula Swings to the Big Band Era," featuring soloist, Paula Samonte
P R E S S R E L E A S E
Tuning the instrument:
Vocalist Paula Samonte brings ocean of sound to performance
Ukiah Symphony goes jazzy
by Roberta Werdinger
When Paula Samonte, whose vocal performance of Big Band sounds will be heard on April 7 and 8, was a child, her mother used to take her to the ocean. They'd ride the San Francisco streetcar to Playland at the Beach, site of a then-amusement park, where the young Paula was told to turn her back to the waves, face her mother, and then sing. Her mother would step away and tell her daughter to keep singing--loud enough to be heard. And she was.
That's how the petite Samonte--an effervescent performer with decades of national and international touring notched on her belt--became a vocalist with pipes powerful enough to front the entire Ukiah Symphony. Conductor Les Pfutzenreuter will be converting the orchestra to Big Band mode with the inclusion of four trumpets, four trombones, and five saxophones, as well as special string arrangements and a more intimate "combo" section featuring piano, bass, guitar and drums. Together the orchestra and Samonte will make a sound as elemental--strong and soothing--as that ocean Samonte once stood in front of.
What's the "big" about in the Big Band sound, anyway? Normally an ensemble of 10 to 25 musicians, the Big Band sound was spawned in the 1920s and reached cultural dominance in the 1930s through mid-1940s. Coinciding with the Depression and the span of World War II, Big Band orchestras toured the United States and later performed for troops--or belonged to the military themselves. Many of the era's bandleaders--such as Duke Ellington and his Cotton Club in Harlem--were associated with a certain society and milieu; others achieved fame in tandem with legendary performers, such as Chick Webb with Ella Fitzgerald, and Benny Goodman with Peggy Lee. All of those performers are influences for Samonte and will be part of the evening's repertoire.
Although the Big Band sound was later eclipsed in popularity by other forms of jazz such as bebop, which emphasized improvisation, and rock and roll, which achieved prominence in the 1950s, the Big Band style and sound have never gone away. Its perfect fusion of elegance and playfulness, lightness and depth, heartfelt sentiment and brassy, big-city swagger forever defines an era and an entire nation.
It also defines Samonte's style and her musical dedication, which has not wavered in the decades since her mother started her training in front of the ocean. A migrant worker with just a ninth-grade education, Samonte's mother instilled her child with a love of music that included ballet lessons and personal instruction in harmony and breathing. (She later earned her high school diploma, at the age of 40.) Samonte recalls, "She had an insight to the vocal art that you don't read from a book." It's an insight that Samonte strives to instill in her own students, when she gives voice lessons at her studio in Ukiah. Instead of reading music, she encourages both young people and adults to "tune their instrument"--the entire complicated assemblage of lungs, diaphragm, throat, and mouth that is involved with singing and is as universal as the breath, yet unique to each human being.
That uniqueness is important to Samonte. "I don't want to be a carbon copy of someone," she insists, not even Ella Fitzgerald or Sarah Vaughan--the latter an old friend of hers. Nor are Samonte's experience and interests limited to jazz--she came early to classical music, too. Once her mother left the young Paula in front of a classical radio station, then came running when she heard her crying. When asked what was wrong, the child explained, "The music--it's so beautiful." Now Samonte, who has performed with the Ukiah Symphony before, explains, "Classical music opens up a special nerve in the consciousness, away from push-button culture."
The versatile Samonte also performs Broadway music--she performed as the female lead in "Man of La Mancha" last summer at the Luther Burbank Center in Santa Rosa. She was happy to be already collaborating with Ukiah Symphony conductor Les Pfutzenreuter, who served as the show's musical director, stating, "Les is a magnificent musician and mentor." In addition to performing and teaching, Samonte is musical director of the Ukiah Civic Light Opera and is writing a musical for a future performance.
Although she still gets calls with invitations to travel and tour, Samonte is content with and grateful for her life in Ukiah, having raised two children who both have careers in the performing arts. She is now enjoying her two grandchildren and is delighted to be performing with her brother-in-law, William Beatty, who will be playing the piano for the Symphony performance. "My light of singing will never go out," she affirms, "but as the light dims another one lights up." It is this kind of generosity that will guarantee a magical night with Samonte and the Symphony, a virtual ocean of sound.
"Paula Swings to the Big Band Era" will take place at the Mendocino College Center Theatre on Saturday, Aptil 7 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, April 8 at 3 p.m. The concert is sponsored by Adventist Health Ukiah Valley, In Memory of Dr. Hugh Curtis, Guilford and Gudrun Dye, and Monte and Kay Hill.
Ticket prices are $25 for ages 18 to 64; $20 for age 65 and up; and free for ASB card holders, everyone under 18, and survivors of the October 2017 fires who lost family, homes or businesses. Tickets are available at www.ukiahsymphony.org; Mendocino Book Company at 102 S. School St. in Ukiah; and Mail Center, Etc. at 207A N. Cloverdale Blvd. in Cloverdale. For further information please call the Ukiah Symphony hotline at 707 462-0236.
Mendocino College Center Theatre (View)
1000 Hensley Creek Rd
Ukiah, CA 95482
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