Warming up

Jazz concert heralds spring

Posted: Thursday, May 05, 2005


  Melissa Bledsoe Fischer will perform with the Melissa Jazzmom Fischer Quartet at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Kenai Merit Inn. Photo courtesy of Melissa Bledso

Melissa Bledsoe Fischer will perform with the Melissa Jazzmom Fischer Quartet at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Kenai Merit Inn.

Photo courtesy of Melissa Bledso

For the third year in a row, Melissa Bledsoe Fischer and fellow musicians from Anchorage will kick off May by heading south — not to a warmer climate, but to a warm reception by a Kenai audience.

The Melissa Jazzmom Fischer Quartet will perform at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Kenai Merit Inn.

"It's a great time and a good way to start off the Mother's Day weekend," Bledsoe Fischer said.

"The music we're playing seems to go over well. I think there's room for more jazz on the peninsula. I think they're starving for it down there."

In what has become a yearly tradition, the jazz concert wraps up the year's production by the Performing Arts Society.

"It's very popular," said Dick Troeger, one of the Performing Arts Society board members and co-producer of the event. "She does nice concert jazz pieces. She's an excellent vocalist as well as keyboard artist and the whole show is a quartet, so they did nice dance music, as well nice concert music.

"Each year it does draw a bigger crowd as word gets out that we put on a nice show," he said.

Bledsoe Fischer said the Kenai performance is a nice change of pace from what she's used to playing in Anchorage. Unlike a concert venue with the quartet on stage and the audience in rows of seats, the Kenai show will be cabaret style with the audience seated at tables or on the dance floor.

"What's nice about playing down in Kenai is it's a really small room. You can get a little more intimate in the musical conversation between the audience and band members. It's a little different dynamic and feel, one I've come to enjoy."

Bledsoe Fischer said she strives for variety in her performances. Especially when the audience can't make requests, she likes to play a wide range of styles to appeal to everyone's tastes.

"I like to mix it up," she said. "Not everyone likes one style of jazz. The word jazz is four letters but it encompasses a huge style of music."

Bledsoe Fischer said the style she's developed over the years is somewhat akin to the contemporary music Norah Jones and Anita Baker, with some Billie Holiday influence, as well.

"I take old standards and some contemporary. ... There should be something for every jazz lover — traditional jazz, Latin jazz, contemporary jazz with equal amounts of vocals and instruments and some really smoky ballads."

Jazz has had a resurgence of popularity of late with artists like Norah Jones gaining wide popularity, Bledsoe Fischer said. If people are into that style of music, they should feel at home with what she plays.

"If they like that at all they'll enjoy this evening of jazz. It will be kind of a gentle presentation, nothing in your face. It's going to be just nice and tasty, a tasty evening of jazz."

That's not to say the quartet won't be playing any old favorites, but with their own flair.

"I really never play a tune the same way twice and I leave the availability to the other band guys too, within certain parameters, to improvise," she said. "... One night is completely different from the next, and the crowd has a lot to do with it, as well. They direct us in how we improvise."

The concert last year drew a raucous audience ready to show their enthusiasm on the dance floor. This year, to keep things different, Bledsoe Fischer said she'll try to mellow things out a bit — although dancing isn't ruled out.

"Just to do it different, we may stick to a little more of a traditional style in there and not have the conga line going."

Bledsoe Fischer, a jazz pianist and vocalist, has put out four CDs and is well known in the Anchorage jazz scene. She was born and raised there and, after going off to school for a bachelor's degree in music, she returned to perform and get her master of arts degree in teaching from the University of Alaska Anchorage. She's performed in a variety of venues, including with the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra, with the Elmendorf Air Force Band of the Pacific, at the weekly Thursday Night Jazz summer series at the Anchorage Museum of History and Art and has opened for several notable musicians, including Mose Allison, Randy Crawford and James Cotton. She also, as her performance name suggests, is a busy mother of four.

Accompanying her on the Kenai trip will be Dirk Westall, who has 30 years of experience playing bass with the U.S. Navy Band, in the Air Force and as a freelance musician. Pat Owens, an accomplished musician who's been playing professionally since 16, will play trumpet and flugelhorn. On drums is Preston Keating, a musician with the Air Force who studied music at the University of Northern Colorado.

Tickets for the performance are $40, which includes hors d'oeuvres by Charlotte's. There also will be a no-host beer and wine bar. Tickets are available at River City Books, Northcountry Fair and Sweeney's in Soldotna and Already Read Books, Charlotte's and the Kenai Merit Inn in Kenai.

"We're looking forward to seeing even more people show up for a true American art form," Bledsoe Fischer said. "Jazz is the true American music. We have to embrace it and and keep it alive."

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