KITCHENER — Just when you think you know the music of iconic American composer Leonard Bernstein, a few surprises pop up.
For Kitchener jazz singer Mary-Catherine Pazzano, the lesser known pieces of Bernstein revealed hidden surprises, music that is not only beautiful but technically difficult.
“It’s been challenging,” admitted Pazzano, who will perform “Leonard Bernstein at 100” Saturday, Feb. 9, at Kitchener’s Registry Theatre, celebrating the centenary of the composer’s birth. The concert is part of the Winter Jazz Series running Feb. 7 to 10.
The thing about Bernstein is he wrote in so many genres, including opera, symphonic, orchestral, ballet, film scores, musical theatre, choral and chamber. So, putting together a program that truly represented the composer’s artistry meant she had to be prepared to sing in several different styles, with plenty of challenging octaves to climb up and slide down.
“I’ve done classical projects but a lot of what I’ve been doing now is jazz, it’s a bit lower (range),” she said, adding that singing this music revealed a previously unexplored aspect of her voice she didn’t know existed. Her voice had darkened, become richer and deeper with age.
“I sound like a woman now,” she joked.
Pazzano will perform with her band: Jason Hunter on sax, Don Buchanan on piano, Pat Collins on bass and Steve James on drums.
Aside from a teaching degree, Pazzano holds a bachelor of arts in music and drama from the University of Waterloo. Her debut album “You’re Gonna Hear From Me” was released in October 2017. But with her concentration on jazz over the past few years, tackling a wider range of vocal gymnastics took some preparation.
The Registry’s program director and co-founder of the Winter Jazz Series, Lawrence McNaught, said there was no question in his mind as to who he would ask to perform Bernstein as part of the series that runs Feb. 7 to 10 at three venues.
To start with, Pazzano has remarkable range and a certain 1940s vibe that makes her the perfect choice for this interpretation of Bernstein’s music.
“Mary-Catherine is such a sweetheart,” he said. “Of all the performers I have worked with, she is the hardest working person. I’m such a fan of hers.”
Pazzano’s concert is one of two that weekend at the Registry. Both are part of the fourth annual Winter Jazz Series. The Friday night concert will feature Larry Larson’s Jazz Guys at the Registry. As well there are concerts at the Jazz Room in the Huether Hotel and First United Church in Waterloo. It will be all jazz, all weekend and Pazzano is thrilled to be part of it.
When she began some deep diving into historical records about Bernstein, the singer found a treasure trove of scores not commonly performed.
“Everyone knows the music from his “West Side Story,” but he did so much more great music,” she said. “On The Town” people know from the movies but it was actually a stage show.
“A lot of the music didn’t make it into the movie, but I think it was some of his best stuff.”
She first heard the music from “On The Town” at a revival of the stage production in New York a few years ago and loved it, though she was also not really surprised the music wasn’t in the movie.
Some of the lyrics are “full of innuendo,” she said, and much of it would have been too challenging to sing for any movie star who hadn’t been classically trained, even the likes of Gene Kelly.
One of her favourite Bernstein songs and one that also challenges her vocally is “Dream With Me” from the film, “Peter Pan,” where she will have guest artist, cellist Ben Bolt-Martin, perform.
“I chose the program, it’s been exciting,” she said.
McNaught said Pazzano’s concert is the perfect way to launch the jazz series, which will also feature the Robi Botos Trio at the Jazz Room. The festival will wrap up Sunday, Feb. 10, with a collaboration between the Sir John A. Macdonald Big Band and JazzFM Youth Big Band performing together on the stage of First United Church in Waterloo, as part of the church’s First On Stage series.