Music Interview: Exquisite Power!

Women’s Voices Concert Brings Community Together

August March
7 min read
Exquisite Power!
The vocalists behind Exquisite Power (Robert Reck)
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Emerson Corley and Vicki Dugger make jazz happen in New Mexico. Corley fronts Entourage, one of this city’s premier music ensembles. Dugger is the executive director of the New Mexico Jazz Workshop.

Together, these melodically and community inclined experts have worked through difficulties and discrimination to dutifully create a lasting cultural treasure for Burqueños.

Their work, the culmination of an inclusive vision that brings diverse genders, styles and sounds to the stage in maddeningly moving jazz performances will be in the house on Saturday August 13, when NMJW presents
Women’s Voices 2016: Exquisite Power. The concert features 20 of this towns most awesome women vocalists backed by a band that includes the coolest players in town.

With just over two weeks before the curtain rises on this gig at the
Albuquerque Museum Amphitheater (2000 Mountan NW), Corley and Dugger dropped by Weekly Alibi to chat about their various projects while I drank voluminous amounts of coffee, got meta about music and occasionally chimed in with my own questions about how jazz is becoming an elevated yet accessible force in this city. Our conversation went something like this:

Alibi: Our next issue is called Wonder Women, so it’s great that you stopped by; you’re going to be the music feature; a little bit about the Jazz Workshop, a lot about this particular concert outing that celebrates women’s voices in music. Cool right?

As you know, the name of the show is Exquisite Power.

Emerson: Yeah, exquisite power! [Emerson smiles broadly].

Vicki: It’s a great title to go with the rest of your issue I think.

Ah, serendipity! Tell our readers all about the concert, if you please.

The Jazz Workshop has been doing a Women’s Voices concert for years. It’s always been one of the themed shows on our summer calendar. Typically, Lady Sings the Blues, Women’s Voices and the Blues Fest in Madrid were our big shows. Audiences always look forward to curated shows. Each of these performances is undertaken by a curator as if they were creating a master artwork. That’s especially true for this year’s Women’s Voices concert; it’s rare to hear this group of performers together; you may never get to hear this collection of people in one space again.

What was the curator’s focus this year?

It’s the workshop’s 40th anniversary, so we wanted to dig deep. I got this idea from another concert I was involved in, a benefit gig that [local singers] Hillary Smith and Allison Davis put together for Carla Van Blake. Blake was having heart surgery in Colorado and Smith and Davis held a concert for her at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center back in January. I was struck by how all of these singers came together, all of these instrumentalists, all of these genres. It was blues, it was salsa, it was jazz … everyone was all together as a community. There was a lot of bonding that night and the audience loved that. They went crazy and left feeling pumped, optimistic. I thought something similar would be a killer idea for this year’s Women’s Voices concert. So, I went home and wrote a proposal, submitted it the next day. The board met. They said, “go for it, it sounds like a great idea.” Then, I started making phone calls. All of the ladies from the benefit concert said yes. There are 20 singers featured in this show. And a nine-piece band.

How did you work out the logistics for something like that?

It was a Herculean task.

Emerson: [Laughing] I admit I’m a little insane that way.

It sounds like a good kind of insanity.

Emerson: It is. I do like doing this stuff, for really good reasons, for good causes. Because of my experience as a band leader, I’m used to coordinating a lot of people at once. It seemed like the audience really responded to Carla’s concert. I went with that momentum, caught the performers at the right time and started planning immediately. The key to this gig’s success had a lot to do with planning. We started in January, got arrangements done, got charts written, began rehearsals—all over a period of seven months.

What’s the music like?

: We rehearsed on Sunday. The music is as diverse as the women performing it, though I initially had some interesting calls back about the nature of the concert. Jackie Zamora returned my call and asked if she would have to perform a jazz tune. I told her, “Not unless you wanna sing a jazz tune, Jackie. I want you to sing whatever you want to sing. I want to showcase you and each person involved individually.” That’s what audiences will see and hear. Whatever the singers feel good about, that’s what they’re going to sing. It involves, jazz, funk, the blues, rock, soul coming together in unity and happiness.

Who’s involved?

I’m going to give you a list, it’s pretty extensive.

[at that moment, Iota, John Millington’s little dog and Alibi office mascot, saunters in, sniffs the air and leaves without barking.]

That’s one of the Alibi office dogs.

That’s amazing. [hands over list].

Emerson: My dog would love it here, so don’t tell him about it. Anyway we have developed this very excellent list of outstanding vocalists. Long time local jazzer Wendy Beach will be there, as will Marietta Benevento, Joanie Cere, Chava, Allison Davis, Dianna Hughes, Abby Maxwell, Debo Orlofsky, Diane Richardson, Bev Rogoff, Raven Rutherford, Kari Simmons, Hillary Smith, Sina Soul Queen, Patty Stephens, Carla Van Blake, Tracey Whitney, Jackie Zamora, Zenobia and me, Emerson S. Corley.

The band’s great. A lot of folks from the Albuquerque Jazz Orchestra … like Michael Anthony on guitar, Lee Taylor and Glen Kostur on sax … Percussionist John Bartlitt is sitting in on this one, too.

Vicki: Our sponsors are wonderful too: Womens’s Specialists of New Mexico, The Grove Cafe & Market, Hotel Parq Central and Women’s Cancer & Surgical Care.

That’s huge. They’re, like, the cream of the crop.

Vicki and I had lunch one day and decided we needed a name just as powerful as the performers we had lined up. It’s gotta be, like, yeah that’s it! … something that resonates. Vicki came up with the word exquisite. I thought of power. If you look at the poster I sent you, you notice it’s in a super hero type font.

Hmm … that’s sort of like the theme of this issue!

I know, what a coincidence! That is so awesome.

Emerson: Like Vicki said, audiences won’t have this sort of opportunity again. At the photo shoot, I was amazed at how many of us didn’t know each other. But I think over the past seven months we’ve really built up the community. We’re very excited to perform together.

One of the things I’ve noticed in music and the arts is the “boy’s club” atmosphere that tags along with almost every scene; how does work like this help to dispel that mythos?

There’s so much talent here because we’ve embraced diversity and everyone involved is so different … we’ve all been changed by these interactions. The Jazz Workshop is about building community, it’s about fostering change and spreading values that speak to progress. We’re all about getting rid of that good old boy influence. That and playing great jazz.

Exquisite Power

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