A star bursting onto the world of jazz will launch the annual Jazz Under the Stars concert series on Aug. 4 at Noelridge Park in Cedar Rapids.
Just 18, singer/pianist Ariel Pocock from the Seattle area is blazing her trail through national and international competitions and festivals.
Downbeat Magazine named her the outstanding solo pianist in 2008 and the top jazz vocalist in her age group this year. She also took top prizes at the Lionel Hampton International Festival in 2008; the Essentially Ellington festival at New York’s Lincoln Center in 2009; and the Kobe (Japan) Jazz Competition in 2010.
“People are just going to be knocked out by Ariel Pocock,” says Dennis Green, general manager of radio station KCCK, which presents the concerts.
“She’s already being referred to as the next major international jazz star,” Green says. “She’s already a headliner all around the country. In just a few years you’ll be paying $45 to see her in a concert hall. To have her at Jazz Under the Stars is exciting, and she’s just a delightful young woman.”
Pocock’s progression to jazz prodigy came by ear.
The only child of classical pianists, Pocock got caught up in the velvet fog of Mel Torme and pianist George Shearing at an early age, and began studying jazz piano at age 8.
“I just listened to (a recording by the duo) over and over and just fell in love with it,” she says by phone from her home in Bellevue, Wash. “There happened to be a jazz teacher where we were living at the time in Los Angeles and I (haven’t stopped) since then, especially after moving to Seattle. It’s a great place for jazz.”
The recent high school graduate has studied privately with noted jazz pianist Shelly Berg at the University of Miami. Pocock, who will continue her work with Berg on a full scholarship, is looking forward to exploring classical and jazz realms in college, with an eye toward expanding her musical horizons.
“I definitely want to study voice — I need to work on technique,” says the self-taught singer whose rich, full voice echoes her idols Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughan.
Used to juggling high school classes, jazz band, piano studies, gigs and just being a teenager, she’s looking to focus more on her college classes, saving the gigs for winter and summer breaks. In the end, it will all be channeled into her career.
“I want to be able to perform as much as I can with people that want to play the same kind of music as me,” she says. “I’d like to do some teaching at some point — that’s just as challenging as performing — and composing music for my own group, working with like-minded musicians who challenge me.”
She describes her sound as “straight-ahead jazz,” influenced by Ella Fitzgerald, Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea and others.
“I also really love the Beatles and in new jazz, Esperanza Spalding, Gretchen Parlato and Becca Stevens. … Jazz is such a big umbrella term,” she says.
Jazz Under the Stars audience members will hear a mix of jazz standards and covers of pop, rock and Latin jazz from Pocock, backed by local musicians.
She’s been to Eastern Iowa before and is looking forward to her return trip.
“Thank you Cedar Rapids for liking jazz so much,” she says. “I’m really excited to come back to Iowa. I had a great time last year” in a concert at West Music in Marion.
“I’m super-excited to be there again. And I’m excited to have some Iowa corn.”
— Diana Nollen
Free jazz workshop with Ariel Pocock, 2 p.m. Wednesday (8/3), West Music, 1398 Twixt Town Rd., Marion; register with Peter Cacioppo or Jennie Crim at (319) 377-9100 or 1-(800) 373-9101; includes improv basics, how to read charts; www.westmusic.com/articles/ariel-pocock-jazz-workshop.htm
WHAT: Jazz Under the Stars
WHEN: 7 p.m. Aug. 4
WHERE: Noelridge Park, 4900 Council St. NE, Cedar Rapids (Rain location: Parlor City, 1125 Third St. SE, Cedar Rapids
DETAILS: Food and non-alcoholic beverages available; bring lawn chairs, blankets, kids, dogs, picnics