Artist Series Concerts of Sarasota ramps up the holiday with “Harmony for the Holidays” featuring the sweet-toned harmonies and sure-footed swing of acclaimed vocal jazz trio Duchess. The New York City-based threesome, Amy Cervini, Hilary Gardner and Melissa Stylianou are joined by noted jazz pianist Carmen Staaf, bassist Don Mopsick and percussionist Rick Costa for a sparkling holiday program that includes such traditional favorites as “Silver Bells,” “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve” and The Andrews Sisters’ “Christmas Island,” plus holiday novelties like “Santa Baby,” “Mele Kalikimaka” (Hawaii’s way to say “Merry Christmas”), “Christmas Compromise” and much more.
A close-harmony vocal trio blending the classic and the contemporary, Duchess has rightly earned a reputation for beautiful singing and big fun onstage. Blending the classic and the contemporary, the trio has performed at major festivals and esteemed jazz clubs throughout the United States, Canada, Europe and Israel.
While the trio certainly evokes The Andrews Sisters, it’s New Orleans’ The Boswell Sisters, the pioneering 1930s close-harmony trio, that are the root historic muses for the Duchess sound and approach. “The Boswell Sisters were such originals,” explains singer Gardner. “This kind of music got more conservative a decade later in the 1940s, with The Andrews Sisters taking the vocal trio format more mainstream, although they were swinging and super-tight in their own way too. But The Boswell Sisters had a kind of instrumental approach to harmony singing, and there was a wildness to what they did, with abrupt tempo changes, crazy harmonies and ensemble scatting as if they were singing from one brain. We love them.”
That love comes as no surprise as the vocalists of Duchess harmonize as if they too are singing from one brain. About the magical stage rapport that exists among the three singers, Cervini says, “The chemistry between us was special from that first moment back in 2013 when we teamed up at Bar 55 to sing some Boswell and Andrews Sisters charts, and it went over amazingly well. Chemistry like this is rare and unpredictable and we’re now so in tune with one another that it allows us to explore and experiment even while maintaining that great sound and vibe that brought us together in the first place.”
Joining the trio will be noted New York pianist and composer Carmen Staaf, who has performed with Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Wynton Marsalis, the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra and many others and she is currently the pianist and musical director for NEA Jazz Master Dee Dee Bridgewater. Rounding out the ensemble will be noted area jazz musicians Don Mopsick, bass and Rick Costa, percussion.
“This is a stellar ensemble that’s going to be delivering some great, swinging music and lots of laughs,” says Joseph Holt, director of artist programs for Artist Series Concerts. “One of my favorite Duchess stories is when a fellow musician came up to them after a set at 55 Bar in New York and said: ‘You know, the audience doesn’t realize how difficult what you’re doing really is. They’re having too good of a time.’ I think that sums Duchess up perfectly.”