Singer hopes to bring jazz to Hamilton

MIKE MATHER
Last updated 13:54 29/07/2014
Raewyn Watkins
BRUCE MERCER/Fairfax NZ

SULTRY: Raewyn Watkins intends to bring the sound of authentic jazz music to Hamilton audiences.

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Raewyn Watkins is aiming to become an expert in all that jazz - literally.

The Hamilton singer and actress is about to head to Stanford University in the United States to take part in an intensive jazz vocal programme at the university's prestigious Institute of Jazz.

She is hoping when she returns from the six-day immersion course to use her knowledge and whatever new skills she picks up to introduce Waikato audiences to the genre and perform with authentic jazz skills, learnt from some of the best in the business.

''I want to give the people something they may have never heard before in Hamilton. A different experience.''She also would like to pass on what she learns to the city's younger singers.''

There's a lot of really good people doing great things in music. In Hamilton, I'd like the opportunity to go to a place and sit and just listen to some nice jazz being performed. I'd like to tee up some musicians and provide them with that option.''

Watkins is a familiar face and voice to Waikato audiences from her numerous appearances in musical theatre. She has performed lead roles in Hamilton productions of Miss Saigon, Oliver!, Me & My Girl, Roger Hall's comedy Love off the Shelf, and Die Fledermaus, alongside Dame Malvina Major.

She most recently took to the stage in The Last Five Years, an acclaimed off-Broadway musical about an apparently doomed marriage, at Cambridge's Gaslight Theatre.

Watkins will travel to the US with Taupo-based vocal coach and pianist Alex Wiltshire, who is undertaking a similar, piano-oriented course at the same time.

''The two of us are embarking on a fun learning curve ... I'm looking forward to taking in as much knowledge as I can. I liken it to throwing myself into the biggest fish pond in the world and swimming around with the fish and gaining all this knowledge from them.

"Learning jazz will be a big change from musical theatre, where everything is so rehearsed and refined. By comparison jazz is really loose and open to interpretation - yet it is still very much a learned skill."

Gaining acceptance to the course had been preceded by the organising and recording of two very different songs from the genre as her ''audition'', followed by a very nervous wait to hear if she had been accepted.

The 46-year-old said she had been bitten by the jazz bug while a student at Hillcrest High School in the mid 1980s.

''Jazz resonates with me. It sits well with my voice, which has changed in range over time.''

Al Jarreau - perhaps best known for his sultry theme to the Moonlighting TV series - was among her many musical inspirations.

Located between San Francisco and San Jose in the heart of California's Silicon Valley, Stanford is one of the world's leading teaching and research universities. Perhaps best known for business and law, it is also home to a healthy humanities school with a vibrant musical arm.

''It's an intensive course and we are being taught by professionals. I can expect 15-hour days. There will be music theory in the mornings, workshops with various faculty musicians throughout the day, then evening performances. For the energetic, the jam sessions start at 10.30pm.''All those professional musicians to work with, for me will be like being a kid in a candy shop. I just want to grab every one I can reach. It's going to be great and I can't wait.''

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