Claudia Acuna, a jazz singer with a unique style

Claudia Acuna, a jazz singer with a unique style

By Edith McCauley

By Edith McCauley

Theater Critic

Stepping out of my field to review the performance of Claudia Acuña may be presumptuous, but Saturday’s performance so enthralled me that I have to share it. The day began at noon in Rockford College’s Maddox Theatre with a free workshop for students. Dorothy Paige-Turner conducted the session. Her magical touch transforms a group of children into a coherent jazz ensemble in 30 minutes. Paige-Turner’s subtle strategies include physical movement that internalizes the beat. She recognizes the importance of closeness. Touching increases confidence, and hearing your own voice joined with others brings the realization that music connects us all.

Claudia Acuña joined the children, and together they performed the piece in which their voices became instruments. Interacting with the students, Acuña answered their questions and shared her dreams, encouraging them to pursue theirs. A childlike innocence and ability to play with a lyric made “Nature Boy” the perfect choice. The children’s rhythmic beat and chant of “The Boy” ended the afternoon’s performance on a high note. Acuña said, “You can make your dreams come true.”

Coming to New York City in 1995 to pursue her career in jazz, Acuña left her native Chile, but brought with her the rhythms and movements inherent to her roots. She continues to perform the music of Latin America, blending with it the jazz classics she so loves. The ability to deconstruct a lyric and make it her own poem makes the music uniquely her own. Her program began with “Imagination” from Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, earlier shared with the children. Seguing to Duke Ellington’s “Prelude to a Kiss,” she revealed the maturity of feeling that balances the almost naive quality of her personae.

Jason Lindler, piano; Ben Street, bass; and Eric McPherson on drums are the musicians who complement a unique style. They enhance and support Acuña on every level. Improvisation is the hallmark of great jazz, and they are superb. Lindler’s chord changes titillate, and his music takes us to another plane. “I Fall in Love Too Easily” and “A Time for Love” are plaintive laments. The music and the musicians become one.

“Maria, Maria,” written by a Brazilian friend, gave Acuña the opportunity to pay tribute to her mother. Explaining the lyric, she said, “It describes a woman much like my mother, who is strong like a rock, yet fragile like flower.”

Ending the evening with a percussive underbeat, “More Than You Know” became a pulsing, dynamic tribute to jazz. Claudia Acuña’s dedication and love of her work produces a program of richness and depth. Her current CD, Wind From the South, is available locally, and this week Rhythm of Life is being released. Both need to be part of your music collection.

Put this on your list of things to do…

“Chihuly in the Park, A Garden of Glass.” Currently on display at the Garfield Park Conservatory, Dale Chihuly’s stunning glass sculpture makes the tropical gardens of Garfield Park Conservatory a place of magic. The brilliant colors and huge shapes become an organic part of the lush landscape. The exhibit, originally closing on May 19, has been extended until September. Directions: Take 290 east to Chicago. Exit at Central and proceed north to the park. A large lot next to the conservatory is available for parking.

CHIC, a culinary delight…

We saw a presentation by a chef from the Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago at the Garden Show and immediately decided that lunch at their cafe was a must. Students prepare and serve the food, learning every aspect of the business. Exquisite presentation and perfect service makes a dining experience found only in four-star restaurants. Luncheon included, a salad of field greens with lemon poppyseed dressing, skate with baby carrots and cauliflower, with a tumeric sauce, and for dessert, chocolate canolis with chocolate sauce and fresh raspberries.

Appetizers, salads and soups are $4.00 and entrees $8.00. It is best to have reservations. Call (312) 944-0882. The cafe is located at 361 W. Chestnut, just north of Chicago. Parking can be difficult, but public transportation is convenient.

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