Smooth Sounds for Seniors! That's the title of the new concert series just for seniors ages 60 and better at the Montpelier Arts Center, in Laurel. It is a cultural arts venue for all counties. The center's director, Sonya Kitchens, decided to offer senior concert goers who didn't want to drive at night, an alternative to evening concerts. This series is perfect because it is held at noon.
World-renowned jazz singer Ethel Ennis kicked off the new series. This 81-year-old Baltimore-based vocalist is amazing. She entertained to a packed house, backed up by the Ethel Ennis Trio: Stefan Scaggiari on piano, Mark Russell on bass guitar and Steve Abshire on guitar.
After a few musical pieces by the Trio, Ethel took to the stage in a stylish, brightly colored pants outfit of red, orange, brown, gold and beige. She opened with "It's a wonderful world being here with you." She called herself a 'swinging, singing concert menace." She thanked the audience for showing up early. With a great sense of humor, she does some very funny comic repartee between songs, often related to the next song. She talked about the change to doing a concert at noon and made fun of maturing, by saying, "When I look in the mirror, what do I see? Mama." She then sang "Everything must change."
Change was a primary theme that day. Ethel said, "I have to change the way I twerk my stuff." She sang, "There will be some changes made," a 1921 song she had not performed before. It had been her mother's favorite song.
While the trio performed a riff of Michael Jackson's "Billy Jean," Ethel did a marvelous rendition of "Summertime," replete with her mimicking the arabbers' calls of watermelon and other fruits; she remembered their cry from growing up in Baltimore.
Also in her repertoire was Sting's "Fragile" and a very old blues tune, "They put my last clean shirt on Brother Bill," which included her own sounds like playing a harmonica.
Ethel told a true story about when she played at the Plaza Hotel in New York 41 years ago. There she sang what she called a little ditty called "Growing My Own," a song about growing marijuana. Afterward, the manager told her that they didn't allow that kind of song in the room. Again, she mentioned how times have changed.
The enthusiastic audience had a chance to participate when Ethel sang, "Celebration of Life."
After the show, I went "backstage" to see if Ethel would do a quick interview with me. She was very gracious. When I asked her if she performed a lot of concerts these days, she replied, "Who wants to hear an 81-year old jazz singer." It was obvious that all who attended her performance that day wanted to and ere happy to hear her. I know I was. She said that it was wonderful to see the seats filled and that a pleasure to perform at the Montpelier Arts Center. For Ethel, what started as a hobby turned into a career. She said, "Singing is never work." Ethel also told me that she is working on a recording project, which she is calling "Ethical," a compilation of songs she has written.
When I talked to Sonya Kitchens after the concert, she told that the center had turned people away and that she was overwhelmed by the response.
On his way out, I asked Stefan Scaggiari, the piano player in the trio, about what it was like to work with Ethel Ennis. He said that he has been working with Ethel since 1985 and that she is his favorite singer. He also added that she is his favorite person in the music business, that she is kind and wonderful.
Prior to the start of the concert, I had the pleasure of meeting and talking to Rosalie "Roz" Kirk, of North Laurel, originally from Baltimore. A retired market researcher, Roz loves the wealth of arts events and venues in the area and spoke about the many opportunities in Howard County, among them the Smith Center at Howard County Community College, the Candlelight Society concerts, the Film Society and the Metropolitan Opera filmed live, which can be viewed at the Regal Cinemas, in Columbia.
Roz and I sat together during Ethel's concert. Afterward I asked her how she liked Ethel and she replied, "She was terrific." My sentiments exactly!
The Smooth Sounds for Seniors series continues as follows: April 10, Violinist Chelsey Green and the Green Project; May 8, Sounds Like Etta with vocalist Etta Duren; and June 5, Chuck Fisher Performs Country. All concerts start at noon at Montpelier Arts Center, 9652 Muirkirk Road, in Laurel. Tickets are $12 per person. Go to arts.pgparks.com for details.