CSO celebrates Independence Day with show tunes and popular favorites

Conductor Stuart Chafetz gestures to the audience as they raise their phones to illuminate the Amphitheater as Nicole Parker sings “God Bless America” during the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra Independence Day Pops Celebration July 4, 2016. DAVE MUNCH/STAFF FILE PHOTO

Ten years ago, Capathia Jenkins was closing Martin Short’s Fame Becomes Me on Broadway.

“And then the next call I got was to do symphony work,” Jenkins said.

A few years later, Jenkins was on stage at Carnegie Hall with The New York Pops singing Ella Fitzgerald tunes.

“I got her original charts that said ‘Ella Fitzgerald’ and ‘arranged by Nelson Riddle,’ ” Jenkins said. “After you see that, you pick yourself up off the floor because you

Jenkins is in high demand these days for symphonic pops concerts. She recently took her talents (and some Ella Fitzgerald) as far as Russia. At 8 p.m. Tuesday in the Amphitheater, Jenkins will make her Chautauqua debut with the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra and conductor Stuart Chafetz for the annual Independence Day Pops Celebration.

The concert will include familiar patriotic favorites, several of which commemorate the armed forces. There will also be some Broadway selections. After an Irving Berlin medley, Jenkins will perform “Home” from the ’70s musical The Wiz.

“That’s the very first show I saw as a little girl,” Jenkins said. “It was a show that really changed my life. I sat there thinking, ‘I want to be on Broadway.’ It’s very, very personal.”

Jenkins said she uses a personal approach for every song she performs, even songs that are closely associated with the singers who made them famous. Tonight’s concert includes Rodgers and Hart’s “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered,” which Fitzgerald recorded on several occasions.

“I’ll still approach the songs the way they approached them technically, whether it’s belting or something else,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins has spent the last year touring a Fitzgerald-themed program with orchestras all over the country. She considers Fitzgerald a hero.

“Ella used her voice like an instrument and she could swing like nobody else,” Jenkins said. “She could sing the ink off the page with a beautiful tone, always singing on the center of the pitch. She was bull’s-eye center all the time. It’s high art and beautiful artistry.”

When it comes to emulating that level of artistry, Jenkins said “it’s not necessarily scary, but it certainly is a challenge.”

Jenkins looks to Fitzgerald’s recordings for artistic guidance when she prepares for a concert.

“I do think about the way she phrases things and falls off of things, or just gives it a little bit of sauce,” Jenkins said.

Ultimately, Jenkins stays true to the songs while adding her own “Capathia spin.”

The rest of the program will include selections from John Williams’ score for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and a suite of tunes Williams wrote for NBC Nightly News. The concert will end with the traditional performance of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture.

“It’s about having fun and doing something lighter,” Jenkins said.

Tags : Capathia JenkinsChautauqua Symphony OrchestraIndependence Day Pops CelebrationStuart Chafetz

The author Philip de Oliveira

Philip de Oliveira reports on the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra and the Logan Chamber Music Series for the Daily. He is the Walton D. Clarke Fellow at NPR member station 89.7 WKSU in Kent, Ohio, where he has filed stories for local newscasts and statewide for Ohio Public Radio. He occasionally contributes to Cleveland Scene magazine and Cool Cleveland.