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Keri Johnsrud at Merriman’s Playhouse

| Thursday, October 13, 2016

keri J webCristina Interiano

As a venue for improvisational and interactive arts, Merriman’s Playhouse brings jazz to life in South Bend. On Thursday evening, jazz vocalist and composer Keri Johnsrud will bring her quartet to Merriman’s to showcase selections from their latest release alongside arrangements of jazz standards.

Before beginning her career in jazz, Johnsrud explored a host of other genres.

“I have been involved in musical theater and was briefly part of a classic rock cover band when I first moved to Chicago,” she explained to Scene in an email exchange, “but when I first began singing, jazz was my focus.”

Committing to a career in jazz was not difficult, however. Johnsrud, who grew up listening to jazz her entire life, described it as the genre that feels most natural to her. “I feel there is a certain freedom with this type of music due to its improvisational nature, which makes singing and performing jazz so much fun and challenging for me.”

Johnsrud brought up her oldest brother as one of her greatest role models.

“He was responsible for exposing me to Chuck Mangione, Jaco Pastorius, Billie Holiday and others,” Johnsrud said. “The fact that he was so knowledgeable about this music made it exciting for me to explore it even further.”

As a Chicago-based musician, Johnsrud isn’t traveling far from home for this event. She described the talent in Chicago’s jazz community as “insane” and explained its influence on her.

“Having the opportunity to perform with musicians of such high caliber only causes me to grow and be challenged when I work with them; thus, increasing my own confidence as a musician to be able to take my music to other cities and communities across the country,” she said.

Johnsrud indicated that the quartet will be playing tunes from their latest album “This Side of Morning,” as well as new originals that haven’t been recorded yet. Regarding their plans integrating jazz standards, Johnsrud said, “The standards that we will be doing are arranged in a way that I think reflects the vibe of my original songs.”

The group that will join Johnsrud on Thursday consists of Patrick Mulcahy on bass, Tom Vaitsas on piano and Mike Schlick on drums. Johnsrud knew from performing with the musicians previously that the combo was well suited to the music they are performing.

Johnsrud attributes the group’s success to their chemistry.

“We all genuinely like each other, which may sound like a strange thing to say, but I think that’s really paramount to how the music is performed and conveyed to the audience,” Johnsrud said. “Each person brings his own unique style to the stage and it somehow works beautifully.”

The performance begins at 8 p.m. Ticket prices are $8 for students, $10 in advance and $13 at the door. Merriman’s Playhouse is located at 1211 Mishawaka Ave.

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