The journal of a Kentucky culture vulture
With Sunday night’s performance at Natasha’s Bistro and Bar, J String completed the journey from hot summer night lark to a winter night performance that attracted a good, enthusiastic crowd, despite a cold rain.
The conceit of the duo of Lexington cellist Jacob Yates, now a sophomore at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, and Cincinnati-based Broadway actress Jessica Hendy, is that they take big pop songs by artists like Lady Gaga and Katy Perry and reset them for voice and cello. It has worked well for J String over a quintet of web videos that have been modest viral successes, particularly the sleek production of David Guetta’s Titanium.
J String has a lot going for it, primarily a pair of extremely talented musicians and a unique concept: voice and cello pop duo. Add to that, they have tossed artsy snobbery to the wind and taken songs often dismissed as Top 40 confections seriously.
That may have worked best in their take on Britney Spears’ debut hit … Baby One More Time, in which Hendy really accessed the emotion of a girl pleading to get a guy to give her another chance. The duo’s take also accented one of the controversial aspects of the song, the lyric “Hit me baby one more time,” which Spears has maintained is not a reference to violence. But Hendy’s performance did convey a note of unhealthy desperation.
Throughout the 16-song set, she and Yates, to an extent, embodied their songs like a Broadway performer embodies a character. On three songs, they were joined by Cincinnati Conservatory senior Josh Tolle, from a piano-bar style rendition of Alicia Keys’ If I Ain’t Got You to a pointed interpretation of Radiohead’s Creep.
Yates was clearly on a cellist’s holiday ripping intricate solos in songs like Titanium and using a looping pedal for some very cool overlays.
There is no clear path for what is next for J String. They are hoping to book a New York gig later this year that could get them in front of some influential ears. Hendy and Yates have no designs on creating original material, though Tolle is a songwriter and clearly finds the combo inspiring. Maybe they will know they have arrived if someone takes a J String original and sets it to guitar, bass, and drums.
For now, it’s fun watching the group put on the hits.
The sweltering days around the Fourth of July were perfect for city kids to pop open a fire hydrant to cool off, but not so great for expensive instruments in apartments that are not air-conditioned.
That’s what Lexington native Jacob Yates was fretting July 7 in his hot digs near the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, where he is a student. He was spending the summer playing cello and keyboard for Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati’s production of Next to Normal. Cast member Jessica Hendy suggested Yates bring his cello to her air-conditioned home.
“We just hung out all day, and we just started making music,” says Hendy, whose Broadway credits include Cats, Aida and Amour. “It was one of those random things.”
They started working on a rendition of Lady Gaga’s Edge of Glory with a healthy dose of J.S. Bach thrown in. Then they decided to make a video of it with Hendy’s iPhone and post it on her YouTube page.
That black-and-white clip (above), with Yates playing in a backward baseball cap and a giraffe in the background, became a minor success.
“We both really like social networking, and we started getting a significant number of views really fast,” Yates said.
Hendy elaborates, “We both posted it on our Facebook pages, and we had so many shares from friends and acquaintances who were posting it on their walls, we thought, ‘Oh, maybe we should do another one.’”
Their duo, J String, was born.
Sunday night, they bring their live show to Natasha’s Bistro and Bar in Lexington with more than a dozen pop songs set for voice and cello including the summer of 2012’s No. 1 earworm, Carly Rae Jepsen’s Call Me Maybe.
SCAPA and Governor’s School for the Arts alum Jacob Yates has teamed up with veteran Broadway actress Jessica Hendy to form J String, a unique voice and cello duo that will make its live premiere with a concert at Newport’s Thompson House on Friday night.
The duo met over the summer, when Hendy was performing in Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati’s production of Next to Normal and Yates was playing cello and keyboard for the show.
“We started collaborating and making music videos together,” Yates said via email, “and those videos got some attention from sites like Broadwayworld.com and Playbill.com, so we started getting booked for gigs.”
The attention grabber was Britney Spears‘… Baby One More Time, and the duo has tackled a mashup of One Direction’s You Don’t Know You’re Beautiful and Carly Rae Jepsen’s Call Me Maybe and their first video, a cover of Lady Gaga’s The Edge of Glory (with a nod to J.S. Bach). That video is posted on Hendy’s YouTube page, on which she writes, “His name is Jacob Yates, and he is brilliant.”
The videos have progressed quickly from a hipster, home-made feel to the latest, a sleek production for a cover of David Guetta’s Titanium (above).
Yates graduated from SCAPA in 2011 and is studying at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. In 2010, Yates organized a successful fundraiser for Haitian earthquake victims, that featured another well-known Lexington cellist, Ben Sollee. Hendy is a graduate of the school and has appeared on Broadway in Cats, Aida and Amour.
Jacob Yates, the School for Creative and Performing Arts-Lafayette High School Student student who staged a benefit for Haitian Earthquake relief in February featuring the Central Kentucky Youth Orchestra, Ben Sollee and Cynthia Lawrence, is putting together another philanthropic performance. This time, the beneficiary is the Governor’s School for the Arts, held each summer at Transylvania University.
On the event’s Facebook page, Yates says students at the 2010 Governor’s School were inspired and wanted to give back.
This time around, the performance from 2 to 5 p.m. Dec. 4 at Lexington Catholic High School will feature students from the Governor’s School and “some surprise guests” performing in a “Coffee House” format.
Adult tickets are $10 and student tickets are $5. The Kentucky Center for the Arts, which presents the Governor’s Awards, will match all the proceeds from the event, doubling what it takes in. Check out the Facebook page for ticket information.
The Central Kentucky Youth Orchestra strings and Lafayette High School Choir joined with soloists Ben Sollee, Everett McCorvey, Cynthia Lawrence and others for The Concert of Hope, organized by CKYO cellist and SCAPA student Jacob Yates for Haitian earthquake relief. The event was Feb. 21, 2010 at Centenary United Methodist Church, and it raised $5,000. Photos by Mark Ashley.
Feb18Filed under: Central Kentucky Arts News, Classical Music, Current Affairs, Music, Opera, UK; Tagged as: Centenary United Methodist Church, Central Kentucky Youth Orchestra, Concert of Hope, Cynthia Lawrence, dagio for Strings, Elizabeth Dorsett, Everett McCorvey, Haiti, Harry Pickens, Jacob Yates, Kayoko Dan, Lafayette High School Choir, Mark R. Calkins, Northwest Haiti Christian Mission, Ryan Marsh, Samuel Barber, School for the Creative and Performing Arts, University of Kentucky Opera Theatre
Click play to hear a conversation with Concert of Hope organizer Jacob Yates.
UPDATE: Ben Sollee has been added to the lineup for this performance.
Jacob Yates found the sheer numbers of the Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti — at least 230,000 dead and 1 million homeless — staggering, and he wanted to do something.
“I started thinking of ways I could try to help, even though I’m a 17-year-old in high school,” said Jacob, a junior at the School for the Creative and Performing Arts at Lafayette High School. “I decided since music is pretty much what I do with my life, that’s the direction I needed to go. I decided on a benefit concert.”
Impresario is a new role for Jacob, a cellist, pianist and singer. But he made his initial move like a veteran producer: He secured a star.
“The first thing I did was go upstairs and e-mail Everett McCorvey,” Jacob said. “Even though there were no details, he agreed to do it. And once he agreed, we got the place, and we just went from there.”
McCorvey, director of the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre and one of Lexington’s most visible artists, said, “When he called me and explained what he wanted to do, I wanted to help. I am so impressed with this young man and his desire to make a difference.”
The Concert of Hope on Sunday night at Centenary United Methodist Church boasts a marquee lineup, including emcee Elizabeth Dorsett of WKYT (Channel 27); Louisville-based jazz pianist Harry Pickens; the Lafayette High School Choir, directed by Ryan Marsh; the Central Kentucky Youth Orchestras strings, conducted by Kayoko Dan; and new UK voice professor and international opera star Cynthia Lawrence.
Like McCorvey, Lawrence feels a personal connection to the tragedy in Haiti.
She said she and her husband, Mark R. Calkins, a voice teacher at Berea College and Centre College, “know of friends who are still digging out in Haiti and feel a bit helpless here. … If a performance of mine can encourage people — even in hard times, here — to help, that will be the success.”
Proceeds from the concert will benefit the Versailles-based Northwest Haiti Christian Mission.
About Rich Copley & Copious Notes
Raised by opera-loving parents in a rock ’n’ roll world, Rich Copley has parlayed his broad interests into his career writing about arts and entertainment. Since 1998, he has covered performing arts, film and faith-based popular culture for the Lexington Herald-Leader, the daily newspaper in Lexington, Ky. MORE | E-mail Rich