"Anti-Valentine's Day Cabaret" in Ann Arbor will honor stages of heartbreak through jazz

This story is part of a series about arts and culture in Washtenaw County. It is made possible by the Ann Arbor Art Center, the Ann Arbor Summer Festival, Destination Ann Arbor, Larry and Lucie Nisson, and the University Musical Society.

In honor of anyone who's been scorned, rejected, or just gotten sick of the candy, chocolates, and Hallmark-style sentiments, Royal Oak-based jazz vocalist Olivia Van Goor will host an anti-Valentine's Day jazz showcase on Feb. 17 at Ann Arbor's North Star Lounge.
Five vocalists will sing their way through the five stages of heartbreak. Van Goor will be joined by Anna George, Aniya Gray, Cayla Stus, and Kait Wiegand on vocals, with a backing trio made up of Phil Buchman on drums, Jack Nissen on bass, and Rowan Tucker-Meyer on piano.
The cabaret-style show will alternate between solo sets and ensemble performances, Van Goor says. Each vocalist has been assigned a unique theme — denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance — that their songs have been curated to reflect. Between solo performances, the singers will come together to feature "that crunchier jazz harmony that makes your hair stand up on your arm," Van Goor says.
We recently chatted with Van Goor, who wrote the arrangements for the show herself. Our conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
Q: What can you tell me about the show?
A: I called on four young singers in the area who are all really familiar with jazz. They're all young and up-and-coming vocalists who haven't done many gigs, so I thought this would be a great opportunity. I've seen that they're working hard, I've seen what they're doing, and I wanted to not only acknowledge that, but gather and combine forces. I also called on a piano trio from [the University of Michigan]. I call it the anti-Valentine's showcase, [a] jazz cabaret showcase. So a combination of fun and silliness and going through the five stages of heartbreak is what we're talking about here.
Q: What can you tell me about the other performers?
A: Cayla [Stus] is the first one up, and she's going to be singing about denial, which is a really fun theme. We could take it literally, or [since] she is an actress as well, I said, "Let's see if we can't have fun with this." So [we have] a song where, on paper, it might still seem like a love song, but if you're in denial, then you might be singing it a [different] way. 

After that is Kait Wiegand, and she will be singing [about the feeling of] anger. Kait is multifaceted and a really big Amy Winehouse fan, and I thought, "What fun would it be to break up this traditional jazz with one of [Amy Winehouse's] songs?" 

After Kait is Aniya [Gray], and she is going to be singing [about the experience of] bargaining, which was a really fun theme to brainstorm. I love finding those deep-cut songs, [and] the challenge of finding a theme. One of the [songs] I'm really excited for is a song called "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy." 

After that, Anna [George] is going to be singing [about the feeling of] depression, which was the easiest one to find. I'm really excited for this one, too, because I wanted everyone to sing three songs that have a different feel, a different look to [them]. So she's not just going to sing ballads — we [also] found a really cool deep-cut Louis Armstrong song. Then I'm going to close out the show with [the theme of] acceptance.
Q: Can you tell me more about the process of exploring each stage or theme to dig up lesser-known songs?
A: It helps that I am already kind of a maniac when it comes to obsessing over finding really cool songs. So I first went through my own book, [which I use] for my own professional gigs …  and really [thought] about how each theme, or each stage, could be portrayed, and then worked backwards from that. It's actually kind of the hardest to find songs for [my theme], acceptance — and then it came to me: one of the songs that I'm going to sing is "Pennies from Heaven," because even when things go wrong, we can always find something that's going right. And I just love finding these little hidden gems.
Q: How did you get the idea for the show?
A: I've seen events before that are maybe [a] Galentine's-Day kind of vibe, and that's not really a theme that I could do musically. But then I thought, "What would be the opposite of Valentine's Day?" — you know, doing all these not-love songs. I'm also always thinking about what's needed, what's missing, … [and] how can I be more creative to fit the space? So what I'm hoping for is that people not only come because they want to hear music, but maybe they are feeling a little bit too much overwhelmed by the candy and the romance and all that stuff and they want to go someplace that's — in a fun way — poking fun at Valentine's Day, but also talking about the other side of it, which is all these stages of heartbreak. 

Then, as we come to the end, it's going to be a very — not to be dramatic — healing journey through all of these [stages] because at the end, when we come together in music, we're reminded of these truths. And the truth is that, to quote "Pennies from Heaven," every time it rains, it rains pennies from heaven. So make sure that your umbrella is upside down so you can catch all those [pennies] when they come down — and don't be afraid of love, because you're gonna be okay.

Tickets for Olivia Van Goor's Anti-Valentine's Jazz Cabaret Showcase are available here.

Natalia Holtzman is a freelance writer based in Ann Arbor. Her work has appeared in publications such as the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Literary Hub, The Millions, and others.

Image courtesy of Olivia Van Goor.
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