John Dapaah and Roxanne Goodman ©Brett Delmage, 2018
John Dapaah and Roxanne Goodman's musical rapport shone through at their duo concert at Ottawa Pianos September 22 ©Brett Delmage, 2018

John Kofi Dapaah and Roxanne Goodman
Studio Sessions with John Kofi Dapaah
Ottawa Pianos
Saturday, September 22, 2018 – 7:30 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

Pianist John Kofi Dapaah and vocalist Roxanne Goodman have much in common. They first met and played together a decade ago when both were students in Carleton University's music program. Each regularly crosses musical genre boundaries: Dapaah performs both classical music and jazz professionally, while Goodman sings soul/R&B, gospel, and jazz, and directs the 130-member Big Soul Project choir.

In performance, their musical rapport shines through.

On Saturday evening, Dapaah opened his new concert series, Studio Series, with a duo show with Goodman. They performed standards, pop and R&B tunes, hymns, and even a musical setting of a famous final letter – but with a jazz sensibility and swing.

Unlike many parts of the city that day, south Bank Street did have power, and listeners flocked to hear the duo. The 45-seat listening room in the Ottawa Pianos store was effectively full, with several local jazz/R&B vocalists in attendance. At the start, Dapaah invited the audience to “dance, clap, whatever makes you feel good!”, and while they stayed in their seats they certainly did applaud enthusiastically throughout.

The duo opened with the classic Peggy Lee number, “I Love Being Here With You”, giving it a punchy and assured treatment. Goodman sang the lyrics with her body as well as her voice, swaying to the music, snapping her fingers, and expressively gesturing with her hands. Dapaah's vigorous piano swept along with her, adding animated solo interludes. Both changed tempo at times during the song to underline the lyrics.

Goodman emphasized that their interpretation of “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac wasn't the classic rock version, but rather based on the rendition by jazz artists Dianne Reeves and Robert Glasper. It was a sparse and elegant version, with less emphasis on the vocal harmonies and more on the lyrics of lost love. She closed it by scatting to the music, retaining the melody but confirming its strong jazzy feel.

Throughout the show, the duo interspersed popular tunes by Stevie Wonder and Bill Withers and Carol King with well-known jazz standards. And, as Goodman explained to the audience, many of them had extra meaning for her. Her husband was sitting up front, and she dedicated “There is No Greater Love” to him, singing it sweetly and sincerely – and practically in his ear as she cozied up to him – and then taking it out with a snapping-fingered accents and scatting.

A heartfelt “Natural Woman” was a tribute to the late Aretha Franklin, “who changed my life” by showing her it was OK to sing non-religious music as well as hymns: “She showed me you could grow in the Church and still have God in you and still sing 'Pink Cadillac'!”

And the nursery rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb” became Goodman's object lesson against those who would shut out people from singing, as she told how she was discouraged as a child by hurtful comments about her singing harmony to that tune. Encouraging everyone in the room to sing along, she and Dapaah spiced the tune up with syncopation and a vivacious approach that left me feeling buoyed up.

While most of the show was vocals and piano, Dapaah was able to enjoy the Yamaha grand piano by himself for two numbers from the Great American Songbook: an unadorned and lovely “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, followed by “I Got Rhythm”. He gave that latter Gershwin number a dramatic reading, switching from two hands to one and then back again on the keyboard, and developing the song's tempo from a happy walk, to a speedy celebration, to romantic warmth, to extremely hard and fast, to a note-by-note outline of the melody – before ending with a full glissando.

I particularly enjoyed “Feelin' Good”, a number made famous by Nina Simone, which the duo played simply but with an intense reservoir of emotion. “Georgia”, in which Dapaah created several different rhythmic counterpoints to Goodman's hopeful and flowing vocals, was also impressive; Dapaah's variations added just the right amount of instrumental interest to keep the song intriguing.

Shortly before his death, Canadian politician Jack Layton wrote a beautiful and uplifting letter “To Young Canadians”. Dr. James Wright (of Carleton University's music department) wrote a short choral piece based on excerpts from that letter, and Goodman had previously taught it to children in the Orkidstra choir. The duo's interpretation began as classical in style, but developed a strong jazzy, bluesy, and joyful vibe as Goodman repeated “We can change the world” in improvised variations. She ended with “Yes, we can!”, to strong and extended applause.

Unlike many shows I've attended, there was no invisible line between the performers and the audience at this show – and one got the feeling that if there had been, Goodman would have kicked it over. She began involving the audience early on, getting them to sing along on the “La, la” chorus of “Ma Cherie Amour”, and conducting their voices. When she sang a hymn later on, the audience just started clapping along unprompted.

There was an easy comfort level and consistent strong applause, I think appreciating how polished and well-rehearsed the 70-minute show was.

For their closing number, Goodman joined Dapaah at the piano. It was her own song, “Nothing in This World Is Free”, and they contrasted the strong message in the words (“everything we have, someone paid for it”) with accented and chiming piano lines, Dapaah playing treble and Goodman bass. As soon as they finished there was an immediate demand for an encore. They followed with a soulful and upbeat “Lean on Me”, with the whole audience singing along, everyone caught in the moment.

This was the first of a five-concert series at Ottawa Pianos which Dapaah is presenting over the next eight months, each with a different duo partner or group. Three of the concerts are scheduled to feature classical music (Schubert, Ravel, Rachmaninoff and more), but the series opens and closes with jazz shows. At the final concert, on May 25, Dapaah will perform jazz standards and originals with his trio, with well-known Ottawa jazz musicians J.P. Lapensée on bass and Jamie Holmes on drums.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

Set List

  1. I Love Being Here With You / Peggy Lee, Frank Loesser, Bill Schluger
  2. Dreams / Stevie Nicks
  3. Ma Cherie Amour / Stevie Wonder
  4. There is No Greater Love / Isham Jones, Marty Symes
  5. (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman / Carol King
  6. Feeling Good / Anthony Newley, Leslie Bricusse
  7. Somewhere Over the Rainbow / Harold Arlen, Yip Harburg
  8. I Got Rhythm / George and Ira Gershwin
  9. To Young Canadians / Dr. James Wright, Jack Layton
  10. Georgia on My Mind / Hoagy Carmichael
  11. Just a Closer Walk With Thee / Traditional
  12. Mary Had a Little Lamb / Lowell Mason, Sarah Josepha Hale
  13. Nothing in This World Is Free / Roxanne Goodman
  14. (encore) Lean on Me / Bill Withers

Read related stories by