Senior Staff Writer Lucia Towne joined Uptown Vocal at their concert on Saturday night, almost exactly a year after her first introduction to the group.

I last went to an Uptown Vocal performance in February of last year and thoroughly enjoyed the concert. I’m a sucker for jazz and I think that Uptown Vocal masterfully combines some of the best parts of the genre with both instrumentalists and a cappella segments. I was ultimately quite excited to go back to see the group tackle some new pieces in a new space. 

This time in Lerner’s Wang Pavillion, Uptown Vocal transformed the space into an intimate jazz club of sorts. I walked into the space and instead of the usual rows of chairs, The UV Standard performance was played in front of a large group of tables covered in white tablecloths and adorned with a small vase of baby’s breath and roses. While Wang Pavillion can at times have intense lighting, The UV Standard was lit warmly giving the impression that we weren’t in one of the few performance spaces on campus, but rather that we’d entered somewhere new altogether. The concert’s instrumentalists played as the audience slowly filtered in. 

The place was very crowded. Although the seating was atmospheric, it’s difficult to sit at a circular table when trying to watch a performance. Despite this minor issue, once everyone was situated it hardly detracted from the experience. I saw some friendly faces around and chatted with a couple people I knew. Although tickets cost $8.50 for students and $10 for non-CUID holders, this clearly didn’t detract from the crowd. The price of the ticket included admittance to the concert as well as drinks and snacks. Although, to be honest, with how crowded the place was and how long the line for refreshments was, I opted to stay put and enjoy the music of the instrumentalists. 

While the performance was set to start at 8, the lineup of songs actually began closer to 8:15. But since our waiting time was filled with chatter and jazz played by the instrumentalists, it felt more purposeful than awkward.

The instrumentalists welcome the audience before the concert begins

The concert itself consisted of 13 songs varying from solos, full a cappella pieces, duets,  and quartets. Most pieces (save for the few a cappella songs) were accompanied by any number of the Columbia Music Performance Program instrumentalists.

Some stand-out performances from the concert include the group’s rendition of “Dream a Little Dream.” This song was sung by a quartet of first years and was perhaps the most applauded performance of the night. Janya Utkarsh (BC ’27), Lila Hussein (CC ’27), Ariella Burnstein (BC ’27), and Sayem Kamal (CC ’27) sang with an undeniably charming chemistry that was only heightened by their assured blending. They gave this familiar favorite a lively, but comfortable take that left the audience amazed. To say that this song was so adored by the audience simply because of the power that “Dream a Little Dream” holds as a jazz classic would be to undermine the vocal performance that the four singers created together. I can’t wait to see what these four vocalists bring to the group in the years to come. 

Another stand-out performance was the full group’s “James Bond Medley.” It had a comical tone, with members occasionally making finger guns along with the music, but the unity that the group possessed was remarkable. The medley itself contained a great deal of staccato backing and throughout the piece, I could not find one syllable out of line. The soloists throughout this piece were remarkable as well, choosing to lean into the comedy of a spy a cappella piece. This performance gave the group the opportunity to showcase their personalities and they took it. 

The concert ended with a duet between Aaron Zhu (CC ’25) and Armando Flores Montenegro (CC ’25). They performed “Indestructible,” a Latin jazz piece sung entirely in Spanish. Taking a bit of a genre switch for the final piece of the night sent the audience into an uproar. The instrumentalists and the singers clearly had a blast with the song, creating an energy and passion stronger than in any of the other songs of the night. The vocal skills of the pair carried this energy and received a giant round of applause to end the evening. 

As is to be expected, the instrumentalists were simply outstanding. They flawlessly moved from backing instrumentals to their own solos throughout the different pieces. Their skill shined through every piece and the audience simply adored them. 

The UV Standard in general was a testament to the power of collaboration in music. The full group pieces, duets, and quartets easily took the audience’s breath away while the solos occasionally fell flat. I think that being on stage singing jazz with another person allowed many of the duets and quartets to have more fun with the pieces. The back and forth of energy between vocal collaborators carried this concert throughout. Uptown Vocal excels most when they sing together. 

Uptown Vocal (Photographed by UV Alum Sam Seiff)
Instrumentalists (Photographed by UV Alum Sam Seiff)

Easily the greatest difference between this concert and the one last year was the technological resolution. Uptown Vocal remedied their sound issue, likely because Wang Pavillion is a performance space made with sound and technological equipment in mind. This concert went off without a hitch and allowed the audience to simply enjoy the group’s sound without a preoccupation with tech issues.

After the concert, I spoke with Uptown Vocal’s President, Lisa Choe (CC ‘25). We discussed their rehearsal process, the lovely instrumentalists, and the joy that is performing in this new space. But most importantly, Lisa talked about the group as a whole. She said that she loved being a part of such a close-knit group where they are all working towards a mission together. She said of her fellow Uptown Vocalists, “They’re very passionate and it shows.” As an audience member who knows little to nothing about the group and has only seen Uptown Vocal perform twice, I can still confidently agree with Choe. They’re very passionate, and it shows. 

Images via Author and Photographer Sam Seiff

Edits have been made to this article to include additional photos.