Carmen Bradford belts one out with the Davidson Jazz Ensemble
Carmen Bradford performs with the Jazz Ensemble. Image courtesy Awais Abid ‘24.

Ian Macel ’24 (He/Him)

On Saturday, October 23rd, jazz vocalist Carmen Bradford performed with the Davidson College Jazz Ensemble. The concert setlist was a demanding 13 songs, ranging from Big Band Swing tunes to an intimate piano-vocal ballad that I had the honor of joining Bradford—Mrs. Carmen, as she told us to call her—in performing. Following the 13 programmed songs, she and Davidson College Piano teacher Lovell Bradford (no relation) performed an eye-watering encore of “What a Wonderful World.”

Following the concert, Bradford came to Mandolino’s with the Jazz Ensemble and the Jazz vocal group After Hours. She shared stories, telling us about her encounters with jazz greats Ella Fitzgerald and Count Basie. She also showered us with compliments, ranging from how well we played to the charm of the ensemble. At the concert, she said to the audience,“your children are so cute, and I’m so proud of how good they sound.” 

As soon as Bradford arrived to our rehearsal on Friday afternoon before the concert, not only was her strength as a singer obvious, but also her kindness and understanding. She gave us tips and advice, but was never condescending. She told the rhythm section (drums, bass, piano, and guitar) to listen to each other and focus on becoming a more cohesive unit.

For me as a pianist, I learned how to accompany a singer. Bradford and I played “The Man I Love” by George Gershwin together as a piano-vocal duet. The night before the concert I got to have a one-on-one rehearsal with Mrs. Carmen. The song I had spent weeks practicing came to life when she sang it. 

I was nervous the week of the concert—I thought I would be tense and shaky performing on stage with her—but it was ultimately the most comfortable I felt during the show. Bradford sang right next to the piano while we performed “The Man I Love” together, and she would communicate with me without saying a word. She’d look at me and smile, or widen her eyes, or nod her head and I’d understand exactly what she was telling me to do; hold this note, slow down, speed up and take it away for the final arpeggio to end the song. I must have spent 10 hours that week practicing for a 3-minute song. Nonetheless, all the work we put in was worth it; it was the best concert of my life and a thrilling experience for the entire ensemble. 

Since the night of the performance, I’ve been thinking about something Bradford reminded us of during the concert: she told us to have fun. At some points in rehearsal, I felt like I was trying too hard and was reading music, not making it. She reminded me why we were all there, on the stage, in Duke Family Performance Hall. We were there to have fun and make music, and I’ll be incredibly grateful for the opportunity to play with Carmen Bradford for a long time to come. 

Ian Macel ‘24 (he/him) is a political science major from Chevy Chase, MD and can be reached for comment at iamacel@davidson.edu