When Bess Bonnier, the Detroit-area based jazz pianist and composer, reread the works of Shakespeare six years ago, she heard the music in the Bard's words and began to compose the first notes of "Suite William", a jazz cantata. Shakespeare's words from plays including As You Like It, Twelfth Night, Merchant of Venice, Macbeth, Love's Labour's Lost, Much Ado About Nothing and his 18th sonnet, Shall I Compare Thee to A Summer's Day, are enriched anew with Bonnier's creative combination of instrumental jazz solos and ensemble playing with the choral, a capella and solo sounds of Utah's Sugarhouse Voices.
Early reviewers of "Suite William" agree that Bonnier has captured Shakespeare in a new light - "measure for measure." Chris Felcyn, host of The Listening Room, WDET FM 101.9, Detroit 's public radio station: "There are new 'standards' in this score that have been waiting over 350 years for a tune. It was worth the wait." Michael G. Nastos, WEMU FM 89.1, Eastern Michigan University Public Radio: "The piece as a whole is like a ten course meal, a movable feast to be savored in a lengthy, lingering, royal setting, with plenty of wine. For those who have never loved, or are just starting to love Shakespeare, this is a perfect entry point."
Bonnier is accompanied by Detroit's George Benson (tenor and soprano saxophones), Cary Kocher (vibraphone), Paul Finkbeiner (trumpet and flugelhorn), Russell Miller (flute), Pete Siers (drums and percussion) with Paul Keller, co-producer of "Suite William" on bass. Sugarhouse Voices, a Salt Lake City jazz performance group, is a mixed ensemble of professional artists that include Ric Sharette (director, tenor) Jen Richerson (alto), Leslie Johnson (soprano), Marshall Johnson (baritone) and Mike Bolz (bass). Special guest artist, Judie Cochill (alto) performs as the third witch in The Three Witches.
"This has been a great joy for me," said Bonnier of her "Suite William" achievement. "I was very fortunate to have such a great lyricist to work with - I hope I have served him well and also give listeners a new perspective of his genius." Bonnier's future plans include performing "Suite William" in concert for jazz and Shakespearean festivals worldwide.
"Suite William" was first performed in 1994 by The Pointe Chorale, directed by Ben Walker with a professional jazz sextet at The Grosse Pointe North Center for the Performing Arts, funded in part by The Michigan Council for the Arts and Cultural Affairs and ArtServe Michigan.