South Orange couple bring musical talents to SOPAC

South Orange residents Rosena Hill and Jason Jackson are not your typical neighbors. The married pair has traveled individually to countless stages around the globe, performing jazz, musicals and symphonies with several groups and bands. Now, they bring their talents together to perform “The Sounds of Sarah Vaughn” at the South Orange Performing Arts Center.

“It’s very organic for us to perform together,” Hill said. “Music is in our house; our house is full of music. We have a piano, drums, sheet music all over and we practice and perform together.”

Hill, who is a classically trained vocalist, and Jackson, a Grammy Award-winning trombonist, met in 2007 while performing on Broadway in the musical “The Color Purple” while he was in the pit with the band and she was onstage in the cast. They married in 2009 and moved to South Orange, where many of their friends and colleagues visit their home for frequent “jam sessions.”

“South Orange is such a beautiful, diverse community,” Hill said. “It’s hip, but family-oriented, but also supports the arts. And with SOPAC right there…it’s just great.”

Jackson said that many of his colleagues encouraged him to move to South Orange because of the strong arts community. Jackson has performed at SOPAC before as part of the “Giants of Jazz” series, while Hill has performed for SOPAC community galas. With their knowledge of the performance space and their mutual love for jazz, the couple thought it only natural to perform together and to honor a legendary jazz singer while doing so.

“‘The Sounds of Sarah Vaughn’ came out of our love for American music,” Hill explained. “She’s a woman who cannot be forgotten.”

Vaughn, who was a Grammy Award-winning jazz singer and musician, was born in Newark in 1924 and became a leading voice during the jazz, swing and be-bop movements. She recorded 49 studio albums until her death in 1993 at the age of 66.

“Broadway show tunes, soul, R&B, blues – you name it, she sang it, she recorded it, she made it successful,” Hill said.

“Sarah Vaughn definitely draws us to her in that she is the musician’s musician and the singer’s singer,” Jackson added. “I fell in love with her voice, but she was also a great piano player. When she was growing up in Newark, she used to sneak into clubs and play illegally, but she always created a lively music scene. I’ve always connected to her as a musician.”

Jackson created arrangements for the show by bringing some of his and Hill’s own musical experience to Vaughn’s hits, such as “I Got Rhythm” and “Summertime.” Among those joining Jackson and Hill onstage are jazz-pianist Cyrus Chestnut and saxophonist Don Brade.

While “The Sounds of Sarah Vaughn” occupies much of the couple’s focus, they said they try to find time for the occasional date night.

“It’s important to find time,” Jackson said. “The other night we went and saw the new ‘Mission: Impossible’ movie. You just have to take the time you can and we try to make time.”

“I would like more date nights,” Hill admitted. “But we’re very blessed that we can share so much. Our lives are very much mixed in together.”

As for the future, the couple said they hope to bring their “Sarah Vaughn” show to other venues.

“We believe in live music,” Hill said. “It’s a universal language, no matter your ethnicity, your economic level, your educational level – everyone enjoys the music.”

“The Sounds of Sarah Vaughn” will be performed at 8 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 27 at SOPAC. Tickets are available starting at $30.

Erin Bell can be reached at

Author: Staff Writer

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