Brooke Whiting, Contributing Photographer

Taking the stage in Sudler Hall on Feb. 17, Redhot & Blue performed their 47th annual spring “Jam.” The concert paired a cappella jazz arrangements with a theatrical narrative bound by love triangles, jealousy and a series of interconnected murders.

Sudler Hall thrummed with the Saturday night conversations of a full house, with latecomers perched on the stairs and crammed into back corners. Over 200 people came to watch Redhot & Blue perform “JAMbushed! A Valentine’s Day Murder Mystery,”  which shifted the typical a cappella spring concert to an experiential event, complete with complimentary Shirley Temples. 

The group’s signature black-and-red ensemble set a tone of what was to come, as they took the stage. As the lights dimmed, the audience was no longer sitting in Sudler Hall but in the Birdland Jazz Club during its open mic night. After the warbles of two songs, the room suddenly went dark and one of Birdland’s regular performers lay dead center stage. The club’s frenzied investigation into the death, fit with quips and one-liners, was interjected by solos and smaller group numbers. 

JAMbushed is not the first themed concert that the group has performed. It is traditional for a cappella groups to add theatrical elements to their spring performances, though not to this scale. In recent years, Redhot & Blue has presented “Gordon JAMsay,” “Disney JAMmel”, “Paper JAM” and “JAM Preserves.” However, these concerts featured a series of skits — detached from the musical work — rather than an integrated story. 

Jade Klacko ’25, the Jam Coordinator and the person responsible for organizing the event beyond musical direction, spoke about this shift. 

“We’ve never had all of [the group] buy in so intensely. I think it was just such a beautiful thing. Everyone was just so excited and had such an energy for all of the details and the whole [performance] because it is like nothing we’ve ever done before,” Klacko said about preparation for the show. “I think it brought a lot of life into our music. ”

An increased narrative role in their performance did not detract focus from their musical set. 

The group performed its entire musical repertoire, including songs by Peggy Lee, Paul McCartney, Britney Spears, Fleetwood Mac, Cole Porter and George Gershwin. As a tradition, each member performs a solo they have not sung before. 

Tradition has a large role in the structure of a “Jam,” though Redhot & Blue introduced both new and archived arrangements. Klacko sang a version of Etta James’ “At Last” — arranged by Jay Mehta ’24 — before the group  performed pieces for the first time in over a decade including “Night and Day” and “That Man.” 

Arranging songs for performance is a meaningful contribution for Redhot & Blue. Each composition in their 26-piece set is an original arrangement by a current or former member. Even if members do not contribute arrangements, they still have opportunities to influence their performance beyond stylistic choices. This was true for Dixon Miller ’27, who acted as a janitorial employee of the jazz club with unfulfilled dreams to sing, disapproved by the club owner for more than 15 years. 

As the performance neared its end, audiences learned that Miller’s festering passion for jazz led him to murder three club singers, by cleaning the microphone with arsenic. In the reveal, he launched into a solo that was littered with maniacal laughter. His proud declaration of guilt was originally intended to be a monologue, though Miller suggested that it would be more impactful if sung. 

“I arranged that little song at the end to sing,” Miller said. “I took part of it from a musical called ‘The Mystery of Edwin Drood,’” which is a murder mystery musical. It sort of fit and I thought, ‘Oh, this would be the perfect little song to sing here sort of as a murder reveal!’” 

A cappella groups are notified by the Singing Group Council of their “Jam” schedules in September and they focus on preparing new members for the repertoire, throughout the fall semester. The event is their largest in-house performance of the year, featuring alumni reunions and — in the spirit of the murder mystery’s interactive nature — a call for audience participation. 

Before 13 past members of Redhot & Blue took the stage to sing the alumni song — “Man Come Into Egypt” — Klako, who continued her coordinating position into the role of the jazz club owner, asked two audience members to sing at the open microphone. 

Alexander Kayne and his wife Jody Yetzer were approached by Joseph Kayne ’27, another scriptwriter, half an hour before the performance. Kayne did not know that he would be asked to sing when he told his son that he would join the stage during the performance. Backed by group vocals, Kayne and Yetzer offered a few phrases of “Moon River” before they returned to their seats.  

The nontraditional inclusion of family in the performance encapsulated how Redhot & Blue and JAMbushed differ from a typical approach to a cappella. 

Ruthie Weinbaum ’25, who has served as Redhot & Blue’s musical director for nearly two years, spoke to how the group’s departures from stereotypical performance are what makes it meaningful. 

“Redhot has always sort of been my place. This is my last Jam as pitch [music director]. I personally didn’t associate a cappella with jazz when I got to Yale, or jazz with a cappella,” Weinbaum said, “And I feel really proud to be in a group that’s promoting this genre and doing what I think is a lot of really cool things with a cappella music.” 
Redhot & Blue will travel to Colombia in May for their summer performance tour.