UC Santa Cruz alumni perform at Kuumbwa Jazz Center

Jim Meskimen
Jim Meskimen (Photos by Allison Garcia)
Kendra McKinley
Kendra McKinley
Carl Atilano
Carl Atilano

UCSC alumni filled the Kuumbwa Jazz Center last week for an upbeat evening of music and comedy from their multi-talented fellow banana slugs.

Actor, comedian, and ace impressionist Jim Meskimen (Oakes ’82) was the emcee for the event, providing a hilarious soundtrack to the festivities.

Meskimen (whose mother happens to be Marion Ross from Happy Days), has appeared in films such as Apollo 13 and There Will Be Blood, and his television credits include Friends, Whose Line is it, Anyway?, and Fresh Prince of Bel Air.

His impressions of political figures in the 2004 election were once showcased in animated cartoons by JibJab that went viral, and his YouTube video, “Shakespeare in Celebrity Voices” received more than three-quarters of a million views in 2011.

Meskimen performed that stunning bit on the Kuumbwa stage, expertly delivering 58 lines of Shakespeare’s Richard III in 24 different celebrity voices—all picked at random by a volunteer from the audience off a scroll of 100 famous celebrities.

His Morgan Freeman killed. But of course it’s hard to beat Arnold Schwarzenegger reciting Shakespeare, not to mention Ozzy Osbourne and Peter Falk.

Last year, Meskimen earned a standing ovation performing for 1,000 people at Radio City Music Hall on America's Got Talent.

He now stars in “The Impression Guys,” a new YouTube original half hour series from Soul Pancake--the production company founded by Rainn Wilson of NBC's The Office.

The show is done in a mockumentary-style a la Modern Family and Parks & Recreation (in which Meskimen has played recurring character Martin Housely since 2009). Check out the new series on YouTube.

After the Kuumbwa show, Meskimen said he was very impressed with the other UCSC alumni performers on the bill.

They ranged from the strong gospel vocals of Ebony Lewis (Oakes ’00); to ukulele connoisseur Sandor Nagyszalanczy (Stevenson ’77) and his band “Uke Ellington;” to classical/Latin guitarist Carl Atilano (Porter ’09); to the dynamic acoustic guitar duo of Moo (Casey Dayan, College Eight, ’14 and Sean Campbell College Eight ’15).

Up and coming singer songwriter Kendra McKinley (Porter ’12) also delivered a brilliant set on both guitar and piano--mixing jazz, blues, bossanova and folk with nuanced arrangements, creative phrasing, and a theatrical edge.

The 23-year-old McKinley--who last year celebrated the release of her debut album, Chestnut Street, on the very same Kuumbwa stage--is definitely someone to watch in the future.

As Meskimen noted, “it was a night of real handmade, human creativity that was a breath of fresh air.”