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PEGASIS: Proof that jazz is alive and well

Local group’s album release concert set for May 5 at The Tarlton Theatre

By Chris Rugowski

PEGASIS is made up of sisters Marvelis, Rissel and Yaina, and Rissel’s husband, Matt Hillman. The group is set to perform at The Tarlton Theatre Thursday, May 5 for their album release. Submitted Photos

From an early age, the Peguero sisters – Marvelis, Rissel and Yaina – said music was an integral part of their lives.

Though growing up in a musical family, the trio said they didn’t experience jazz until later in life.

“The first jazz song we ever heard was ‘Dancing Cheek to Cheek,’ by Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald,” Yaina said. “And then we didn’t hear jazz again for years. When Rissel went to the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay (UWGB), that’s when it really started.”

During her time at UWGB, Rissel met jazz guitarist Matt Hillman, her future husband and music partner.

The pair formed a jazz duo called M.a.R and released two albums – The Fourth Mode and Reflections, for which sisters Yaina and Marvelis sang background vocals.

At the same time, the sisters continued to perform as a trio.

In 2017, they decided to morph the two groups into one, thus creating PEGASIS.

More than just lyrics

Marvelis said there’s a lot of poetry in the lyrics.

“We grew up listening to the big Latin poets,” she said. “Our dad is also an amazing songwriter. He writes a lot of songs in Spanish and we’ll be doing some of those.”

Translating a life as a jazz musician into a full-time gig, especially as women of color, the Peguero sisters said, is a lot of work that takes a lot of effort.

“We have to look and act 100 times more professional than other bands who may be predominantly white or male,” Marvelis said. “We have to look that much more professional just because of the way people look at us.”

Acknowledging Green Bay isn’t particularly diverse when it comes to genres such as jazz, and the pockets that do have jazz music are few and far between, the group travels all over the state for jazz festivals, concerts, public events, corporate events and teaching engagements.

The quartet also uses social media to reach its audience.

“It’s getting better,” Yaina said, on the topic of Green Bay’s arts and music scene. “There’s a lot of people working to diversify the arts, not just for musicians, for artists of all types.”

Rissel said PEGASIS is also working with organizations, such as On Broadway Inc., and the Weidner Center.

“They’re trying to make it so that people can have a cultural life outside of the (Green Bay) Packers,” she said. “I’m really happy about that, because it’s hard for independent musicians who can’t fill the Weidner. It’s nice to have places like the Lyric Room, The Tarlton or Cup O’ Joy to play at.”

The Peguero sisters said that music has always been an integral part of their lives.

What it means to be a jazz musician

Though its playing expertise is jazz, the group said it has a very diverse catalog of music it enjoys, from funk to ’60s and ’70s classic rock to ’90s rap and into modern day.

Rissel said this lends to the band’s ability to play with an energy that extends beyond just jazz.
She said some people may think of jazz as soft and muted, and while it can be, it’s definitely not limited to that.

“When you say you’re a pop artist, you already know what to expect,” Rissel said. “When you say you’re a rock artist, you already know what to expect. When you say you’re jazz artists, you already know what to expect. But, in that umbrella of jazz, you’ll find more diversity than in any other genre. More diversity in what people look like and what people sound like.”

The message she said PEGASIS wants to give every audience member is, “we’re musicians and performers, our shows are for the music. Listen to the music and just let it take you wherever it’s going to take you.”

Upcoming performance/album release

PEGASIS will be at The Tarlton Theatre at 7 p.m. Thursday, May 5, as part of The Weidner Downtown series.

The WAMI-nominated (Wisconsin Area Music Industry) for best world/reggae/ska/Latin artist will play all original music in a celebration of the release of its second EP, TWO.

Chris Rugowski is a photojournalist from Green Bay, who mainly focuses on event photography, with an emphasis on bands and music.

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