The 254

Stella Fitzgerald

By Kevin Tankersley

Soul-nourishing music

Geoffrey Eisenbarth and Robyn Foster-Baldridge play as a duo called Stella Fitzgerald. She’s the vocalist and he’s the guitarist. They’ve played about a half dozen gigs together, mostly at Stay Classy Waco on Austin Avenue.

And they’ve been inspired by the music of, you guessed it, Ella Fitzgerald, in particular a series of four albums she made with the guitarist Joe Pass.

“It’s just the two of them, and [Pass] plays the bass line and the chord, walks the bassline while hitting the other chord, to create both a rhythm sense and a bass line and a context for the chords and the melody and everything. That was a big inspiration,” Eisenbarth said.

Eisenbarth started playing cello when he was 4 years old with the Central Texas String Academy. At Midway High School, he played tuba in the marching band and for two years in Drum Corps International. While in high school, he and some friends started a band called Voodoo Weasels, playing swing music of Glenn Miller and the like. Eisenbarth played bass guitar. He later started a punk band called the Decibels. In college, he got into the music of John Mayer and Derek Trucks. Then for a few years, he was in a band called $5 Shake, which was created because Scruffy Murphy’s needed a band to play on Sunday nights.

Foster-Baldridge learned to harmonize by singing with her dad in the car on the way to nursery school, and was introduced to big band music by her grandfather.

“I credit him with sparking my interest in jazz,” she said.

Foster-Baldridge also attended Midway, and credits her music teachers Marty Koch, Pat and Margaret Vaughn, Howard Thompson, June Campbell, Steve Spooner and Alex Treviño with continuing to nurture her love of song.

During performances, Stella Fitzgerald pretty much sticks to jazz standards, which is just fine with Eisenbarth.

“We haven’t done any original stuff,” he said. “I don’t necessarily know if I feel obligated or interested in doing original stuff because there’s just so much to do and to learn from the standards. The way I play a standard now with Robyn is infinitely different, hopefully better, than what I did five years ago. There was a tendency to fall into a rut and kind of do the same thing, which I didn’t like. And so doing this, especially with just the two of us, has given me an opportunity to make sure I don’t fall into a rut and to learn from these standards and study them more and see what’s inside of them a little bit.”

The musical connection between Geoffrey Eisenbarth and Robyn Foster-Baldridge dates back to when they were both members of the Waco Youth Symphony Orchestra. She played flute and he played cello. They both graduated from Midway High School, he in 2004 and she in 1999. Eisenbarth began as a music composition major at Baylor University, but switched his major to math. After his undergraduate degree, he stayed at Baylor and eventually earned a PhD in math. He’s now a data engineer at the Perryman Group.

“I run data models and things like that,” he said.

Foster-Baldridge also earned her bachelor’s, master’s and PhD in psychology from Baylor, and is currently working on a second master’s, this one in marriage, family and child counseling from the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton.

“I really enjoy the camaraderie with Geoff and the collaboration it takes to get the music up to performance-level,” she said. “For me, it is the whole process, from selecting music, to writing charts, to rehearsal, to performance. Jazz and blues from this era [the 1920s to the 50s] really speaks to me as a singer and as a listener. Stella Fitzgerald has been such a creative, soul-nourishing project.

Standing the Test of Time

Photos and videos from Stella Fitzgerald’s performances, as well as announcements about upcoming gigs, can be found at the duo’s pages on Instagram and Facebook. They play hits from the Great American Songbook, the “canon of the most important and influential American popular songs and jazz standards from the early 20th century that have stood the test of time in their life and legacy,” according to the Great American Songbook Foundation.