Local New Haven Musicians Performs at Lyric Hall

Elissa Sanci

Dressed sharp in a royal blue blazer, Corey Staggers walked center stage, soprano saxophone in hand, to thunderous cheers. After thanking the audience, filled with family, friends and members of the New Haven community, he started his set with a gospel song dedicated to his late grandmother.

On Saturday, March 26, the intimate Lyric Hall Theater was filled to capacity as nearly 60 people crowded into the small space to watch Staggers, a Westville native starting a music career, perform. Tickets for the show were $25 in advance and $30 at the door; all funds raised will go towards a new alto saxophone, which Staggers needs to further his career.

At 8:15 p.m., Dalia Matthews, Staggers’ sister’s basketball coach and family friend, took the stage to introduce Staggers. Accompanied by a slideshow of pictures, Matthews spoke about    Staggers’ past accomplishments and his passion for a future in music.
Staggers started playing the saxophone as a second grader at the Davis Street Magnet School under the instruction of teacher William Fluker. Fluker, along with many of Staggers’ past teachers and coaches, attended the show to support Staggers.

“I knew he was gonna make it,” Fluker said, adding that he always pushed Staggers to learn and to improvise from a young age.

Originally, Staggers wanted to play the drums, but by the time it was his turn to pick his instrument, all the seats had already been filled. He was then “stuck” with the saxophone, an instrument “larger than him,” said Matthews in her opening speech.

“I didn’t think it was going to last long,” Courtney Staggers, 26, said of her younger brother’s interest in the saxophone. “But when he chose music instead of playing football, I knew he was going to stick with it.”

Staggers excelled at both music and sports. In high school, Staggers was accepted as a music student at the Educational Center for the Arts in New Haven. He’d begin his day at 7 a.m. at James Hillhouse High School, where he’d attend class until 12 p.m. Then he’d make his way to downtown New Haven for his music classes at ECA. During basketball season, he’d then have to go back to Hillhouse for basketball practice. Eventually, his schedule began to wear him down.

“He had a hard choice to make between sports and the saxophone,” his father said. “As he got older, he realized he got a lot of recognition for music, and he realized music was going to be successful for him.”

Staggers, accompanied by Mark Wilson on the keyboard, began Saturday’s show with two gospel songs. Then his band, S. Curl Accident, joined him on stage for the first set, playing jazz music that had the crowd moving along to the beat.

The members of S. Curl Accident are all students at Western Connecticut State University, where Staggers is currently a junior pursing a music degree. The band, full of energy and chemistry, features Tom Kean on guitar, Hector Ares on bass and Matt Spencer on drums.

Staggers’ second set was solo, where he played covers of songs by musical artists ranging from Alicia Keys to Fetty Wap. Staggers had the crowd up on its feet, dancing throughout the night.

“We should charge more!” a voice from the crowd called after Staggers wrapped up his soulful rendition of Alicia Keys’ “If I Ain’t Got You.”

Staggers’ favorite song to perform is “Again” by Fetty Wap because “it’s what gets the crowd going,” he said, adding that it was also the song that caused him to go viral. His cover of “Again” on YouTube has more than 115,000 views.

Staggers shows promise and potential; at age 20, he has already been invited to play with jazz and gospel bands, as well as at social functions, such as church events, cancer fundraisers, weddings, school events throughout Connecticut and at a meeting of New Haven mayoral candidates. The songs on his SoundCloud page received between 2,000 and 81,000 plays within days of initial upload. Staggers was interviewed for 94.3 WYBC on March 26, and when asked where he saw himself in ten years, he answered, “the Grammys.”