If you had told me when I was woodshedding Bach concertos on my viola that I would one day be a jazz singer, I would have said you had lost your mind.
In my youth, the extent of my singing was either in the church choir (sight reading all of Handel's Messiah) or in my bedroom with the headphones blasting "Miracle of Miracles" from the original sound track LP of Fiddler on the Roof and singing at the top of my lungs. I played violin and viola in a youth chamber group in grade school, and in my freshman year of high school was drafted to play snare drum in the concert band.
Fast-forward to June 2000 in Southern California, when I was suffering jet lag from a six-month stay in Viet Nam. There, I had started toying with the idea of singing jazz -- but mostly as a way to explore and experience the genre -- and studied with the beloved Nguyen Anh 9, an internationally known jazz pianist, composer, and lyricist.
Back in California, remembering that a nearby hotel featured live jazz, I drove there not knowing what to expect. That is the night I met Henry "The Skipper" Franklin, the world-class, Grammy-awarded double bass player, composer, and band leader (pictured above).
He soon started asking me when I was going to start singing jazz. I had not thought seriously about it until he asked me many times over the next few months. I said I would give it a shot, and that was the beginning of my serious relationship with the Great American Songbook as a singer.
That was in 2000. Since then, Henry has helped me navigate many miles of jazz terrain by giving me "homework," testing me on my knowledge and opinions, and introducing me to other magnificent jazz artists who have been in his orbit for many years. I got my first agent while living for two years in Thailand (2007-2009), then moved to NYC in 2009, where I lived for nearly six years before buying a co-öp in Westchester County. I just marked my tenth anniversary in New York and look forward to getting to a new, more safe and healthy normal, when we are finally post-CoViD-19 pandemic.
I thank my first music teachers: Elizabeth and Jerry, my parents. I thank my beloved violin teacher, Derwin Landis, who passed on to me the discipline and passion for the art that he received from his teacher, Jascha Heifetz. I thank all the jazz artists who have inspired me along the way and continue to do so. I am a musician first, singer second -- although my voice coaches always remind me that singers are musicians, too. So perhaps I should say I'm an instrumentalist first, singer second. I have the razor-sharp sense of pitch from the violin lessons and a metronome inside my brain that never loses tempo.
The biggest challenge jazz gave me was getting back to the basics of learning a song by ear, then improvising and making it my own. Having that creative license, which I was not afforded in the classical studies, still feels heady sometimes, like delicious forbidden fruit.
As I write this in April 2020, the jazz world is reeling from the back-to-back losses of Bucky Pizzarelli (age 94), Ellis Marsalis, Jr. (age 85), and Bill Withers (age 81), among many others who fell to the CoViD-19 pandemic. (Read more about it HERE.)
Jazz is forever, and these artists are immortal through the music. We all who survive them stand on their shoulders and prepare to raise up the next generations of artists who will carry the torch long after we have joined the big band in the sky.
Wishing you the best,
April 6, 2020 • Westchester County, NY