Sunday, March 03, 2013

What I Do For A Living, Part 1: "Aren't you a jazz singer?"

when people ask me what i do for a living, it's pretty easy to say that i'm an artist.  things tend to get dicey when i am asked to get specific.  aren't you a jazz singer?

just for the record: i'm classically trained (mezzo soprano), i've got a four octave range (my highest note is e flat above high c) and i can safely say that i've sung just about everything to pay my rent. girl group stuff. light opera. musicals. blues. soul. gospel. rhythm and blues -- old school (the real stuff) and contemporary (which is really black pop music). and yes, pop music. i've sung lead. i've sung -- and yes, arranged -- back-ups.  why not?  a gig is a gig, as far as i'm concerned.  i find that people usually get snotty about what style of music they will or won't do when they are incapable of actually playing or singing it. but that's a whole other conversation.

my next album (yep, it's almost finished!) is going to be country rock. (for more details, please check out my discography.)

asking if i'm a jazz singer is a fair question. if you see me at a gig with a swing band, for example, it's a fairly easy assumption to make. but saying that i sing jazz is like saying that i eat food. jazz is a kind of technicolor behemoth, alive with pleasure and filled to the brim with various and sundry subgenres that change and shift with any given decade, musician, trend or feel that's copped along the way. jazz is a road that never, ever really ends. it's just that complicated and it's just that simple.

things get more layered and intense when you're creating the music and/or the work opportunities that let you perform the music. somewhere along the way, i fell so far down the rabbit hole as a vocalist that originated music and work situations that i found myself singing with michael arenella and his dreamland orchestra (1920s), james "blood" ulmer (harmelodics), the billie holiday project (1930s) and my own trio/quartet/quintet (originals and standards) amongst other set-ups, can you sit in tonight situations, wedding gigs, organ trios, swing big bands, back up singer situations and what not -- all at the same time.

here i am, singing back ups with singer/songwriter joseph arthur on the david letterman show -- with mary worm, maya azucena and martha redbone.

one thing is for sure: i have to look the part when i show up, whatever that is. i can pull of the 1930s effortlessly and yes, the bombshell look is not a problem. the 1920s, on the other hand, is especially unforgiving because i'm not androgynous enough to pull of the essence of the look and i'm not committed enough to wear a corset that flattens my d cup chest. of course, all of this requires a great deal of research. i find myself reading books and sifting through photographs to figure out how to wear a brooch correctly, how to roll down my stockings, how to style my natural hair or my wig just so. and because stylistically, things change so drastically in a fast-paced decade like the 20s, i have to be very specific when i'm digging through information about that decade. needless to say, finding that just right dress is a must. i don't mind the search. i'm a vintage girl.

it's not that i enjoy playing dress up and prancing around in vintage attire. well, yes -- i do enjoy it but that's not it. not exactly. the truth is, i'm a theater actor. i do my homework. i research every role. i cover all my bases.  when i decided to take acting seriously, i realized that i was a changeling, of sorts.  i had a becoming thing with everything i did, and singing was no exception. that's a part of the reason why presentation is so important to me.  the other part of the equation is that the scene itself requires it. with most of the gigs i do -- especially the 1920s gigs -- a bigger part of the work is showing up dressed, as they say, to the nines.

 this is me, inbetween sets at michael arenella's sweetheart soiree last month. (photo credit: mpb!)

and yes -- that's just the jazz. nevermind the other stuff. (please see paragraph 2.)

next up: what i do for a living, part 2: didn't i see you on tv?

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