I was born in Newark, New Jersey and grew up in the New York City suburbs. My first performance was at age six in the Memorial High School auditorium in Cedar Grove, N.J.(my home town), singing “The Itzy, Bitzy Spider”. After this impressive vocal debut I began exploring the visual arts and went on to earn a BFA School of Visual Arts in New York City. In the meantime, something was a-brewin’. Somewhere in my teenage years, along with my ravenous appetite for girl groups and Motown, I discovered “the blues”. I learned to play guitar and started singing. I was particularly taken with Mississippi Delta blues and the music of Bessie Smith. Blues had found it’s way into my soul.
When I turned eighteen I was given my first Billie Holiday album, and my life was changed. I had never heard a voice like Holiday’s. This singer who sang from the depths of her soul drew me in. I proceeded to memorize all the tracks and wear out the record.
I moved into an apartment on 114th street and Broadway in Manhattan, around the corner from the West End Bar. At the West End was a young Phil Schaap (of WKCR radio) booking ex-Ellington and Basieites like Russell Procope, Jo Jones, and Paul Quinichette. I had found myself a home. On my meager art students budget I went in every night, ordered a cup of tea and sat for hours, enthralled by the music. I had always known that there was this music that I loved, I just had never been exposed to it until I found jazz at the West End. Around this same time I also discovered the amazing singers Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn, and Carmen McRae. I was inspired to start making a transition from the blues into jazz. I started learning standards, playing some jazz on the guitar and singing in some showcases around N.Y.C. Then, one day I heard Betty Carter! I thought Betty was the hippest singer I had ever heard. I was intrigued not only by Betty’s uniquely personal vibratoless sound but by the way Betty functioned as a band member, like another instrument. She had never heard another singer engage in interplay with the instrumentalists to the extent that Betty did. Betty’s modern arrangements, dazzling stage presence and confidence as a performer were inspiring to me as a young singer.
The time had come to get serious with my new-found passion. Having reached a crossroads in my artistic life between art and music, I decided that I wanted to be involved in a more sociable art form that involved spontaneity and performing…and I sure found it! I sought out my first teachers among whom were Anne Marie Moss and Ann Ruckert. I put together my first band and got a steady gig at a place in Tribeca that was called “Prescott’s” (later Yaffa’s). This band included Bob Peck on guitar, Paul Colin on tenor sax, and Dave Hofstra on bass.
My next life-changing experience was when a friend played me a recording of Liz Gorrill playing piano and singing. It was a jaw dropper. I was astounded and amazed, not only that Liz was playing two instruments at once and both incredibly well, but I had never heard that extent of freedom, startling musicianship, and originality in a pianist/vocalist before. I was told that Liz studied with the great pianist and master teacher, Lennie Tristano. I knew then, that I wanted to study with Lennie. I sought him out and embarked upon one of my most focused periods as a vocal student. Under Lennie’s tutelage, I began an intense study of Billie Holiday’s work and started learning solos by such artists as Lester Young, Lee Konitz and Charlie Parker. Lennie had all of his students sing along, note for note, inflection for inflection with recordings.
Now I was starting to get it….my feeling for singing Jazz, that is. This work helped to develop my ear for creating an improvised melody line, expanded my musical vocabulary and was a huge confidence builder, so necessary for any singer. I studied with Lennie Tristano until his death in November of 1978. I went on to study singing with pianist and singer Liz Gorrill, now known as Kazzrie Jaxen.
Around the same time I started hearing about a singer named Jay Clayton who was
pioneering new vocal ground and teaching workshops. One workshop explored the art of free-improvisation, that is to say, spontaneously creating music with no predetermined structure. One night in this workshop I was selected to sing an improvisational piece with two wonderful singers, Bob Casanova and Sally Swisher and … BAM!!! There was instant chemistry with us as a trio. We went on to form the vocal trio “Over Easy”. As a trio we collaboratively worked out arrangements and harmonies. Inspired by the vocalese work of the great vocal trio Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross, King Pleasure and Eddie Jefferson we wrote lyrics to horn solos and adapted horn arrangements for our voices. We were also intrigued with the South African singers Miriam Makeba and Thuli Dumakude (whom I had the pleasure of studying with)and African style accapella singing as well as the freely improvised singing we had discovered with Jay Clayton. We created a repertoire that included close harmony renditions of jazz standards, original lyrics written to horn solos with freely improvised jazz and accapella African music….hey…we even sang in Swahili! Talk about an eclectic mix!
We performed around New York City for ten years at venues including the Blue Note, Greenwich House, St. Ann’s Church, Birdland West, the Angry Squire and
Celebrate Brooklyn at the Prospect Park Bandshell.
In l997 I formed a group called “Voices From the Other Side” with vocalist/pianist/composer Carol Anthony and guitarist, Ed Littman. This group created and performed freely improvised pieces as well as some of Carol Anthony’s compositions. Often, Ed Littman didn’t supply rhythm or chords in a traditional fashion, but functioned as a third voice interweaving a melodic line throughout our vocal interplay helping to create the group’s unusual sound. “Voices from the Other Side” performed at the Open Center, Center Stage Theatre, and the Cornelia St. Cafe.
I continued to perform in New York City and abroad.
I’ve lived in New York City for several decades and now split my time between NYC and upstate New York. I am married to pianist, Giacomo Franci. We have performed together in Italy, Finland, England and continue to perform in New York. In addition to my performing and recording activity, I have a private teaching practice. I specialize in teaching Jazz and Vocal Improvisation and also work extensively with most other styles of singing. I have developed my own “voice as an instrument” approach to teaching and am continually surprised and pleased at the dramatic transformation I witness in my students. I lead workshops in Vocal Performance, Vocal Improvisation and Vocal Healing and have presented my students in concert in numerous New York City venues.
I am indebted to the great teachers I’ve been fortunate enough to have had. Along with the invaluable training they have given me they have given me support and inspiration, not only to sing but to become a teacher myself.
THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!!!
I’ve studied privately and/or attended workshops with the following artists:
Voice – Lennie Tristano, Jay Clayton, Connie Crothers,Kazzrie Jaxen (Liz Gorrill),
Sheila Jordan, Jeanne Lee, Kirk Nurock, Gina Crusco, Ann-Marie Moss, Ann
Ruckert, Sal Mosca and South African singer, Thuli Dumakude
Piano – Connie Crothers, Michael Kanan, Richard Sussman, Nina Sheldon,
Daniela Schaechter, Virg Dzurinko
Shekere/Percussion – Baba Olatunji & Cheryl Thomas [/expand]