The Best of the Best II

Just came back from a performance of a quintet with special guests at “Birdland”, one of our premier jazz clubs. This was an instrumental group, no singers, but the musicians were amazing. There was the band leader, Paquito D’Rivera, originally from Cuba, who played clarinet and sax, and two percussionists, a trombone player, a bass guitar, and a pianist. The guests were a bandoneon player (a kind of accordion) and a second pianist. All extraordinary.

Since I have been working with professional jazz vocalists for about 15 years now, I have come to appreciate jazz of all kinds in a much deeper manner. I still wouldn’t presume, however, to tell my jazz artists how to work with jazz style, except perhaps in the most general way, as it affects their singing.

I was struck by how much I have learned from these wonderful artists who study with me, and how much I learn from other students every day. Sometimes the youngsters are the ones who wake me up.

I have a 12 year old in the children’s chorus who has a great voice and is very musical. She has been experiencing “lots of fear” and her parents have asked me about her in concern. From speaking to her, I attributed it to “her age” and “sensitivity” and more or less dismissed it, thinking she will grow out of these behaviors in good time. When I worked with her briefly this week, however, I put a few things together and began to re-think my conclusions. Her voice seems to have exploded and is altogether out of her control. THAT would produce some kind of fear, let me tell you. She is doing all the things she has been taught to do but her voice is clearly singing on its own and there isn’t much she can do to corral it. Maybe these issues of “fear” are based on something very concrete after all. She has a teacher, but either the teacher doesn’t understand what’s going on, or as I did, she thinks that the student will outgrow the problem, or perhaps this doesn’t show up in her lessons. Perhaps the student, herself, thinks that this is “how it is” and all singers have these problems and that she should keep trying. Really, any one of these, or even something else, could be at play here. I will be investigating this further as soon as I have time to see this young vocalist. This situation, though, has made me pay attention, and caused me to be willing to be guided as I explore, not with “THE ANSWERS” but with a desire to investigate and find whatever might help solve these problems for her.

Sitting and listening to great artists make magic by making music is a privilege, one to be grateful for. Music, or any kind of performance, is so ephemeral. To be in the midst of a creation which only exists moment to moment is inexplicably miraculous. How lucky to be in the presence of musicians at the very top of their game tonight and just 48 hours before have guided a aspiring vocal musician, who is discovering what it means to [try to] control the sounds that come from her own body. What could be better than that?

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