Giuseppe Verdi and The Divine Sarah Vaughan

My career path has opened up into a place in which I have the unique opportunity to create concerts honoring pioneers of the music that resonates deep within my soul. Not many performers have these amazing and challenging opportunities, so I consider the responsibility of caring for the music as it is delivered to the audience to be sacred and extremely meaningful. Artists and composers about whom I have created, arranged, and performed concerts in the past include Ella Fitzgerald, Jimmy Van Heusen, Peggy Lee, Jerome Kern, and J.S. Bach, among countless compilation performances honoring multiple music masters. My next concert celebration, occurring this weekend, consists of performing the passionate and unparalleled Requiem by Giuseppe Verdi at The Peace Center with the Greenville Symphony Orchestra and the Greenville Chorale, conducted by Edvard Tchivzhel. Just two weeks later I will be fronting the best jazz band in Upstate South Carolina, the Greenville Jazz Collective Contemporary Quartet, in our collaborative romp honoring the musical legacy of Sarah Vaughan. Wildly different extremes? Maybe, maybe not.

I once studied classical voice with a teacher who told me, “One day you will have to make a choice between singing classical music or jazz. You won’t be able to do both well.” A few weeks later she finally heard me sing jazz in a public performance and told me, “Now that I have heard you sing jazz, I may have been wrong. You may be one of few people able to pull off singing both styles at a high level. . .” A few decades later, I AM singing both, and I attribute this to my adopting a mindset taught to me by Duke Ellington: “There are only two kinds of music: good and bad.” I have endeavored to only listen to and to perform the former, while eschewing the latter. As I have progressed through my career, I have enjoyed performing (and teaching others to perform) authentically in more than one style. It takes very good ears to do this, as well as a willingness to continue to learn from other performers, and a technique that is malleable. Moreover, a disciplined lifestyle and commitment to the art form are necessary, too, as any high level singer can attest. Performing “good” music well is no small feat.

The fire of Verdi’s music juxtaposed with the cool simmer of Vaughan’s represents a challenge that I have relished over the last month or so. Working on these two bodies of literature simultaneously has actually helped to create balance in my vocal instrument, in that the Verdi requires full, operatic, powerful singing and dynamic extremes, while the Vaughan music allows for more improvisational interpretation, gentler singing, but with no less breath management and precision. In a way, the Verdi has honed my chops in preparation for the Vaughan, since Sarah was known for having an instrument as supple, seamless, rich, musical, and full of beauty as those possessed by the finest operatic singers of her day. Perhaps this eclectic juxtaposition in my concert calendar was divinely planned! Perhaps I needed the Verdi to correctly interpret the Vaughan. . . the serendipitous ordering of these events is not lost on me.

So get ready, Greenville! You can witness the angst, fury and spiritual upheaval of Verdi’s masterwork on May 5 and 6 at The Peace Center, and then join me on May 22 at the Coffee Underground Theater (1 Coffee St. @ 7:30 pm) for the denouement–an equally satisfying breath of sweet music so effortlessly bestowed upon us by Sarah Vaughan, “The Divine One.”


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