I was raised in a small town on the
Spoon River, 5 hours southwest of Chicago, Illinois. My father, a
fine artist, listened mostly to opera records and loved the Spanish
classical guitar. I started sounding out melodies on the piano at age
4. I begged for lessons. This was not small request for a cash-strapped
family of seven, but fortunately a way was found and I began classical
piano lessons at age 5. My brother, Chico
began playing guitar in high school. He was a natural musician who conquered
string instruments one after the other, including the violin. I wasn't
as naturally gifted instrumentally, but I did have the natural gift
of a strong voice and love of performing. I was part of the chorus in
grade school, high school and college. I was not a favorite of the teachers
who continually moved me to the high soprano sectionnot
because I had a high voice, but because my alto range boomed. Annoyed
teachers continually moved me to the soprano section where my voice
would "blend". As it turned out, my time in the soprano section
was key in strengthening my voice and technique. During my teens, I
was a featured guest at a few of my brother's performances and stumbled
through blues and country spirituals at Chico's coffee house gigs.
I moved to Chicago at age 18 to attend Loyola University. I was taken
by the live jazz scene there. I was unfamiliar but captivated with this
music style that flowed from every corner of the city at every hour
of the day.
In 1983, I studied abroad in Italy, majoring in fine and commercial
arts. I hung with English guitarist and singer, Gary Howard, who fronted
an Italian jazz band that performed the American standards. I discovered
then that Jazz is truly an all-American art form. In Europe I met up
with some insightful, confusing and cloudy issues of anti-American sentiment.
I was grateful and proud that I could embrace the American tradition
of Jazz with such simple and indisputable pleasure.
I returned to Chicago with a purpose. I teamed up with the legendary
bebop jazz pianist, Tommy Ponce. Together we formed trios to sextets
and worked the clubs and street festivals. My first full booking was
Chicago's Argyle Street Festival. We were photographed and made headlines
in the local paper. I was hooked. The band members were 30 years my
senior. I was a hit with these serious bebop players mainly because
I knew so few songs! I would be called up to do two songs per set and
this exhausted my repertoire. The players were then free to stretch
out and solo with minimal bother from the chick singer. Robert Barry,
friend and the band's inspired jazz drummer, was the only member who
showed when I requested rehearsals... Thanks Robert! I was a hit with
audiences. Mainly because I was so fresh. I had never seen a jazz vocalist
perform. I didn't know the elegant gestures and stance of the torch
singers. I twisted and contorted like a rock and roll singer... this
is all I knew. Tommy was an incredible influence and did buckle down
to a few regular rehearsals. The guidance I received from Tommy is treasured.
One pearl from Tommy I will always strive to uphold was his strict
code of old-school stage etiquette. This includes an imperative graciousness
and respect toward fellow entertainers sharing the stage and in the
audience. Tommy had a flair for the bigger-than-life show-biz tradition
-- an important perspective that he elegantly combined with truth and
How do you become a jazz singer? I looked into schools. I switched majors
from commercial art to music and theater and studied under the direction
of William Russo (Stan Kenton's musical director in the '50s) at Columbia
College. I befriended many jazz singers and looked for a common denominator
in the respected jazz singers of Chicago... and then I discovered something:
most had worked at Chicago's famed Gaslight Club.
In 1986, I auditioned for the Gaslight Club of the Palmer House Hilton
Chicago and worked as a "Gaslight Girl" for two years with
master accompanist, Joey Iacco and memorable Gaslight trumpeter, Joe
Kelly (among many others). Each Gaslight girl had a list of tunes that
they "owned", and you couldn't do another girl's tune. I think
it's finally safe to announce that many of those tunes "owned"
by other Gaslight Girls are now in my permanent collection.
After a shift at the Gaslight Club, a group of us would hang at the
Old Town Ale House. There was an old man that would walk in nightly
about 3 am with a stack of records. He was painfully selling off his
entire collection one LP at a time. I was a regular customer and would
venture out in the wee hours specifically to find "the man with
the records". The man gave a loving and in-depth review of each
LP. I gained some rare and out-of-print material from these exchanges.
The source of much of my more obscure material can be traced to "the
man with the records". The opening track of my new release, "The
Jazz in You" was taken and restyled from an out-of-print Gloria
Lynne LP purchased at that time.
In 1988, I sang during the breaks of blue humor comedian, Frank Penny,
at the Domino Lounge. Yes... this was a strange gig. In 1989, I helped
open the Underground
Wonder Bar with good friend, fellow Gaslight Girl, wonderful singer/pianist,
club owner, recording artist and mother of four -- Lonie
Walker. A big highlight in this time period was when a friend booked
me at Chicago's popular Halsted Street Festival. I immediately hired
Lonie Walker and began forming a festival band: "The Lenatious
Seven". The incredible sound at this outdoor festival was mastered
by jazz guitarist and sound engineer, Michael Groh. The crowd literally
rushed the stage and asked where they could see more of "The Lenatious
Seven". I was not prepared! Fortunately, Lonie had cards from the
Underground Wonderbar that were tossed into the crowd.
I remember a cassette-recorded rehearsal at Lonie's house, in her glass,
soundproof rehearsal room. When I replayed the tape I noticed that while
Lonie was establishing harmony parts for the band, she was also instructing
her son on the use of a double-boiler for German chocolate cake preparation,
surveying another son as he cleaned the bird cage, and helping the house-sitter
locate gardening tools. I felt I had Lonie's full attention during the
rehearsal and these tidbits were unnoticed until the playback. This
is my favorite Lonie Walker story (and there are many).
I learned so much just by hanging out at Chicago jazz clubs and listening
to and jamming with the local cats. Dave
Shumacher, friend and exquisite baritone sax player, gave me two
LPs, one featuring vocalist Abbey Lincoln and the other featuring vocalist
Betty Carter. These records would become major influences. Two cuts
from these LPs are featured on "Catnip Cafe". Thanks David!
Neal Kristie, friend and cabaret singer extraordinare, introduced me
to jazz vocalist Anita O'Day. The tune "Four" is a tribute
to Anita and to the late Mr. Kristie. Guitarist and friend, Michael
Groh, had a day gig at the library and would check out the classic double-LP
songbooks featuring Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughn for me. I would
wear these thin and began incorporating the classics into my growing
repertoire. Thanks Michael!
In 1990 I moved to San Francisco. I recorded a demo with pianist Ken
Zimmerman and trumpeter Graham
Bruce (also featured on the new release, Catnip Cafe) at Diamond
Audio in Noe Valley. I took a vocal workshop at Blue Bear Music School
in the Marina. I sat in every Tuesday night at Paul Robinson's Workshop
south of Market and met a tight-knit group of fellow singers and musicians.
I gigged at small cafes and clubs in San Francisco. I experimented with
the freedom of string accompaniment by working with accomplished guitarists,
Michael Groh (Chicago friend) and Ned Boyton. Michael Groh helped me
attain a major breakthrough by charting a huge portion of my repertoire.
Thanks again, Michael!
In 1994 there was a one-year stint with the Dave Galaxy Band (R&B).
The other chick singer (Sharon- amazing- screaming- blues- albino- girl)
and I had "somewhat" coordinated moves and outfits and sang
mostly backup to funky Dave Galaxy. This was a gas!
Next, I worked with dynamite pianist, singer and friend, Eric Shifrin.
I met Eric when he was fresh off of a cruise ship gig and new in San
Francisco. I knew such a talent would be gigging steady in no time and
rushed to take full advantage of his availability. Eric also helped
out with what was a major breakthrough, getting a lot of my favorite
out-of-print material officially charted from the old LPs. Thanks Eric!
I also worked with soulful pianist and composer,
John Rosenburg. (featured on the new release, "Catnip Cafe").
Together we gigged in small cafes in San Franciso. In 1994, I attended
the Stanford Jazz Workshop and studied under the direction of world-renowned
jazz vocalists, Madeline Eastman
and Sheila Jordon.
In 1998 I married my true love, gained a cool step-son and moved to
Marin county. Here I met the likes of killer bassist, Chris Amberger
(featured on the new release). From 1997-1999 I had an ongoing gig at
Broadway 39 in Fairfax. I sang there until my 9th month of pregnancy
with my first child, Sofia.
In 1999 our growing family needed a home, and we relocated to the Russian
River area. This was a big move and I feared it may be more difficult
to indulge my passions for jazz and blues. I also feared that it would
be difficult to find good musicians in "the boonies".
Instead, I discovered a bustling community of jazz and blues artists
and fans on the Russian River. I found a wonderful jazz club right in
Guerneville, Main Street Station.
I scored a regular gig there and sang in my 8th month of pregnancy with
my second daughter, Zoe. I have also had the incredible pleasure of
meeting and working with word-class, top-notch jazz musicians-- yes...
in the boonies of Sonoma County: Bassist and vocalist, Nils Molin stopped
me in my tracksan
amazing talent featured on Catnip Cafe. Other Sonoma monsters: Randy
Vincent (featured), Chris Amberger (featured), Richard Heinburg
(featured), John Simon, Tony De'Anna, Wayne DeLaCruz, Bob Rife, Steve
Webber and Gary Digman, to name a few.
We thought we may have to leave the Russian River Area last year. I
felt that too many chapters had passed unrecorded, so I decided to make
a CD and capture this wonderful time on the river! I hope this new release
will capture you too.