Amy Cervini is not only a singer I admire greatly, but she and I go way back as musical collaborators, too. From a vocal quartet to “duet night” at the 55 bar to the girl-on-girl harmonic hijinks of DUCHESS, Amy and I have logged quite a few musical miles together. And no matter what the setting—backed by a full orchestra or singing a cappella, fronting a big band or a rhythm section—Amy’s fearlessness and joy are constantly inspiring.
Here’s something you should know about Amy: she accomplishes more before noon than many people do in a week. Seriously. Amy performs, she teaches, she’s a publicist and manager, she’s a relentless supporter of her fellow musicians on the scene, and—oh, yeah—she’s raising two gorgeous kids with her husband, producer-arranger-composer Oded Lev-Ari. How she gets everything done, I have no idea, but she just released her fourth (fourth!) CD, Jazz Country, to rave reviews, and recently completed a West Coast tour.
Amy graciously took some time out of her always-packed schedule to answer a few questions for the inaugural post in the “Spotlight On…” series here at Ad Alta Voce. Thank you, Amy!
Who or what inspired you to pursue a life in music?
I’ve been playing music since I was a child and began playing in big bands when I was around 11 or so. Both of my siblings also played and we really connected over this shared interest. I actually tried really hard NOT to be a musician and tried moving schools from an arts high school to “regular” high school, but found myself in the music room rather than the classroom. I finally had to surrender! I discovered that performing and specifically singing is an essential part of who I am.
In the course of your musical development, what has come most naturally to you? What has been the most challenging?
Having started as an instrumentalist rather than a vocalist, I can sometimes have a very “non-singer” approach to things. I ended up singing rather than playing because I felt like the horn was a barrier, stopping me from saying what I needed to say. Then, I had to learn to stop thinking like an instrumentalist all the time. My focus had to shift from notes and time to telling a story. Let me clarify: notes and time are still important, but the main focus had to become telling a story. It took a while for me to get that. I think the thing that has been the most natural for me has been the feel of the music that I sing most often, jazz. I think that some singers struggle with the feel because they are introduced to jazz later in their life, but because of my saxophone background, I had been listening to jazz since I was about 11.
If you were to choose another profession, what would it be, and why?
I think I would be a marine biologist. That’s what I was thinking in high school and college when I tried not to be a musician. I love the water. I don’t know if I could hang with all the math that is required to be a scientist, but I used to be good at it back in the day so maybe…
Imagine that you can hire any musicians (from the past or present) for the gig of a lifetime. Who is in your “dream band?”
My dream band is (one of many, I’m sure, but this is the first that comes to mind): Cannonball Adderley on saxophone, Bruce Barth on piano, Christian McBride on bass, and Matt Wilson on drums.
What are your current musical obsessions? Who/what is in steady rotation when you listen to music lately?
Because of my Jazz Country project, there’s a lot of country going on right now. Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, etc. Lately I’ve been so busy learning music that I need to perform that I don’t have a whole lot of time to actually listen to new things. I also have a big stack of CDs to listen to by my friends and colleagues. I recently had a chance to listen to Jean Rohe‘s new CD; it’s beautiful! Still waiting for a moment to check out a new one by Gian Slater.
I hate bananas. I am actually quite picky with food. I’ve expanded my palate a ton since moving to NYC but I still don’t really like most fish, I don’t care for tomatoes, I don’t like beets, I don’t like cooked fruit…the list sort of goes on for a while. I’m a pretty laid back gal so I think that surprises people.
You can catch Amy performing live this month in an intimate duo setting (voice and guitar) at the Lexington Hotel (511 Lexington Avenue) at 6:00 pm on June 12 and June 24. Rumor has it that DUCHESS may be making an appearance, too! Amy also holds a once-monthly residency at the 55 bar; her next show there is on July 3 (7:00-9:00 pm).