Where it can be found

Jean Dufy, Joséphine Baker et le jazz band (1925)

I stumbled upon the art of Jean Dufy quite by accident: I follow a Twitter account that’s dedicated solely to posting images of art, and one day several of Dufy’s paintings popped up in my feed. I was immediately drawn to the vibrant, saturated colors—which reminded me of Chagall—and the themes of travel and music that recur in his work.

A site dedicated to Jean Dufy tells me he was one of eleven (!) children, born at the tail end of the 19th century. After a stint in the military, Dufy moved to Paris and by the 1920s was rubbing shoulders with luminaries from the worlds of painting, poetry, and music, including Picasso, Braque, Satie, Apollinaire, and Poulenc, not to mention his older brother, painter Raoul Dufy.

In the 1920s and 30s, Jean Dufy lived in the Montmartre neighborhood of Paris and exhibited his work frequently. Throughout the 1950s he was a devoted traveler, painting scenes of Venice, Rome, Athens, and London. Dufy died in France at age 76, just two months after his wife passed away.

I have been looking online to see if any of Jean Dufy’s paintings are on display here in New York City and I’m not having much luck. Happily, thanks to the wonders of technology, we can feast our eyes on Dufy’s paintings in the virtual realm. I think it’s important to appreciate beauty where it can be found.

Jean Dufy, Venise

Jean Dufy, Spanish Steps, Rome ca. 1950-55

Jean Dufy, L’Andalouse

Jean Dufy, Venise, le palais des doges, ca. 1955-57

Jean Dufy, Paris, Montmartre

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Spotlight On…Champian Fulton

Champian Fulton is a pianist, vocalist, and consummate professional. Raised in Oklahoma, Champian was immersed in jazz literally from birth: she was mentored by her father, trumpeter Stephen Fulton, as well as the legendary Clark Terry and had her first paid gig at age ten, performing for Terry’s 75th birthday celebration.

Champian arrived on the New York City jazz scene over ten years ago with serious chops and a calm self assurance that belied her youth. Since then, she’s recorded nine (nine!) albums as a leader and she performs and teaches throughout the world.

I’ve always gotten a kick out of Champian. In addition to being an incredibly swinging musician and tireless ambassador of jazz, she’s friendly and funny, a great dresser, and an avid reader. I so appreciate her taking some time out of her always-busy schedule to share some wisdom and insights here. Thank you, Champian!

Who would you say is your biggest musical influence? Why and how does s/he inspire you?
It’s hard to pick just one! At different times it’s different people depending on whether I feel more like a pianist or more like a vocalist. Right now, I am really digging Erroll Garner because he is so endlessly creative. As for vocals, I have been listening to more Ella Fitzgerald than ever before in my life. Especially the record Ella & Oscar, which is later Ella. I think she just sounds so completely at ease and loose—there’s a little arpeggio she does in the first 4 bars of “More Than You Know” that just sends me.

Champian performing with Clark Terry.

Can you describe your practice routine? What are your biggest priorities when you practice?
Yes, quite quickly. Ha ha. When I was younger I went through a period of practicing A LOT. Basically all day. But then, as [I] get older and have more to do in life, as well as more performances, I just practice less. Practicing now revolves around maintenance on the piano and the voice, and working on new material. That being said, I think about music and listen every day. It’s infinitely easier to practice singing than piano, simply because I can practice singing anytime anywhere: on the subway, washing dishes, cleaning the house. And yes, I sing on the subway, but only quietly!

If you had a time machine and could travel back in time to when you were first starting out, what advice would you give yourself about singing, life, and/or the music business in general?
Just keep at it. Perseverance is the best skill to acquire early on. Stay busy and stay on top of your game.

Photo credit: Antonio Narvaez

We live in a DIY-era: in addition to performing and recording our music, we ALSO handle social media, book gigs, and perhaps juggle “side gigs” to keep the bills paid. In the face of all these obligations, time management can be hugely challenging. What are some of your favorite techniques for keeping everything in balance?
I’m pretty organized; I keep lots of lists and spreadsheets and my calendar is color-coordinated. I love social media, so tending [to] that on a daily basis is usually pretty easy. I don’t tend to get overwhelmed by the tedious office work and emails, so I just do them when I can and try to keep my email inbox to under 10 emails and file everything else away. My #1 tip is pick up the phone. A ten-minute phone call can accomplish more than ten emails.

Fun fact:
As I mentioned above, I tend to sing to myself on the subway because I actually just love singing and do it when I’m doing almost every other activity. I think I’m pretty quiet, but sometimes, people who are sitting next to me will get up and move! So there you go, it’s a tip to get a little more room on public transportation.

Champian will be performing this week at Talde in Jersey City (3/28) and Shanghai Jazz (3/30) in Madison, NJ. Not in the New York/New Jersey area? Check Champian’s calendar page to see where she’ll be next!

Spotlight On…Marianne Solivan

Marianne Solivan is good vibes in human form. We met years ago, somewhere on the jazz scene here in New York; maybe it was at Zeb’s, or perhaps Smalls, or was it Swing 46? I may not remember the exact time and place of our first meeting, but I remember vividly how much I liked Marianne from the second we started chatting. She exudes generosity and a deep love of singers and singing.

Marianne’s voice is as warm, honest, and down-to-earth as her personality. She is equally comfortable singing a hard-swinging blues as she is improvising in Spanish over a salsa groove or tenderly interpreting a ballad (any of which she might have penned herself, I might add).

In addition to being a wonderful singer and a great hang, Marianne may also be the hardest working woman in show business. She maintains a busy touring schedule, she helms her own big band, and she’s a sought-after jazz vocal educator, too. Singers, take note: next month, Marianne will be teaching a couple of workshops (The Art of the Song and Rhythm Section Grooves), in which both fledgling and experienced singers will have the chance to hone their craft in a supportive and challenging environment. Space is still available, so don’t miss out! Email jazzinmind@gmail.com for details and registration.

Marianne took the time to answer these (new!) Spotlight On… interview questions from the road, in the middle of her jam-packed European tour last month. Thank you so much, Marianne!

Photo credit: Gulnara Khamatova

Who would you say is your biggest musical influence? Why and how does s/he inspire you?
Oh…that’s a tough one. My first instinct is to say Ella, Carmen and Betty. Ella because she introduced me to this music. When I heard her sing I fell in love with jazz. She also continues to remind me of the constant silver lining in life. I hear that in her voice on every song. Carmen because she is still teaching me how to swing, phrase, and be exactly who I am in every tune. And Betty….oh man, it’s what I aspire to: to be fully free and fearless. To always push myself further and play with the band on a deeply intimate level.

Can you describe your practice routine? What are your biggest priorities when you practice?
Well, due to some past vocal issues I do lots of simple but strategic vocal warm-ups every day if possible. I work on learning new tunes and I shed older ones. I work on really learning the harmony of tunes I’ve been singing and getting more ideas for arrangements and such. It’s not too regimented but it’s consistent.

If you had a time machine and could travel back in time to when you were first starting out, what advice would you give yourself about singing, life, and/or the music business in general?
Oh god! Well, I would tell myself to go and find Betty Carter and stay as close to her as possible. I would also go back to the beginning of my singing and tell myself to never try to sound like anyone else. I would tell myself how precious my own sound is and to never try and change that.

We live in a DIY-era: in addition to performing and recording our music, we ALSO handle social media, book gigs, and perhaps juggle “side gigs” to keep the bills paid. In the face of all these obligations, time management can be hugely challenging. What are some of your favorite techniques for keeping everything in balance?
Well, first off, be kind to [my]self! I will never get done all that I want and/or need to get done. It’s just an overwhelming amount of work, so when I am tired or need down time I don’t punish myself about it. I need to rest and to enjoy life and not feel that I’m chained to my job at all times.

Marianne and her Jazz Vocal Workshop students after their successful performance.

When I got better at doing this, I finally got to a place where I enjoyed all [of] this work. It’s part of the deal: if you wanna be a singer, bandleader, front person, you have to do so much of it alone at home with your computer. It can be isolating and infuriating and just tiring, but when I think that it all leads to me being onstage singing, it helps me deal with it all. The payoff for the work, for me, is totally worth it. Every time I get to sing I know all that time and effort was well worth it.

Fun fact:
Oh man…I think I’m pretty much a nut, so who knows? Umm…ok, I really have issues with heights. I have melted down on the elevator up the Eiffel Tower, and on funiculars all over the world. Ferris wheels kill me, though I still try and get on them with hopes that I’ll overcome it. And on a more day-to-day basis, staircases that don’t have the back of each step (so you can see down as you walk up), or glass ones like in the Apple store, put me in a panic. A total panic.

Marianne will be performing in the Poconos at the Deer Head Inn on December 16 and at Smalls, (right here in NYC!) on December 17. Visit her website for all the details.

Spotlight On…Roseanna Vitro

Photo credit: Devon Cass

I’ve only had the pleasure of meeting Roseanna Vitro in person a couple of times, but I’ve been aware of her as a singer, writer, and teacher for a long time. A Grammy-nominated vocalist, Roseanna has performed and taught all over the world. Her projects are ambitious and eclectic: among her many endeavors are tributes to her Southern roots (she hails from Arkansas and began singing jazz in Texas), as well as the songbooks of Clare Fisher, Randy Newman, Ray Charles and Charlie Parker.

I’m moved by the openness and generosity of Roseanna’s answers to the Spotlight On… questions. There’s a lot of wisdom to be gleaned from this interview. Thank you, Roseanna!

Who or what inspired you to pursue a life in music?
I knew I would be a singer since the age of four. My mother, Ruby Mae, is ninety years young and still singing. Her sisters and brothers were all gospel singers. My mother is my inspiration. I sing about everything; it’s in my DNA. Music comforts my soul.

In the course of your musical development, what has come most naturally to you? What has been the most challenging?
It was always natural to sing in every possible situation and style of music. When I was young I sang in school programs, competitions, madrigal groups, classical All-State choirs in German, Italian, Latin, and French, theater repertoire, southern gospel and rock ‘n’ roll bands, and folk music. I was solid in my direction. The challenges were “looking the part” and discipline combined with focus. My wild and passionate personality did not lend itself to sitting in a practice room alone with my metronome and scales.

Photo credit: Paul Wickliffe

It has been most challenging to understand I must practice a vocalese solo, like “Moody’s Mood for Love,” much longer than some other singers who are blessed with perfect pitch and a photographic memory. I wanted to conquer every style and sing it as well as the masters. But as you grow up you begin to recognize the types of songs, lyrics and melodies that flow the most naturally out of your voice. The recognition of my shortcomings has not stopped me from choosing difficult melodies plus singing with and listening to the greatest instrumentalists. I take vocal technique lessons every month in my efforts to deal with an aging voice as well.

How do you choose your repertoire? What makes you decide to sing a particular song?
I was always hungry to learn songs that spoke to my heart first, then intellect, and always [with] a rhythm that moved me. The songs you choose say to the world “who you are.” I learned the popular songs and repertoire I needed to become a club date/party singer in my early 20s, once I was adopted by jazz musicians in Texas.

I can feel it to my toes when I’m singing a truth. Some songs you simply have to sing; you have no choice. Songs like “So Many Stars,” “You Are There,” “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today,” “Certas Canções,” “Long As You’re Livin’,” “Happy Madness,” “Waltz for Debbie,” “But Beautiful.” I think of repertoire as a collection of songs that fulfill my personal mandate for happiness: A) songs that speak to your heart, B) songs that make a statement about life, C) songs that are silly and fun, D) songs with deep grooves…they just feel good.

If you were to choose another profession, what would it be?
I wouldn’t have chosen another profession. I have discovered I can blend into a corporate atmosphere if I have to. I learned I am a good teacher for over-sensitive, talented singers who don’t fit the cookie cutter model. I love gathering vast amounts of information for singers and sharing in our community. I totally dig producing vocal projects at this stage because I love other singers. I have enjoyed the challenge of writing, “Voices in Jazz” for Jazztimes.com, interviewing famous and not famous singers. It’s always about singing and enjoying your life, helping others, and my best gig is being a mother. But, there isn’t another profession for me.

Photo credit: Janis Wilkins

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received, on or off the bandstand?
I’ve received much advice in my long career. I’ve made major mistakes which cause me to wince even now. I think the most important advice I needed to digest and still work on is keeping my mouth closed when I’m nervous or anxious. Just sing, don’t talk.

Fun fact:
This isn’t actually a fun fact. I think the “nervous” factor is a quirk. I guess being “silly” would be my fun quirk in response to nerves. It’s taken me years of looking back to understand how fear or deep feelings like: “I’m good, I know I have something special to offer” versus “I’ll never be good enough” affect your mistakes.

The wisdom is: Music is a business, and business has no feelings. It’s just business. Enjoy your music, don’t be too hard on yourself, don’t let your success rely on the big power brokers in our business. If you’re happy, you are a success.

Roseanna will be performing at Maureen’s Jazz Cellar in Nyack, NY on August 5. For those of us in NYC, mark your calendars for August 12, when she’s bringing “Bossas and Ballads on a Summer Night” to Jazz at Kitano!

May: Looking back, looking ahead

Ebbs and flows—of money, of employment, of time—are hallmarks of the freelance life, and I’ve loved the busy-ness of the past six months. Singing has taken me from a film set to Italy to the Caribbean to Canada, as well on short jaunts to the Midwest, South Carolina, the Pacific Northwest, and the Hamptons (and a vacation took me to Mexico for some much-needed R&R). When not on the road, I’ve been onstage or in the recording studio. Yes, 2017 has been fast-paced and action-packed thus far, and I’ve been having a great time going with the flow of busy-ness.

But…(you knew there was a “but” coming, right?) when one’s energies are directed outwardly for too long, it’s absolutely essential to replenish the well, which is exactly what I was able to do in May. Last month, I hung out with friends, ran a 5K, visited the Met and Cooper Hewitt museums, saw a performance of Shakespeare in the Park, went out to hear some great live jazz, and I even saw an opera. It feels so good to be a tourist at home, gleaning inspiration from New York’s endlessly vibrant art and culture.

Shakespeare in the Park; stopping to smell the roses at Brooklyn Botanic Garden; the Jazz Age exhibit at the Cooper Hewitt museum.

Of course, May hasn’t been all leisure. With the help of the nice folks over at Squarespace, I built a shiny new website, which has been on my to-do list for quite a while. And I’m currently doing a lot of preparation and outreach in anticipation of—drum roll, please—the Anzic Records release of THE LATE SET, my new album with pianist Ehud Asherie, due out in October!

The new homepage over at hilarygardner.com!

Looking ahead, I’ve got a few great gigs on the horizon (including an exciting show with Duchess for Lincoln Center Out of Doors on July 28), and I’m really looking forward to summer. I’ve got a whole list of fun summer plans for the months ahead, including a Circle Line cruise, picnics in the park, beach days, beer gardens, and baseball. Summer’s here. Let’s party.

In May, I…
Blogged about: April. The Song Is You (a remembrance of Josh Wolff). Singer-friend Andrea Wolper.

Read: Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, by Therese Anne Fowler. A well-written, enjoyable read about a woman who, had she been born in a different time, might have been remembered as so much more than a famous writer’s tragic wife. Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott. I’ve felt a strong inclination toward doing more writing, and this book was just the push I needed to get started.

Watched: Der Rosenkavalier, Lincoln Center HD. A big-screen version of Strauss’ gorgeous opera, with Renée Fleming in her last performance as the Marschallin. Exquisite. Julius Caesar, Shakespeare in the Park. This production was way too heavy-handed with the Trump metaphors (we get it, a megalomaniacal narcissist is running our country and imperiling our democracy), but Corey Stoll is always fantastic.

[UPDATE: In the wake of Delta Airlines, Bank of America, and American Express pulling their support from the Public Theater, I would like to add that I support the Public Theater without hesitation or reservation. Part of what art is meant to do—indeed, perhaps its most important function of all—is to, however provocatively, interpret and portray complex issues that pertain to the here and now. For crying out loud, the whole point of Julius Caesar is that democracy is fragile and can be undone, even destroyed, by violence.]

Listened to: Double Bass Double Voice (Emily Braden, Nancy Harms, Steve Whipple). I saw this trio’s CD release show at the Zinc Bar and was completely blown away by their song selections (everything from Duke Ellington to Stevie Wonder to traditional spirituals to Billy Joel), inventive arrangements, playfulness, freedom, and communication.

Spotlight On…Andrea Wolper

Vocalist Andrea Wolper is a fellow Brooklynite. We met through mutual singer friends a couple of years ago, and I was immediately drawn to her warmth and keen intelligence; she and I spent a lovely afternoon last spring walking and talking in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. In addition to her singing and teaching, Andrea is also a curator, activist, journalist and poet, a fearless improviser, the past president of International Women in Jazz, and a black belt in Shotokan Karate. All this to say, I have no idea how she found the time to do this interview for my little corner of the internet, but I sure am glad she did!

Andrea’s thoughtful responses to these Spotlight On… questions hold a lot of wisdom, as well as evidence that she and I both love the Oxford comma. In particular, I find her remarks about building on one’s strengths and making peace with one’s limitations very timely and powerful.

Thank you so much, Andrea (and I’ll join you in a stationery store any time)!

Who or what inspired you to pursue a life in music?
It started with my mom, who had been a semi-professional singer before she got married. I have a picture by my desk of us singing “Sonny Boy” together when I was about five, and I was always singing, making up songs, putting on little shows. Skipping ahead a few years, I started as an actor, took an overlapping side road as a freelance writer/author, and eventually added music back into my life just because I really missed singing. I didn’t have a plan at that point; I didn’t know that music would become my primary professional focus. I just wanted to sing. So I took some steps and found myself on a path, and at some point I realized it felt like MY path.

In the course of your musical development, what has come most naturally to you? What has been the most challenging?
Just singing is what came most naturally. Learning what to do with that, and always trying to be braver, freer, more honestly myself is a lifelong process that’s challenging and exhilarating. Learning music theory as an adult (who didn’t go to music school) certainly has been challenging. Identifying and building on my strengths and making peace with my limitations has been a challenge, but that balance shifts over time. And even after all these years I find the business aspects of being a professional musician extremely, sometimes excruciatingly, difficult.

How do you choose your repertoire? What makes you decide to sing a particular song?
I often have a strong yes or no reaction to songs. But I’ve learned to keep an open mind because there are two songs in my repertoire that I reflexively, vehemently rejected when they were suggested to me. They’re actually great songs; I just had to find my way into them, and when I did, they ended up being favorites. I always want to feel an emotional connection to a song, to bring something genuine and personal to it. And I want songs to make sense in the context of what I’m doing. I’m also a songwriter, and a couple of my own aren’t good fits for me, even though they’re decent songs; and some feel right for certain gigs, but not for others. I’m lucky that I get some sideman work, and singing music written or chosen by other people is a whole other thing. Or is it?

If you were to choose another profession, what would it be?
There’s a Cole Porter song, “Which?” that touches me. It goes, “Which is the right life, The simple or the night life?…Should I read Euripides or continue with The Graphic? Hear the murmur of the breeze or the roaring of the traffic?” I want to experience everything.

I’m like a kid who says, “I want to be an astronaut, a teacher, and a movie star,” only I’ll say a doctor, an investigative journalist, and a dancer, and a human rights lawyer, and a shop owner…and a movie star!

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received, on or off the bandstand?
“Just keep working.” I moved to New York to attend the Neighborhood Playhouse. One day I went to ballet class in tears over some silly drama. The teacher, Mrs. Cole, floated by me and very quietly said those three words. They may not sound like much, but they held a world of meaning. I shifted my focus away from how upset I was and onto pliés, and everything changed. It was a powerful moment.

When I started out doing gigs, I used to worry when someone in the audience asked me to do a song I didn’t know, or told me I reminded them of a singer I didn’t relate to. The guitarist Michael Howell told me it wasn’t so much about that song or that singer: “They like you, and they’re trying to connect with you.” Again, simple words of wisdom that helped me a lot. Oh, he also told me, “When you’re writing your charts, make the chord symbols big enough that the musicians can see them.” That was some good advice!

Fun fact:
I get excited in stationery stores. I earned a black belt in Shotokan Karate. And I am very serious about coffee.

Andrea is performing a concert dedicated to her late mentor, pianist/improviser/teacher Connie Crothers, at the Renee Weiler Concert Hall (Greenwich Music House) on Saturday, June 3 at 7:15pm. There is no cover and it promises to be a beautiful and moving evening of music. Don’t miss it–more details can be found HERE.

Spotlight On…Rebecca Kilgore

rebeccakilgore1I’ve been a fan of Rebecca Kilgore‘s for many years, now. I remember the first time I heard her sing “I Told You I Loved You, Now Get Out.” I loved her insouciant, intelligent interpretation and sought out more of her recordings as soon as possible. She’s a girl after my own heart—a real song hound who brings little-known, seldom-performed songs to life and makes them her own.

Rebecca’s records often center around a theme, whether paying tribute to a specific singer (Maxine Sullivan), composer (Frank Loesser, Jerome Kern), or an entire gender (I Like Men), and her singing is a natural extension of her disposition: warm, unaffected, and generous.

Rebecca is based in Portland, Oregon, but we lucky New Yorkers have her in our midst this week, and it’s not too late to get your tickets for this evening’s show at the Metropolitan Room. Don’t miss it! To tide you over until then, she has taken time out to answer a few questions for the Spotlight On… series. Thank you, Becky!

Who or what inspired you to pursue a life in music?
My dad was the choir director at the Unitarian church I grew up in (in Massachusetts). He wrote music for the choir, and was always writing music at home. My sister and I used to play recorder duets when we were small.

In the course of your musical development, what has come most naturally to you? What has been the most challenging?
Finding material is the easiest thing for me. I have a long list of tunes I yearn to learn, and it never gets any shorter no matter how many I learn. Most challenging for me is the fact that I make all my charts/lead sheets, with the exception of when I work with Harry Allen and/or Dan Barrett, which is great. I studied basic music theory but wish I had studied harmony and counterpoint.

rebecca-kilgoreHow do you choose your repertoire? What makes you decide to sing a particular song?
I admit I’m a sucker for a beautiful melody. But the song must also have a compelling story which is economically told. The song “Heart’s Desire” with music by Alan Broadbent and lyrics by Dave Frishberg excels at both music and words.

If you were to choose another profession, what would it be?
I studied fine art in college, and still like design, so it would be something in the visual arts.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received, on or off the bandstand?
Hmmmmm…. That’s interesting. Someone told me a singer should be able to sing a cappella and still convey the beat, rhythm, and swing. Don’t lean on the rhythm section to do it for you.

Also, working with Dave Frishberg was always an education for me, not by anything he came out and said, but by listening to his musical decisions and good taste.

Fun fact:
I don’t like to be the center of attention!

Rebecca is performing tonight at the Metropolitan Room. Get your tickets HERE and treat yourself to an evening of thoughtful, joyful, elegant music-making!