Butler (PA) Area High School, vocal jazz workshop and concert (2008)

IAJE Presenter: Apa'idi: Native American Jazz Crossover
(Toronto 2008)

Clinic and concert with Bill Mays Trio. Phillipsburg (NJ) High School (2000)

Click on the images below for more information on these terrific organizations.
Presenter 2001 PMEA (concert and clinic)
Member IAJE
Two great music resources
Some Musings About Singing.
Why the singer is special – in a word, words! Words are the torch taking jazz to the non-musician world. But we also have words when no other musicians do. Without words, the tune may as well be played by a trumpet or a bassoon. That said, while making beautiful sound and lovely tone is mandatory, the singer's number one job is to give life, feeling and energy to the WORDS!

Singer and instrumentalist
You are a singer. Your body is your instrument. You are also an instrumentalist. You can take solos with your instrument, scat, prepare vocalese passages, create alternate melodies on the lyrics or pieces of the lyrics. You are a musician. All these tools are yours to use as you see fit to tell your story and share what you know.

About sound and tone
That's all we're about in the music business. The key is knowing when to have which sound and which tone. Having many colors in your voice gives you great flexibility for so many different situations, literatures and groups. Developing not only your "color roster" but control over sound and tone plus the intuition to know what's right when, you can expand your performance possibilities endlessly!

Making tunes your own involves earnest soul searching
Honestly, do you pick a tune because you like how it sounds? You like who recorded it, and the sound of his/her voice? You like the lyric? The song conjures up a sentimental attachment from something in the past? When I work on a tune to make it my own, I first have to analyze the melody and progressions – I'm really very clinical about it: do they make sense, are they logical, are they interesting – are they lovely? All of this is very subjective, of course, because it's just me making this decision, but really, I must be able to say yes to all of these things, otherwise, no, this tune and I are not ready to have a relationship – yet. Then, if the music says "yes" to me, I type out the lyrics as if they are a piece of poetry. Does this poem have something to say to me? Does it have a story I can tell? Is there something in this poetry that makes me feel something strongly? Do these words give me images? Now, when these things happen with the lyric, I know: I've found a song I can make my own. And I usually do.

Classical vs. jazz: what happens between these two?
Is there really a difference? There is a different sensibility. There are different freedoms with each. There are different forces demanding conformance with each. They are two musical worlds but they are not opposites. For the singer, they both demand: breath control, pitch accuracy, tonal control and variation, knowledge of the lyric, ability to tell a story, emotional readiness and accessibility.

"Technique" is a funny word – seeming to embody "technical," it's true there is much that can be technical/mechanical about singing. The same can be said about dancing, running, swimming. But the very best at those activities make it one with their entire body, and while there is great precision, there's an effortlessness that is very far from technical or mechanical. As finely tuned and synergized as an athlete and a dancer are, so too is the fine singer. Why? Because the singer's body IS the instrument! While there's no brass polishing, reed trimming, soft cloth rubbing, spit valve emptying, there is this human body that will inflate, resonate, intone, inflect, infuse and pulsate with the sound of the singer's heart.

I come from a decidedly classical training and background, even tho' I was playing Gershwin, Porter, Jim Croce and Carol King when I wasn't practicing Beethoven and Brahms. But my piano training (and then my vocal training) was predominantly classical, including many of the major European languages. My subsequent music degree from Indiana University in the '70s was also predominantly classical. Why does this matter? First, I learned to read music. I learned to analyze it; I learned to hear it, to listen to it, to let it speak to me. Did this happen because it was classical? No. It happened because I was immersed on a daily basis for a full decade with the language of music. That's why today I still say, I'm an ESL learner: English is my second language. My mother tongue is music.

So again, why does this matter? Because in order to communicate all that we have to say with our instruments, music is our language. Without hesitation, without translation, we say what we need to say, what we are feeling, what we have to say, share our joys and tribulations with the language that is music. So speaking it fluently and often is the key to flowing, unimpeded and joyful communication.

Say what is the technique? As I said above, I studied classical vocal technique. From masterful teachers and coaches I discovered and mastered my full range, both in terms of pitch and tone. I discovered and mastered breath control, including sustaining and embellishing. I discovered literature and style, both classical and contemporary. I also learned to embody my voice in a role and a role in my voice. By this I mean, I learned to use my voice to tell a story. And by using my voice to tell the story, I naturally have to use my body (my instrument) to tell the story as well. This oneness is essential to communicating clearly to your listening audience.

At Indiana University, Eileen Farrell taught that "technique" is basically always the same – the difference between styles is understanding the physics of sound: more often than not, classical singing is done off mike, requiring the resonance of not only the singer's instrument but the hall/auditorium to provide amplification of volume and tone for listeners. In jazz, singing is considered more intimate. More often than not, the size of the performance space may only seat 50-100 rather than 1,200-1,600… and a microphone is employed MEANING that whatever sound is created (and whatever emotion is created AND whatever story is being told) must go directly into that microphone, not be too much for it, and not be too little for it. The microphone (and the chord that attaches it to the sound system) becomes the conduit for the story – remember the scene from "Singin' in the Rain"? Say what? Is the mike now the instrument? Hardly: without the basic "technique," how will any sound reach the mike in the first place? And what will be the value of the sound once it does get into the mike? True, that mike creates a very different environment for the legit singer and has now become an expectation for almost all singing. One look at Broadway and you can see that the days of glorious unamplified singing from the stage appear to be just about over.

Several technical aspects will change between the classical (non-miked) and jazz (miked) voice: amount of volume changes from enough to bounce off the back wall to just enuf to get the point across into the mike – with the mike, projection moves from a matter of volume to a matter of emotional intensity. Most volume is handled by the sound system – given that the singer is really on the mike and working it. Now throw in this desire for an intimate quality which allows you to sing personally to each separate listener. Add to it a more "spoken" approach with regard to both tone and lyric. Too much volume in the mike can distort the sound and interrupt the emotional underpinning of the story. Vibrato can become difficult for the mike to handle as well – vibrato can make pitch harder to identify for the listener. Too much tone can also distort. The goal is to create a clear open sound that the mike can easily share with the listeners. A covered tone or a "head" resonance is harder for the mike to pick up since the mike is down at your mouth to pick up consonants – the wig mikes used on Broadway and in other live performance venues are used to pick up mask and head resonance. But these mikes don't pick up the more pop oriented voices of "Rent," for example, where headmounted facial mikes are employed and sit right at the singer's mouth.

One thought about vibrato – and here I highly recommend a good coach for the classically trained voice. Most good and efficient classical singers are capable of using and not using vibrato at will (think Mozart, Bizet and most recitative). This should always be practiced with great care and with the assistance of a coach you trust. While it may feel as if removing vibrato is a manipulation of the vocal folds, it should really be more clearly handled through breath control and abdominal support as well as acting intention (a more organic way of approaching the technical). All singing, whether with or without vibrato, must be fully supported at all times.

Should a singer spend time learning literature and music history?
You bet your bippy! A singer is just like any other musician and should be able to compete with the best of them at drop-that-needle competitions! How do you keep learning more? Listen, listen, listen. Listen to all kinds of music, all styles, all instruments, all composers. Read about who wrote what, how they wrote, why they wrote. Read about who played what, where, when, how and why. Who were and are the innovators? There is so much to know. So many traditional instruments, rhythms and styles are being introduced to jazz, from Africa, South and Central America, Asia, Australia and New Zealand and from right here in North America. Here in New York, we have so much at our disposal; even far from New York, there are still cable music channels, NPR stations, books, records and tapes in libraries. Plus all the resources of the internet. We are so lucky to have so much available to us now!

So you say you want to study music – how? – listen, listen, listen! But yes, it's also imperative to know how to read music as if it were your first language. To be able to sit before a score, whether for big band or symphony, and be able to hear it as you read it. It's like a giant book unfolding before you. Listening while reading the music is another wonderful way to hear things you haven't heard before, even in a piece you've listened to many times. Now, with jazz, it's often difficult to find scores to read while you listen. Many have never been published. But there are beautiful Ellington scores available. There are also the wonderful overtures to Rodgers & Hart and Rodgers & Hammerstein musicals, not to mention all the other incredible Broadway writers, including Porter, Gershwin, Bernstein and more. Read a score today!

Knowing another instrument is exceptionally important
We are singers. Our instruments are inside us. All other musicians have their instruments outside of them. It's important that we experience that, and it's also important that every musician learns to communicate through more than one instrument. Each will compliment the other. I began as a classical pianist and still play regularly today. I also spent a great deal of time playing the violin, which helped incredibly with intonation, pitch and sightreading. I was never a hugely marvy violinist, but I was certainly adequate and I got to play some gorgeous pieces which I would never have touched as a vocalist.

Theory and analysis are imperative
I know they are the math of music, but they are also the bread and butter. How can you know what you are hearing if you can't identify it? How can you write your own music if you aren't able to write down what you are hearing in the language of music? Spending the time to learn to read music, all clefs, understand rhythm, learn all the scales, identify chord progressions and analyze compositional structure – these are all important in learning a song, as well as building your life as a musician.

Practicing never ends
Because there is always more to learn and there are always new challenges.

Learning new tunes is like finding new shoes, or discovering a new restaurant where you want to try everything on the menu. There are so many wonderful tunes out there! How will we ever be able to learn them all!!