I like to sing different kinds of songs. James Taylor is one of my favorite composers and so is Billie Strayhorn. I've never really bought into the idea that I should pick one type of music and then stick to it exclusively so as not to confuse my listeners. My listeners are not easy to confuse, thank God, so I just go ahead and sing what I like. Same thing applies to the bands or groups, or whatever you call them, that I work with; I'm just as comfortable in front of a seventeen piece Big Band as I am singing with a guitar player in somebody's living room; if the music is in the pocket and the spirit is on us, I'm good.
I've been really lucky and I'm proud to admit it. I re-started my music career in 2007 when I fell in with Clifford Murphy and Claude Black, "The Murphy's". Two guys who'd been playing all kinds of amazing music together for over 60 years were kind enough to take me under their wings and show me the ropes. They brought me along the same way they had come up back in the 1940's - on the bandstand, do or die, no prisoners. After a short and very intense time in music hell, they made me a "Murphy" and declared me their vocalist and accepted me as one of "the cats". I got to jam with some of the great players who were Clifford and Claude's friends and admirers from all over the world and in the process I learned what I could do in a top notch environment. Like I said, really lucky.
My friend and supporter, Larry Dick, is a very busy eighty something guy. He and his squeeze, Bonnie Hughes, go out most nights to dance and have a couple of pink wines. Larry likes what I do and talks me up to club owners and bandleaders from time to time. As luck would have it, I was offered the female vocalist job with Jeff McDonald's "Swingmania" big band just when I needed it thanks to Larry's persistance and a hot audition. Claude and I continued to work together as a duo and we recorded my first album together, but I had to kiss Clifford goodbye for a while and move on.
The Big Band was a whole new world - standing in front of thirteen horn players, drums, bass, piano, and guitar blasting away was a far cry from the little stage at Murphy's Place where having a drummer and a horn player show up at the same time was a big deal. And the music was no longer flexible in the way it had been with The Murphy's. The Big Band played the same charts the same way every time. We had some of the top musicians around; experienced guys with long resumés who played with the local classical and jazz orchestras and some who had even played with the big Big Bands like the Dorsey and Miller bands. I had to learn to "stay inside the lines" like I never had before. Clifford and Claude had ears for days and if I went off on an excursion, they always had an answer and I was free to experiment at will. In the Big Band, I found a new kind of freedom. The band would always be in the same place at the same time and I could bounce around inside the structure but I couldn't break out. I became more disciplined in how I expressed my creativity and I developed a new set of skills to produce it. Very exhilirating.
As I was growing in the Big Band, I started to book small combo gigs under my own name playing with a variety of the musicians I had met and jammed with at Murphy's Place and with the Big Band. I was lucky to have my pick of the very best guys around and on several gigs I put together "All Star" bands that really were stellar. I liked making my personal vision come to life and, as it turned out, so did the players and so did the audiences.
The newest addition to my project list is "Atlas Jazz with Anna Givens". Led by master reed player, Paul DeVee, and including hot players from Detroit, we have been building a repertoire that crosses a big chunk of the musical spectrum. Once again, luck has been with me.