Carmen Lundy Presents... Carmen Lundy
“We actually started a band together and while he was accompanying me he approached the piano kind of different. I liked his harmonies and I liked the way he made simple chords sound very luscious and thick and that’s how I discovered jazz. He introduced me to Bill Evans and Herbie Hancock and Cannonball Adderly and so many other great artists. Miles Davis and John Coltrane. And through this one person I was introduced to all the great jazz artists, and that sparked my curiosity and I began to get very serious about the music and discover the vocalists. I went into college [the University of Miami] and became a jazz major and learned my craft and performed professionally when I was in school. Kind of paid my way like that. Ultimately began to write music and try to say something that’s true and in the tradition of jazz music and of the time that we live in. Hopefully, it will still resonate beyond now. That’s all I can hope for.”
Lundy’s influences read like most singers of her era might, including all the classic great singers. And why not? But there were others as well, classic in their own idioms. “Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday, Carmen McRae. Phyllis Hyman, Roberta Flack, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Joni Mitchell, and on and on. Ella Fitzgerald, Betty Carter, Nina Simone. Can I stop now? Mahalia Jackson. Leontyne Price,” she says with fondness and a sense of elation.
Anyone particularly special above the others? “Betty Carter, for sure. Without a doubt,” she says. “Just who she was as a musician and an artist. Not just the improvisation. She really sang a song. She interpreted a lyric. She was unique and had her own idea. She was original. She had a heart of gold. She was inspiring. She was a great teacher.”
Lundy actually entered college listed as studying opera, but that was only a way of pursuing an education that involved singing. “Because it was clear that I did not want to do education as a major. The only option I had was to enter the opera program as a vocal major. It was as a result of entering that opera program that I discovered the jazz school at the same university. And that’s how I was able to develop my interest in jazz music and maintain two degrees at once. So I was in the classical program at the same time I was in the jazz program. And then I ultimately became a jazz major and actually was the first jazz vocal major at the University of Miami.”
She didn’t stick around long after graduation, moving to the Big Apple, which was the world center of jazz music. Such a move would be daunting for anyone, but Lundy found that she could survive and blossom. And she found that musicians are appreciative and supportive of talent – a circumstance that she still treasures today.
“I moved to New York in the late 70s and just did my thing. Had a great, great experience in New York. Working with a lot of veteran jazz musicians and hearing some of the great, great artists, all of whom were alive, as opposed to now. This was just a great time for me, developmentally, to be in the hub and experience the music that way and to play so much and to get something happening.”
“There was Don Pullen. A guy named Bucky Thorpe who had an organ trio and trumpet gig in Harlem up at the Red Rooster. There was Walter Bishop Jr. I had one of my first record dates with him. So many other people. Phyllis Hyman was wonderful to me and supportive. My teachers, my professors, my mentors. I had a great support system. So many great musicians along the way. Bobby Watson, my brother Curtis Lundy. As I mentioned Betty Carter. Sarah Vaughan was always kind and Carmen McRae was always very kind and caring and willing to share herself like that. I’ve had some great experience with Shirley Horn and Nancy Wilson and I’ve actually shared the stage with Nancy Wilson and Betty Carter. Even after having left New York and spending the last few years here in Los Angeles, it’s the same thing. There’s a great supportive, interconnected vibration that hopefully finds its way and remains in music.
“The jazz community, globally speaking, we are a community that is very close knit. We’re well aware of the contribution of what we’re making to the art form. I think we’re very aware of one another. The jazz community in New York is very intra-supported. Very interactively supported, the way I remember it anyway. The music came first, so that when you come to the bandstand and you’re playing the music, then that’s what really counts and that’s what people really want to hear. So you get in there and hopefully you can bring some music to the stage. That’s something that New York musicians, and I think musicians all around the world, embrace. When they hear something that’s there, how could you not acknowledge it? So I think that I’m very fortunate to have come into the city at a time when there was a vibrant community. They were more than happy to bring you on.”