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Julia Dollison and Kerry Marsh: Raising Their Voices

By Published: June 8, 2010
Marsh says "the number one influence for the record besides Maria Schneider has to be Singers Unlimited and Gene Puerling
Gene Puerling
Gene Puerling
1929 - 2008
's work in that group in the '70s and '80s. Pioneering stacking vocals, overdubbing. And Julia, quite a few people have said she is sort of a modern day Bonnie Herman [a member of that group]. Julia's voice is an extension of Bonnie Herman's sound in a lot of ways. That very human, very expressive way is a lot of Julia's sound, in addition to these more abstract, artistic sounds, like Norma Winstone. And some of the ECM kind of sounds that Julia has gotten into. That European thing."

"The funny thing is," says Dollison, "we didn't really have much exposure to jazz until our college years. I personally grew up all over the United States. Spent some time in the south and sang in gospel choirs. Took classical piano lessons. I had so many different influences. It wasn't until I went to the University of Miami. The vocal jazz major sounded fun and different. I tried it."

Marsh is from s small town in Kansas where there was no significant jazz scene. "When I went to college, I was pretty sure I wanted to be a classical singer and percussionist or something. I really didn't have any idea. But I heard the vocal jazz ensemble at KU [University of Kansas] and fell in love with it. Although they didn't have a major in that, I was an honorary vocal jazz major. I spent all of my time thinking about that, about playing jazz piano and arranging while I was in school there," he says. "The school thing is a big deal for both of us. It's cool that we're in academia now and maybe having that same influence on our students. With another foot in the professional world as well. We feel it's getting more firmly planted in the professional world. But we still connect with academia and out students."

Funding for music education in California is under fire as the economy continues to struggle and, as a result, governments and educational institutions look for places in their budgets where they can cut back. Unfortunately, music programs often suffer, and the couple is seeing that at California State University. But the couple is adamant in their desire to teach others.

This job that we have teaching together has been the best job of our lives," avows Dollison. "The two of us have built a program at Sac State and it's been so inspiring to make the transition from 'We're not sure it's going to work,' to receiving awards and feeling like a family." Marsh agrees. "It's a really big thing for me. There really are challenging students that come to our program. I get to put them into groups and write arrangements for them and try new things all the time. To get to be standing in the middle is really cool. It's a pervasive part of my life. It's been brilliant. I've really enjoyed it. We want to keep it as a part of our lives."

He notes that while teachers are seeing their work cut back, "we've started to get more into our freelance work and professional work at the same time as we've done less and less at Sac State. It's working out OK. It's going to be alright. But we do know that we want to be teachers. We enjoy that communication."

Marsh spends a lot of time arranging vocal jazz charts on commission throughout the year and also publishes charts through his website. They do a lot of clinic work, especially through the Monterey Jazz Festival, where they visit Monterey County high schools and middle schools and introduce them to jazz. They run a clinic together through the UNC/Greeley Jazz Festival in Colorado. And they've started an online vocal clinic, which is "a thing where people can send us a video of themselves performing and we'll give them a clinic, an audio tape clinic that we'll send back. Real high quality. We'll demonstrate things for them. So we do that kind of educational outreach work as well," says Marsh.

"Kerry is the best ensemble vocal jazz clinician I've ever seen," Dollison says with pride. "He's incredible. He has so much energy. Whereas my specialty is the one-on-one private lessons. I just love that."

The couple hopes to bring the music from Vertical Voices out to the public, though there are some problems in getting the collective sound transferred to a live setting. "We've considered a lot of different possibilities," says Dollison. "After the second day of recording in New York we premiered it live at The Jazz Standard with the rhythm section and just the two of us, live. It was a little overwhelming to try to replicate it." Marsh adds, "We fought with this idea: Should we use tracks? There's an obvious, sort of immediate 'cheese' factor about it with the idea of live performance with preprogrammed tracks, or singing with a click track. We were worried about that, of course. We're not oblivious to the fact that it can be kind of corny."

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