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New York Voices: Keeping the Vocal Jazz Flame Burning

By Published: May 13, 2013
Meader says the group enjoys doing R&B songs they grew up enjoying, and pop tunes from the Baby Boomer era, "but ultimately the more complex arrangements of ours draw from the jazz side of things. But we have a wide variety of tastes. We like grabbing something that's more Lambert, Hendricks & Ross-ish vocalese. But we'll also gravitate to things more in the traditional Cole Porter
Cole Porter
Cole Porter
1891 - 1964
side of things. We love Brazilian jazz. Antonio Carlos Jobim
Antonio Carlos Jobim
Antonio Carlos Jobim
1927 - 1994
, things of that nature. We also love tackling things like Ivan Lins or Jovan. We have people in the group who like to compose on their own, so we try to include a few originals of our own as well. It's kind of diverse. We enjoy mixing it up. We find the challenges of jumping into different genres to be kind of fun."

He adds, "We've tackled some things some times that don't work for us. So it doesn't always work, but we like to give it a try."

With 25 years under its belt, Nazarian says the group gets better with age. "I totally think we've gotten better. We've gotten faster. I think we really care about each other. We all have exponential resources with the four of us that we call upon, and that has helped too. There's a pride. There's just a pride. This has been our life's investment. We have made a mark. I think we continue to make a mark. We are in the history book of vocal jazz. The fact that we have stayed together for 25 years is probably the most impressive thing that we've done. It's not the Grammys. It's not the number of records. It's that we're still doing it the way we're doing it, with a level of integrity and a standard that is pretty high."

She points to a "killer slamming" weekend the band enjoyed in Boston in April. "People on their feet. Encores. We put up two new tunes and the people are still crying for more and they're bringing their kids to see us. Not only do we want it to stay alive, they [the audience] want it to stay alive. It's become a family affair. There are generations that come to hear New York Voices. Which warms my heart and makes me feel so good. Our original object was to diminish the distance between instrumental and vocal jazz. We're doing it. And we're still doing it. Trying to create the well-rounded musician, the well-rounded listener. We do that in our camp as well."

The camp she refers to is a vocal camp the group established that they have conducted in the summer for the last few years. Nazarian, instrumental in its formation, says it continues to grow in numbers—a good sign because it serves a noble purpose. It helps people in the country who are then going forward and conducting vocal group programs. General training in that area, she says, is woefully lacking.

"You have people graduating with a music degree and they've had maybe two methods classes for vocal jazz ensemble. Yet when they get hired, they're required to run a vocal jazz ensemble. And they've literally had two, two-hour sessions. They need this kind of extra education. So that they know what they're doing and they pick good charts and their kids are solid and they can go to their festivals and are nurtured with quality information," she says with passion. "We help the teachers that help the classrooms that then help the school districts; that give jazz a better name. Vocal jazz can have a really bad rap because it's done poorly. I think it's up to us to try and continue to build that reputation and the only way to do it is from the ground up. You develop good listeners and you develop good future vocal jazz people, whether they're doing it or they're teaching it."

The camp has auxiliary benefits, she notes. "I don't think we work harder than we do in that week. It exaggerates both your strengths and your weaknesses when you have to articulate everything it is that you do. And someone has to understand that, digest it and be able to execute it. You want to be as successful a teacher because you are definitely in a spotlight as a teacher. You want to be as successful there as you do in front of the microphone or in the recording studio. Otherwise, you're doing a disservice to these people. We take it very seriously and we work very hard for the success of the camp and the music and the students."

The four individuals also have projects of their own that give them another artistic outlet, and important time away from New York Voices for regeneration. Meader does a lot of work as a guest artist going into colleges, and is on the adjunct faculty at Manhattan School of Music, as is Eldridge. He also does some gigs with his Darmon Meader Quartet. Eldridge has five solo CDs. Kinhan writes her own music and records as well.

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