Dana Lauren: Songs From Her Heart

R.J. DeLuke By

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What does it take for someone who has been singing since she was a toddler—and had her sights set singing as a vocation since in elementary school—to make a strong go of it? Great focus and a strong will would be necessary traits. Willingness to learn and a thick skin would also be valuable, particularly in the jazz genre, in which emotional depth and artistic truth go hand-in-hand with the sheer technique needed to pull off successful performances.

There are a lot of singers out there trying to do it. Few will ever reach the heights that, say, the marvelous Roberta Gambarini has reached in the last decade (and there are still stars for her to reach). But there are a handful with the promise to scale some heights, and among those is Dana Lauren, whose self-produced It's You or No One (2010) shows a singer of maturity beyond her 21 years. She posses a fine vocal instrument and a resourceful way of treating the standard repertoire that she loves.

Still a student at Berklee School of Music, she's been gigging since 2005, exhibiting the necessary focus and drive by bugging club owners and music industry folk herself, in order to get her foot into some doors. Renowned trumpeter Arturo Sandoval has played a key role, producing her first self-produced CD—Stairway to the Stars (2008)—and getting her a gig at the Blue Note in New York City. But most of the grunt work, including production of this latest CD, comes right from the youngster. With all that busy work, and her schooling as well, it didn't distract from creating a fine disk. Backed by a splendid group of musicians, Lauren shows off her considerable talent; one that opens the window to a bright future. But behind that talent is a person who is still humble, grounded, yet confident and determined.

"I really want this. And I know how difficult it is and how competitive an industry it is," she says assuredly, but without a drop of boastfulness. "If I'm not driven, no one's going to want to attach their name to mine."

There is a passion behind those words, and yet she's realistic about what it takes to secure that she's on the right path. It's a path that started when she was a toddler. She says home video evidence shows her singing—of all things—the theme to The Beverly Hillbillies television program with her father, "my favorite song to sing. I could barely talk, but I could sing that song word-for-word. It was really strange," she recalls. "But my mom always had music playing. My dad was always teaching me songs. I was always singing."

She's continued that path, taking private lessons throughout her elementary and high schools years—classical piano, jazz piano and classical voice—then attending the New England Conservatory, before switching to Berklee, where she has one semester to go before getting her degree. She's also been educated in the real world, singing in places like the Blue Note and Sculler's, in Boston.

"I always keep in my head that I never want to be done learning," says Lauren. "And I don't think any musician or any person in life is ever done learning. If a person feels that they've learned all they can learn, that's when you become cocky and ignorant. I don't think anybody wants to meet or hear anyone like that. At least I know I don't."

On the new disk, she covers songs including "That Old Black Magic," "On the Sunny Side of the Street," "I Had the Craziest Dream," and "Give Me the Simple Life." She's fond of the classic repertoire and wants to go through that vernacular before she expands further. She does so with a band comprised of Joel Frahm on sax, Manuel Valera on piano, Luques Curtis on bass, Will Graefe on guitar and Jake Goldbas on drums. There's also a sweet guest spot by bassist Christian McBride. The arranging is done by Lauren and Valera (mostly Lauren), and they do so adroitly. It's another side of her talent.

"It was really important to me to do a different jazz vocal CD," she says. "Not so different that people will listen to it and not recognize the songs. I still wanted to make it swing. Do some standards like 'Old Black Magic' and 'Sunny Side of the Street,' but then so some songs that people haven't heard much before. And do some arrangements that were different."

"I love, love, love them," she eagerly states about jazz standards. She also knows it's a great learning ground and jumping off point for aspiring jazz musicians. "I think it's really important. To be a jazz musician you have to understand where it all came from and understand the music and all the musicians before you try to create something new and crazy and avant-garde." She notes that at the New England Conservatory, "a lot of people there were trying to sound different and crazy, but when you went to a jam session and called 'Bye Bye Blackbird,' they were like, 'Do you have a chart?' What?

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