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Meet Donna M.

Tessa Souter and Andrea Wolper By

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The music was alive with emotion - inferred pain and heartache along with triumph and redemption. From Shirley Horn's lyrics to Roy Hargrove's trumpet playing, it provided an impromptu soundtrack to what was going on in my life at the time.
Reader: Are you a jazz Super Fan? Do you know a jazz Super Fan? If so, be sure to see the call-to-action at the end of this column. But first, meet our Super Fan for June, Donna M.:

Raised on soul music, Donna M. was a relative late-comer to jazz (Vince Guaraldi's Peanuts score notwithstanding!), but once she got the message, she jumped in as a full-fledged Super Fan. Her journey with jazz took her from tragic loss to love, and her desire to share her enthusiasm for the music she says saved her from despair led to unexpected social media success.

Tell us a little about yourself.
I was born and raised in the city of "Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection" (that's unofficial!), Philadelphia, PA. My hometown for the last seven years has been Seattle, WA, where I work for a small tech company.

Besides music, my passions are reading books on history, biographies, and finance, international travel, cooking, gardening, wildlife, birding, and animal welfare. I am making a commitment this year to hike the numerous trails in the area. The Pacific Northwest is truly beautiful.

What's your earliest memory of music?
The soundtrack of my childhood was all things Motown and the soul music produced by the hit-making record label, Philadelphia International. My mother's taste in music filled the household daily: Stevie Wonder, The Delfonics, the Chi-lites, Isaac Hayes, Main Ingredient, WAR, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Minnie Rippleton, The Temptations, Rufus featuring Chaka Khan, the Isley Brothers, Bobby Womack...the list goes on and on. My favorites were the Jackson 5 (Michael Jackson was my first crush—before the surgeries!) and Marvin Gaye. My maternal grandfather would often come to prepare Sunday dinner, and he'd have What's Going On? on repeat on the record player. That album is a permanent part of my musical DNA.

I wasn't formally exposed to jazz as a child, but I loved the soundtracks to all of the Peanuts television specials. It wasn't until I was almost an adult that I realized that Vince Guaraldi's music was jazz.

How old were you when you got your first recording?
I remember saving my allowance around the age of 11 to buy 12" singles. The first one I got was Marvin Gaye's "Got to Give It Up." It's the ultimate get-up- and-dance song, and I was in heaven.

What was the first concert you ever attended?
It was a Jackson 5 concert at the Spectrum in Philadelphia. But the first one I actually paid for myself was Prince's Purple Rain concert in 1984, also at the Spectrum. I went with my high school sweetheart. It was amazing to me that Prince had the same, if not more, energy than he appeared to have in the Purple Rain movie.

Was there one album or experience that was your doorway to jazz?
In appreciation of volunteer work I had done for the PEco Energy Jazz Festival back in 1996, I was given free tickets to see Shirley Horn and Roy Hargrove. It was one of the first bona fide jazz shows I ever attended, and I didn't know what to expect. I had heard of Shirley Horn, but I wasn't familiar with her music. (That's pretty sad, I know).

At that concert I got a glimpse of what would captivate me a decade later. The music was alive with emotion— inferred pain and heartache, along with triumph and redemption. From Shirley Horn's lyrics to Roy Hargrove's trumpet playing, it provided an impromptu soundtrack to what was going on in my life at the time.

Then there was the trombonist...

I didn't catch his name when Roy Hargrove introduced him. All I know is that my guests and I couldn't keep our eyes off of him. Ku-umba Frank Lacy was like a controlled Tasmanian Devil (that's a good thing!). His energy, his exuberant playing, and the way he engaged the audience..."WOW!"

That was my introduction to live jazz. I'm not sure why I didn't pursue it further at that time.

How long have you been going out to hear live music?
Almost 45 years (gulp!).

How often do you go out to hear live music?
Approximately four times a month.

What is it about live music that makes it so special for you?
What I love about live jazz is the intimacy of the room, especially when there's a savvy audience that appreciates what the artists are bringing to the table.

Another aspect of live jazz, when compared to a pop concert, is that you never get the tunes the way they were recorded. There are always different nuances and flavors that truly depend on what's going on in the world, how a musician's day went, etc. Each show is different, and every solo is different from the last time they played it.

What are the elements of an amazing concert?
Musicianship, mastery, and heart.

What makes a great jazz club?
A place where the musicians most respected by other musicians play. A place that is down to earth, and serves affordable, tasty food that doesn't require someone to be a foodie to enjoy it.


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