Swinging style and bebopping finesse


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Stephanie Nakasian has had many facets to her career. She was a banker in Chicago and Manhattan. Then she caught the jazz bug. She heard bebop pianist Hod O’Brien, started working with him a bit in 1980 and a year later quit her day job to become a full-time singer.

She built her chops as a two-year member of the vocal group, Jon Hendricks and Company. She married O’Brien, and figured out how to balance motherhood, performing (often with her husband) and a long career as a music educator at the University of Virginia and the College of William & Mary. These days, she’s known to some as rising star jazz vocalist Veronica Swift’s mother.

On Friday, February 11, Nakasian’s quartet performance in Venice FL illuminated her vocal artistry. The wide-ranging program was a palette for her swinging style and bebopping finesse. Her scatting was never overdone. She used it sparingly – and effectively – to put a different twist on familiar fare. She also put a fine spin on several tunes that aren't heard much today.

Her rhythm section included three fine Florida-based pros: Richard Drexler on piano, Don Mopsick on bass and Tony Vigilante on drums.

The material ranged from the Great American Songbook to Sergio Mendés to jazz classics, including “Perdido” and Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints,” to Helen Humes’ vintage blues “Million Dollar Secret.”

Favorite moments:

  • Her poignant take on “These Foolish Things” was a heart-felt tribute to O’Brien, who died two years ago. She followed it with “The Man I Love,” which featured with a bit of horn emulation. Her technique this time around sounded like a growling muted trumpet solo as she traded phrases with Drexler.
  • The mash-up of “The Days of Wine and Roses,” which she sang over the rhythm section’s take on “Killer Joe.”
  • Her take on Ann Hampton Callaway’s beautiful ballad “You Can’t Rush Spring,” a composition that she said ought to be considered as a jazz standard.The South County Jazz Club matinee concert was held at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Venice.

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This story appears courtesy of Ken Franckling's Jazz Notes.
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