Stephanie Nakasian & Hod O'Brien: Visitors from Virginia

Nick Catalano By

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Many years ago one of my writer friends put me on to a jazz singer who, he said, was terrific. I went to Zinno's (now defunct) in the Village and immediately saw that my friend certainly knew his singers. Stephanie Nakasian was raised in Bronxville N.Y. studying piano and violin while singing in church choirs and getting voice lessons from Joe Scott in NYC. After receiving her degree in economics from Northwestern, she became a financial consultant to major banks in NY and Chicago, but kept up her music and, when she met (and eventually married) bop pianist Hod O'Brien turned to jazz singing full time.

During the past 20 or so years, Nakasian has recorded prolifically, performed world-wide and taught jazz improvisation at major universities (presently The College of William and Mary). In addition, she has written presciently (her new book is a vocal jazz manual dubbed It's not on the Page! ) lectured widely and, in short, covered more musical bases than any other singer in the genre. Her featured solo performances alongside luminaries Urbie Green, Pat Metheny, Clark Terry, Scott Hamilton, Hank Jones, Roy Haynes, Philly Joe Jones, Annie Ross and dozens of other stars have received the ravest of reviews and recognition as one of the important jazz singers in the world by the editors of the New Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz has served as the proverbial icing on the cake.

Awhile back, Stephanie and Hod moved their base of operations to the Virginia countryside to raise their daughter Veronica (a budding vocalist with her own CD-at age 10!). Their visits to Gotham are less frequent but when they're scheduled to arrive the town starts to buzz.

Their latest habitat is The Jazz Standard and when they arrived there to close out 2004 last week, midtown Manhattan began swinging wildly. Nakasian ran through standards arranged thoughtfully ("What are you doin' New Year's Eve" worked nicely as a samba and a "funked up" version of Ellington's "I'm just a lucky so and so" resonated well) but when she heated matters up with her unique scatting on the latter tune the room really bounced. She traded choruses with guitarist Joe Cohn on Strayhorn's "Something to live for", included verses to all her selections, and wowed patrons with outstanding improvisational flourishes. The proud parents introduced their daughter Veronica Swift who performed with substantial aplomb indicating she will join the family's musical heritage and get plaudits of her own in short order.

Nakasian and O'Brien record presently on the V.S.O.P. label and can be contacted at www.marsjazz.com on the web.

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