Stephanie Nakasian: The Renaissance Woman of Jazz

Nick Catalano By

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For decades, Stephanie Nakasian has been swinging through an immensely challenging jazz repertoire with astonishing aplomb. Her audacious ventures into vocal territory that others have carefully avoided have resulted in recordings and performances of unrivaled excellence. From pioneering vocal efforts with singer Jon Hendricks and Annie Ross to the rigorous charts of The Danish Radio Big Band and the improvisational intricacies of saxophonists Phil Woods and Scott Hamilton, Nakasian has constantly associated herself with jazz subtleties in uncharted territory.

As her legend grows new dimensions reveal themselves. She is a music theorist and scholar (her book It's Not on the Page! How to Integrate Jazz and Jazz Rhythm into Choral and Solo Repertoire (Self Produced, 2001) is studied widely), as well as a professor at the University of Virginia and The College of William and Mary. Her prescience as a music historian is best witnessed in the patter during one of her gigs, as she continually reveals minutiae and ironies unknown to attending critics. With her talented husband. pianist Hod O'Brien, she is presently mentoring her daughter, Veronica, through the vicissitudes of a musical career.

But it is mostly the epic musicality that she has delivered on the bandstand and in the studio that continues to amplify her legacy. Always choosing the thorny path, as a lyricist she has written words to Sonny Rollins' "Pent-Up House"; as an arranger she has triumphed with Andre Previn's "Control Yourself"; and as scat mistress, scored with "The Claw" —an uncanny harmonic duet she performs with her daughter. These selections highlighted the O'Brien family's appearance at New York City's Kitano on July 28, 2012. The performing precision of these complex undertakings had this reviewer shaking his head incredulously.

No less impressive are the selections on Nakasian's new CD, Show me the Way Capri, 2012). She soars through the lyric density of pianist Horace Silver's "Nica's Dream," the intervallic trials of songwriter Tommy Wolf's "Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most," and the wit of pianist Dave Frishberg's "Zanzibar." She performs on the CD with pianist Harris Simon's trio, also featuring bassist Chris Brydge and drummer Billy Williams.

The O'Brien family resides in Charlottesville, Virginia, and its appearance at a Gotham boite is a rarity. But when they arrive it is an event not to be missed.


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