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Take Five With Christiana Drapkin

AAJ Staff By

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Meet Christiana Drapkin: Christiana came to the US as a Fulbright exchange student in theater. At Tulane in New Orleans she immediately found her strength in her singing. After moving to New York, she's never looked back and found her true artistic home here. She's immersed herself in the standard repertoire of the American Songbook, as well as bebop lines. Her early classical European training keeps peeking through in improvisations that don't only lean on Lester Young and Charlie Parker, but also on everything from Bach to Bartok. She is noted for her highly personal delivery of lyrics, as well as for her abandoned and soaring scat lines.

Instrument: voice.

Teachers and/or influences? Brooklyn jazz pianist Charles Sibirsky has been her long-time teacher, mentor, and friend. Learning harmony from him and carrying on the musical ideas of the Lennie Tristano school has shaped her improvisations. Vocal coach Barbara Feller has been instrumental for Christiana to free up her natural voice and her phrasing. "I remember early on," says Christiana, "when I was a preschooler in Germany, hanging from the big knobs of our boxy Grundig radio, listening to Louis Armstrong. I felt loved, as if he was my Daddy! I adored his voice and laughter." Many musical influences followed after that. Mozart, Beethoven, Bach ruled supreme throughout Christiana's youth. Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Thelonious Monk seemed to follow as logical and emotional extensions, as well as Ella Fitzgerald's joyful scat, Anita O'Day's, Peggy Lee's and Blossom Dearie's brainy, tongue-in-cheek lines, Billie Holiday's emotional directness, and Sarah Vaughan's beauty of phrasing.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when... I was still in diapers. Everything around me had a rhythm. I always came up with melodies in my head. In school, I would memorize things by singing them to myself. I saw my first opera, Mozart's Magic Flute, when I was seven. I would play and sing all the parts with my hand puppets behind the sofa. I wrote my first opera (only got through the first act, though), when I was eight. Hearing melodies on the radio, whether classical or pop, I usually knew the end of the phrases before they got played. I sang all the time, made up songs, learned to play some classical guitar at ten, added the piano a bit later, but then followed my love for the theater. It was only as a theater student in the US that I came full circle back to my most powerful love, music. Finding jazz meant I found my true voice.

Your sound and approach to music: Listen to your fellow players. Know the changes. Listen to the words. Find the meaning that rings true to you. Love your audience. Look for surprises off the beaten path.

Your teaching approach: Learn the basic vocabulary—scales and chords. Go out and listen to as much live music in all genres as possible. Go out and jam. Copy the masters, and then take things in your own direction.

Your dream band: I'd love to be the warm-up act on tour for Nancy King, Tierney Sutton, or Anita O'Day.

Anecdote from the road: We're getting so many delighted and surprised reactions from our new program, Shakespeare and All That Jazz." Original words by the Bard set to jazz arrangements by Cleo Laine's husband, John Dankworth, Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn and others. These centuries-old lines become so immediate! They swing and go under your skin.

Favorite venue: Freddy's Backroom. It's dingy, smelly, the noise from the front bar spills over, but you can feel the love there every night. For my duo partner, bassist Stephanie Greig, and myself, it's an extension of our studio. At our regular gig there, we trot out new material, delve into unexpected genres, and create that incredible atmosphere of something live and raw that we share with our audience.

Your favorite recording in your discography and why? Unsung Heroes by Tierney Sutton. She gives such virtuosic vocal treatment to these tunes which were mainly known as instrumental only. She's courageous, no holds barred, and incredibly musical.

What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically? To motivate people to come out from behind their computers and TVs; to get out and support live music and musicians.

Did you know... That I loved finishing my degree in history not too long ago, focusing on globalization and colonialism.

How you use the internet to help your career? I had great help setting up my website from Louis Scherr at JazzConnect. Almost every day somebody comes to my virtual listening room and drops me a line. Once a month I send out my performance updates to my fans. But the best part is the one-on-one interaction.

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