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Take Five With Suzanne Cloud

Suzanne Cloud By

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Meet Suzanne Cloud:
Jazz singer-songwriter, educator, writer, and executive director of Jazz Bridge, a nonprofit that helps professional jazz and blues musicians in crisis.

Instrument(s):
vocals, piano

Teachers and/or influences?
My influences were wide and varied from the Broadway singer Mary Martin to jazz icon Sarah Vaughan to songwriter Randy Newman. When I was singing musical theater my voice coaches were Carol and Ed Locke. They were the best and when I couldn't afford the lessons, they taught me anyway. Great people who knew the human voice backwards and forwards.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when...
I sang and danced "Carolina in the Morning" with my friend Sandy for a Brownie banquet when I was five.

Your sound and approach to music:
My sound changed after I blew my throat out singing disco six nights a week. After surgery on my vocal cords, I went from being a coloratura soprano with lots of vibrato to a rich alto with almost no vibrato. My approach to music is to listen to as much as you can (that's nothing new)—for singers, you have to know hundreds of songs and that only comes from heavy absorption of the American songbook. And you have to know your way around a piano, even a little bit, to enhance your knowledge of what's going on around you when you're singing.

Your teaching approach:
I don't teach music. I teach history. But I guess my philosophy would be the same -to understand a moment in time, one must comprehend the context. For example, just listening to Billie Holiday's voice late in her career is not enough, you need to know what had happened to her in life. Just like Lester Young said to instrumentalists—know the lyrics of the songs you play—take that a step further, know the life and times of the great jazz interpreters and creators. You will learn much more than just playing back a song on your iPad.

Your dream band:
I've already worked with my dream band: Pianists Eddie Green, Jim Ridl, Sidney Simmons, and Ron Thomas. Bassists Tyrone Brown, Chico Huff, Lee Smith, Wayne Dockery, Steve Beskrone. Drummer Jim Miller and guitarist Jef Lee Johnson.

I'd like to work with almost anyone with something meaningful to say!

Road story: Your best or worst experience:
It was Y2K—New Years Eve in Philadelphia when the year was turning from 1999 to 2000. Every musician was getting paid big time that night and I wasn't any different. My band was Eddie Green, Jef Lee Johnson, Jim Miller, and Lee Smith and each of us were making $1,000 bucks for the night at a restaurant owned by Georges Perrier (of LeBec-Fin fame). They had hired us to be the high class jazz band upstairs and they would play disco downstairs. Well, that night the manager got roaring drunk and insisted that our band start playing top 40 disco hits. I said no, and he ripped my gown and almost threw me down some steps. Tense night. Old Georges declared he wouldn't give us our check, but we got paid after I threatened to sue him and his manager for assault...that night I decided I would never play another New Years Eve date. And I haven't.

Favorite venue:
Not Quite Cricket Room at the Latham Hotel, 17th and Walnut Streets in Philadelphia, PA. Very happy times for quite a few years.

Your favorite recording in your discography and why?
Now if you had asked, what is my least favorite...well I could probably answer that. But every recording has a story to it and I couldn't prioritize any of them.

The first Jazz album I bought was:
Sarah Vaughan: Live in Japan -Blew my head off!

What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically?
Helping professional jazz and blues musicians in the Philadelphia area when they are in times of trouble through Jazz Bridge. Founding this organization with Wendy Simon is my greatest achievement—greater than anything else I've done musically.

Did you know...
I like to hike and camp in the mountains.

CDs you are listening to now:
I listen to the channels I create on Pandora, so depending on my mood, I listen to classical, hard bop, folk, or ambient. It could be anything.

Desert Island picks:
George Gershwin: Concerto in F
Jaco Pastorius: Word of Mouth
Gil Evans and Johnny Coles: Out of the Cool/Into the Hot
Thelonius Monk: The Unique Thelonius Monk
Oliver Nelson: The Blues and the Abstract Truth

How would you describe the state of jazz today?
Healthy and well and spreading forth into the world's many corners.

What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing?
Live music

What is in the near future?
I'm working on two projects: One with jazz composer and orchestra leader Bobby Zankel for the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts in 2016 at the Kimmel. Another is a project with Uri Caine and Mike Boone for a special performance at the Philadelphia Clef Club in April 2015 on blue on black violence. Stay tuned!

What song would you like played at your funeral?
No funeral. Spread my ashes at Mt. Ampersand in the Adirondacks to the sound of the wind and birdsong.

What is your favorite song to whistle or sing in the shower?
"Honey Bun" from South Pacific.

If I weren't a jazz musician, I would be a:
War correspondent for the New York Times.
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