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Take Five With Sylvia Brooks

AAJ Staff By

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Meet Sylvia Brooks:

Recording artist Sylvia Brooks has starred on the stages of many of the country's most respected theatres, performing the gamut from Shakespeare to American drama, to music theatre—to sold out performances. Now Ms. Brooks is taking an entirely different direction, and has just released her first album.

For the last two years, she has been involved in a serious collaboration with some of Los Angeles' best musicians. Together, they are bringing new and original arrangements to the Great American Songbook and timeless jazz classics. "This album is filled with the music and songs I grew up hearing as a child," says Brooks. "But it is only now that I finally feel that I can do justice to this great music. It has taken time, and now life has led me to this place. We have developed this project in rehearsal and in a number of performances at The Jazz Bakery, The Catalina Bar & Grill and M Bar." Those performances garnered Brooks and her musicians six Critic's Choice picks in the Los Angeles Times Calendar under Jazz and World Artists.

No stranger to jazz, Brooks was born and raised in Miami, and grew up in a musical family. Her father, a well-known jazz pianist, arranged, composed and played for such luminaries as Peggy Lee, Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie, Sarah Vaughan and Harry James. Her mother sang at the Eden Roc and Fountain Bleu, and the Playboy Club Circuit opening for Jimmy Durante, Rodney Dangerfield and others. She went on to become artistic director of a major opera company, and produced many seasons of opera.

At a young age, Brooks was invited to study classical theatre at the prestigious American Conservatory Theatre (ACT) in San Francisco, which led to her invitation to join the Company, followed by a growing career of performances with numerous companies. Her experience as a serious actor can be found in her singing, bringing new insights into every song. "This music speaks to me," she says. "It is timeless, yet it is so fresh and new there is always something to discover in it. The great singers of the past didn't just sing—they took you on a journey. They embodied each song with passion and brought their lives to the music. Sadly, it has become a lost art form; I want to bring it back to life."

As one critic said, "It's as if Brooks has lived this music; she and her musicians share an understanding of just what it is saying. I felt that I was actually hearing many of these songs for the first time. They take you on a journey, and bring something innovative and alive to the stage. Sylvia Brooks is definitely here; and that is a great thing."

Instrument(s): vocals

Teachers and/or influences? I studied acting at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco. I loved Lena Horne. Also I love Nancy Wilson and Dione Warwick.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when... I was born into a musical family, so I didn't really have much choice. I think in my rebellion, I decided to be a classical actress. However several years ago I started understanding the place my life had been leading me too. Which is what I'm doing now.

Your sound and approach to music: I believe in emotion. I think I gravitate towards songs in the 30's-40's and 50's because the melodies and lyrics are so rich. I love working in a collaborative way. Tom Garvin and I started working together several years ago. He use to joke that he doesn't collaborate, but the truth is we did. And I learned a lot from him. He did most of the arrangements on this album. And I've been fortunate that I've been able to work regularly with the guys on my Dangerous Liaisons album. They influenced this project and are a big part of what is on this CD.

Your teaching approach: I don't teach. I believe teachers need to be masters. And I'm still learning. I guess I will always be learning. When you stop growing, you might as well quit.

Your dream band: I would love to add more pieces, a guitar, more horns. I have worked with full orchestras and really love that.

Road story: Your best or worst experience: Once I was performing in a 1,700 seat theater, and there was a mentally challenged person in the front of the audience. And every time I sang the chorus of the song, he'd let out this big reverberating sound. It was quite a lesson.

Favorite venue: The 5th Avenue Theater in Seattle. I loved the theater, the producer, the crew. And, it was the same stage that Lena Horne performed on.

Your favorite recording in your discography and why? My dad's big band.

The first Jazz album I bought was: Immortal Concerts: Oscar Peterson Trio with Ray Brown and Ed Thigpen.

What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically? An understanding of what these great songs are saying.

Did you know... People don't realize how sensitive and vulnerable I am because I'm strong.

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