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Take Five with Tish Oney


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Meet Tish Oney

Dr. Tish Oney tours internationally as a jazz vocalist and symphony pops soloist. She has recorded and produced five critically-acclaimed albums, taught voice and jazz at eight universities, and has served several more as an artist-in-residence. She has headlined at thousands of venues worldwide and has performed as soloist with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, Williamsburg Symphony, Spartanburg Philharmonic Orchestra, Symphoria, and several U.S. Army Bands including the Jazz Ambassadors, Pershing's Own Army Voices and Army Blues. She has arranged and composed hundreds of songs, and has premiered three off-Broadway shows at The Triad Theatre in NY and other venues. A highly-esteemed expert in jazz and voice, Dr. Oney is an active performer, visiting artist, master teacher, and author of peer-reviewed books and articles. She recently presented a lecture recital, "Documenting Standards," at the Documenting Jazz conference in Dublin, Ireland. A jazz journalist, Oney writes a quarterly column titled "Anatomy of a Standard" for All About Jazz and is authoring two books for music publisher Rowman & Littlefield. She earned a DMA in Jazz Studies with honors from USC Thornton School of Music and an MM with honors in Voice Performance from Ithaca College.


Voice is my primary instrument, while piano, drum set, and french horn are secondary.

Teachers and/or influences?

I have been blessed with amazing teachers throughout my musical development. I studied jazz voice with Dave Riley at Ithaca College as a member of the most amazing vocal jazz ensemble I've ever heard. Seriously—those student musicians were phenomenal and most of us are still singing (and/or playing) professionally. Dave taught us to be fearless improvisers as well as emphasized the importance of blending into the texture of the whole ensemble. If you can't do that, you might as well get another job because so much of music is about how well you co-create with others—not just what a brilliant soloist you are. Steve Brown has also been a huge influence—he made me his vocal soloist in the IC Jazz Orchestra while I was a grad student there and taught me the ins and outs of jazz arranging. Since having his tutelage I've arranged over 300 charts which fuel my touring shows. Steve and I are still gigging together and it's a huge pleasure. I just recorded his song, "Sweet Angel" on my new album (The Best Part, Blujazz) and it's up for Grammy consideration as Record of the Year. Tierney Sutton was my next teacher—I moved to southern California to study with her as I earned a DMA in Jazz Studies at USC. She helped kick-start my national touring and gave me a lot of great ideas for my own performances as well as for my teaching. Roy McCurdy, Shelly Berg, and David Arnay also taught me drum set, piano, and improv skills. Pretty much everyone I've ever listened to play jazz or classical music (or even some pop) has influenced me—I have always been a sponge—my ears take in everything, which is why I think it's super-important that professional musicians (and those aspiring to be so) protect their ears from garbage and noise. Only put in high quality music—beautiful sounds—to ensure that that's what flows out of you.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when...

I was in the womb. I grew up singing in church between my parents—Dad sang well, Mom did not, but she sure gave it her all! That was where I learned to read both music and the English language simultaneously. I was always a musician, playing piano and French horn in school while singing every chance I got. I became a pro by about age 15 and never looked back.

Your sound and approach to music.

My sound changes depending on the genre I'm performing at the moment. In addition to jazz I also perform classical music, baroque music, and early music. In a given week I may sing a big band concert, a church solo as a lyric soprano, and Italian madrigals with a viol ensemble. I think finding authenticity for every style you perform is integral to creating sincere, artistic performances.

Your teaching approach

Teaching is an outgrowth of one's passion for and expertise within the subject being taught. I meet my students where they are and address specific needs they currently demonstrate. It's different for everyone because everyone is at a different place in their musical journey. It's hard to put into words—if you really want to know, schedule a lesson with me and it will become clear.  Helping students tap into the joy of making music and equipping them to eventually answer their own questions are paramount principles in my teaching.

Your dream band

I'm fortunate to have already had several opportunities to perform with my dream band—namely guitarist John Chiodini and anyone he recommends filling out the ensemble. John and I love to tour together—we have also recorded four projects together and it's always an outstanding experience. Performing a live concert with him is unlike anything else I've experienced. We love taking chances and setting each other up to take risks, but never lose the support we offer to one another. In front of the audience we have a meeting of the minds on the right sides of our brains where all the music and creativity are! Audiences go nuts when they witness it—they realize they are seeing something incredible and unplanned, and it happens every time. What a thrill.

Road story: Your best or worst experience

The sheer number of best experiences are too numerous to mention—as I said, I have been truly blessed to perform as much as I have. It was thrilling to perform for 28,000 people over four days with the U.S. Army Jazz Ambassadors and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra this past summer! One of the songs we performed was an original of mine—that was an experience I will never forget. Touring with symphony orchestras and big bands is one my favorite things! If I do it for the rest of my life I will never get tired of it.

Favorite venue

Performing in Carnegie Hall was a career-shaping experience that I will always treasure. Also, performing on the Orchestra Hall stage in Detroit was enchanting—I now understand why so many have named that venue one of the finest music stages in the country.

Your favorite recording in your discography and why?

Albums are like children—each is very different, each presents its own set of challenges, but you love them all the same! I truly love them all. They each represent where I was at a different point along my timeline, and I honor each stage. My new one (The Best Part) is particularly loved right now, because it honors the original songwriting talents of my friends and mentors.

What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically?

Can any of us be truly objective about what we contribute? I hope I contribute honesty, sincerity, excellence, and beauty both to my community and to our musical community at large.

Did you know...

That I grew up on a farm, majored in microbiology at Cornell, previously worked in health care, and won the district spelling bee three years in a row... but not in that order.

The first jazz album I bought was:

The Best of Ella Fitzgerald.

Music you are listening to now:

Nat King Cole: The Unforgettable Nat King Cole (Capitol)
Cecile McLorin Salvant: The Window (Mack Avenue)
Fred Hersch: Open Book (Palmetto)
Peggy Lee: The Peggy Lee Songbook: There'll Be Another Spring (MusicMasters)
Matt Olson: 789 Miles (Origin Records)

Desert Island picks:

Peggy Lee: Black Coffee (Decca)
Earth, Wind, and Fire: The Eternal Dance (Columbia)
James Taylor: Greatest Hits (Warner Bros)
Ella Fitzgerald: First Lady of Song (Verve)
Take 6: doo be doo wop bop! (Reprise)

This, of course, should be taken with a grain of salt. As much as I love these five recordings, I love hundreds more and could no sooner live without Miles' Kind of Blue or something by The Manhattan Transfer...or a Beethoven symphony or Bing Crosby's voice...

How would you describe the state of jazz today?

Jazz is growing wherever it is supported and being played. I think the state of jazz depends on locale—in some places in Europe, Asia, and the Americas, it is flourishing. The music industry itself has changed immeasurably in the past thirty years, but jazz is holding its own. There have been some wonderful performances and recordings churned out by outstanding jazz musicians, and if the listening public wants that to continue, they will need to find new ways to support jazz.

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

Music education in both elementary and secondary schools needs to be restored as a core requirement rather than thought of by some misguided minds as a luxury, optional, or ancillary pursuit. The most well-rounded, highly-developed minds of our time participated in the arts as part of their core education. Audiences also need to try to actively support live jazz and purchase music directly from the artists they like. Streaming and downloading music doesn't support us nearly as much as purchasing our music directly from us (at our concerts and through our websites).

What is in the near future?

Right now we are promoting my fifth album, The Best Part. Next month I will perform a Nat King Cole centennial tribute concert—I have arranged the entire show. I am finishing up a book about the musical contributions of Peggy Lee and her legacy in American music which should be out next year on her one hundredth birthday, and I will be reprising my touring Peggy Lee Project also for her hundredth. I'm working on a song cycle for soprano and piano, and am arranging a Bach and Jazz concert combining baroque music by J.S. Bach with contemporary jazz. Next summer includes a tour of the UK!

What is your greatest fear when you perform?

I generally don't experience fear when I perform jazz, as the stage is my true home. It's where I'm most comfortable, where I feel safe to take risks, and where I can be myself.

What song would you like played at your funeral?

Great Is Thy Faithfulness and A Welsh Lullaby.

What is your favorite song to whistle or sing in the shower?

My favorite song to sing in the shower is Jerome Kern's "Pick Yourself Up." It's hard to stay down with all that encouragement and optimism.

By Day:

I'm proud to say my day job is practicing, writing music, arranging music, and preparing for concerts. It's a wonderful life.

If I weren't a jazz musician, I would be a:

Physician. I completed a pre-med degree and the MCAT before changing direction and pursuing music as my sole profession.

If I could have dinner with anyone from history, who would it be and why?

I would have dinner with Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire—their rhythm beat everyone else's, their musicianship shined brightly in their dancing, their precision and breadth of expression were unsurpassed, and they managed to have a sense of humor and acting talent to add to all that.

Top 5 favorite jazz composers:

Duke Ellington, Jimmy Van Heusen, Cole Porter, Henry Mancini, Maria Schneider.



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