Singing looks as if it should be effortless. Learn the words or keep them visible, remember the melody, get some good accompaniment, open your mouth and let the swing come out. No valves to oil, no reeds to pamper, no dishes to wash. We all have voices and they sound good inside our head. Jazz singing — no worries. We’ve all heard Louis and Billie, maybe even sung along with them in the car.
Dream on, I say. Singing is the most treacherous act, requiring great courage and skill. There is an art to staying on pitch, having the proper intonation, remembering the lyrics, not getting lost.
Then there are the mysteries arts of appearing natural, having a pleasing voice (whether it is beautiful or not), understanding the song so that one can deliver its message without copying the famous recorded performance. Telling a story. Telling several stories.
Dawn Lambeth isn’t simply someone who sings. Dawn is a singer, and there is a great difference.
I first heard her on a CD, her debut as a leader, a dozen years ago, and I was enchanted by her lovely dark voice, her graceful swing, her great variety of easy medium tempos, her gentle expression of the apt feeling for each song.
She also possesses great humility — something rare — which one sees in her choice to serve the song rather than making the song a blank canvas for her own ego. Dawn wants us to hear just how beautiful a song is — Hart’s wry rhymes, Rodgers’ soaring melody — rather than insisting that we admire her, her hair stylist, her attitude. She doesn’t belt; she doesn’t carry on or dramatize. Among other singers, she admires Lee Wiley, Mildred Bailey, Billie Holiday, Connee Boswell, but she makes sure that any performance is more than her download of an mp3 of the original Brunswick or Vocalion.
So one of the greatest pleasures of the recent San Diego Jazz Fest was a plenitude of performances by Dawn: she sang with her own trio (Ray Skjelbred and Marc Caparone, with a guest appearance by John Otto), with Ray’s Cubs (Ray, Marc, Jeff Hamilton, Katie Cavera, Clint Baker), with Conal Fowkes in a wonderful duo, and with Dave Stuckey’s Hot House Gang (among others, Dan Barrett, Corey Gemme, Nate Kettner, Katie Cavera) . . . abundance in abundance.
Here are three very subtle, very warm performances by Dawn, Ray, piano; Marc, cornet, on November 25, 2016.
I’VE GOT A FEELING I’M FALLING:
I’LL NEVER BE THE SAME:
More to come, thank goodness. And thank Dawn for keeping swinging sweet melody so alive.
May your happiness increase!