A Jazz Canary Update

Considering how important my jazz vocal practice is to me, I’m surprised that the last time I wrote about it was July. Back then, I never could have imagined how my life was going to change. So much has happened since then!

https://cdeminski.wordpress.com/2014/07/10/the-jazz-canary-an-update/

THE TECHNICALS…

I began taking jazz vocal lessons in July, which was an exciting first step. I’d never taken singing lessons.

My teacher started me on the basics with warm up exercises. Then she introduced me to wonderful singers I hadn’t heard of before like Carmen Mcrae (now one of my favorites,) Nancy Wilson, Dinah Washington and others, all with the purpose of familiarizing me with classic jazz standards.

At the beginning, I was really scared to sing, even in front of my teacher! My palms would start sweating in the car as I drove to her house, even though I had been practicing. Standing behind the microphone in her living room and listening to my voice booming out of the amplifier was unnerving.  Thank goodness she was encouraging every step of the way and gave me constructive feedback on how to improve.

After 7 weeks with my first teacher, she suggested in order to “build up my voice” that I go to one of her singing teachers who is a vocal technique specialist. I’m so grateful my teacher saw the potential in me and opened the door for me to take a next step. I can see how essential it’s been to my progress.

The vocal technique coach I’m seeing is amazing. She has helped me understand every mechanism that’s involved in singing, and how to use her techniques to improve. I do specialized exercises to shape vowels when I sing, or ensure my air passage is fully open to allow air flow, and how to make sure I’m not constricting my throat muscles to hit notes higher on the register. Since I began singing as an adult, these techniques are invaluable because although I may be singing for years to come, I didn’t start when I was a kid.

Singing is about building up muscles in the abdomen for breath support, and the throat has to be able to do a lot of “tricks” behind the scenes while you’re singing. All of that has to be so natural when it’s happening without thought or effort.

And while all of those lessons have been going on, I’ve been spending at least an hour a day doing warm ups, or assigned exercises or singing songs. It’s so clear to me how important repetition is to drive improvement. In order for your body to internalize what has to happen, it becomes part of muscle memory and part of your subconscious mind. You need to hear the notes in your mind before you sing them, and then you must hear those notes so accurately that you sing them exactly as you “hear” them in your head.

If that sounds complex, it’s because it is complex… but when it’s happening, especially after a lot of practice, it feels natural. And when it feels natural, there is a wonderful surge of adrenaline from being a bit nervous, but it can fuel good feelings of having fun. Most jazz songs don’t last very long, certainly less than four or five minutes, but when you’re behind the microphone in front of a crowd, it seems to last forever.

THE PERFORMANCE…

By the time September rolled around, I’d found several open microphone jazz jams that I began attending on a regular basis.

One very important place was Robin’s Nest in Linden, NJ. This is a small venue, but I made friends with so many of the regulars and the house band, I felt (and still feel) like I’m part of an extended family in that place. There was one singer in particular who took me under his wing, and gave me advice and tons and tons of encouragement.

Now, when I started taking lessons, I DID have a goal in mind. I wanted to sing at my local jazz jam at the Brightside Tavern in Jersey City. Singing at the jam was the whole reason I got started with lessons, although like I said at the beginning of this post, I had no idea how big an influence all of this would become in my life.

In order to push myself to achieve my goal, I sent out an invitation to a large group of friends to do a “debut” at the Brightside in mid-October. It was a fixed date on the calendar where I was making myself perform in front of a room full of people who knew me. Yes, it made me nervous as hell, but I felt without that date on the calendar, I’d just keep going to lessons and put off performing.

Thank goodness my mentor at Robin’s Nest suggested I begin singing there first as preparation for my big “debut” night. It took me a week to think about it, but on September 7th, I took the plunge and sang in front of a small crowd. I was absolutely terrified. I was trembling and sweaty, and I really didn’t know how to properly signal the band about the tempo I wanted to use… but somehow I managed to get it done. People came up to me later and said they didn’t think it was possible that was the first time I’d sung in public, which was really nice of them, and I felt very encouraged by their reactions. After that night, I decided to sing every Sunday night at Robin’s Nest to continue preparing for my debut at Brightside.

Sure enough, my mentor was so right, getting up and singing in front of a live audience before my debut was really important. I had originally planned to practice and prepare but use my debut as my first time out – and I’m mighty glad I didn’t do that!

On the night of my debut, October 13th, about 15 friends showed up on a rainy night, along with various musicians and regulars to the jazz jam at the Brightside. I sang Blue Skies, Bye Bye Blackbird and I Got Rhythm that night. Since then, Blue Skies has become a kind of signature song for me that I can sing most easily because I’ve been working on it the longest.

In the six weeks since my debut night, I’ve settled into a regular schedule of performance. Every Sunday I sing at the Robin’s Nest; on Mondays I’m at the Brightside Tavern; and now I also go to Crossroads in Garwood, NJ on Tuesday nights usually twice a month as well.

These jazz jams are filled with wonderful musicians and singers who have become good friends. I know dozens of people associated with the “jazz scene” in New Jersey and I’m so proud of that fact.

Singing for a live audience is an amazing experience. It’s liberating to me in a way like nothing else I’ve ever done before. In order for the performance to be the best it can be, I have to let go of everything including my fear of failure.

And of course I’ve made mistakes… not hitting the right note, not coming back into the song on time, forgetting lyrics, freezing up on stage, oh yes, I’ve had my share of scrapes and bruises “on stage” but as a very dear friend said to me, the best thing about music is that it floats out into the air during the moment you’re doing it, and then it’s gone. Then it’s time to move on to the next song.

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2 Responses

  1. Carol. this is awesome.

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