Bringing a new band to life

Raise the Bar Band - FINAL LOGO

This year has been phenomenal so far, and Carol Deminski Productions has gotten off the ground! I’m now managing three different bands: Carol Deminski and the Little Jazz Birds; The Carol Deminski Dixieland Band and now… the Raise the Bar Band too!

The Raise the Bar Band came out of my desire to play a wider variety of music beyond jazz, and to keep my band members, and me, playing out on a regular basis.

I started by thinking about what kind of music I wanted to focus on, which wasn’t easy. There are so many bands out there doing cover material, and I didn’t want to be playing songs that — while I enjoyed them — were being over-played. In my opinion, we don’t need another band doing Allman Brothers and Jimmy Hendrix covers, although I love both of those artists / bands.

So with that as my guide, I set off on a journey to bring together songs I felt were cohesive as a group. Things I liked and would want to sing, and would nod to my roots as a singer coming out of a jazz and blues tradition. For example, Stevie Wonder’s Sir Duke is a pop song with a terrific dance beat, but the lyrics talk about the great lineage of jazz heritage we have in the works and performances of Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, and others. So yes, that’s on the list.

Certain artists began to pop up on my radar as I spent many hours listening to songs I loved, and then meandering around on YouTube, serendipitously moving from one video to the next with “suggestions” that sometimes appealed, and many times didn’t. This process of coming up with a core repertoire took weeks. Songs moved back and forth between a primary and secondary list (which I still have) and then even within the primary list, became further prioritized based on what might make sense for a 3 hour show … the typical length of time a band plays.

I’m often told that I’m organized, and I don’t disagree. That said, the process of finding the initial band repertoire was a lot of FUN. I wound up with early rock and roll, mixed in with fun “classic oldies” that people will know and love – but haven’t heard in awhile – along with New Orleans flavored material too. ALL of it is highly danceable too.

While I was doing that, I was simultaneously pulling together a group of musicians who wanted to do this music. That was also challenging because it’s no great secret that music is not a high paying endeavor.

—->I could diverge at this point and do an entire diatribe on how musicians are vastly underpaid for their talents, but I won’t. <—-

So for a musician to agree to get involved with my project, it meant a bunch of things. The music I was choosing was something that appealed to them, and they would enjoy playing it. Maybe they knew a bunch of the songs already, and they were willing to learn the ones they didn’t. And very importantly, they would be willing to REHEARSE.

Rehearsals are a dirty word to some musicians. For those that don’t want to rehearse, they will flat out refuse to get involved in a band project because it takes too much time. I get it, even if I may not like it! There has to be a balance between how much time you spend learning new material, and working on your own practice, which good musicians ARE doing on their own.

So I was very lucky to find excellent quality musicians to play with who agreed to participate in rehearsals. It’s not like we’re rehearsing every week, but we have to be able to get together just enough to nail down song introductions and endings, and for everyone to know their parts.

…so far, so good. I had a list of songs I liked, and group of musicians who wanted to play those songs with me.

The next hill to climb was … who would give us a chance to play this material at their bar / nightclub / restaurant, etc?

This is the part of being a bandleader that is pretty tough. Without existing relationships with club bookers where this kind of material was being performed, it meant I had to go to the phones and start from scratch. Until now I’ve been booking jazz gigs, so I’m in the process of expanding my reach to venues who want cover bands, and those types of venues are usually quite different.

I’ve spoken to some bandleaders and others about this part of the business, and they absolutely detest it. Some people dread making cold calls because of the rejection they have to face.

When I first started the process of making these calls, I didn’t like it either. It might take 15 calls with a NO answer to get to one YES (maybe more.) The amount of follow up to get the right person on the phone AND get a yes from them is time consuming. But now, after months of ploughing in and just doing it, I find I enjoy “the hunt” and “the close.” There’s a satisfaction when I book a new venue where I haven’t played before, and I’ve been able to establish enough of a rapport with the booker so that my band has a shot to come in, wow the crowd, and be invited back for that extremely important second gig.

Thankfully, given my time and energy, my band is now booked for a couple of gigs, and once I’m able to have my band on videotape playing this material, I’m 100% sure I will be able to book even more gigs.

If you have read this far, please be sure to visit the Raise the Bar band page here: There you’ll see a photo collage of artists that inspired me for the band’s song list, and photos of band members.

If you are also in New Jersey, and want to attend a Raise the Bar Band show, go to the Carol Deminski Productions website and check out the SHOWS  tab, for a complete calendar!



Announcing the new Carol Deminski Productions website!

Hi All!

I have put together a website to make it easy for people to find me if they are looking to hire a Jazz/Blues band!

Please check out!

On the website you can find a Contact Page; music videos; a show calendar; photos and bios of some of the musicians who play in my bands; a produced events page, and more!


Take a look at the “Shows” calendar page for a list of events, beginning with the next available show. Right now, it shows my event for tomorrow night at the top!

Carol Deminski Productions - shows.JPG

Click on the graphic on the left side, for the event poster, so you see the whole thing… it looks like this!


On the “Shows” page I hope you’ll notice I’ve gotten into creating a poster for each gig I’m doing. Some of them are very colorful.

On March 5th, I’ll be playing a Sunday Brunch event at Ocean Place Resort & Spa, in Long Branch, NJ. That hotel is located on the beach, and the restaurant has a beautiful view of the ocean, so I chose a watery ocean themed poster style.


When you check out the site, if you want to reach me, feel free to use the Contact form!

If you know of someone who is looking for a high quality Jazz/Blues band, I’d appreciate any referrals too. It’s always tough, when getting started, to build an audience and I can use all of the friend-referrals I can get!

Thanks, and I hope you like the new site!

Continued Success for Singer Celebration!


One of the popular events I host each month is Singer Celebration. I’ve written about it on this blog elsewhere, but I thought I’d mention that there is a big Holiday Edition of this event coming up this Saturday night.

Details: Singer Celebration, Sat, Dec 17th, DLV Lounge, 300 Bloomfield Ave, Montclair, NJ. 9pm to midnight. SINGERS are welcome to come and sing a favorite Jazz, Blues or Holiday tune with my swingin’ band! It’s a great opportunity to meet lots of other singers from the area.

And if you are interested in live music performances in New Jersey, please look at my Facebook page: @CarolDeminskiProductions. There you will find a list of events.

Another place you can find more information is Carol Deminski Productions. I have music videos, photos, along with other tasty goodies you will enjoy!

We will continue on with Singer Celebration in 2017 too….

For the January Show, we will have an amazing Featured Jazz Vocalist!


For the February Show, our Featured Vocalist will be a fabulous Blues singer!




Singer Celebration – THIS SATURDAY – Aug 27

Me and Michael - Priory April 27 2016

Carol Deminski, MC and Lead Singer with Michael Mittelsdorf, Drummer


SINGER CELEBRATION is this Saturday, August 27th, at the DLV Lounge, 300 Bloomfield Ave, Montclair, NJ. The action starts at 9pm; there is No Cover.

There will be a fantastic 8 piece band, including: piano, bass, drums, guitar, trumpet, saxophone, trombone and clarinet! We also have a terrific Featured Vocalist, and numerous singers… hopefully, including you!

Come on out and join the fun! Sing a jazz song with us, and meet the other singers and musicians in this wonderful community.

The DLV is a cozy place which regularly hosts live music. I’m glad we are part of their line-up. I look forward to seeing old friends, and meeting new ones. See you there!

DLV Postcard - final resize

Singer Celebration – Aug 27th

It’s getting to be that time again, for another Singer Celebration event at the DLV Lounge in Montclair, NJ. On Aug 27th, I’ll be hosting this end-of-Summer get together for jazz singers and musicians!

Saturday, August 27th, from 9pm-12M, DLV Lounge, 300 Bloomfield Ave, Montclair, NJ.

Carol and The Little Jazz Birds - DLV band regulars

I’m happy to say that the band that’s been playing at these events (since March) has had a lot of the same players. This time, we’ll have most of the same guys back again, including Steve Johnson – trombone, JJ Bell – tenor sax, Jim Bogle – trumpet, Michael Mittelsdorf – drums, Jon Boudrot – guitar (and this time, also ukulele) and Billy Carrion Jr. – bass.

Ahh, but who will be on the keyboard? I’m glad you asked! We will be fortunate to have the talented Max Marshall, who you may also sometimes find playing keys at Cleopatra’s Needle in Manhattan.

Max Marshall on piano

But, if you know the Singer Celebration program, you also know there is usually a featured singer. And this coming show is no different. I’m proud to announce that John Bianchi will be not just our featured vocalist for the evening, he will also be on the bandstand playing clarinet for the night … bringing our amazing bandstand to a whopping 8 players.

John Bianchi by Barney Bishop

Not only can John sing and play clarinet, he also plays saxophone, guitar and as you see in this photo, he rocks a mean ukulele too. As you might imagine for someone so talented, John also writes his own songs, and on show night he will perform “I’m Going Back to My Dreams” one of his original compositions. (I have heard him sing this piece, so trust me when I say you will not want to miss his charming performance!)

And what, if anything, is still missing for show night?

YOU, that’s what!

There are so many talented jazz singers that have come through to perform during these events, I’m very grateful to have all of you participate! I’m hoping to see some folks that have been supporters from the beginning (you know who you are!) as well as some new faces too!

Please join us, Saturday, August 27th, from 9pm-12 midnight … DLV Lounge, 300 Bloomfield Ave, Montclair, NJ.

The DLV doesn’t charge a cover, although our hard working band appreciates tips.

Hope to see you there!

When the jazz bug bites

I used to laugh when I heard “the jazz bug bit” (name of famous musician) and their life wasn’t the same afterwards. I didn’t understand it at all, and moreover, I thought it was an exaggeration of someone who really loved to play music and did it well.

But lately, I’m beginning to understand that the “jazz bug” is something real. It’s obsessive. And I have been ‘infected’ with the jazz bug (some would suggest I call Dr. Jazz, but I don’t think that would cure me!)

When I started my journey, WAY back in the Summer of 2014, I had a very simple goal. I wanted to be able to get up at a local jazz jam in my neighborhood and sing a few songs with the band. I knew that the musicians playing at the jam were professionals, and so I felt that since I hadn’t been a singer previously, that it was important that I take a few lessons to make me competent enough to get up in front of others and sing. (And no, I had never done – and still haven’t done – karaoke.)

After half a dozen lessons or so, my excellent jazz vocal teacher wisely suggested that I begin taking vocal technique lessons. I was so enthusiastic about my progress to date, and still very excited about the prospect of singing in front of an audience, I jumped at the chance to study with my most excellent vocal technique coach.

In retrospect, this was one of a few turning points for me, because it moved me from wanting to “just get up and sing a few” to really understand the mechanics behind what I needed to do to sing properly. I didn’t realize it at the time.

Eventually I had my public debut, and had to conquer my absolute terror of singing in front of a live audience. (Something which I have conquered to a great degree, although I still get a bit fluttery from time to time.) The debut went well, and there were so many people around me who were incredibly supportive. They offered advice, lots of applause and praise for each baby step forward, which was undeniably motivating to keep me going when things were tough.

Soon I was getting feedback (correctly) that my repertoire was limited as a beginner, and I needed to work on expanding my song list. And so began a period of more intensive study of various singers and material.

This led me to periods of frustration, entirely of my own doing, because I liked songs that no one else knows. Of course, this led me to a new teacher, who could work with me to help me learn these lesser known songs and write charts for me. He also was helpful in giving me introductions to basic theory, and blues and gospel scales too.

As all of this was going on, I began increasing the amount of time I invested in getting out in public to sing. And the more I sang in public, the easier it became to sing in front of live audiences.

Along the way, I learned more and more about how to interact with musicians, including knowing that I had to tell them the key for my song, explaining what tempo I wanted, and eventually when I learned more, giving them information they needed to help play the song before and during the performance (the bridge goes to Bb Minor; or, let’s do this as a bossa; or, touching the top of my head when I was supposed to come back in, indicating I wanted to sing the song from the top.)

And again, there were times I was frustrated. For example, when I was learning how to sing behind the beat, I realized I needed more help on my sense of timing. So I decided to take lessons with a drummer to help me internalize this sense of timing. His help was so invaluable, I know I took a leap forward in my ability to “swing” jazz songs due to his instruction and help.

I sometimes think that maybe, if I had started as a kid, maybe I would have picked this stuff up over many years of practice. I would have had lots of time to internalize many lessons and evolve my skills.

As an adult though, I feel a sense of intense urgency to learn things as quickly as I can… and frankly, to work hard when I have internal resistance to doing things that will help me up my game.

I regularly re-organize my practice routine to help me maximize what I get out of my practice time. And I just stumbled upon a helpful (and free!) handbook that I’ve been reading that is pushing me forward yet again.

Jamey Aebersold Jazz Handbook:

Perhaps my biggest weakness right now is my ability to improvise during a song, in the way I’d like to be able to do it. I’m not trying to be Ella Fitzgerald, but I would like to feel a sense of freedom when improvising that I don’t feel today. I have plenty of other things I’m still working on, and I strongly suspect it’s a lifelong path I’m on, but for right now, improvisation is a critical jazz skill that I need to nurture along more forcefully than what I’ve been doing to date.

When I go back and listen to all of the recorded lessons I have had, with EVERY SINGLE TEACHER who has given me their valuable time, advice, guidance and mentorship… they have all told me that I needed to do stuff that I refused to do. Like, memorize scales. Like, sit down at a keyboard (every  day) and tap out notes and sing them. Like, start improvising everyday when I sing in practice. (This seems so obvious.) Like, take the two most common jazz blues keys of Bb and F, and improvise to them. (This last piece of advice is spelled out directly in the Jazz Handbook referenced above.)

I am obsessed with getting to the next level. And many days I wish I was 20 years old so I had a few extra decades to play with in order to get to many next levels. But I don’t. The clock is ticking. Hell, Charlie Parker was dead at 34, and I passed that mark long ago. Oh well. I’m too fanatic at this point to stop anyway.

The jazz bug is real. I’ve been bitten, and I can’t wait to scratch my itch.

May 7th at the DLV Lounge!

Singing at the DLV - Carol and Michael

“Carol Deminski and the Little Jazz Birds” will be playing at the DLV Lounge in Montclair, NJ on Saturday night, May 7, 2016, from 9p-12M.

Please join me and my band, including keyboard, bass, drums, trumpet and trombone … sit ins welcome! I’ll be the hostess and lead vocalist. We’ll have two featured vocalists, along with many expected guest singers. It will be FUN for participants and audience alike!

The DLV is a small club which emphasizes live jazz. They have jazz jams on Tuesday and Thursday (9-11:30p), special Latin Jazz nights, and other jazz performances. The DLV is homey and inviting, with reasonably priced drinks and a newly opened kitchen offering comfort food. DLV Lounge, 300 Bloomfield Avenue, Montclair, NJ, 07042.




The Fundamentals

My new "doumbek" or goblet drum

My “doumbek” or goblet drum


If you are a regular reader, you know I began taking jazz vocal lessons last year … then I had my public “debut” in the Fall where I sang in front of an audience for the first time.

Yup, that's me ... with a wonderful drummer behind me.

Yup, that’s me … with a wonderful drummer behind me.

Since the Fall of 2014, I have been going out to sing jazz regularly, by which I mean at least once a week, and usually 2-4 times a week. I’m proud to say I’ve gotten to know many incredible and talented jazz singers, musicians and jazz drummers.

And to make progress in my musical journey, I’ve had a number of different teachers. I began with a jazz vocal teacher, then I took lessons with a vocal technique specialist. These lessons were the beginning of building my voice and increasing my range.

I had a lot of work to do on my own too. I practiced for many hours everyday. I still practice everyday, but more on that later.

Once I had the beginning basics, and I can’t emphasize enough how “basic” I mean … there are many singers who have been singing for years … I don’t fall into that category. All of my lessons were an “I’m starting from scratch” point of view.

In any case, I moved onto taking lessons with a keyboardist who is brilliant and deeply grounded in the blues and gospel aspects of music and has been able to help me incorporate some of that into my singing. There’s no way on earth I’m going to claim that I sing Blues or Gospel. NO way. However, I hope that as I make progress with this particular teacher, that I can incorporate the flavor of that into my singing.

And again I must emphasize, for someone to sing this way who has never sung this way before, it’s beyond challenging. Blues and Gospel have their own scales and the music has a different feel to it. Incorporating that into jazz is a whole other thing again.

Beyond those lessons, I’ve also done something a bit unusual. I’m taking “rhythm” lessons with a highly talented, well respected jazz drummer. I’m not calling my lessons “drumming” lessons. The purpose of these lessons is not for me to become a drummer (although I find tapping out rhythms on my little doumbek drum pictured above amazingly fun). The purpose is to improve my rhythm and timing when I’m singing.

And now, I can “read” some drumming notations, with whole, quarter, eighth and sixteenth notes. And pretty soon, we’ll get to swing rhythms too. Woo!

Great singers have so many techniques in their vocal arsenals. Two such techniques are “singing behind” and “singing ahead of” the beat. There are many jazz vocalists who do this, and for my money, I’ll take Carmen Mcrae any day as a classic example.

Here’s a good article on jazz singing techniques with video examples:

And an excerpt about a singer’s sense of time:

Elemental to jazz is a complex, driving rhythm, produced most often by the bass, drums, and piano – the standard rhythm section of a jazz group.  Though her back-up group produces the beat, the singer sets the tempo.  The accompanying musicians correlate with her tempo, which may not synchronize exactly with the beats they play.  Some singers intentionally sing behind or ahead (less frequently) of the beat, as part of their interpretation of the song.  That is not to say that they are not keeping good time; they are merely not hitting the beats at the same time as the rhythm section.  Billie Holiday and Carmen McRae, both famous for their lyric interpretation, sang behind the beat in order to achieve an emotional suspense. As part of having a good sense of time, a jazz singer is able to sing in various tempos, from fast bebop tunes to languid ballads. 

ALL of the things I’ve mentioned in this posting so far are about getting down the most basic fundamentals in order to be a halfway decent singer. (I’m halfway decent some of the time, haha!)

Today I had a rhythm lesson, and I got into a conversation with my teacher about how I’ve been having difficulty with a particular song I’ve been trying to learn, and have been practicing for several months.

He took me over to my keyboard and asked me was I practicing scales? Um… nope. I had been doing some of that with my vocal technique coach, but I haven’t consistently been doing that on my own at home.

What I have been doing is singing songs. Lots of them. Learning new ones. Memorizing lyrics and melodies, and then trotting them out at jazz jams.

But, as he pointed out, if he asked me to sing a “C” note, would I be able to do that? Um… nope. Uh oh.

So, as fundamental as all of my studies have been, they haven’t been fundamental enough. And he rightly pointed out, it may not be as much fun to sit in front of the keyboard plinking out notes in the major scales and going up and down the keyboard for hours and hours but the payoff is immense once the fundamentals are known and fully understood.

How long will that take?

Oh, years, probably.

But, I have made progress from where I started in July 2014, with my very first singing lesson.

Last night, I went out to sing jazz...

Last night, I went out to sing jazz…


Just last night, I was out singing at a jazz jam, and a young woman who is a server at this place said to me, “I’m so glad you came to sing tonight. When I hear you sing, it makes me feel happy.” I’ve gotta tell you, that is an incredible payoff for me. Hearing her say that made me feel like even if she is the only person I reached in the audience with my performance, boy, was it worthwhile!

That said, staring face to face with a highly proficient, talented jazz musician who has been at it for years, who is telling me I need to go to the keyboard and do the work, I say: Yes, I do.

There is no other answer.

I liken the stuff I love most to candy. I just learned the song “Let’s Get Away From It All.” It goes, “Let’s take a boat to Bermuda, Let’s take a plane to St. Paul, Let’s grab a kayak to Quincy or Nyack, Let’s get away from it all,” etc. Well, that is tons of fun! I can sing that, and I loved learning the fun lyrics.

But learning that song, and even performing that song, is not going to get me where I need to go on rhythm and timing, singing intervals, singing chromatics and doing fancy shmancy singing stuff that I want to do.

It’s back to the basics, again.

The fundamentals. You gotta have ’em.

Living in the Past – Thanks Mildred!

In December, I wrote a post called I’m a Human Jukebox. That post was about how few songs I know and how I’m building my repertoire of jazz songs I can sing. It’s still true…

And as I’ve been building my repertoire, I’ve spent time doing some research to figure out which songs I might enjoy singing.

After reading parts of Jazz Singing: America’s Greatest Voices from Bessie Smith to Bebop and Beyond by Will Friedwald, I started to become more familiar with early jazz singers. The Friedwald book is an incredible resource and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to learn about the history of Jazz vocalists.

By listening to more of Bessie Smith (1894-1937), whose indelible influence has lasted throughout the decades since she was most popular in the 1920’s and 30’s, I have added the St. Louis Blues to my repertoire. It’s a fantastic early jazz tune by W.C. Handy made popular, I believe, by Bessie Smith’s rendition of it.

And after listening to so many other songs by Bessie, I began to take a much more serious interest in the 1920’s and 1930’s jazz singers and popular songs of that time period.


One singer who is vastly under-appreciated today is Mildred Bailey. Bailey was hugely popular in the 1930’s and had numerous top hits.

She recorded dozens of songs, and played with such greats as Paul Whiteman, Bennie Goodman, the Dorsey Brothers and Red Norvo, the latter of which she took as her third husband. Unfortunately, Mildred had diabetes, and died very young at the age of 44. I can only imagine how many more songs she would have done if she had lived longer, but nonetheless she had a spectacular career.

In 1937, Mildred recorded The Moon Got In My Eyes.

(Here is a link to her singing the song on YouTube:

Even though this song is not one of her absolute top hits (Rocking Chair seems to be one of her all time top hits) I find this song so charming. In working with one of my (many) jazz teachers, I was able to get a chart of the chords and learn it well enough to perform this song. It’s now in my repertoire.

One of the nicest reactions I’ve had to my singing in public has been to this song. Especially old timers, people who know a lot of jazz songs, are surprised when I sing this because they usually don’t know it.

I love the idea that, through my research, I can give new life to jazz songs that are laying dormant because no one else is singing them. And the 1920’s and 1930’s are a total GOLD MINE of material.

For example, if you think Ray Charles is the person who first sang Georgia on My Mind, then you are wrong. Here is a link to a clip of Mildred Bailey, singing the song in 1931. (Yes, 1931!)

I guess I’m kind of a music geek, when it comes to doing research on early jazz songs. The lyrics of so many of these tunes are funny and charming. Some of the tunes are straight forward, and relatively easy to learn too. (Not all of them though!) I’m grateful that I seem to share some part of Mildred Bailey’s vocal range, so for certain songs that she sang, I can craft my own version of the song but learn it directly from her original recording.

Yes, I like living in the past, musically speaking. I’m adding many songs to my repertoire from this early jazz time period, and in turn, introducing my audiences to these songs too. I hope they like hearing them as much as I like singing them… because I really love singing these songs.

Thanks Mildred!

Why A Singer Has to Be Every Instrument

Me singing St. Louis Blues at a jazz jam. 12-7-14

Me singing St. Louis Blues at a jazz jam. 12-7-14

I began my journey as a singer only about 5 months ago, when I started taking jazz vocal lessons. In early September I got up and sang in public for the first time, and by mid-October I had a “debut night” for friends, and since then I’ve been singing at jazz jams at least twice a week… sometimes more.

There are so many lessons I’ve learned by getting up and singing in public. What I’d like to reflect on today is how a singer needs to be every instrument.

There are a lot of things I mean when I say that.

First, a singer has to have a strong sense of time, and needs to be in the groove with the rhythm section. While the singer doesn’t have to be a drummer, it certainly helps when a strong sense of time is embedded in your brain. Some singers sing ahead of, or behind the beat. In order to do that well, you have to have an impeccable sense of timing.

When I sing a song all the way through, and then the band begins doing their solos, I have to know exactly where I am in the song so that I can come back in after the solos and begin singing again to complete the song.

Singers sometimes get “lost” in the tune and don’t know where to come back in, either because they lost count, or they don’t have the lyrics running in their head, or both. A good keyboardist will “cover” for the singer’s error, and just keep playing the tune again until the moment to come in comes back around again, and if you’re sitting in the audience you may see the guy on the keys give a nod or a little signal to the singer to come back in. More advanced singers don’t need these signals, because they know exactly when to come back in.

Beyond that, a singer has to be listening for the changes that the keyboardist is playing to sing a tune with proper pitch. Of course, the singer should have the proper pitch in their head first, and the correct note can come out whether there is music playing or not, but when you are at a jazz jam, what if the keyboard player didn’t hear your key correctly and starts playing your tune in the wrong key? You’d better not start singing until you correct him.

Aside from that, the human voice – as an instrument – should be flexible enough to create sounds that are more “flute-like” or “trumpet-like,” depending on what is desired. If you listen to the live recording of Ella Fitzgerald in Berlin doing Blue Skies, in her scat solo she often sounds like a trumpet. Words like “bop” “dee” and “dot” can sound like a trumpet when sung.

To me, one of the greatest aspects of singing live jazz is the fantastic collaboration a singer can have with a band, to get things swinging and then everybody has a great time.

What experiences have you had, as a musician or a singer, that you’d share with others when it comes to creating the best possible performance?

I’m a Human Jukebox

As a newbie jazz singer, I’m well aware of how few songs I can perform in public. Now that I’m singing at jazz jams regularly – at least twice a week – I get asked by other musicians and audience members to sing certain songs. Most of the time I don’t know them.

About a week ago, a drummer asked me if I knew any Barbara Streisand tunes. Nope. Then later that night, a guy in the audience told me how much he enjoyed my singing and did I know any Broadway tunes, like from Les Miserables? Uh, nope.

Tonight I went to a jam, and a saxophone player asked me if I knew East of the Sun and West of the Moon, a tune I’ve heard so many times at jams but I have not learned. So, no. He was surprised, so I had to explain that I’ve only been singing in public since September. Then he said, oh, you’re still building your repertoire.

Ah yes, my repertoire. One of my important mentors talks to me about this all the time. You have to build your repertoire, he says to me, you have to learn more songs.

Yes, yes, I’m working on it!

I’m becoming a human jukebox one tune at a time.

The thing is, it is totally different to sing a song at home, or even within my practice sessions vs. performing it in public. First, as I’m learning a tune, I must learn the melody perfectly. Of course, I must also know all the lyrics and I must understand the rhythm of how the lyrics and melody are combined. Then, I need to ensure I’ve selected a good key for me so I can hit all the notes.

This seems obvious and maybe it even seems “easy” until you decide you are going to perform a song in front of a roomful of people. Then you’d better know exactly where you are going to take your breaths for each phrase, and you’ve got to know the lyrics and melody well enough to sing them even when you can’t hear yourself. There are many reasons why that can happen, like the band is too loud, the singer’s microphone is not turned up enough, the stage monitor is not loud enough (if you’re lucky enough to have a monitor), but if you know a song well enough, you’re singing the notes from your head and the notes in your head are in correct pitch.

So it actually takes me many weeks of practicing a song within my daily singing practice to even approach being able to sing it in public. There are certain songs, like The Very Thought of You, that have such a big range and require a lot of transitions between my head voice and my chest voice that I’m still unwilling to perform the song in public. I’ve been practicing that song privately since I began taking lessons in July, but I’m not ready yet. I’m not confident I can hit all the notes consistently.

When I look at the “play list” on my personal jukebox, it’s not very long. I’ve learned some basic standards that everybody at a jazz jam knows but now I’m starting to learn songs that I hope not everyone will know.

And why would I want to learn songs not everyone will know? Well, because a lot of what I hear at jazz jams is repetitious. At first I didn’t know most of the tunes, so it was all new to me. (The truth is I still don’t know a lot of tunes, especially if they are instrumental only…but anyhow…)

Now, when I go to a jazz jam, I know at least 75% of the songs presented … even if I don’t sing them myself (yet.) For example, I haven’t performed The Autumn Leaves or It Could Happen To You or Green Dolphin Street in public, but I’ve been practicing those tunes at home and yes, I’ve heard those tunes many times at jams. I know I should learn Route 66, but as a tune I think it’s cliché, I don’t want to perform it when I know everybody and their sister can perform it anyway. (People tell me that about Bye Bye Blackbird, but I like that song and perform it anyway.)

So lately, even though I’m a newbie, I’m trying to find songs to add to my jukebox that are not as common at jazz jams. For example, I’ve never heard anyone perform the St. Louis Blues at a jam (yet) but I’m learning that one now. I want to be able to perform it.

It’s a classic tune. Louis Armstrong did it, as did Bessie Smith, Billy Holiday and many others. Some tunes, like St. Louis Blues, are more old fashioned, and I guess it’s probably why people don’t perform them as much. They’d rather sing Fly Me to the Moon, which is fine.

I’m keeping a list of all the songs I want to check out and eventually learn, and that list is already pretty long and growing constantly.

Thank goodness for an essential tool like YouTube, which can be used to quickly conduct research on a song. Within minutes you can listen to three or four different versions of the same tune by a variety of singers.

For singers that have been doing “the jazz thing” for a long time, their jukeboxes are chock-a-block full of songs. Some of those songs they perform regularly and others are gathering dust because no one put in the quarter and pressed those buttons. Still, with a little practice, they could get their groove back on those songs quickly.

But this human jukebox has a long way to go to have a decent selection. I guess one convenient fact of life is that at a jazz jam, it’s most typical for a singer to get up and sing two tunes.

Ah, but which two… that’s the thing. 🙂