Scary and unsettling times call for soulful music, and fortunately Berkeley has no shortage of powerful and accomplished singers appearing on local stages in the coming days.
Jazz vocalist Andrea Claburn celebrates the release of her impressive debut album Nightshade Saturday at the California Jazz Conservatory, a performance that comes with the added satisfaction that she attained her jazz education at the school.
Her band draws on the CJC faculty, including drummer Alan Hall, percussionist John Santos, pianist Matt Clark, bassist Dan Feiszli, guitarist Terrence Brewer, and trumpeter Erik Jekabson, who celebrates the release of his own album A Brand New Take at the CJC on Jan. 27. All the players performed on Nightshade (except Feiszli, who engineered and mixed the album), a project that reflects the high level of creativity that’s coming out of the vocal program.
“It’s a locus over there,” Claburn says. “I got to know some as professors, some as collaborators in vocal performance classes. I walked into audition for the program and I met Matt. I knew who he was and I’d seen him play, so it was like, wow! I know he’s going to make me sound good. Erik and John were my professors.”
Raised in Davis, Claburn grew up studying piano under the encouragement of her mother, an attorney and fine classical pianist, while acquiring a love of jazz from her father. She always loved to sing, but it wasn’t until she had her first child that she started to consider the possibility of pursuing that passion.
“I was working at KQED as a unit manager and I enjoyed it, but I never felt like it was my calling or anything,” she says. “Everything changes with a kid. I stepped back and thought if I could do anything with my life, what would it be? I want to sing jazz. It’s easy to say follow your dream, but it’s hard to do.”
She started vocal studies with Raz Kennedy, who turned her onto the Jazzschool (which was rechristened as California Jazz Conservatory). Laurie Antonioli was in the process of attracting a powerhouse pool of faculty for the CJC’s jazz vocal program, and Claburn plunged in head first. Her work ethic and burgeoning creativity was recognized in the fall of 2010 when she earned the CJC’s Mark Murphy Vocal Scholarship, an award given to a singer who “demonstrates exceptional creativity and artistic promise.” She earned a Bachelor of Music from the Conservatory, and in 2015 she joined the faculty herself.
Rather than rushing to put out an album, she took her time and honed the songs and arrangements on Nightshade, a consistently captivating program that focuses on her originals. The album opens with the surging “Lionheart,” a song inspired by her younger daughter, “a fierce little thing,” Claburn says. “That driving sound is inspired by John Coltrane/McCoy Tyner sound of the 1960s.”
She puts a fresh spin on “Skylark,” romps through the hoary lament “After You’ve Gone,” and digs into Bill Evans exquisite harmonies on “Turn Out the Stars” (lyrics by Gene Lees). But she’s at her most impressive setting lyrics to existing jazz compositions, like “Bird on a Wire,” which is based on Pat Metheny’s “Timeline” (a piece introduced on Michael Brecker’s album Time Is of the Essence).
“Mike Clark brought that to my attention and said you should write lyrics to it,” Claburn says. “It’s from one of Brecker’s last albums, and Pat Metheny very graciously granted permission to use it.”
One of my favorite tracks is “Infinite Wisdom,” Claburn’s version of Duke Ellington’s classic “Echoes of Harlem.” She was riding on BART when the song came up on her iPhone shuffle and “Cootie Williams had me at the first note,” she recalls. “I thought this could be cool with lyrics. I was re-reading Langston Hughes at the time and borrowed the first line of his poem ‘Acceptance.’ ‘God in his Infinite wisdom did not make me very wise.’ I cleared it with his publisher and used that as a springboard for a song about betrayal and going back to Harlem.”
While Claburn is a relatively new face on the scene, several veteran vocalists continue to set a dauntingly high standard. The dynamic Miss Faye Carol continues her Sunday residency at the Back Room backed by pianist Joe Warner. Carol can croon soul and standards, scat hurtling bebop lines and deliver torch songs with scorching intensity, and everything she does is steeped in the blues. She’s mentored some of the finest improvisers to come out of the East Bay, including piano great Benny Green and saxophonist/drummer Howard Wiley.
Houston-based Jacqui Sutton makes her Berkeley debut Friday at Back Room, an exuberant performer, she has crafted a singular sound combining jazz and bluegrass “with other influences creeping in as the mood takes me,” she says. She’s the lead vocalist and bandleader who has assembled a core ensemble built on banjo and guitar, cello, bass, and piano.
And Pamela Rose rejoins forces with organist Wayne de la Cruz Friday at the CJC, reprising their joyous encounter on the 2013 album Hammond Organ Party. Rose is fully at home in the blues, and Cruz is an expert interlocutor. Vocal/B-3 pairings are relatively rare in jazz, and these two performers make a compelling case that this is overlooked territory.