Wendy Beach Interview

24Jun10

We’re in for a rare treat this weekend at Vernon’s Jazz Club. Wendy Beach, who is just as delightful as her name suggests, performs Friday and Saturday nights at our little speakeasy, in our series, Jazz Has the Blues.

On Friday, June 25, Ms. Beach presents a tribute to the incomparable Carmen McRae.

On Saturday evening, Wendy pays tribute to McRae’s idol, Billie Holiday. We briefly caught up with Wendy to chat about giggin’ livin’ and music. Here’s the interview!

VJC: That’s some voice ya got! Tell us about your style, and your influences . . .

WB: Thanks for the compliment, and ooh, yeah, that’s a good questions…the style and influences…
I suppose growing up in Detroit, I listened to all the Motown stuff, including Aretha, of course.  I also got turned onto American, Irish and other folk music while playing with high school friends.  In those jams I played guitar, mandolin and even penny-whistle.  Lots of fun there.  Since I was young, my mom loved listening to gospel, and she and my dad used to sing and harmonize when we’d be driving in the car, which I always thought was really cool.  I think that helped me develop an ear for hearing more than just the melody.

Then, because I’ve been around lots of jazz players, I always listened to lots of jazz, then began singing it too.  I developed an appreciation of more involved harmony, which now translates to any kind of music I sing.  Although, you still have to pay close attention to what’s called for on the gig you’re doing.  For example, the approach I used to sing in a bluegrass band I was in many years ago would not go over in a jazz band, and vice versa.

VJC: You’re playing two dates at Vernon’s– what can we expect to hear?

WB: I’m singing tunes from both Carmen McRae and Billie Holiday, since Friday and Saturday are both tribute nights.  Carmen met and listened a lot to Billie (I don’t know whether they became good friends), so she had always done lot of Billie’s music.  She also apparently would include one of Billie’s songs in each performance, I imagine as sort of showing respect for her influence on Carmen’s approach to jazz.  So, I’m doing stuff that both of them did, and each of them did independently.  Of course, “God Bless the Child,” “Lover Man,” “Too Close for Comfort.”  Things like that.

VJC: You’re doing tributes to Carmen McRae and Billie Holiday. How have these two women influenced your music?

WB: I probably listened to Billie Holiday a lot early on.  Just like all singers, we all appreciate the good ballad, and Billie has, of course, done lots of those…  I remember finding a book about Billie’s singing in the library (probably originally began as someone’s dissertation) about Billie’s unique phrasing and approach to singing a line.  They broke her lines down into very sophisticated notation.  But it’s really coming from emotions.  You know she wasn’t thinking about all that stuff when she sang.  I’ve always appreciated that of her.

On the other hand, Carmen has that more sophisticated musicality, which ended up developing into a pretty greasy, gritty approach to many tunes.  How can you not love that “tell-it-like-it-is” thing that she does?

VJC: We’re just curious– what’s it like being a woman vocalist in a male-dominated business?

WB: It’s funny, because typically vocalists, whether male or female, receive similar treatment and, shall I say, suspicion, regarding their position in, or contributions to, the band.  It’s often not a respectful relationship.  Lots of things contribute to this–one of which is definitely the “woman” thang.  But, also, for example, many singers have not necessarily studied music or taken lessons, particularly until they start getting serious, so they don’t know how to discuss things about music like a musician.  Whether male or female though, serious musicians start getting a little, shall I say, picky about who they want to play with.  Like, “I work hard at what I do, and I want to play with other serious people who work equally hard to get better.”

There’s maybe also a little jealousy involved, however misplaced.  Nowadays especially, the vocalist is the “star,” and the instrumentalists or accompanists are not appreciated as much, whether they’re completely smokin’ or not.  People can directly relate to a singer, whether through the lyric or through the emotion portrayed.  To get recognized, instrumentalists require more attention by a typically musically-uneducated audience–often in situations where there are lots of distractions,  like ordering food and drinks, talking to friends, etc.  Unless the musician is loud, they can be more easily ignored.

I have probably received more respect, based on the fact that I play the bass.  As a vocalist, I’ve often had other band members say, “Oh yeah, I forgot. you know what’s going on, you’re a real musician.”  I’ve also had to remind band members that, although a vocalist may not use the correct terminology, it doesn’t mean she or he isn’t aware of what they’re doing, or what they’re wanting to hear from a band.  It does make it more difficult, though, when you’re working with people who can’t convey their ideas in the typical jargon.

VJC: You could play anywhere you’d like– what is it about Vernon’s that attracts you?

WB: Vernon’s Jazz Club is the real deal.  It’s specifically set up to be a music performance venue, offering great food and drinks.  “Definitely not… as Tommy Gearhart says, “…a place where the music is considered wallpaper.”  I’ve heard some really great music at Vernon’s.  Everyone should know that New Mexico has a reputation for having seriously good musicians living and playing here.  People coming from other states often express how they’re surprised and impressed when they hear what’s going on here musically.  Vernon’s is very cool for recognizing that, and offering a place to make it happen.

VJC: Finally, who’s in the band?

WB: The band on both nights is a really great group of musicians:
Brian Bennett – piano (plays with Straight Up in Santa Fe)
Colin Deuble – bass (Friday)
Michael Glynn – bass (Saturday)
Andy Poling – drums

We’re about to have lots of fun these nights.  I encourage everyone to come down!

VJC: Thanks, Wendy! We can’t wait!

WB: Thanks for having me.

WENDY BEACH pays tribute to Carmen McRae & Billie Holiday ((THIS FRIDAY/SATURDAY)) 8pm to Midnight!
$10 Seating Charge.
Make your reservations NOW! 341-0831
Vernon’s Jazz Club: 6855 4th Street Northwest
(north of Osuna on the west side of the street, behind Calico Cafe)

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