Much has been said and written about Indy instrumental jazz artists, but what about the vocal side of jazz? I have noticed a major decline in new jazz vocalists, or even jazz-oriented pop vocalists, over the past four years. Artists, such as Paula Owen, who have had national recognition have dropped out of sight and no longer perform. The highly talented Cherryl Hayes has become an international star working primarily in Bangkok, Thailand, where she has made a new home and performs in cities such as Hong Kong and Singapore on a steady basis. Currently, there are some outstanding female vocalists performing regularly in Indy. There are divas such as Mary Moss, whose blues-based swinging style has endeared her to listeners for some time. Cynthia Layne has shown rapid development from her R&B and pop days and is one of the most in-demand singers, along with Moss. She has shown her ability to musically diversify in singing, from the large jazz charts of the Buselli Wallerab Jazz Orchestra to vocalese and scat improvisation with the acid jazz groove sounds of Seven Pleasures. She’s also at home on straight-ahead swinging music, guesting with Jason Curry’s Quartet or with her own group. Wendy Reed is back on the scene with a vengeance, making up for her absence for a few years. She is a spirited performer who gets into her music, with the strong vocal equipment she possesses. She can deliver in any mood. One of the most unique stylists to move into jazz is Brenda Williams, who’s known for her theatrical style and sound. She has surprised many with her ability to delve into some convincing blues. Even more impressive is her skill at singing straight-ahead jazz on standards. There are new young jazz singers who have recently made their appearance on the scene. Lisa Baldwin is a vocalist/keyboardist and one-woman band who sings in the smooth jazz/adult contemporary mode. She displays an astonishing five-octave vocal range. Turning to the male side of vocal jazz, the local reigning king is the mellow baritone sound of Everett Greene. Here is an artform that is in danger of disappearing and Greene is the keynoter of jazz balladeering. There is another voice in Kevin “Flash” Ferrell, whose freewheeling Al Jarreau-style vocals with the Paradigm Jazz Quartet were always exciting. Sadly, Ferrell and PJQ haven’t performed that much lately around town. I was greatly surprised last Sunday by a new sound I heard from 27-year-old Josh Kauffman. At a set at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse Sunday Jazz series downtown, I was astonished by Kauffman. Backed up with superb, sensitive and swinging playing by Ken Fary on keyboards and the strong bass lines of Joe Deal, Kauffman just stood up and belted, crooned and swung songs with his cool, almost vibratoless voice. His intonation and timing were very hip and swinging on the difficult jazz classic “In Walked Bud,” yet he could turn around and sell the Matt Dennis vocal test on “Angel Eyes.” Kauffman knows and admires the great American songbook and his idols include the vocal side of Chet Baker. I could also hear Mel Tormé in his sound, which isn’t too bad. This young man, slated to graduate next month from IUPUI, must be heard to be appreciated. With all of the national talk about the new crop of male jazz vocalists in Michael Buble and Peter Cincotti, I think we have one in Josh Kauffman. In my book, he should be singing every night. Indianapolis Jazz Foundation
Under new president Bob Clark, the Indianapolis Jazz Foundation is offering some distinctive perks for joining this proactive jazz support club. By joining, you get decent discounts to jazz venues such as the Chatterbox, Jazz Kitchen, Madame Walker Theatre Center main stage shows and Jazz City performances. Cath Inc. Coffee and Tea House at both locations offers a 20 percent discount on purchases. And, you get $1 off purchases at Indy CD and Vinyl. IJF’s Clark had these comments about local jazz support: “I’d bet anything that some of the great legends who are no longer with us would be the first to say that the best way to honor them would be to go out and hear some of the living legends, working professionals and up-and-coming talent playing in this town right now. We have got a virtual festival going on all over town just about every night. Get out and enjoy it.” To find out more about the Indianapolis Jazz Foundation log onto its Web site: www.indianapolisjazz.org. Chuck Workman is the producer/host of the Sunday Morning Jazz Show at 107.9 WTPI.