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Interview with Sylvia Brooks: to use the colors of my voice in different ways to tell different parts of the story: Video

November 17th, 2017 by

Jazz interview with jazz singer Sylvia Brooks. An interview by email in writing.



Sylvia Brooks: – I grew up in Miami in a musical household- My dad was a first call Jazz pianist and arranger, and my mom was an Opera Singer.

SB: – Originally, I wanted to be a classical actress- so I went to a Classical Theatre School. But, when my dad died, and I was looking through his music, something awoke in me, and I decided to start working on some of the music that I grew up listening to as a child.

SB: – I started working in Los Angeles with a wonderful pianist named Tom Garvin and he helped me begin to understand this music. He’s passed away since, but he was really my mentor and my friend. He said something to me that really helped me understand artistry. He said, don’t try to decide who you want to be, just let it reveal itself to you. He also told me to not listen to other vocalists on a song that I was working on, because it would influence my delivery. He said; find it yourself, in your own voice.

SB: – I learned to trust the story of the song, and to use my voice more selectively- to use the colors of my voice in different ways to tell different parts of the story. Being in the recording studio was a huge help- there is nowhere to hide there. Also, to work with less vibrato and incorporate more straight tone- I’ve studied voice for years, so it really becomes a matter of what you decide to do when-

SB: – I work a lot on my upper register to keep the range in my voice- also; I have worked a lot on learning to swing. A friend of mine, Cathy Segal Garcia said something interesting to me, she said, everyone swings differently- everyone feels it differently- that really opened things up for me.

SB: – I like the use of melodic counterpoint- which is why I wanted to use horns and reeds on The Arrangement. I consider myself more of a Classic Jazz artist- so, to me, it’s more about harmonies and how they are used to create the structure and mood of the composition.

SB: – I’m very proud of the Arrangement. I wanted to make a record that was musically rich, and somewhat unpredictable. Christian Jacob, Otmaro Ruiz, Jeff Colella, Kim Richmond and Quinn Johnson all have very different musical styles- and so we ended up with an album full of diversity. And yet, it’s very cohesive at the same time. I also included three original compositions- so my next album will have more original material on it- and I’m thinking about making it a little grittier through a different combination of instruments, which I will hold close to the vest until it comes out!

SB: – There is no doubt about it that this is a very difficult business…and that is a very important part of it, it is a business, and a lot of people lose sight of that. In talking to students, I would say stay true to yourself, learn your craft, (really important!) and have the courage of your convictions. For peers, we are all in very different places. I try to support the people that I believe in.

SB: – Absolutely! I personally think that we are in a very exciting time. But I do believe that we all need to open our minds, and allow more voices in- perhaps they don’t always fit the preconceived notions of what Jazz is, but perhaps, the new voices can breathe some new life into the art form and in doing so, make it more accessible to younger people.

SB: – Oh boy, that’s a big question! I have a very zen belief- I believe that we are all on this journey for a reason, that we were put here to do something- and sometimes you can’t always understand why it doesn’t always go the way you think it should- but that’s the beauty of it- it goes exactly as it’s meant to go. It’s important to stay true to your voice- and contribute as much value as possible while you are on this earth- and it will go the way it goes.

SB: – I’m really not sure- life to me is like an onion, you just keep peeling back the layers. I just hope that when something presents itself to me, that I am smart enough and wise enough to see it. I suppose that is my greatest fear- not being tuned in-.

SB: – Writing more songs – writing deeper stories-

SB: – All good music is similar, because it’s so primal. If it makes the listener feel something, then it’s doing its job.

SB: – I just listened to Cheryl Bentynes’ new album ReArranging Shadows- where she deconstructs the music of Stephen Sondheim- really remarkable piece of work.

Interview by : Simon Sargsyan

Woodrow Wilkins- The Jazzwriter

August 23rd, 2017 by
With music, sometimes it’s the songwriting that makes a difference. Other times, the voices and instruments and how they execute are key. But then there’s that time when a reworking of what’s written is the focal point. That’s where vocalist Sylvia Brooks comes in, hiring several Los Angeles-based arrangers for her third album, The Arrangement (2017).

The lineup varies from song to song. Collectively, the players are: Otmaro Ruiz, piano; Sezin Ahmet Turkmenoglu, bass; Aaron Serfaty, drums and percussion; Kim Richmond, alto sax; Bob Sheppard, tenor sax; Francisco Torres, trombone; Juliane Gralle, bass trombone; Brian Swartz, trumpet; Ron Stout, flugelhorn; Will Brahm, guitar; Quinn Johnson, piano; Trey Henry, bass; Tom Brechtlein, drums; Michael Stever, trumpet; Jeff Driskill, sax; Jeff Colella, piano; Kendall Kay, drums; Chris Colangelo, bass; Bruce Babad, flutes; Larry Koonse, guitar; Christian Jacob, piano and Fender Rhodes; Will Brahm, guitar; David Hughes, bass; Jamey Tate, drums.

Brooks brings warmth and a bit of joy to Hank Williams’ “Cold Cold Heart.” Rather than wallow in the misery of being mistreated by a loved one, Brooks sings it with vigor, as a wronged person turning the situation into a positive, by taking charge. Her scat enhances Driskell’s tenor solo. The horn section gives a swing feel to the song.

Major kudos to Jacob for the arrangement of “Eleanor Rigby.” His approach adds an elegance seldom heard in a cover of this Beatles classic. The flutes and Rhodes provide a haunting quality. Babad’s tenor solo injects a romantic touch. And Brooks’ voice is charming throughout.

I’m not sure what it is about “Besame Mucho” that so many jazz artists interpret it. This is easily one of my favorite renditions. Brooks takes it slow with this Otmaro Ruiz arrangement. The congas give it a Latin feel, appropriate considering the songs origins. The soft horns add a symphonic element.

Other notable tracks include “Body and Soul,” “Maybe I’m a Fool” and “The Tender Trap.”

This project came together with Brooks picking Ruiz, Colella, Jacob and Johnson. She gave them two instructions. First, they must use a combination of brass and reed instruments. Second, they could choose the musicians they felt would best serve the direction of the music. The combination is a perfect match as the arrangements are fresh and engaging, the musicians are rock solid, and Brooks’ soothing, charming voice completes the package.

Brooks is a native of Miami. Her father, pianist/arranger Don Ippolito, was a first-call talent who performed with several jazz heavyweights, among them Stan Getz, Buddy Rich, Peggy Lee, Sarah Vaughan and Dizzy Gillespie. Brooks’ mother, Johanna Dordick, was a conservatory-trained opera singer. Though influenced by her parents in music, Brooks first took the stage as an actor. After moving to Los Angeles, Brooks returned to her jazz roots.

LA Jazz Scene- Chris J. Walker -Live Performance review at Catalina Bar & Grill

August 7th, 2017 by
Sylvia Brooks showcased songs from her third record, The Arrangement, at Catalina Bar and Grill, with a solid group of players. Some featured tunes were: “Night and Day”, a cool and deadly ballad, and “Guess Who I Saw Today”. Jacob took the helm for “Midnight Sun” with Brooks singing passionately, with saxophone embellishing. Joining the headliner, was Cathy Segal Garcia for Jacob’s stylish arrangement of the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby”, with an injected saxophone solo. With only piano, she seductively sang “Maybe I’m A Fool”- an original, and united with full band was “The Tender Trap” bolstered by piano solo, along with longing “Never Let Me Go”. Concluding the show was sultrily sung “Angel Eyes” with detailed band playing, to draw a standing ovation.

LA Jazz Scene- The Buzz

August 7th, 2017 by
Vocalist Sylvia Brooks has been well versed in music for most of her life. Her father was Don Ippolito, who worked with some of the best in the business. A pianist/arranger he was working with such luminaries as Stan Getz, Peggy Lee, Sarah Vaughn, Dizzy Gillespie and Buddy Rich. Brooks’ mom was a trained opera singer who was also adept with pop and standard tunes in clubs. Brooks began to study acting though she was always attracted to singing jazz specifically. She worked with Tom Garvin and eventually recorded CD’s with Kim Richmond, Otmaro Ruiz, Chris Colangelo, Kendall Kay, Larry Koonse, Bob Sheppard, Jeff Colella, Christian Jacob, Quinn Johnson and other tops musicians. We have to state that she has great judgement in the musicians she works with. The Arrangement is her third CD. Some gems in the recording include “Body and Soul”, “Eleanor Rigby”, “Guess Who I Saw Today”, “Night and Day”, “Angel Eyes” and three of her own tunes, “Sweet Surrender”, “Maybe I’m A Fool” and “What Was I Thinking (The Mirage)”. We think she’s well on her way to a great career as a jazz stylist. Catch her when she is in your area.

C. Michael Bailey – All About Jazz

June 7th, 2017 by
Vocalist Sylvia Brooks likes to provide her music a noir patina, that smoky and dark evening tone preferred by the likes of the fictional hard men: Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe, and Jeff Markham. On her third recording, The Arrangement, this patina is given a high buff shine into something more contemporary, without losing any of the inherent sexiness of the music and its delivery. The Arrangement is a delicious double entendre on the word “arrangement,” juxtaposing the darker side of love with a play on “arrangement,” here meaning the musical arrangement of the 14 selections contained herein. Miles Davis had made much of the importance of musical arrangement on his famous 1949 Nonet sides, showcasing the arrangements by Gerry Mulligan, John Lewis, Gil Evans, and John Carisi. Brooks looks back at this music, bringing the art of arrangement forward, her arrangers retaining an emphasis on soft soundscapes and counterpoint. The Arrangement is a project where Brooks directed her various arrangers: Otmaro Ruiz, Jeff Colella, Christian Jacob, Kim Richmond and Quinn Johnson, to accomplish two things: they had to incorporate both reeds and brass and, they could choose the musicians they thought would best complement the pieces. The results are plush and direct, smartly outfitted with soft smoothness. Brooks’ voice possesses a superior pliancy, enabling the singer to adapt to manifold musical environments. These environments include Ruiz’s humid Latin affairs, “”Perhaps,” “Midnight Sun,” (arranged by Kim Richmond with Ruiz on piano) and ”Besame Mucho;” and Jacob’s intelligent and swinging contemporary touch (“Eleanor Rigby, ”Never Let me Go”); and Quinn Johnson’s blues-swing infused pieces (“Cold Cold Heart,” “What Was I Thinking”). What all of the arrangements have in common is a svelte tautness that is as comely as it is durable. Brooks’ voice stands front and center in these expertly-crafted songs, a voice full of experience and learning, deftly prepared for any material, as is evidenced by this fine recording.

Sylvia Brooks/The Arrangement – LA Jazz Scene

June 5th, 2017 by
Sylvia Brooks, who has been singing and acting in Southern California during the past decade. Her voice is attractive and alluring, her phrasing is swinging, and she always sings in-tune. Ms. Brooks has had some success with her first two CDs, Dangerous Liaisons and Restless, which often found her singing in dramatic fashion while looking back towards the film noir era of the 1940s and ‘50s.
The Arrangement is her most jazz-oriented set to date. Performing 11 familiar standards and three originals, Sylvia Brooks performs with top artists (mostly from Southern California) on arrangements contributed by Otmaro Ruiz, Quinn Johnson, Jeff Colella, Christian Jacob and Kim Richmond. Her singing is always appealing while her improvising is subtle. It is obvious that Ms. Brooks is a top-notch singer.
While some of the arrangements modernize and reharmonize the standards, the best performances are the ones that have charts that let the music breathe and include some space. The most rewarding renditions include “Eleanor Rigby,” a swinging “The Tender Trap,” “Angel Eyes” and the three originals. It is particularly rewarding hearing the singer perform her “Sweet Surrender” as a duet with pianist Christian Jacob. There are also occasional statements from sidemen with the solos of Ron Stout on flugelhorn and tenors Bruce Babad and Bob Sheppard being standouts.
The Arrangement (available from www.sylviabrooks.net) is Sylvia Brooks’ finest recording to date. It makes one look forward to her Catalina performance of Wednesday June 7. Scott Yanow

SYLVIA BROOKS/The Arrangement- Midwest Record Review

May 23rd, 2017 by
The queen of jazz noir changes her look and sound a bit but the cover shot still smacks of a femme fatale slinking down a hotel hallway. Corralling the crème of LA’s jazzbo community to assist at all levels of the game, she writes a little more, digs some different sounds, but never loses sight of her laser focus as being a top jazz singer that understands her lyrics and knows how to make them new. Chops like this are practically one of a kind and are not to be missed. The reigning queen reigns on. – Chris Spector- Midwest Record

Chris Spector – Midwest Record Review

May 22nd, 2017 by
SYLVIA BROOKS/Restless: Utterly smoking jazz noir, Brooks takes smoky after hours jazz into realms only hinted at in movies like “Body Heat”. I don’t know where she’s pulling this from but Brooks is one dame that understands what it is to be a femme fatale. Hitting under used classics and mixing them in with some recent vintage, equally off beat stuff, this is a mickey served by a dangerous broad with something up her sleeveless sleeve. Finding cores in songs like “Round Midnight”, “I’m a Fool to Want You” and “Blues in the Night” that the writers didn’t put there even in their darkest moments, this just ain’t kid stuff. This is one mind blowingly, killer adult jazz vocal date that would make other vocalists call it a day if they could come half as close. Check it out. Chris Spector – Midwest Record Review –

SYLVIA BROOKS/The Arrangement- JERSEY JAZZ

May 22nd, 2017 by
The arrangers on the new CD by vocalist SYLVIA BROOKS, The Arrangement  had a dream assignment. Brooks selected 14 songs for the disc, and she asked each of the five gents doing the charts, Otmaro Ruiz, Quinn Johnson, Jeff Colella, Kim Richmond and Christian Jacob to write the arrangements using both brass and reeds. They were free to select the musicians for the sessions from the wealth of possibilities on the Los Angeles scene. Well this arrangement worked out extremely well. After concentrating on noirish material on her first two albums, Brooks has expanded her horizons to opt for more eclectic programming. She chose a mix of standards like “Body and Soul” “Night and Day” and “Never let Me Go”; a couple of Latin numbers, “Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps” and Besame Mucho;” a country tune, “Cold, Cold Heart;” one Beatles song, “Eleanor Rigby;” and three songs with her own lyrics. Brooks is a strong stylist who took naturally to the charts written for her. She is a confident singer with a pleasing voice who has absorbed the rich treasure of influences from the pop/jazz field, and it is evident throughout the album that she has learned her lessons well. This is a solid outing that feels comfortable from the opening selection, “Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps,” to the last, “Angel Eyes.” – Joe Lang- JERSEY JAZZ

Hanighan/Cootie Williams ~

April 30th, 2017 by
KRFC FT COLLINS ~ 88.9FM The Most Alarmin’ Version Of “‘Round Midnight” That I’ve Ever Heard ~ Jazz Anthem Of Thelonious Monk/Bernie Hanighan/Cootie Williams ~