Interview with Sylvia Brooks: The Arrangement – to use the colors of my voice in different ways to tell different parts of the storyNovember 17th, 2017 by sylviabrooks
Jazz interview with jazz singer Sylvia Brooks.
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: – Just what I said above! You read my mind!
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
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.
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