Entertainment » Music

Suede :: not your typical jazz singer

by John Amodeo
Monday Apr 19, 2010

When it comes to female jazz singers, there is a long history of judging a book by its cover, which often presents a challenge for female jazz singers who happen to be gay. For one particular Boston area jazz singer, the sultry but stalwart Suede, this is an especially touchy point.

"The mainstream jazz community has always had a definite idea what their female vocalists should look and sound like, like the girl in the blue satin dress singing "The Man Who Got Away." If Ella [Fitzgerald], Carmen [McRae], or Bessie [Smith] were trying to start out now, I wonder if we would have missed them because they didn’t fit that image," laments Suede. "When I’ve walked into a largely mainstream audience, I come out on stage, this formidable woman, not looking like Diana Krall. I know people go ’Eek, this isn’t what I expected; am I going to like this?’" contemplates Suede. "But when I show them who I am, I take them on a ride, and they have a great time, and its fun, but it’s also powerful and political."

Goal is to entertain

For Suede, who has been an out jazz singer for over 30 years, simply showing up is a political statement whether she intends it or not, much like the act of a gay or lesbian couple holding hands while walking down the street. But Suede is no flag-waving activist on stage. Her main goal is to entertain, and entertain she does. For the past 20 years, she has been a regular entertainer on Olivia Cruises, traipsing with them to such exotic locations as Venice and Greece. She’s also been performing in Jazz Festivals and nightclubs from Maine to Mexico and everywhere in between, including annual gigs at Scullers Jazz Club, one of which has been recorded Live on DVD. She has four solo recordings, the latest of which, Dangerous Mood is her most ambitious and accomplished outing to date. Her future looks even rosier, with an upcoming gig at Manhattan’s Birdland, and a West Coast Tour starting in San Diego, going up the Coast through San Francisco to play the renowned Rrazz Room, then on through Portland and Seattle. "Wherever they will have me, as long as the lighting is half decent. OK, even if it’s not!" quips Suede.

And people have taken notice. Provincetown Magazine declares, "Whether your love is blues, jazz, or pop, you’re not likely to have a chance to hear your favorites performed with more skill or sheer beauty than Suede delivers. Suede’s voice is a magnificent thing... with its purity of tone and huge range, [it] thrills the audience as it swoops and stretches, purrs and belts, scats and growls...It would be hard not to find something to love at Suede’s performance. " And The New York Post simply states, "Voices like hers come along maybe once in a generation!"

On Thursday, April 22, Suede returns to Scullers Jazz Club, joined by the stunningly talented pianist Fred Boyle, and the remarkable bassist Chris Rathbun, both ubiquitous on the local jazz scene, and for good reason.

If Suede doesn’t fit the mold of your typical jazz singer, it is more for her eclectic repertoire than for being gay. Her recordings and shows not only include jazz, blues, and swing, but also rock and roll, popular standards, showtunes, and country. Her early influences have been incredibly varied from the Dukes of Dixieland, Billie Holiday Lena Horne, Sarah Vaughn, Pearl Bailey and Louis Armstrong to James Taylor, Crosby Stills Nash and Young and the Rolling Stones. "I loved Bailey’s sense of humor," reminisces Suede, " and it was Louis Armstrong that brought me to the trumpet," which Suede often plays during her shows, much to the surprised delight of newcomers in her audiences.

These artists had a formative and lasting influence on the way Suede performs today. "Those people were so creative and innovative in terms of phrasing, timing, dynamic changes. They didn’t just deliver the information or sing the words. They brought it alive, with texturing, such as the way Louis Armstrong or Ella would stretch the melody," Suede begins. " But some jazz artists take that too far. They lose the meaning of the song. It may touch my brain, but not my heart. I will always choose the route that touches the heart."

Story continues on following page.

Watch Suede talk about her new CD ’Dangerous Mood’:


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