More on the Instrumental Prowess of Improvising Singers

Sorry that I haven’t been responding in the comments section. There was a problem with my account that Frank J. Oteri fixed up yesterday, so I’ll be checking in there soon. This week was also very busy with rehearsals and work, so I haven’t had much time to dedicate to the blog, but I do want to follow up on improvising singers and instrumentalists, although not in any great length.

I went to a birthday party for a great vocalist, Roseanna Vitro, this week. Roseanna hails from Texarcana, but has lived in the New York area since 1978. She tours internationally, teaches jazz singing at NJPAC, and is the founder of JVOICE (Jazz Vocalists Offering Instructional Curriculum for Education). I remember when she first arrived in New York, she didn’t improvise very much.

She began working with Fred Hersch (who introduced her to me) and he introduced her to learning horn solos from recordings as a way of developing a style of improvisation that adhered to the jazz tradition convincingly. Roseanna’s voice and sensibilities have always been of the highest order and I thought she would be a good match for pianist/composer Kenny Werner. Needless to say, I was right and they have collaborated on countless albums and projects. Roseanna, though, is not one to rest on her laurels. She recognized her need to understand harmony better in order to improve as an improviser and studied piano with Hersch as well as others.

Now, her improvising is legendary, although she doesn’t perform on the piano. And of the singers who attended and sang at her party (including Sheila Jordan, Kendra Shank, Arlee Leonard, E.J. Decker, and many more) none performed on an instrument except for singer/songwriter/pianist/guitarist Tom Lellis, who doesn’t improvise in his singing very much. I’ll be playing next week with another singer who plays an instrument, Mose Allison, but he saves all of his improvisation for the piano. Still, I am of the opinion that the best improvising singers also play an instrument.

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