Are They "Just Friends"? Rumors of Romance: Joe Louis & Sarah Vaughan

Are They "Just Friends"? Rumors of Romance: Joe Louis & Sarah Vaughan

Last month Armin Büttner posted this previously unpublished 1950’s photo of Sarah Vaughan on his blog celebrating the Crown Propeller Lounge in Chicago. (For more about photo’s back story, see Doug Ramsey’s Rifftides post here.) Vaughan is enjoying a night out with friends, including boxing champion Joe Louis and trumpeter King Kolax. I love the nostalgia of these kinds of photos. They provide a glimpse into Vaughan’s life offstage, when she wasn’t performing. They’re candid and almost private, but not quite – Vaughan is clearly posing for the camera.

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Female musicians don’t want to be “pretty good, for a girl.” They want to be awesome. Period.

Today is International Jazz Day (I’m throwing virtual confetti as I write this), and that means that Jazz Appreciation Month is almost over. It’s been a busy, jazz-filled month, and once again, I’ve been reminded how lucky I am to live in Seattle. Not only do we have an amazing scene, we have an amazing scene with dozens of incredibly talented women. Many of whom performed during last weekend’s first-ever Seattle Women in Jazz Festival. This was a wonderful event, a true act of love and devotion by its founder Jessica Davis.

That said, jazz festivals devoted solely to women have their pros and cons. Celebrations of women and their accomplishments are, on the whole, a good thing. As is bringing a greater awareness to the hardworking women amongst us. But they also risk marginalizing these same women. It’s far too easy to dismissively say (or think), “Oh, she’s just a ‘woman in jazz,’” then go hear your favorite male musician instead.​

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"Sometimes, it’s difficult to say how you do something, you just do it."

"Sometimes, it’s difficult to say how you do something, you just do it."

Today’s interview is with New York-based composer, arranger, and vocalist Sarah Elizabeth Charles. The S.E. Charles Quartet, with Jesse Elder on piano, Burniss Earl Travis on bass, and John Davis on drums, will perform at the Triple Door on Sunday, April 28, the final night of the Seattle Women in Jazz Festival. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and the set begins at 7:30 p.m. This is Sarah’s first time singing in Seattle, so don’t miss out!

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“I don't self-identify as a woman when I'm on stage. I'm me, I'm a dude.”

“I don't self-identify as a woman when I'm on stage. I'm me, I'm a dude.”

My celebration of JazzApril continues with another interview with a Seattle Women in Jazz Festival performer, this time soprano saxophonist Kate Olson.

She’s a relative newcomer to Seattle, arriving in 2010, but she has quickly made her mark on the jazz and improvised music scenes. In 2011 Kate appeared in the Earshot Jazz Festival and was nominated for an Earshot Golden Ear Award in the Northwest Emerging Artist category. In 2012 Kate was chosen to perform in Earshot’s Jazz: The Second Century series, which showcases the next generation of jazz musicians. And she can be regularly heard around town performing with her own projects including the Syrinx Effect and Sugarpants and as a collaborator with the Seattle Women’s Jazz Orchestra, Ask the Ages, Daniel Barry’s 2 Hemispheres, and Wayne Horvitz’s Royal Room Collective Music Ensemble. ​

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“Music can bring out so many facets of one person.”

“Music can bring out so many facets of one person.”

I’m excited to post the first of four interviews with musicians performing at the Seattle Women in Jazz Festival next week. We’ll begin with vocalist Jeannette d’Armand, who kindly answered questions about her singing and inspiration.

Jeannette is a familiar face (and voice!) for Fifth Avenue Theater regulars, and Seattle jazz lovers are beginning to appreciate her talents, too. Her roots in musical theater and jazz will both be on display during her vocal showcase at the Rainier Valley Cultural Center on Friday, April 26 beginning at 7:00 p.m.  Backed by guitarist Troy Chapman and bassist Rick Leppanen, both from the popular gypsy jazz group Pearl Django, she’ll sing a collection of oldies but goodies from the American Songbook, jazz standards, and plenty of Joni Mitchell.

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Here Come Seattle's Women in Jazz!

Here Come  Seattle's Women in Jazz!

In today’s JazzApril posting, I’d like to tell you more about the inaugural Seattle Women in Jazz Festival taking place April 26-28. It’s the first festival of its kind here in Seattle and will feature fourteen vocalists, nine instrumentalists, and two big bands. They will perform at Egan’s Ballard Jam House, Rainier Valley Cultural Center, the Triple Door, Vera Project, and LUCID Lounge. And as the fest’s name suggests, all groups are led by or comprised primarily of women.

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From Jazz Manhood to Jazz Personhood

From Jazz Manhood to Jazz Personhood

There has been a lot of talk online recently about jazz, gender, and sexuality. Musicologist Guthrie Ramsey, for example, gave us a historian’s take on what he calls “jazz manhood” in bebop and the career of pianist Bud Powell, and how this contributed to his own embarrassment as a boy playing the piano, which he loved, rather than the more masculine saxophone. Drummer Allison Miller wrote a moving essay on the challenges of being not only a woman, but also a lesbian, in the jazz world. Crooner Spencer Day discussed coming out, homophobia, the absence of gay voices in jazz, and how all of this has influenced his career, both creatively and commercially. And singer Michelle Shocked, long believed to be a lesbian herself, lashed out with an unfortunate, if predictable, homophobic rant during her recent appearance at Yoshi’s Jazz Club in San Francisco.

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Jazz Appreciation Month, Seattle Style

April is already a week old, and I neglected to mention that it is Jazz Appreciation Month! I don’t really need another reason to celebrate anything and everything jazz, but JAM reminds me to take a moment to think about jazz, its history, and enduring legacy. And it reminds me that, as a lover of jazz, I am very lucky to live in Seattle. We have an unusually vibrant community of jazz musicians, students, and listeners plus a network of clubs, house concerts, festivals, jazz appreciation societies, record labels, and radio stations that all nurture our local scene. We can hear high-quality, live jazz every night of the week.

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You don't know me... (Part 2)

You don't know me... (Part 2)

In my last post, I wrote about how Sarah Vaughan was an intensely private woman leading a public life, and how she kept her fans, members of the press, and even, sometimes, her own family at a distance.

Since then, I’ve been thinking about why that was and how it influences my work as her biographer. Part of my job is to tease out the details of her life, provide a glimpse into the woman behind the scenes, the private Vaughan. But what does a biographer do when her subject doesn’t cooperate? How much do I extrapolate from the information I do have? In other words, how do I read an absence? And how do I respect my subject and her desire for privacy while satisfying the desires of readers in search of an intimate portrait of a performer they admire?

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