32 Women in Jazz – Fabulous Singing, Part 1

Zara McFarland

The past decade has been a great one for lovers of jazz singing with most of the exciting music coming from women singers. In this hour and the next of Jazz at 100 Today! we’ll survey 20 releases from 15 female vocalists who range from the rediscovered vintage jazz of Catherine Russell to the powerful hybrid music of newcomer Zara McFarland. We are celebrating Women’s History Month on Jazz at 100 Today!

Sara Gazarek, Luciana Souza, and Tierney Sutton
It has been said that Sara Gazarek may be the best jazz singer that you are not yet aware of. She had had a long-standing musical relationship with pianist Josh Nelson spanning the previous four discs, when then recorded 2016’s Dream in the Blue as a duo project. Their version of Joao Gilberto’s O Pato, which you may remember from the disc Getz/Gilberto #2, dances seamlessly back and forth between English and Portugese.

Luciana Souza recorded a series of duo records culminating in Duos III with Brazilian guitarist, Marco Pereira. Among the highlights on their disc is Pereira’s Dona Lu, with Souza’s sparkling wordless vocal.

Listeners to this series may have picked up my appreciation for Tierney Sutton’s recordings. Of her 2011 disc American Road, Raul D’Gama Rose wrote, “Tierney Sutton inhabits songs as few vocalists can or do: with a certain vulnerability and powerful drama that imbues each song with an electricity that sends tingles up and down the spine.” Her version of Harold Arlen and “Yip” Harburg’s The Eagle and Me, with dual basses from Trey Henry and Kevin Axt, is nuanced and “maddeningly playful.”

O Pato. Sara Gazarek – Josh Nelson duo
(Josh Nelson-p, Sara Gazarek-voc). From Dream in the Blue. Steel Bird Music. 2016.
Dona Lu. Luciana Souza – Marco Pereira duo
Marco Pereira-g, Luciana Souza -voc). From Duos III. Sunnyside Communications. 2012.
The Eagle and Me. Tierney Sutton Band
(Trey Henry-b, Kevin Axt-b, Tierney Sutton-voc). From American Road. BFM Jazz. 2011.

Karrin Allyson, Kate McGarry, Sinne Eeg, and Quiana Lynell
Singer Karrin Allyson has shown an affinity for an amazing range of material over an almost thirty-year career, but in 2018’s Some of the Sunshine, she breaks new ground, recording a set exclusively of her own compositions, illustrating further depth to her artistry. The ballad Just As Well, is enriched by the tender offerings of tenor giant Houston Person.

In reviewing Kate McGarry’s 2012 disc Girl Talk on AllAbout Jazz, Dan Bilawsky wrote, “While the world has no shortage of fine female singers, few have the musical depth, sense of passion and artistic ambitions of the divine Kate McGarry … One of McGarry’s many strong suits has always been her ability to radiate intimacy … Kurt Elling makes a guest appearance on O Cantador, giving the two vocalists an opportunity to intertwine in blissful fashion atop a sensitive rhythm section.”

Danish singer Sinne Eeg recorded her great 2018 disc Dreams with a blended group of fellow Dane Jacob Christoffersen on piano plus New York stalwarts Larry Koonse on guitar, Scott Colley on bass, and Joey Baron on drums. Included was her slow funk composition, The Bitter End.

Quiana Lynell made her major label debut in 2019 with A Little Love. Supported by a sympathetic quartet of pianist Cyrus Chestnut, guitarist Ed Cherry, bassist George DeLancey, and Jamison Ross on drums, she nails Donny Hathaway’s classic, the timely Trying Times.

Just As Well. Karrin Allyson Quintet with Houston Person
(Houston Person-ts, Chris Caswell-org/acc, Miro Sprague-p, Jeff Johnson-b, Jerome Jennings-d, Karrin Allyson-voc/p). From Some of that Sunshine. Kasrecords. 2018.
O Cantador. Kate McGarry Quintet with Kurt Elling
(Gary Versace-org/p, Keith Ganz-g, Reuben Rogers-b, Clarence Penn-d/per, Kate McGarry-voc, Kurt Elling-voc). From Girl Talk. Palmetto. 2012.
The Bitter End. Sinne Eeg Quintet
(Jacob Christoffersen-p, Larry Koonse-g, Scott Colley-b, Joey Baron-d, Sinne Eeg-voc). From Dreams. Stunt Records. 2018.
Trying Times. Quiana Lynell Quartet
(Cyrus Chestnut-p, Ed Cherry-g, George DeLancey-b, Jamison Ross-d/voc, Quiana Lynell-voc). From A Little Love. Concord Music. 2019.

Zara McFarland, Cassandra Wilson and Tiffany Austin
London singer Zara McFarland released her second disc If You Knew Her at age 31 in 2014. Phil Barnes writes of her version of Junor Murvin’s reggae hit Police and Thieves, “McFarlane keeps the melody and moral, observational, tone of Murvin’s original lyric in her vocal but adds a fabulous understated jazz swing underneath that takes the song into a completely different musical context. In its way this is as different and radical a reinterpretation of the original as the Clash’s 1977 garage band cover, but maybe you just have to have a song that good in the first place. Mention must also be made of a fabulous tenor saxophone solo courtesy of Binker Golding that lifts the performance adding energy to the mix at just the right moment.”

Cassandra Wilson’s 2011 release Silver Pony continued her seemingly endless string of terrific discs. She enlists Ravi Coltrane to add his muscular tenor to her composition Beneath the Silver Moon.

Straight out of UC Berkeley Law School, Tiffany Austin released her first disc Nothin but Soul, in 2015, earning her comparison to the great lady of song, Betty Carter. By her sophomore effort Unbroken in 2018, Austin was ready to tackle material as iconic as John Coltrane’s Resolution from A Love Supreme. Her version is grounded in the powerful tenor playing of Teodross Avery.

Police & Thieves. Zara McFarlane Quintet
(Binker Golding-ts, Peter Edwards-p, Max Luthert-b, Andy Chapman-d, Zara McFarlane-voc). From If You Knew Her. Brownswood. 2014.
Beneath A Silver Moon. Cassandra Wilson Sextet with Ravi Coltrane
(Ravi Coltrane-ts, Jonathan Batiste-p, Marvin Sewell-g, Reginald Veal-b, Herlin Riley-d, Lekan Babalola-per, Cassandra Wilson-voc/syn). From Silver Pony. Blue Note. 2011.
Resolution. Tiffany Austin Septet
(Ashlin Parker-tp, Mitch Butler-tb, Teodross Avery-ts, Cyrus Chestnut-p, Rodney Whitaker-b, Carl Allen-d, Tiffany Austin-voc). From Unbroken. Con Alma. 2018.

These selections of recent releases by great women jazz singers are just a sampling of the music being made today.

Bilawsky, Dan. (2016, July 28). AllAboutJazz. Sara Gazarek And Josh Nelson: Dream In The Blue. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/dream-in-the-blue-sara-gazarek-steel-bird-music-review-by-dan-bilawsky.php

Loudon, Christopher. (2012, October 12). JazzTimes. Luciana Souza: Duets III. https://jazztimes.com/reviews/albums/luciana-souza-duets-iii/

Rose, Raul D’Gama. (2011, November 25). AllAboutJazz. The Tierney Sutton Band: American Road. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/american-road-tierney-sutton-bfm-review-by-raul-dgama-rose.php

Loudon, Christopher. 2018, September 9). JazzTimes. Karrin Allyson: Some of That Sunshine (Kasrecords). https://jazztimes.com/reviews/albums/karrin-allyson-some-of-that-sunshine/

Bilawsky, Dan. (2012, April 9).  AllAboutJazz.  Kate McGarry: Girl Talk.  https://www.allaboutjazz.com/girl-talk-kate-mcgarry-palmetto-records-review-by-dan-bilawsky.php

Wilson, Jerome. (2018, January 7). AllAboutJazz. Sinne Eeg: Dreams. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/dreams-sinne-eeg-artist-share-review-by-jerome-wilson.php

Wolff, Carlo. (2019, June). Downbeat. Quiana Lynell A Little Love (Concord). https://downbeat.com/reviews/detail/a-little-love

Barnes, Phil. (2014, March 22). AllAboutJazz. Zara McFarlane: If You Knew Her. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/if-you-knew-her-zara-mcfarlane-brownswood-recordings-review-by-phil-barnes.php

Wolff, Carlo. (2011, January 1). JazzTimes. Cassandra Wilson: Silver Pony. https://jazztimes.com/reviews/albums/cassandra-wilson-silver-pony/

Bailey, C. Michael. (2018, May 30). AllAboutJazz. Tiffany Austin: Unbroken. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/unbroken-tiffany-austin-con-alma-music-review-by-c-michael-bailey.php

For other programs in Jazz at 100 Today! visit: Jazz at 100 Today!

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