June 18, 2024

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Interview with Roseanna Vitro: As long as get to the heart of the music – that is the key to soul. Intellect is different: Video, New CD cover

Jazz interview with jazz singer Roseanna Vitro. An interview by email in writing. 

JazzBluesNews.com: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?

Roseanna Vitro: – Hello Simon, I grew up in the South of the USA.  I was born in Arkansas and grew up in a gospel singing family. My mother’s family were gospel singers. My father was Italian, with family from Calabria, by way of NY when they moved to the U.S.

I knew I was a singer, since I was 4 years old. I love music.

JBN: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?

RV: – I sang in every possible situation in my school years and fortunately had a brilliant, sophisticated teacher who turned her students on to well written harmony charts and with excellent lyrics. I was a dreamer and put my heart and mind into my songs. I always sang and listened to great singers and instrumentalists.

JBN: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?

RV: – I believe my continued listening &  rhythmic studies have nurtured my continuing drive  to play  polyrhythms which evolved from my private studies, teaching and singing with great musicians. I listen, and love great drummers. A few times for the road, I have brought a drummer instead of a pianist because it is so important to have creative, swinging time. I find it’s more difficult to find a great drummer on the road than pianists or bassists.

JBN: – How to prevent disparate influences from coloring what you’re doing? 

RV: – I’m Not positive which kind of influences you’re speaking of, but I imagine you’re speaking of choices perhaps to be successful?  I’ve always cared if people listening or playing with me will enjoy my choices but all good jazz  musicians know; we take chances. New music, improvisation with lyrics or melodies or changes – are creatively subjective. It is a great adventure to paint musically,  what we feel and hear. Each of my  albums (15 now)  have been exciting learning journeys with great musicians.

JBN: – How do you prepare before your performances to help you maintain both spiritual and musical stamina?

RV: – For singers, you must sleep – a good long sleep. I go through different periods of workouts to strengthen my diaphragm, plus exercise my voice with practicing vocaleses and rhythms. Spiritually- I’m as oversensitive as any good musicians. I feel deeply, but I am careful not to allow ‘pretender voices’ to encourage insecurity and fear. I was drafted to create a vocal jazz program in 1998 for New Jersey City University where I taught for 20 years, plus the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) in Newark, NJ. The journey of teaching helped me to understand very different types of personalities and strategies to overcome human ticks that stop us.

JBN: – What do you love most about your new album 2021: Sing a Song of Bird, how it was formed and what you are working on today.

RV: – “SING A SONG OF BIRD” was born in 2017, as I chatted with the great Bob Dorough who was 93 years old at the time. For those who may not know Bob, he was the only singer to sing on a Miles Davis album. His tune, “Nothing Like You Has Ever Been Seen Before” is a classic. Bob was from Arkansas and we’re both in the Arkansas Jazz Hall of Fame, plus we became good friends through the years. Although, Bob had developed cancer he mentioned to me he’d been working on a Charlie Parker song, “Bluebird” for a few years. I told Bob, I was never a bebop singer, but I’d love to make a project with really good lyrics to Parker’s tunes and really dig into some Parker. This was the catalyst, the seed. I decided to make this project with mentors; Bob Dorough and Sheila Jordan. Sheila just turned 93! Sheila wrote new lyrics to “Relaxin’ in Camarillo”, Bob wrote “Audubon’s New Bluebird” plus my recording engineer, husband Paul Wickliffe wrote “People Chase” to “Steeplechase” and “Grapple with the Apple” to “Scrapple from the Apple” and I sang Parker’s lyrics and melody to “Yardbird Suite.”  Unfortunately Bob Dorough passed away in 2018. So I could not finish, then we had Covid! That is why the album was finished in July 2021. I added mentor, Mr. Marion Cowings, whom I’ve known since moving to NYC in 1978. He still sings great!  I do have another recording in the can with Kenny Werner.

Sing A Song Of Bird

JBN: – And how did you select the musicians who play on the album? 

RV: – I chose musicians for this album, whom I’d never recorded with,  from very close and admired associates. Jason Teborek, pianist on the first session in 2017,  had played in a few concerts with me and played for all my classes at NJCU and NJPAC.  We had never recorded together. Mark Gross, alto sax & teacher worked with me at NJPAC, Bill Goodwin on drums, is an old friend known for his work with Phil Woods band. Dean Johnson, great bassist who’s known for his work with Gerry Mulligan’s touring band and the duet, “Jackie Cain and Roy Kral” was the only musician on both sessions.  After Bob Dorough passed, the new session to complete came in July this year. Alan Broadbent is now my neighbor and I called him out of the blue. It was a good call! He’s great…Alvester Garnett on drums, who’s been performing some gigs with me the past couple of years and known for his work with Regina Carter.  Dean Johnson bass and a special call to an old friend, Gary Bartz. Gary flew in from San Francisco for the date and it was a joy. I love everyone who joined this project. Sheila Jordan had already recorded her tunes in 2017 and Marion Cowings walked in sang down the two classics, “Parker’s Mood” and “Now’s the Time” like a master singer that he is.

JBN: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?  

RV: – Musicians aren’t cookie cutter – some of us are have similar methods others are unorthodox… as long as get to the heart of the music – that is the key to soul. Intellect is different. Walt Weiskopf – Tim Ries – Sonny Rollins – for example are all great tenor players – I think they’re all soulful in their own way- Walt, maybe more intellectual? Sonny, maybe more soulful? Tim Ries  (who’s played with Maria Schneider & the Rolling Stones) is both as well. The main goals in music is keep learning, developing your own voice and realize: not everyone will like you – no matter what you do. That’s the human condition, but give whatever you’re doing – all you’ve got.

JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; you’re okay with giving the people what they want?  

RV: – I’ve performed for many, many years and if people request songs from my Grammy Nominated album,  or from another album, I would always consider if it is possible to play. Most artists want to bring joy to their listeners.

JBN: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

RV: – Simon – I have to write a book because I have so many memorable moments in my performing career. I have been very lucky and I’ve worked hard as well. In my early years in Houston, Texas,  I had a steady gig at “The GreenRoom.”  In this first big gig, I was lucky to play with Scott Hardy- guitar and Bliss Rodriguez piano in a quartet..  At this gig, I met the great Bill Evans one night and Oscar Peterson came to my gig after his concert at Jones Hall another time. When Oscar heard me sing, he asked if he could play a couple of tunes with us. This was very encouraging and memorable. I have too many stories to tell! lol

JBN: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?  

RV: – I think in the past 20 years jazz music/teaching has evolved to a very high level in conservatories in the USA and around the world. Today, there are great young jazz players everywhere you turn!  Singers such as myself, Darmen Meader, Judy Niemack, Michele Weir, Rosana Eckert and so many more have developed great teaching books, courses and master classes around the world. Technically – jazz is doing great. Commercially, television networks, the Grammys, important commercial outlets are not supportive of jazz and do not realize the great roots and commercial appeal of jazz. Our society in America chooses to dumb down the most commercial outlets. Jazz music will never die but the masses of busy people, paired with the big money powers that threw our cds away and forced all of us into streaming – are not really concerned about the importance of knowing “who’s” playing on a track- who wrote the song- music and lyrics? Who arranged this amazing music? I hate streaming without choices – the machines don’t have “All” the music. Artists must work to remedy this. As long as we are creative and think of new ways- it is possible.

JBN: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?

RV: – This spirit – the meaning of life – is simply to be happy Simon.  At each stage of life- each decade we make new decisions. What makes you happy?  We all know we must find a way to survive, honor our families and friends – take care of our loved ones. Find joy wherever we can.

JBN: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

RV: – I would create more opportunities for groups to play, to perform, more opportunities for the less fortunate to study with masters in their field.

JBN: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?  

RV: – I’m trying to catch up on listening. I’m behind on Lorraine Feather’s latest recording, Rosana Eckert’s “Brasuka” cd. I need to re-listen to Kate McGarry’s latest project. These are vocal friends. I listen to a wide variety of music when I’m working and actually designed a playlist for “IHeart” radio of jazz artists and some pop that I enjoy. To my ear- music must have 1) melody 2) rhythm 3) good lyrics – and hip chord voicings.

JBN: – What is the message you choose to bring through your music?   

RV: – I bring authentic, soulful, creative tunes which speak to me and I always think about creative arranging ideals.  Your music has to say something – and sometimes- you just have fun! Kenny Werner’s “Freedom Jazz Dance” arrangement on my “Passion Dance” album was so hot – but the lyrics were just fun!

JBN: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?

RV: – I’d want to go to one of Ella’s or Sarah Vaughan’s early gigs and hang out with them and chat.

JBN: – I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself… 

RV: – Simon- Why did you create a website to write about music? Are you a musician or avid listener?

JBN: – I am Jazz critic and journalist, Jazz is my life !!!

JBN: – So putting that all together, how are you able to harness that now? 

RV: – I harness – a Big Thank you for your caring about my music and so many others. I ask your forgiveness of my late return of your questions. This was a crazy year. I re-released my first album “Listen Here” in February this year because it has only been vinyl in 1984. (It was with Arnett Cobb and The Kenny Barron Trio!).  I followed in July to finish, “Sing a Song of Bird.” It has been a crazy and fulfilling year! Thank you so much.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

Roseanna Vitro: Following Her Muse article @ All About Jazz

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