May 19, 2024

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Interview with Darden Purcell: There must be substance and depth and respect for the art: Video, new CD cover

Interview with Jazz vocalist Darden Purcell. An interview by email in writing. – First, let’s start out with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music. How exactly did your adventure take of? When did you realize that this was a passion you could make a living out of?

Darden Purcell: – I am the child of a military pilot and spent roughly ten years living in England. My parents are huge music fans and I remember very early memories of them taking my sister and I to the West End to see shows. We saw “Cats,” “Phantom of the Opera,” “Starlight Express,” etc. Now I am dating myself, but seeing these incredible musical productions at an early age ignited my passion for music. We finally settled in the Northern VA area, when I was in High School. I went to Virginia Tech for undergraduate studies and my voice teacher was a former Air Force Band vocalist. I had no idea that I could pursue music in the military, ie., earn a steady paycheck. I was very fortunate to win a premiere band position in the Washington DC Air Force Band just months college graduation. That taught me about being a “working musician” and I have never looked back.

OUR US/EU Jazz and Blues Festivals 2023

JBN: – How has your sound evolved over time? What have you been doing to find and develop your own sound?

DP: – Well, I think as a singer, my sound is maturing simply as I age. I welcome this evolution as I love the sound of mature singers. While the vocal dexterity or “pyrotechnics” might not be there, as in the younger years, there is a “storytelling” quality that I absolutely love. It’s learning to embrace yourself at any age. Now, I am more interested in diction and creating an intimate delivery for the audience. There are still some “pyrotechnics” but it’s not necessarily my primary goal anymore.

JBN: – What routine practices or exercises have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical proficiency, in terms of both rhythm and harmony?

DP: – I am the director of the Mason Jazz Vocal Ensemble at George Mason University and run rehearsals three days a week. I play piano for all the rehearsals. I also have a Jazz Voice studio and again, accompany my singers on piano throughout the week in their lessons and studio classes. I find playing piano improves my proficiency at every musical level. I am constantly telling my vocalists (really everyone, including instrumentalists whose instrument is not piano) to “get your piano chops going.” It is the most valuable skill you can learn as a musician. Especially as a singer, we often rely on instrumentalists to assist us, and the more piano skills you have, the more it relates to everything you do vocally.

JBN: – Have you changed through the years? Any charges or overall evolution? And if so why?

DP: – Other than getting older, I don’t think much has changed! LOL. I think as I age, I just want to be more thoughtful and easy-going. I want to try to “live in the moment” and enjoy as much as I can out of every situation. The older you get, the faster it all goes, and I don’t want to miss anything. You start to realize that the small stuff just does not matter. Let it go.

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

DP: – I start to practice for recordings roughly one to two months out from the studio date. It really depends on when the arrangements are complete. Sometimes I have a lot of time while at other times, I do not. Keep in mind that some of these songs, I might have performed before, but now with new arrangements. Shawn Purcell (my husband and arranger) is great and provides Finale practice tracks of the arrangements that I can use to prepare. My practice philosophy is do a little each day but do it every day. I do not have long 8-hour practice sessions. I prefer to spend time each day, but every single day. I hang lyric sheets around my house, so I can reference, practice in my car when I am stuck in traffic. I do whatever I can, so I am working on the music every single day. Right now, I am practicing for my October 11 CD release at Blues Alley. For spiritual stamina, that is a great question and a hard one. Some days feel better than others and I just try to keep positive and grateful that I get to pursue what I love.

JBN: – What do you love most about your new album 2023: Darden Purcell – Love’s Got Me in a Lazy Mood, how it was formed and what you are working on today.

DP: – I love that we were able to collaborate with vibraphonist, Joe Locke! This is my first CD with a “guest artist” and Joe was amazing! He brought such thoughtfulness and amazing musicality to the project and took it to another level. His playing is really incredible on this album. We are so grateful to him. I have always loved that 1960’s sound with vibraphone and Shawn’s arrangements really encaptured what we were going for. One of my favorite albums of all-time is Nancy Wilson/George Shearing “The Swinging’s Mutual.” This album is an homage to that George Shearing-esque sound.

Buy from here – New CD 2023

Love's Got Me in a Lazy Mood - Album by Darden Purcell - Apple Music

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

DP: – Todd Simon (piano) was on my 2016 album, Where the Blue Begins, and Shawn’s 2019 album Symmetricity. He is one of our favorite piano players and is such a fun hang. He is so creative, and we just love Todd. He lives in Las Vegas now and was gracious enough to come back to the east coast to join us again in the studio. Shawn and I have played with Todd Harrison for years! Todd is one of the best drummers in the VA/DC/MD area. He is “rock solid” and can read and play any groove you are looking for. There was no doubt that Todd would bring an intensity to the session that we were looking for. While Shawn has played with Jeff Reed several times, the session was my first time meeting and working with Jeff. He is a beautiful player and human and brought so much imaginativeness to the music. Of course, there is no album without Shawn Purcell on guitar/arrangements. I am so lucky to have someone who writes customized arrangements, just for my voice, and on top of that, play his “you-know-what” off. He is my number one collaborator in all aspects of life. I am so, so blessed to have this amazing band!

JBN: – Can you share any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions over the years?

DP: – This is a great question. There are so many memories with so many wonderful musicians. I would surely miss someone if I listed them out.

JBN: – In your opinion, what’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?

DP: – This is a great question. I feel you need to have both equally. There must be substance and depth and respect for the art. That is the intellectual level. At the same time, there must be emotion for people to “feel something.” Often, the “soul” outweighs the “intellect” as we are emotional beings. Especially with the arts, that is people’s “escape” from everyday life so that emotional element is so crucial. At the same time, we don’t need to “dumb down” our art, for the sake of an emotional response. One of my favorite Duke Ellington quotes (and I am paraphrasing here) is “High art does not come to you. YOU must go to high art.” That is the intellectual part of the equation. It is more of a symbiotic relationship that people think.

JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; are you okay with delivering people the emotion they long for?

DP: – Yes, absolutely. I am a balladeer at heart, so I am all about delivering an emotive performance when I can. My voice lends itself to ballads (and I am an emotional person myself) so I am very comfortable doing so. I love the story-telling aspect and being able to, hopefully, touch people’s hearts. There is no great compliment than when someone tells me that I made them cry. Weird, I know. But that means they were able to leave their troubles for a minute and be moved by the music. I feel that is my job. There is truly no greater feeling.

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

DP: – We just keep introducing young audiences to this music and we do it with a relentless spirit. I feel that my job as Director of Jazz Studies at George Mason University is to pass on to these students their “cultural inheritance.” This is not just a “musical inheritance,” but a “cultural” one as well. This is the music that our nation was founded on. This (and baseball) are the two things that originated in America. Of course, I fully know that we are a nation of immigrants, and it was the blending of many cultures that created Jazz. I don’t agree when one group claims ownership of anything, but I do believe that everyone knows that the origin of Jazz is America. For young people today, I want them to understand that this is the “musical history” of America. Many don’t think they know any jazz songs, but as soon as you start listing some, they actually do know this music. Since it is not played on the radio as much (or whatever they are listening to), they are just not as aware. But once they begin to study seriously, they LOVE it. I also stress learning the history of the composers/lyricists and the story behind the song. Once they have a “real” connection to it and know that perhaps this song was written by a composer/lyricist who (at that time) was going through a divorce, or something of the like, it feels more “real.” It is making the connection.

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

DP: – Wow. Your questions are so thought provoking. I don’t really know how to answer this question. I just try to live my life and treat others as I would like to be treated. I guess it all comes down to the Golden Rule!

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

DP: – I would like to go back to a world before streaming. While I love technology (and am guilty of using it myself), I really wish we could go back to the days when people had to purchase music and the artists could make money from their own recordings. That is just not the case right now and it makes me sad. It is wonderful that you can reach so many people through streaming services, but if you can’t pay your bills, it does not make much sense.

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

DP: – Now that the album is complete, a little bit of everything. Of course, I love Jazz, and I emersed myself in it prior to the recording, but sometimes I need a break. I love 1980’s rock and country music. This summer I was into the “Yacht Rock” station on Sirius. (see I am guilty of streaming too) Great music is great music. I truly like it all; it just depends on my mood.

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

DP: – I would want to go back to the mid 20th century when Jazz music was at it’s height! I have always felt that I “missed the party.” I want to go back to when everyone had to go out, everyone dressed up and it was an incredible HANG. I think I would have fit in just fine back then! 😉

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

DP: – I have no message. I just want to perform these beautiful songs, pay respect to the composers/lyricists and past performers, and hopefully reach new audiences!

OUR US/EU Jazz and Blues Association 2023

JBN: – Do You like our questions? So far, it’s been me asking you questions, now may I have a question from yourself…

DP: – I love your questions, but I can’t think of anything to ask right now. My brain is fried answering yours. This was a workout! 😉 Thank you so much for this opportunity to chat!

JBN: – Thank you for your answers!

Interview by Emmanuel Bolton

Note: You can express your consent and join our association, which will give you the opportunity to perform at our Jazz and Blues festivals, naturally receiving an appropriate royalty. We cover all expenses. The objectives of the interview are: How to introduce yourself, your activities, thoughts and intellect, and make new discoveries for our US/EU Jazz & Blues Association, which organizes festivals, concerts and meetings in Boston and various European countries, why not for you too!! You can read more about the association here.

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