Kristen Lee Sergeant -- Inside/Out
With Inside/Out (Whaling City Sound), Kristen Lee Sergeant emerges onto the crowded scene of jazz vocalists with a fresh, distinctive voice full of soul, authenticity and the gift of great storytelling. The title reflects the duality of each song's lyrics and placement, creating a cycle of emotions ranging from rapture to introspection to reality, bringing what is inside, out. Fun and fearlessness pervade this debut release as Kristen's fresh arrangements also turn 80's pop classics into adventurous jazz romps with the promise of even more exciting things to come.
The restless, creative spirit that inspires her is evident on this recording, and deeply impacts the music and her listeners. Multi-Grammy winning jazz journalist, Bob Blumenthal writes, "Some vocalists aspire to be jazz singers. Others claim the mantle but fall short. The lucky few, like Kristen Lee Sergeant, meet the challenge and merit the title. "Inside/Out" displays Sergeant's qualifications her superior intonation and control, an interpretive command that ranges from defiance to gentility, a willingness to take risks with harmony and rhythm, the freshness of her arrangements, synchronicity with her accompanists, and the manner in which all these elements yield a supremely musical package. She has refined these skills over the past decade, and her woodshedding period has yielded an imposing debut album."
Radio host, Jay Edwards of Atlanta's WCLK-FM's "Jazz Tones, " calls her "an effervescent spirit whose superb vocals and phrasing inject the lyrics with new life, " illustrating how influences from early onstage work palpably serve this recording. Inspired by Carmen McRae, Shirley Horne and Rosemary Clooney, Sergeant finds the swing and intimacy of each tune in every context. This release is a portrait of an artist coalescing all her influences, and those of her musicians, to a nuanced reinvention of standards & pop classics under the jazz canopy of swing and contemporary music.
Says Kristen, "The title "Inside/Out" evokes an image of insides exposed. It implies a process revealed. My voice is what is most inside me breath taken in and transformed by body, mind, soul. These songs also have insides meanings and secrets that I seek to bring out in all my interpretations. This record is my inside my musical essence. I have found my voice through jazz music. This album is my entry into the conversation of this music by honoring its traditions and hallowed standards, as well as bringing in new ideas of what can be sung with this vocabulary in mind."
Sergeant grew up in Manchester-by-the-Sea, a suburb on Boston's North Shore that she is quick to point out is the home of Singing Beach. During her high school and college years, she was focused on theater and classical singing, and when she moved to New York after graduating from Brandeis University her intent was to pursue a theatrical career and study opera. Then her roommate suggested that Sergeant check out cabaret legend Marilyn Maye, and a new fascination took hold. "Seeing Marilyn perform convinced me that there was a more intimate way of reaching an audience." Sergeant has since become a student of Maye's.
Sergeant also found herself immersed in jazz after the leader of a big band heard her rehearsing bel canto in a practice studio and invited her to sit in. Soon she was a permanent member of the ensemble, which only added to her growing sense of the music and improvisation. Hearing Maye and working with the big band led Sergeant to reconsider her musical priorities. "There's stuff you miss in more traditional vocal study, particularly in the area of rhythm. I realized that as a student I had reached a peak, only to discover that I could see a higher summit."
Mentoring with jazz producer/manager, Suzi Reynolds, led her to study with vocalist/pianist Tom Lellis, putting the finishing touches on Sergeant's jazz apprenticeship. "Tom is a great teacher, " she confirms, "and he was particularly helpful in my approach to rhythm. Most importantly, I learned that when I'm into a song, the chances I take are all instinctual. And the meaning of each tune is my window into improvisation. If what I'm trying to do is not based in a deep well of feeling, it's not going to happen."
Sergeant has placed her individual stamp on this debut program with a half dozen standards, from a half time statement against the rhythm section at the start of "Old Devil Moon, " the Monkish setting of "I Wish I were In Love Again" to the straightforward wonder of "So Many Stars, "plus three addition hits from the 80's; "Everybody Wants To Rule The World, " "Every Breath You Take" and "Melt With You, " ending with an intensely personal version of "It Never Entered My Mind." As the tracks were being recorded, Producer Suzi Reynolds pointed out that Sergeant had created a song cycle, one that began with the power of "Never Will I Marry" and looped back to another form of never.
The result on Inside/Out is confirmation of Kristen Lee Sergeant's embrace of the jazz aesthetic. "Jazz is about bringing something new to familiar material, " she says. "The art form doesn't need you if you are not seeking a new way. Improvisation allowed me to follow Suzi's advice to 'seize the musical moment.'" Consider the moment seized.
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