Program Notes: Bessie, Billie, & Nina: Pioneering Women in Jazz
IMG Artists and Women in Jazz Organization present
Bessie, Billie, & Nina:
Pioneering Women in Jazz
Saturday, March 19, 2022
7:00 PM & 9:00 PM | Bing Studio
Charenée Wade, vocals
Tahira Clayton, vocals
Vanisha Gould, vocals
Carmen Staaf, musical director, arranger, and piano
Jocelyn Gould, guitar
Nadje Noordhuis, trumpet
Liany Mateo, bass
Gary Kerkezou, drums
Generously supported by the Koret Foundation
PROGRAM SUBJECT TO CHANGE. Please be considerate of others and turn off all phones, pagers, and watch alarms. Photography and recording of any kind are not permitted. Thank you.
HEALTH AND SAFETY: Masks are no longer required for indoor performances but are strongly recommended.
About the Program
From the Jim Crow era-South through the turbulent 1960s, Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, and Nina Simone were among the most influential and popular singers of their times. Both within their music and outside of the clubs and concert halls, they wielded their exceptional talents to combat racial prejudice, sexism, and poverty. Whether powerfully and playfully claiming her autonomy and sexuality (Bessie Smith), forcing America to acknowledge the racism pervasive in the American South and beyond (Billie Holiday), or giving voice to the Civil Rights movement with stirring protest anthems (Nina Simone), these trailblazing singers spoke to and for the disenfranchised as women, African-Americans, and artists. All three women defied social norms, embracing self-empowerment through their art.
Produced by Grammy-winning Eli Wolf (Norah Jones, Cassandra Wilson), and with arrangements by pianist and musical director Carmen Staff (Dee Dee Bridgewater), BESSIE, BILLIE, & NINA: PIONEERING WOMEN IN JAZZ features three dynamic vocalists, each a rising star in her own right: Charenée Wade (Jazz at Lincoln Center), Tahira Clayton (co-leader, WIJO, Women in Jazz Organization), and Vanisha Gould. Presented in affiliation with WIJO and backed by an all-female band, Wade, Gould, and Clayton celebrate the enduring legacies of these iconic women and artists with performances of their classic songs, including Bessie Smith’s “Downhearted Blues,” Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit,” and Nina Simone’s “Mississippi Goddam.”
The musical and social legacies of Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, and Nina Simone remain as relevant as ever. Their contributions resonate with today’s artists across many genres, as well as with ongoing movements toward progress and equality for women, African-Americans, and the LGBTQ community. BESSIE, BILLIE, & NINA will entertain, inspire, and empower audiences during this pivotal time in our own history.
Charenée Wade – Vocals
Charenee Wade is not one to hold back or let fear stand in her way. The first artist ever to enter two Thelonious Monk vocal competitions, she walked away from the second one in 2010 with instant buzz and second place to her new friend Cecilé McLorin Salvant. Now is the time for Wade’s star to rise. Known for expert vocal improvisational ability and her seriously swinging groove, Wade evokes a classic jazz sound akin to Betty Carter and Sarah Vaughan, two of her musical touchstones. With her Motéma debut, Offering: The Music of Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson (June 23), she pays tribute to another inspiration, the socially conscious poet and musician Gil Scott-Heron and confirms that she too plans to use her artist platform thoughtfully.
The first full-length album tribute to Scott-Heron and his musical collaborator Brian Jackson by a woman artist, Offering is arresting in just how timely Scott-Heron’s messages are today and how perfectly Wade delivers them through her savvy arrangements and intimate jazz interpretations. While she has earned many accolades—first runner-up in New York’s Jazzmobile Vocal competition; a participant in Betty Carter’s Jazz Ahead program; a feature on NPR’s Song Travels; a starring role in the off-Broadway show Café Society and in Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Salute to Betty Carter—she may surprise people with this authentic tour de force.
Wade embodies Scott-Heron’s poems deeply and with a pathos that belies her age. Her singing is effortless and inventive on the opening title track, and with her lithe voice floating around the poet’s timeless words, we are invited into her invocation. Indeed “Song of the Wind” feels like a sacred exchange between the past and present and a testament to the peace we’re still seeking today. “A Toast to The People” showcases her excellent storytelling ability and subtle vocal prowess. On “Home Is Where the Hatred Is,” she and the band throw down the gauntlet both in terms of the powerful message and jazz chops on display.
Like Scott-Heron, Wade believes that we are the ones right now who must commit to social consciousness and to just action, as she makes plain in “Ain’t No Such Thing As A Superman,” which she mines for its jazz, blues, and soul elements. The call to action continues in the next selection, “Essex/Martin, Grant, Byrd and Till,” as the story and names recited by actor Malcolm-Jamal Warner could be exchanged today with those of Martin, Brown, Garner, and sadly, many more. Wade goes into a slow burn on “Western Sunrise” and the poignant track, “The Vulture (Your Soul and Mine).” Her finesse with language, intervals, dynamics, and emotive ability is on brilliant display in “Peace Go With You Brother.” The closing song “I Think I’ll Call It Morning” signals that hope is always what drives positive change.
Produced by Grammy-nominated music industry veteran and Sirius XM personality Mark Ruffin, the recording features notable guest stars and a stellar band comprised of Brandon McCune on piano; Dave Stryker on guitar; Lonnie Plaxico on bass; and Alvester Garnett on drums. Wade’s labelmate, saxophonist Lakecia Benjamin, sits in on “Essex/Martin,” as does Marcus Miller on bass clarinet and actor Malcolm-Jamal Warner on spoken word. Another spoken word guest is bassist Christian McBride, who opens “Peace Go With You Brother.” The great vibes player Stefon Harris is featured on six selections. Wade’s first international release follows on the recent publication of a biography on Scott-Heron by Marcus Baram called “Gil Scott-Heron: Pieces of A Man.”
Wade gives ample evidence on this remarkable debut as to why she is one of the most exciting, distinctive, and bold young musical talents on the rise today. A native of Brooklyn, she began singing at age 12 and fell under the spell of Sarah Vaughan. Wade attended LaGuardia High School for the Performing Arts and earned her music degree from Manhattan School of Music. One of four artists selected for the Dianne Reeves Young Artist workshop at Carnegie Hall, she was first runner-up at the 2006 New York City Jazzmobile Vocal Competition, which also featured Gregory Porter, whom Motéma launched into global stardom. The entire jazz industry has passionately embraced Wade including Wynton Marsalis, who features her regularly at Jazz at Lincoln Center (JALC); Christian McBride, who mentored her at his Jazz Aspen Academy; and labelmate Rufus Reid, who selected her for his Grammy-nominated album, Quiet Pride: The Elizabeth Catlett Project. Wade has performed with Bobby Sanabria, Aaron Diehl, Oran Etkin, Robert Glasper, and MacArthur Fellow and choreographer Kyle Abraham among others and at venues and festivals worldwide including Montreux and Spoleto. This year she is touring in Jazz at Lincoln Center’s national presentation, Ladies Sing the Blues.
A singer, composer, arranger, and educator, Wade is a professor at the Aaron Copland School at Queens College and was just recently appointed to Peabody Institute. Following the Monk competition in 2010, she self-released Love Walked In, which earned her the NPR Song Travels feature. With Offering, Wade continues walking in love and using her art to raise our consciousness.
Tahira Clayton – Vocals
Known for her honest vocal delivery and charismatic energy on stage, the now New York-based vocalist Tahira Clayton is sure to charm any audience set before her. The up and coming urban contemporary jazz vocalist and band leader hails from the Dallas-Fort Worth area where she started performing professionally at the age of 10. Singing in various church bands, Tahira learned how to cultivate her big sound. At the age of 11, Tahira competed and won the University of North Texas Vocal Jazz Camp Scholarship, allowing her to attend the university’s prestigious camp as the youngest ever attendee. Here, she was mentored and directed by Paris Rutherford, Jennifer Barnes, and Rosana Eckert. During her time at this camp Tahira found a love for vocal jazz music that would undoubtedly color the future of her career.
By high school, Tahira was performing in the Grammy Award Winning Plano Senior High School A Cappella choir (PSHS). While performing for PSHS, she was chosen to sing in a choir directed by Anton Armstrong from St. Olaf College in Minnesota. Also during this time, Tahira received her first full time job as a vocalist singing for the Roof Raisers Variety Band under the direction of Gene Glover. Through this opportunity, Tahira has sung in countless shows and built an extensive repertoire ranging from straight ahead jazz, big band, R&B, pop rock, and country. Tahira recorded and performed regularly as the Roof Raisers’ lead vocalist until December of 2015.
Tahira currently lends her performance talents to the New York company, the Band Method, playing events for high profile clients nationally and internationally. Tahira has performed as the featured vocalist in some of Dallas-Fort Worth’s most prestigious venues including Bass Hall (Ft. Worth), the House of Blues (Dallas), Dallas Museum of Art (Dallas), as well as at events such as the Denton Arts and Jazz Festival. Tahira was often seen in many of the Dallas area's most popular local music venues as well, such as the Green House (Denton), the Balcony Club (Dallas), RBC, and the Crown and Harp (Deep Ellum)—leading bands or as a featured vocalist.
As well as being an active performer, Tahira is an in-demand clinician and educator. Working with elementary to high school-aged pop/jazz choirs, Tahira exposes younger minds to song interpretation, group and individual performance technique, as well as group and individual vocal technique. Tahira currently holds a teaching position at Bach To Rock: America's Music School in New York City, specializing in private voice instruction, beginning piano, and early childhood music. Tahira also holds a teaching position at the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music, directing three choirs throughout New York City.
Tahira is a graduate of the University of North Texas (class of 2015) where she received a Bachelor of Arts in music with an emphasis in vocal jazz. Tahira spent the majority of her degree under the direction of Jennifer Barnes and Rosana Eckert in the Vocal Jazz Studies program. While at North Texas, Tahira has participated in lectures and master classes from the likes of Kurt Elling, John Clayton, Janis Sigel, members of the Singers Unlimited, Peter Eldridge, and the Real Group, and has performed with Bobby McFerrin.
Utilizing the term urban contemporary jazz vocalist, Tahira writes and collaborates on original music projects. Her most frequent collaborations are with with AMP trio (Addison Frei, Matt Young, Perrin Grace), a New York based jazz trio. Together with this group, they have achieved international acclaim, radio play, and recognition; reaching #24 on the Jazz Weekly Charts. She is the featured vocalist on the group’s second album, m(y)our world, and recently joined them in headlining a stage at the Rockville Jazz Festival (Feb. 2017). Tahira has also embarked on a tour with the group covering parts of the United States and Canada. As well as working on the AMP Trio project, Tahira has worked on the individual projects of AMP Trio's pianist, Addison Frei (Intentions, Transit), and bassist, Perrin Grace (Nef). These collaborations have also taken Tahira to venues in New York, Florida, and Kansas. In June of 2017, Tahira along with AMP Trio (AMP’T) won the DC Jazz Festival’s 2nd annual DC Jazz Prix competition and performed on the main stage of the DC Jazz Festival in the Summer of 2018. Along with the 2018 jazz festival, AMP’T toured in Shanghai, Hangzhou and Changzhou, China in summer 2018.
As a band leader, Tahira has quickly made a mark on other parts of the United States as well. Leading groups in storied venues such as the Cornelia Street Café, the Cell Theatre, Café Noctumbulo, the Kitano (New York), The Jazz Showcase (Chicago), the White House (Orlando), and others, Tahira is establishing herself as a musical force throughout the country. With her unique style, vast knowledge of numerous genres of music, and invaluable performance experience, Tahira has established herself as a true musical force. Tahira continues to write, perform, and record as a jazz vocalist in New York City.
Vanisha Gould – Vocals
Since coming to New York City a few years ago, Vanisha Gould has become an important young voice on the New York jazz scene, where she’s graced the stages of Dizzy’s Club at Jazz at Lincoln Center, Smalls, The Jazz Gallery, and other esteemed NYC venues. She’s also toured internationally and recently released an album entitled In Her Words, a collaborative open-hearted glimpse into the inner lives of Women.
Carmen Staaf – Musical Director, Arranger, and Piano
Pianist/composer Carmen Staaf is a rising force in the NYC and global music scenes. She has performed and recorded with some of the most influential and important musicians of our era. Currently, she is the pianist and musical director for NEA Jazz Master Dee Dee Bridgewater. Her past major performances have included the Playboy Jazz Festival in a two-piano setting with the legendary Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter, Jazz at Lincoln Center with Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, and the Kennedy Center alongside Kenny Barron and Fred Hersch. She has been heard at the Village Vanguard, Blue Note, SFJAZZ, and major jazz festivals around the world including the Newport, Monterey, Montreux, and North Sea Jazz Festivals, among many others.
“Carmen Staaf is a consummate jazz pianist with equal talent in composition, orchestration, and arranging... She very much displays a complete knowledge of the history of her instrument but more importantly Carmen is constantly reaching beyond history and is not afraid to go into the unknown and challenge herself at every moment. A bright future awaits her." —Herbie Hancock
Jocelyn Gould – Guitar
Jocelyn Gould has been called “a leader in the next generation of great mainstream jazz guitarists” by Howard Paul, CEO of Benedetto Guitars. Her joyful energy has captivated audiences around the world and her passion for music is infectious. She has absorbed the influences of the jazz guitar greats and has woven them into an exciting personal sound. Her unique ability to connect with audiences always leaves them wanting more.
Jocelyn Gould has performed internationally in the groups of Grammy-nominated vocalist Freddy Cole, trumpeter Etienne Charles, and DownBeat Rising Star trombonist Michael Dease. She can be heard on albums lead by Michael Dease, Jon Gordon, Diego Rivera, Randy Napoleon, and Will Bonness. She is the 1st place winner of the 2018 Wilson Centre International Jazz Guitar competition.
Jocelyn's debut release as a leader, Elegant Traveler, won a 2021 JUNO for “Jazz Album of the Year” in the 2021 JUNO awards. Elegant Traveler showcases Jocelyn's warm and inviting sound and melodic compositions with an all-star band.
Jocelyn is a professor and Head of Guitar Department at Humber College in Toronto.
Nadje Noordhuis – Trumpet
With a trumpet sound possessing a "beyond-category beauty” (Dan Bilawksy, All About Jazz), Australian-born trumpeter/composer Nadje Noordhuis’ deeply-felt, clarion tone and evocative compositional gift meld classical rigor, jazz expression, and world music accents into a sound that is distinctively her own.
Noordhuis was one of ten semi-finalists in the 2007 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Trumpet Competition and was selected as a Carnegie Hall Young Artist in 2010. Based in New York City since 2003, she is a member of the multiple GRAMMY-winning Maria Schneider Orchestra and GRAMMY-nominated ensembles Darcy James Argue's Secret Society and the Anat Cohen Tentet.
Noordhuis has four albums of original compositions on her record label, Little Mystery Records. Her eponymous debut jazz quintet album featuring GRAMMY-nominees Sara Caswell and Geoffrey Keezer was released to critical acclaim in 2012. Her 2015 contemplative duo album of miniatures with pianist Luke Howard, Ten Sails, has garnered much international attention with over eight million streams on Spotify. Her duo album with vibraphonist/synthesist James Shipp, Indigo, was premiered at the Wangaratta Jazz Festival in Australia in 2017. Her latest release, Gullfoss, was recorded live in Switzerland in 2019 for a vinyl-only box set on Newvelle Records. Re-released digitally on Little Mystery Records, this record has garnered multiple five star reviews, and was listed as one of the best albums of 2021 by Jazz Times magazine.
Noordhuis is on the jazz trumpet faculty at Manhattan School of Music, Hunter College, Manhattan School of Music Precollege, and maintains a busy private studio.
Liany Mateo - Bass
With appearances that include the legendary Smalls Jazz Club and a feature of her band in Downbeat Magazine, bassist Liany Mateo has traveled across the United States, Japan, Africa, and Banff, Canada performing, touring, and teaching music. Influenced by a mix of hard-hitting straight-ahead swing, Free Avante Garde, and music with deep pocket groove, Mateo deems herself a chameleon, fitting into many different types of musical situations. She is a fixed member of multiple bands that have toured across the U.S. and has been featured on multiple recordings, including one on Positone records. In January 2020 she was awarded the Jack Rudin "Outstanding Bass Solo'' award at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s first collegiate jazz competition adjudicated by Wynton Marsalis. She holds a Jazz degree from the esteemed Michigan State University (2020) and a Master’s degree from the Berklee Global Jazz Institute (2021).
Gary Kerkezou – Drums
Gary Kerkezou is a NYC-based drummer and violin player. Born in a family of professional musicians, she moved to Boston from Greece for her undergraduate studies at the prestigious Berklee College of Music, where she was accepted with the Berklee European Tour Scholarship, the Kostas Kouvidis Foundation Scholarship, and the BIN Augmentation Award. There, she soon started performing and recording in the greater New England area on a daily basis on both her instruments and two years later she joined the Boston Civic Symphony Orchestra on the 1st violins.
While at Berklee, Gary won the Berklee Achievement Grant, the “Most Improved Drummer” Award, the Terri Lyne Carrington Scholarship, and the Zildjian Scholarship. She was featured in WBGO Radio’s Jazz Appreciation Month on April 2018 and the same year she got accepted into Berklee Global Institute of Jazz’s graduate program with a full scholarship but instead chose to move to NYC and pursue her masters degree at Manhattan School of Music as a student of Kendrick Scott.
Having graduated from MSM on May 2020 after receiving a Downbeat Student Award in March, she now continues to perform, record, and teach in New York. She has appeared at the Lincoln Center, Dizzy’s Club, United Palace Theater, Jordan Hall, Kresge Auditorium, the BPC, Regatta Bar, the Bar Next Door, Side Door, Shapeshifter Lab, and Wally’s, and has given masterclasses at Frank Sinatra School of the Arts, KC Area Youth Jazz, and Mount Saint Charles Academy. She has worked with Lalah Hathaway, Javon Jackson, Chris Brubeck, Bill Pierce, Christian McBride, Cyrus Chestnut, Jacob Collier, Lage Lund, Patrick Doyle, and Vladimir Fedoseyev.
Eli Wolf – Producer
Eli Wolf’s career as producer and A&R executive spans over two decades. Highlights include working closely with Grammy-winning artist Norah Jones from the onset of her career; conceptualizing and executive producing Al Green’s Grammy-winning collaborative album Lay it Down; signing and producing Grammy-winning hip-hop/jazz crossover artist Robert Glasper; and signing and A&R-ing singer-songwriter Amos Lee. Eli produced Norah Jones’s most recent album, Day Breaks, which charted at #2 on the Billboard Top 200 and has to date sold 500,000 copies and earned over 125 million streams. In addition, Eli has produced and A&R-ed a wide array of artists spanning many genres, including jazz, world, classical, pop, singer-songwriter, R&B, hip-hop, indie-rock, Americana, and soundtrack. Eli’s additional standout entries include projects with Grammy-winning artists Willie Nelson, Elvis Costello, The Roots, Anita Baker, and Wynton Marsalis. For 20 years, Eli worked at Blue Note Records under the mentorship of Bruce Lundvall. Currently, Eli is an independent producer and A&R consultant at ATO Records.
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