After much thought we have chosen two artists of the year 2021; one for JAZZ and one for BLUES. Blues. Both artists offer a contemporary take on the golden years of jazz and blues, the time before WW11 and the few decades after when big music came out of small clubs scattered across the country from the urban centers to the Mississippi Delta.
Today the jazz fans on-line seem to crave the jazz of old but cling to the memories of Miles and Coltrane and Sarah without giving much thought to the many young musicians that are keeping jazz alive with a fresh look. Blues music seems to have fallen into the hands of white rockers who appreciate the downhome sound but can’t quite capture the spirit. Both of these artists of the year are just what the doctor ordered to cure the yearning for the real deal.
Veronica Swift - Jazz
Veronica Swift is a few years from 30 and one jazz critic has already declared that …”she might be the best scat singer since Ella Fitzgerald, Anita O’Day Sarah Vaughn and Mel Torme.” She is a young, old school jazz vocalist who sings as though she is always looking back into the past. She is headed for first name fame, soon to be known simply as Veronica.
Amythyst Kiah - Blues
Kiah may be the most interesting and different performer to come on the Blues scene maybe ever. She is from East Tennessee and plays both the guitar and banjo and sings both Blues and Country music. You can hear in her voice that sound that represents the long ago influence of Black blues singers on the country music of Appalachia. Down-home blues is gone. It died with Etta James and Koko Taylor and Esther Phillips but its spirit is alive and well in the soul of an openly queer Black woman who may be the best living female blues singer around.
November 2021 - Lakecia Benjamin
Voted by 2020 Downbeat Critics Poll Rising star Alto Saxophonist and Up and Coming Artist of the Year by the Jazz Journalists Association, Charismatic and dynamic saxophonist Lakecia Benjamin fuses traditional conceptions of Jazz, HipHop, and Soul. Benjamin’s electric presence and fiery sax work has shared stages with several legendary artists, including Stevie Wonder, Alicia Keys, The Roots, and Macy Gray. As the bandleader of Lakecia Benjamin and Soul Squad, she melds the vintage sounds of James Brown, Maceo Parker, Sly and the Family Stone, and the Meters with soaring, dance-floor worthy rhythms. Benjamin’s grooves take the classic vibe to a whole new level with sultry alto saxophone creating something special on every cut – be it a smoldering late-night ambiance, or a forceful jazz intensity, or even the tight funk multi-horn harmony sections.
October 2021 - Xenia Rubinos
Visionary singer and music maker Xenia Rubinos dips in and out of genre and structure to create movingly powerful songs with her O.G. signature sound. Xenia’s powerhouse vocals are at the center of her music which grows from a wide range of influences from R&B to Hip-Hop to jazz all delivered with a soulful punk aura. Pitchfork lauded the radiant singer as “a unique new pop personality” while a profile in The New Yorker described her work as “rhythmically fierce, vocally generous music that slips through the net of any known genre.”
Her energetic live show and presence echoes some of the larger than life icons she admired as a child like Nina Simone while her powerful vocals recall the soulfulness of Erykah Badu while wielding a space in music that is utterly her own. “I think my signature sound is a collage of different musics coming together on a visceral level, connecting the dots with my voice and imagination.”
September 2021 - Amythyst Kiah
The Rounder Records debut from Amythyst Kiah, Wary + Strange marks the glorious collision of two vastly different worlds: the iconoclastic alt-rock that first sparked her musical passion, and the roots/old-time-music scene where she’s found breakout success in recent years, including recognition from Rolling Stone as “one of Americana’s great up-and-coming secrets.” Along with tapping into the vibrant musicality she honed in part through her studies in East Tennessee State University’s Bluegrass, Old Time, Country Music program, the Chattanooga-bred singer/songwriter expands on the uncompromising artistry she’s displayed as a member of Our Native Daughters—an all-women-of-color supergroup whose Kiah-penned standout “Black Myself” earned a GRAMMY nomination for Best American Roots Song and won Song of the Year at the Folk Alliance International Awards.
Produced by Tony Berg (Phoebe Bridgers, Amos Lee, Andrew Bird) and made with esteemed musicians like Blake Mills, Wary + Strange arrives as a deeply immersive body of work, endlessly redefining the limits of roots music in its inventive rhythms and textures. With an unforgettable voice that’s both unfettered and exquisitely controlled, Kiah gracefully interlaces political commentary and personal revelation, ultimately offering a raw yet nuanced examination of grief, alienation, and the hard-won triumph of total self-acceptance.
August 2021 - DIVA Jazz Orchestra
Headed by swinging drummer Sherrie Maricle, DIVA exudes the excitement and force found in the tradition of the historic big bands but with an eye towards today’s progressive sound of originality and verve. With New York as their home base, DIVA performs all over the world playing contemporary, mainstream big band jazz composed and arranged to fit the individual personalities and styles of the musicians themselves. Audiences can expect to hear high-energy performances packed with unique improvisation, spontaneity, and fun.
The inspiration for DIVA came from Stanley Kay, one-time manager and relief drummer for Buddy Rich. In 1990, Kay was conducting a band in which Sherrie Maricle was playing the drums. Stanley immediately picked up on her extraordinary talent and began to wonder if there were other women players who could perform at the same level. In 1992 the search was on, and through nationwide auditions the foundation for DIVA was poured. What emerged is the dynamic musical force that holds forth to the present day.
July 2021 - Cecil McLorin Salvant
Cécile McLorin Salvant, is a composer, singer, and visual artist. The late Jessye Norman described Salvant as“a unique voice supported by an intelligence and full-fledged musicality, which light up every note she sings”. Salvant has developed a passion for storytelling and finding the connections between vaudeville, blues, folk traditions from around the world, theater, jazz, and baroque music. Salvant is an eclectic curator, unearthing rarely recorded, forgotten songs with strong narratives, interesting power dynamics, unexpected twists, and humor. Salvant won the Thelonious Monk competition in 2010. She has received Grammy Awards for Best Jazz Vocal Album for her 3 latest albums, “The Window”, “Dreams and Daggers”, and “For One To Love”, and was nominated for the award in 2014 for her album “WomanChild”.
In 2020, Salvant received the MacArthur Fellowship and the Doris Duke Artist Award.
Born and raised in Miami, Florida, of a French mother and Haitian father, she started classical piano studies at 5, sang in a children’s choir at 8, and started classical voice lessons as a teenager.
Salvant received a bachelor’s in French law from the Université Pierre-Mendes France in Grenoble while also studying baroque music and jazz at the Darius Milhaud Music Conservatory in Aix-en-Provence, France.
Salvant’s latest work, Ogresse, is a musical fable in the form of a cantata that blends genres (folk, baroque, jazz, country). Salvant wrote the story, lyrics, and music. It is arranged by Darcy James Argue for a thirteen-piece orchestra of multi-instrumentalists. Ogresse, both a biomythography and an homage to the Erzulie (as painted by Gerard Fortune) and Sara Baartman, explores fetishism, hunger, diaspora, cycles of appropriation, lies, othering, and ecology. It is in development to become an animated feature-length film, which Salvant will direct.
June 2021 - Georgia Anne Muldrow
Georgia Anne Muldrow, has made 21 albums in the last 15 years, each one a new musical experience. She is one of the most versatile and innovative jazz vocalist around leaving her without an easily recognizable sound. She is also from L.A., both of these factors may be the reason she does not have the high visibility her talent deserves.Here's what John Pareles of the NY Times had to say about her in a May 2021 article.
"As a songwriter, singer, rapper, musician and producer, Muldrow has addressed serious ideas with drive, hooks and sonic creativity throughout an extraordinarily prolific career. Her music encompasses R&B, jazz, hip-hop, funk, rock and a broader Pan-African diaspora; it can be lean and earthy, harmonically labyrinthine or richly disorienting, swirling with reverb. Like Prince, Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney, she makes many of her tracks entirely on her own, using instruments and computers to turn herself into a one-woman studio band.
Muldrow has released a torrent of full-length albums since her 2006 debut, “Olesi: Fragments of an Earth.” Titles like “Umsindo” (Zulu for “noise” or “rage”) from 2009, “Oligarchy Sucks!” from 2014 and “Black Love & War” from 2019 make clear her career-long concerns: Black and African diaspora culture, justice, strength, liberation, exploration. Her 21st studio album, “Vweto III” — vweto means “gravity” in the Congolese language Kikongo."
May 2021 - Camille Thurman
Remember the name Camille Thurman. As a composer, multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, and unique interpreter of the jazz tradition, she is quickly becoming one of the standard bearers for the form, making a considerable and dynamic contribution to the legacy of jazz while paying tribute to its heroes.
Fluid and powerful on the tenor saxophone and highly inventive as a vocalist, she also plays bass clarinet, flute, and piccolo. Her rich sax sound has been compared to Joe Henderson and Dexter Gordon, while her vocal approach—including an impressive scatting ability—has been classified alongside those of Ella Fitzgerald and Betty Carter.
In a few short years, Thurman has shared stages with such jazz and R&B luminaries as George Coleman, Roy Haynes, Dianne Reeves, Wynton Marsalis, The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra (JALCO) featuring Wynton Marsalis, Kenny Barron, Buster Williams, Charles Tolliver, Jack DeJohnette, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Terri Lyne Carrington, Jon Hendricks, Harry Connick Jr., Jon Batiste, Audra MacDonald, Diana Krall, Patti LaBelle, Gladys Knight, Chaka Khan, Louis Hayes, Russell Malone, Nicholas Payton, Jacky Terrasson, Janelle Monáe, Alicia Keys, Lalah Hathaway, Jill Scott and Erykah Badu, among others.
The New York City native has already amassed several distinctive honors for her musicianship: runner up in the 2013 Sarah Vaughan International Vocal Competition, two-time winner of the ASCAP Herb Alpert Young Jazz Composers Award and a winner of the Fulbright Scholars Cultural Ambassador Grant, The Chamber Music of America Performance Plus Grant (Sponsored by the Dorris Duke Charitable Foundation) and the Jazz Coalition Composers Grant among others. Thurman also has four full-length recordings as a leader to her credit.
April 2021 - NUBYA GARCIA
Artist Biography by Thom Jurek
London-based saxophonist, composer, bandleader, and DJ Nubya Garcia is one of the leading lights in the resurgence of jazz-influenced sounds in the U.K.'s club culture and one of its prime Afro-futurist exports. In addition to leading her own bands, she has performed in and recorded with Makaya McCraven's transcontinental groups (alongside saxophonist and countryman Shabaka Hutchings) in the U.S. as well as in the U.K., and worked with MOBO Award-winning drummer Moses Boyd and legendary jungle producer/toaster Congo Natty. She is an active member of the Theon Cross trio, the Maisha sextet, and the Nérija septet. Her debut EP, 2017's Nubya's 5ive, sold out on vinyl in one day, and her follow-up, 2018's When We Are EP (with Joe Armon-Jones on keyboards, Daniel Casimir on bass, and Femi Koleoso on drums), placed on the British charts during its first week of release.
Garcia is the daughter of Caribbean immigrants, and along with her siblings, received a grounded and exhaustive musical education. She initially studied violin and moved over to viola to play in the London Schools Symphony Orchestra. She undertook her study of the saxophone at age 10. A natural on the instrument, she joined the Camden Jazz Band and later joined the junior jazz program at the Royal Academy of Music. She also attended the workshops of Tomorrow's Warriors under the direction of Gary Crosby. As a student, she received a scholarship to attend the summer program of the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Back in London, she studied at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, where she received her bachelor's degree and was celebrated as "a jazz instrumentalist with distinction."
After spending some time working on the London club scene, where she encountered like-minded musicians from Hutchings, Boyd, and Cross to Ezra Collective, Emanative, and Kamaal Williams, she joined drummer Jake Long's Maisha sextet for the 2016 EP Welcome to a New Welcome. The following year she joined the all-female jazz-funk septet Nérija for their self-titled EP. Also in 2017 she issued the self-released Nubya's 5ive mini-album that sold out in a single day and needed to be repressed. Hutchings included her on We Out Here, a compilation album of the new British jazz issued by Gilles Peterson's Brownswood label in 2018, the same year Maisha issued their debut full-length, There Is a Place. Later that annum she dropped her own follow-up leader date, When We Are, that included two new tracks plus remixes by K15 and Maxwell Owin, and toured on her own and with McCraven's transcontinental big band.
In 2019, Garcia won the Jazz FM Breakthrough Act of the Year Award as well as the Sky Arts Breakthrough Act of the Year Award, and took home the Jazz FM U.K. Jazz Act of the Year Award. In 2020, North America's Concord Records signed her to its prestigious jazz roster and issued the digital single "Pace" in celebration of the late May announcement. Produced by Garcia in collaboration with Kwes (Bobby Womack, Solange, Nerija), Source, her debut long-player, was issued in August; it offered a multivalent approach to modern jazz through its engagement with soul, Afrobeat, and dubstep.
March 2021 - INGRID JENSEN
Born in Vancouver and raised in Nanaimo, British Columbia, Ingrid Jensen has been hailed as one of the most gifted trumpeters of her generation. After graduating from Berklee College of Music in 1989, she went on to record three highly acclaimed CDs for the ENJA record label, soon becoming one of the most in-demand trumpet players on the global jazz scene.
After a teaching stint in Europe in her early twenties – as the youngest professor in the history of the Bruckner Conservatory in Linz, Austria – Ingrid settled in New York City in the mid-1990s where she joined the innovative jazz orchestras of Maria Schneider (1994-2012) and Darcy James Argue (2002-present). More recently, Ingrid has performed with the Grammy-winning Terri-Lyne Carrington and her Mosaic Project, Helen Sung’s Sung with Words project and the highly acclaimed all-star ensemble, Artemis.
Ingrid is a featured soloist on the Christine Jensen Jazz Orchestra’s Juno-award-winning album, Treelines (2011), and its successor, Habitat (2013). She has performed with a multi-generational cast of jazz legends ranging from Clark Terry to Esperanza Spalding; Ingrid has also performed alongside British R&B artist Corrine Bailey Rae on Saturday Night Live, and recorded with Canadian pop icon Sarah McLachlan. In addition to her busy sideman and featured soloist schedule, Jensen leads her own quintet, quartet and organ trio. Her own bands have garnered glowing reviews and earned her a loyal fan base around the globe.
Jensen is also a dedicated jazz educator, having taught trumpet at the University of Michigan and Peabody Conservatory, performing and lecturing as a guest artist with the Thelonious Monk Institute High School group featuring Herbie Hancock, and performing and teaching at the Centrum Jazz Workshop, The Dave Brubeck Institute, the Banff Centre Workshop in Jazz & Creative Music and the Stanford Jazz Camp and the Geri Allen Jazz Camp for young women. She is currently on faculty at both Purchase College, and is serving as Interim Associate Dean and Director of Jazz Arts at Manhattan School of Music.
Since her victory at the Carmine Caruso Trumpet Competition in 1995, Jensen has since sat on the judges’ panel twice for said competition. She is regularly invited to trumpet festivals around the world and recently served as Artist-in-Residence at the prestigious Monterey Jazz Festival, performing with her own quintet and giving tribute to the great Geri Allen, with fellow Artist-in-Residence, Tia Fuller.
One of Ingrid’s most frequent and closest collaborators is her sister, saxophonist and composer Christine Jensen. The sisters release, Infinitude, featuring the brilliant guitarist Ben Monder, received heavy praise from the Jazz Community as did Ingrid’s latest recording, Invisible Sounds. The album,honoring the late great Kenny Wheeler, received critical acclaim and let to a feature on NPR’s Jazz Night in America hosted by Christian McBride.
Most recently Ingrid was chosen as the 2019 recipient of the Jazz Journalists Trumpeter-of-the-Year award.
Ingrid plays a custom Monette trumpet, built personally by the master builder Dave Monette.
February 2021 - VERONICA SWIFT
Still relatively early in her professional career, Swift has already developed an impressive repertoire. Raised in Charlottesville, Virginia by her parents – pianist Hod O’Brien and singer Stephanie Nakasian – she recorded her first album, Veronica’s House of Jazz, when she was only nine years old. In addition to performing with her parents, Swift sang and played trumpet with Dave Adams’ The Young Razzcals Jazz Project, which afforded her the opportunity to perform at the Telluride Jazz Festival.
After releasing her sophomore album, It’s Great to Be Alive, when she was only 11 years old, Swift continued performing at major venues such as Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City. After high school, she attended the University of Miami, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in 2016.
Before college graduation, Swift competed in the 2015 Thelonious Monk International Vocal Competition, in which she placed second. Two years later, she moved to New York City to further her career and has since performed and/or toured with a host of jazz luminaries, including trumpeters Wynton Marsalis and Chris Botti, and pianists Benny Green, Michael Feinstein and Emmet Cohen.
This Bitter Earth:
Veronica Swift flips the script on This Bitter Earth, the captivating follow-up to her 2019 Mack Avenue Records debut, Confessions. Whereas Confessions played out like pages from her personal diary, on the new album, the 27-year-old singer and master song interpreter looks outward while addressing social ills that plague the world today.
This Bitter Earth takes on the song-cycle characteristics of such classic LPs as Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love, and Mary J. Blige’s My Life. For her album, Swift tackles sexism [“How Lovely to Be a Woman”], domestic abuse [“He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss)”], racism/ xenophobia [“You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught”] and the dangers of fake news [“The Sports Page”].
Accompanied by a team of kindred spirts that includes pianist Emmet Cohen, guitarist Armand Hirsch and flutist Aaron Johnson, bassist Yasushi Nakamura, and drummer Bryan Carter, Swift curates material that covers multiple genres, including jazz, American musicals, vintage R&B and contemporary rock.
“I’ve been waiting to do this album for years,” Swift says before explaining that she usually conceives her albums far in advance. She recorded much of the material in 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic forced the world into a near total standstill. But the time allowed her to live with songs at different parts of her life. Eventually, she recognized the connective tissue between them. The big challenge, however, was crafting a cohesive narrative.
January 2021 - SOMI
Her last studio album Petite Afrique (Sony 2017) was written as a song cycle about the African immigrant experience in the midst of Harlem’s gentrification in New York City and won the 2018 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Jazz Album. Petite Afrique is the highly anticipated follow-up to Somi's major label debut The Lagos Music Salon (Sony 2014) which was inspired by an 18-month creative sabbatical in Lagos, Nigeria and features special guests Angelique Kidjo and Common landed at #1 on US Jazz charts. Both albums were nominated for ECHO Awards in Germany for Best International Jazz Vocalist.
Closely mentored by the legendary trumpet player Hugh Masekela, Somi’s live performance was described by JazzTimes magazine as “the earthy gutsiness of Nina Simone blended with the vocal beauty of Dianne Reeves,” while Billboard exclaims that she’s “all elegance and awe… utterly captivating.”
Recently venturing into theater, Somi was named a 2019
Sundance Theater Fellow for her original musical about the great South African singer and activist Miriam Makeba. The premiere production was shut down days before opening due to COVID-19.
Somi is a Soros Equality Fellow, a USA Doris Duke Fellow, a TED Senior Fellow, an inaugural Association of Performing Arts Presenters Fellow, a former Artist-in-Residence at Park Avenue Armory, UCLA's Center for the Art of Performance, The Robert Rauschenberg Foundation and Baryshnikov Arts Center. She is also the founder of Salon Africana, a boutique arts agency and record label that celebrates the very best of contemporary African artists working in the music and literary arts. Also celebrated for her activism, Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon asked Somi to perform at the United Nations’ General Assembly in commemoration of the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade. She was also invited to perform at Carnegie Hall alongside Hugh Masekela, Dave Matthews, and Vusi Mahlesela in celebration of South African democracy.
Somi and her band continue to perform at international venues and stages around the world. In her heart of hearts, she is an East African Midwestern girl who loves family, poetry, and freedom.