Corrections or additions?
This article by Richard Skelly was prepared for the January 31,
2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Jeannie Bryson — Singing Out for Peace
Through savvy management of her career, vocalist,
and songwriter Jeanie Bryson has been able to make a comfortable
as a jazz singer through the 1990s. That’s no easy feat when you
the cost of touring with a band, the kinds of gigs and the
that is open to jazz performers — where there are too many
and too few venues
Through savvy management of her career, vocalist, and songwriter
Bryson has been able to make a comfortable living as a jazz singer
through the 1990s. That’s no easy feat when you consider the cost
of touring with a band, the kinds of gigs and the compensation that
is open to jazz performers — where there are too many musicians
and too few venues
Bryson joins folk star Dar Williams and fellow New Jersey vocalist
Scarlett "Lee" Moore and Band at the annual Concert for Peace,
a benefit for the Coalition for Peace Action, on Saturday, February
3, at Nassau Presbyterian Church. Bryson will perform with her quartet
featuring Rod Bargad on piano, Coleman Mellett on guitar, Payton
on drums, and Dan Fabricatore, bass.
Up to and including the launch of the widely viewed Ken Burns
series "Jazz" on PBS television, jazz record sales make up
only slightly more than 2 percent of total record sales in the United
States. Foreign sales help increase that figure which is why, since
1995, Bryson has made three tours of Brazil and several other South
American countries as well as tours of Japan, Israel, and Greece.
Fortunately, because of her past affiliation with an
jazz label, Telarc Jazz of Cleveland, Ohio, Bryson has been able to
spread her wings overseas.
And, it doesn’t hurt that she’s Dizzy Gillespie’s daughter, a fact
that is readily apparent just by looking at her facial features. Born
in 1958 and raised in East Brunswick, Bryson lived in Princeton in
the 1990s, but returned to East Brunswick two years ago, this time
as a homeowner. While her late, legendary father, trumpeter,
and international jazz statesman John Birks "Dizzy" Gillespie
never recognized his daughter publicly, he did acknowledge her
The question of her claim to monies from the Gillespie estate may
reach the court as early as April. "We’re in the middle of the
preparation of it right now and I’m not at liberty to discuss any
aspects of the case," she notes. Today she shares her home with
her mother, her son, and her grandmother.
Bryson has three albums on Telarc: "I Love Being Here With
(1993); "Tonight I Need You So" (1994), and "Some Cats
Know: The Songs of Peggy Lee" (1996). All were critical, if not
commercial, successes. Building her career momentum, Bryson has been
invited by verteran jazz pianist and educator Billy Taylor to perform
with him at his upcoming Kennedy Center concert, March 19, in
D.C. And when she’s not touring the nation or the world, Bryson can
be heard at New Jersey jazz clubs including Shanghai Jazz in
and Trumpets in Montclair.
Asked about her growing success, Bryson stresses that she did not
get to the point of making a comfortable living in jazz overnight.
Few singers do, she points out. "The bottom line in jazz is
no get-rich-quick schemes," she says philosophically, "there’s
just lots of steady work, a series of small, good breaks, and hard
work and commitment to what you’re doing."
"I’m always trying to keep my music fresh and enjoyable to my
audiences and me," she continues. "If you’re true to yourself
and your audiences, and you get to do what you love, then you can
consider yourself a success. I consider myself a success in that
because I love what I do, and I’m fortunate to be able to do what
The Rutgers-educated vocalist worked as a mail delivery person for
the East Brunswick Post Office for a time during and after her
in anthropology and ethnomusicology at Rutgers’ Livingston College.
In the early 1980s, she sang with small jazz combos created by the
New Brunswick Jazz Collective at the Ledge, a student center on the
After three albums with the Telarc Jazz label, Bryson is most excited
about her upcoming release, "Deja Blue," due out March 13
on Koch International. She’ll be touring in Spain when the album is
released, she notes. The title song of "Deja Blue" is a tune
written by her mother, songwriter Connie Bryson. Connie Bryson has
had a number of songwriting successes in the 1980s and 1990s. with
tunes recorded by Saffire, The Uppity Blues Women, and other blues
and jazz artists.
"It’s a blue record, but I’m not going to call it a blues
says Bryson. "As soon as I heard my mother’s tune a couple of
years ago, I knew it would be a great concept, a great thing to build
the record around. "Even the cover of the record will be blue,"
Bryson parted ways with Telarc Jazz two years ago.
love all the recordings I did with them and they sound really good
and the musicianship was great. I was fortunate to get the best
so I’m left with something of a nice catalog," she says.
"Deja Blue" is Bryson’s first self-produced album.
since she was calling all the shots, it reflects her natural
and love for many different styles of music: there’s blues, for sure,
but there’s also Brazilian music, and jazzed up versions of pop tunes
like "Hello, It’s Me" from Todd Rundgren and "Poetry
by fellow New Jerseyan Phoebe Snow.
Joining her on "Deja Blue" are a bevy of top shelf New York
session musicians: Christian McBride on bass, Steve Nelson on vibes,
Coleman Mellett on guitar, Chuggy Carter on congas, and Ted Brancato,
her longtime accompanist, on keyboards and piano. "It’s my working
band that’s playing on most of the stuff on the new album," she
says, "and that’s one of the reasons I produced the record: I
really wanted to use my working band and duplicate some of the things
we do live on record."
She also sings duets with New York-based singer Etta Jones, who was
an influence on Bryson. Jones was influenced as much by Billie Holiday
as she was by longtime East Orange resident Jimmy Scott. She pays
tribute to her late father with a creative arrangement of "Con
Alma" by her pianist, Brancato.
Asked when she realized she could make a living as a jazz singer —
she had been singing in and around New Brunswick in the late 1970s
and early 1980s — Bryson says it was in 1987. That year, she gave
up her "day job" at the East Brunswick Post Office.
Now, with Gail Boyd, a Manhattan-based professional manager, and
non-exclusive booking agents behind her, she’s finally been able to
enjoy the fruits of her labors. She returned from a tour of Japan
late last fall, and described most of the overseas touring she has
done as more lucrative than the work she has in the U.S. Bryson spent
much of the 1990s performing in clubs and jazz festivals in just about
every major city.
When it’s pointed out that Bryson’s late father Gillespie was a
man who went on several overseas State Department tours in the 1960s
and ’70s, Bryson says her father’s religion had a lot to do with his
"My Dad was a Ba’hai, and the Ba’hai religion, from what I
is a very loving and peaceful group of people," she explains,
noting it’s a Middle Eastern religion that is pacifist and inclusive.
"Pacifist" and "inclusive" also neatly sum up
attitude as a bandleader.
Joining the Concert for Peace effort is a natural for Bryson who says
she remembers going to a March for Peace in Washington, D.C., in the
1960s with her grandparents, whom she described as "big peaceniks
who liked to call themselves `doves.’"
Asked what the audience can expect at the Princeton show, Bryson says,
"There’s never a gig when I’m not singing the blues. But my live
shows really reflect this new record that’s coming out: there’s a
samba, there are ballads, and there’s are some funk and swing tunes
in there, too. I need that kind of breadth to be happy."
— Richard J. Skelly
Presbyterian Church, Nassau Street, 609-924-5022. The 17th annual
concert, co-sponsored by Isles Inc., features a return engagement
by Dar Williams, widely known as "the new queen of contemporary
folk," with Jeanie Bryson and guest vocalist Scarlett. Concert
tickets $15 to $35; patrons $65. Toll-free ticket reservations and
credit card purchase at 888-820-7707. Saturday, February 3, 8
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