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

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

Through savvy management of her career, vocalist, and songwriter

Jeanie

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

Crossley

on drums, and Dan Fabricatore, bass.

Up to and including the launch of the widely viewed Ken Burns

documentary

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

internationally-distributed

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,

bandleader,

and international jazz statesman John Birks "Dizzy" Gillespie

never recognized his daughter publicly, he did acknowledge her

privately.

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

You"

(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

Washington,

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

Livingston

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

there’s

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

sense,

because I love what I do, and I’m fortunate to be able to do what

I love."

The Rutgers-educated vocalist worked as a mail delivery person for

the East Brunswick Post Office for a time during and after her

schooling

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

Rutgers campus.

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

record,"

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,"

she adds.

Bryson parted ways with Telarc Jazz two years ago.

"I

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

musicians,

so I’m left with something of a nice catalog," she says.

"Deja Blue" is Bryson’s first self-produced album.

Appropriately,

since she was calling all the shots, it reflects her natural

eclecticism

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

Man"

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

several

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

peaceful

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

world view.

"My Dad was a Ba’hai, and the Ba’hai religion, from what I

understand,

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

Gillespie’s

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

Concert for Peace, Coalition for Peace Action,

Nassau

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

p.m.


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