Life

The Jazz Singer

 

You guys.  I just sang in public.  By myself.  Well, with a pianist, but still solo.  I sang a bunch of jazz songs and I loved it!  And other people seemed to like it too.  They clapped between numbers, I got lots of compliments, and I even scored a few tips!

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This may not seem like a big deal, considering that I’ve been performing since I was three.  But let me tell ya, this was HUGE for me.

First of all, there’s always been a violin in front of me.  Letting people hear your voice somehow seems so much more personal.

Second, I’ve been a classical musician my whole life.  I studied with the best teachers, played in orchestras, did competitions… you know, I was officially a “young artist.”  I was trained for this, and my whole family had done it before me.  It was definitely on the plan.

But to branch out from my predestined role in the music world, put down my instrument and try something new?  Scandal!  Outrage!  Who does she think she is?

Ok, maybe nobody would ever actually say that, but that’s what I’ve always worried about.  You see, I’m the kind of person who needs permission to do anything.  I hate it.  I don’t know why I’m like this, and I’m trying to change, but it’s how I’ve lived most of my life.  I must have had a really intense lesson on humility once or something, because I have a reeeeally hard time putting myself out there.  Not because I think I’ll fail or look stupid, but because I worry that people will think I’m being presumptuous, that I’m not supposed to be doing whatever I’m doing.

I remember watching American Idol with my dad when it was still new (it was our thing), and being totally amazed by the first-round hopefuls.  I kept wondering “Who told these people they should audition?”  Some of them really were terrible, but even the good ones who had confidence and showmanship, or who put their own new twist on something old, left me baffled.  How did they know they were allowed to sing like that?  Sure, they’re pulling it off, but WHO GAVE THEM PERMISSION?  It didn’t really occur to me that maybe they just wanted to and went for it.

When my oldest sisters were music majors at BYU, they started bringing home jazz songs that they’d sung with their roommates or whoever.  This stuff was pretty new to me and I really liked it.  It was a lot more fun than what I was used to.  I started to dream of being a jazz singer one day.  I practiced the songs on the piano and then belted them out when nobody else was home.  I knew I sounded pretty good, but I figured it just wasn’t in the stars for me.  I wasn’t brought up to sing like that.  I wasn’t official.

I’ve loved jazz ever since, and I’ve continued to learn songs here and there, but I’ve been reluctant to let anybody hear me sing the way I like to sing.  It was only a couple years ago that my own kids first heard my real voice.  For a long time my husband Devin has encouraged me to sing at our restaurant, Bistro 258, which is the PERFECT place to sing jazz, and since it’s our place, nobody could even say no.  But in the 8+ years we’ve owned it, I’ve never had the guts.

At this point I need to tell you about Devin’s great-uncle Delmar, who passed away about a year ago.  I promise this is relevant.  So Delmar met and married his sweetheart while in the military in the… 40’s?  Or even earlier?  Anyway, he composed a bunch of love songs for his wife, but never wrote them down.  In his last years, he recorded the songs so they could be transcribed before he died.  I took on the job.  Between all the accidentals and his shaky voice, it was a little tricky to pick out the notes, but I did the best I could and all these sweet, sappy, jazzy songs emerged.  I sent on the finished sheet music and didn’t really think about it again (although they were occasionally stuck in my head).

When Delmar passed, there was a luncheon after his funeral at the Bistro.  There was a little program, which included some of his songs.  Devin’s uncle sang one reasonably well, considering he didn’t really know it, but then my father-in-law Nick stood up to sing another one, which was a lot more jazzy and hard to read.  He absolutely was not doing it justice.  I was standing by, thinking, ‘This is the last time anyone will ever hear this song.  And I am the only person on the planet who knows what it’s supposed to sound like.  I have to save it.’  I pictured Delmar watching from above and smacking his forehead in exasperation.  I was barely related to him and had most definitely not been asked to sing at this shindig, but I still thought I owed it to Delmar, so I quickly gathered my courage, marched up to Nick, interrupted his singing in front of 50 or so people, and said “Nick, I love ya, but you’re butchering this song.”  Everybody laughed and he stepped aside.  I said a few words about transcribing the songs and how sweet and clear Delmar’s adoration for his wife was, and then I sang the song the way it was meant to be.

I kind of couldn’t believe what I had done.  I certainly didn’t have “permission” for this!  I had actually stopped the person who was supposed to be singing and threw myself at all these strangers.  But guess what?  They loved it!  They really did.  They loved that I stopped Nick, they loved what I said and how I sang, they loved my voice.  Whoa.  I just did it for Delmar’s sake, but this showed me that maybe I could sing in front of people after all.  I didn’t even feel like a classical violinist trying to pose as a singer.  I was just me, a person who sings sometimes.

Last week I found out that the impending sale of our beloved Bistro 258 would be taking place sooner than we’d expected – in a matter of days.  An announcement went up on Facebook and there was a startling response from heartbroken fans of the restaurant.  Devin and I were talking about our mixed emotions and I mentioned that it was too bad I never sang there.  He said “THAT really is a shame,” and then, “Just do it!  You can sing this weekend before we close.”  I hadn’t even thought of that.  I got kind of excited about the idea, but then immediately the old familiar feeling set in of being not official, not allowed.  But Devin made me get out of bed and get my big jazz fakebook and we made a list together.  I was still not sure about all of this the next day (Thursday), but he started telling people I was going to sing.  Scared as I was, I really did want to do it, so I asked my sis-in-law Megan to play piano for me.  She agreed and we tentatively planned on Saturday night, our last night in business.  I proceeded to waffle about it until Saturday morning, when I realized I had nothing to wear.

I had a 45-minute window to shop without children before Devin had to leave, so I ran to Savers.  Risky, I know, but I’m on a budget!  In the car I actually prayed that I’d find a dress.  An elegant, flattering, cheap, modest dress suitable for singing.  I frantically rifled through the racks and was pretty discouraged until I reached the last section.  There it was, a royal blue flowing floor-length dress with a flattering criss-cross bodice and sleeves.  I couldn’t believe it.  I dashed into the dressing room and it fit!  Not only did it fit, but it looked great!  The neckline was a little low, but pin-able.  The length would be perfect with heels.  The price?  $9.99.  Hallelujah!  I snapped a quick dressing-room selfie to show Devin, bought the dress and raced home just in time.

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Armed with a dress I now felt more sure that I would actually sing that night.  I practiced all morning until my voice was hoarse.  I called and coordinated songs with Megan.  This was really happening!

When the time came to actually sing, I was pretty much completely freaking out inside.  We started with “As Time Goes By,” a nice, simple song that I know really well, and trust me, I DO know how to count, but when it was time to come in I just couldn’t do it.  Megan circled around the intro to try again, but she still had to nod me in.  I was SO NERVOUS!!  But there was nothing to do but sing, so I sang.  That whole first song was a little shaky.  I fudged the words even, and I didn’t sing it quite how I wanted to, how I usually do in the privacy of my own home.  But at the end, people clapped and we did another song.

Before long I relaxed into it and started to really enjoy it.  Megan and I did “Summertime” as a duet, she sang a few solos, and Devin sang and played a couple songs on guitar with me too.  It ended up being totally fun, totally my thing, and everyone there that I knew (and some I didn’t) said I sounded great.  I am not trying to brag here.  Just trying to show how all my fears were for nothing.  Not one person said “It sounds like you’re trying to be something you’re not,” or “Tsk tsk, all that scooping!”  When I finally stopped waiting for permission and just did what I always knew I could do, the response was totally positive.  I loved it, and I can’t wait to do it again.  Now I just need a new venue.

 

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