Banking on Betty and Abbey

Jazz singer Charenee Wade carries on the legacy of her iconic role models.

Charenee Wade (photo credit: Courtesey)
Charenee Wade
(photo credit: Courtesey)
When it comes to role models for female jazz vocalists, you could do a lot worse than try to emulate the likes of Sarah Vaughan, Betty Carter and Abbey Lincoln. The first was Charenee Wade’s initial professional source of inspiration, while material performed by the other two divas makes up much of the repertoire for Wade’s forthcoming gigs, here as part of the forthcoming installment of this year’s Hot Jazz series (June 9-16).
Besides their vocal prowess, Carter and Lincoln were two of the jazz world’s most colorful and forthright characters. Wade says those are some of the iconic singers’ energies she feeds off and that those attributes come through loud and clear in their work. “I identify with Betty Carter musically. She has been in my heart for so long, and I like the way Abbey writes and the fact that she saw the world in such an honest way.”
Abbey, who died in 2010, was involved in the Civil Rights movement in America and was outspoken on a range of issues.
In fact, at 17 Wade enjoyed a brief encounter with Carter, who died in 1998. “It was after a show, and she had this big wide-brimmed hat on, and she was sparkling – her hat and hair sparkled. We only spoke for a few moments. I was very much in awe of her.”
Next week Wade will get the chance to put that respect for her musical forebears into action at her concerts in Jerusalem, Herzliya, Tel Aviv and Haifa.
Wade, 30, got turned on to jazz at 12 when she heard a record by Vaughan. She then embarked on a 12-year study of jazz, as well as classical music. After earning a master’s degree from the Manhattan School of Music, she set out on the national and global jazz circuit, performing in the US, Europe and Russia. Her debut album, Love Walked In¸ was released in 2010.
Wade says she appreciates the ability of jazz vocalists to impart their thoughts and feelings through their craft. “I’m big on storytelling, and Abbey was so good at that.”
Wade has a way with words herself. In describing why Vaughan opened up the world of jazz to her, she says, “She was so soulful, and her voice was incredible.
Hearing Sarah Vaughan singing was like liquid chocolate.” She adds, “She really swung, and she was wonderful at improvising. She was just so exciting.”
In jazz, there is often a symbiosis between instrumentalists and vocalists, whereby the former often endeavor to get their instruments “to sing,” while vocalists frequently feed off the textures and colors of one instrument or other. Wade says it isn’t always vocalists she turns to for inspiration.
“I tend to listen to the bass, and I like the tenor saxophone. Also, if there’s a great trombone player, which is very hard to come by, I get excited about that. too. I often perform with a trio or sometimes a duo, but if I could pick the instruments I wanted, I would probably go for a bass and a trombone.”
Not all jazz musicians have a classical education, but Wade says her extramural education stands her in good stead. “I think that some of the things that I arrange owe something to the classical side,” she muses. “When I write, I hear Betty Carter, but I also look at all sorts of concepts and try to figure out ways to make the material fresh and to find the sound I am looking for.”
Some jazz musicians who have also delved into the classical world say that gaining a classical education helps them to be more disciplined in their jazz work, but Wade says she was equally diligent in both disciplines.
“I was serious about my classical music education and just as serious about jazz,” she declares, adding that spreading her educational network offered her some significant added value.
“I think I learned lots of different styles because of that. The voice is just the voice, but you can learn what is stylistically appropriate [for you] in whatever genre, if you respect that genre.”
For Wade, regardless of the discipline, that means doing your homework.
“When I studied classical music, we went as far back as Gregorian chants. We also studied operatic singing and works by composers like Brahms and Bach and more contemporary operatic singing. It’s the same in jazz. You look at the different styles, rhythmically and melodically. You have to learn all that stuff to understand where the music really comes from.”
Wade certainly knows where Carter and Lincoln came from, which no doubt will be evident to Israeli audiences as of tomorrow evening.
Charenee Wade will perform with an instrumental quartet at the Municipal Conservatory in Rehovot (June 9 at 9 p.m.); Gerard Behar Center in Jerusalem (June 11 at 9 p.m.); the Zappa Club in Herzliya (June 12, doors open 8:15 p.m., show starts 10 p.m.); Tel Aviv Museum (June 14 at 9 p.m. & June 15 at 9:30 p.m.); and Abba Hushi House in Haifa (June 16 at 9 p.m.).