'Women's work' is nearly done

Performing at Holon's International Women's Festival, American jazz vocalist Judi Silvano anticipates a feast for the ears (and the eyes).

judi silvano 88 298 (photo credit:  Courtesy photo)
judi silvano 88 298
(photo credit: Courtesy photo)
After American jazz vocalist Judi Silvano touched down in Tel Aviv on Sunday afternoon, local handlers lost track of her. Instead of resting at her hotel as they anticipated, she had gone out with relatives. As such, interviews with Silvano, who takes the stage tomorrow at the Holon International Women's Festival, were postponed until Monday morning. "It was really fun visiting my aunt, uncle and cousins. I was here six years ago and it took a long time before I was able to come back," Silvano told The Jerusalem Post.
Click for upcoming events calendar! It turns out that Silvano's mother was born in Jerusalem - "she's a sabra" - and that while most of the family moved to New York, there are still many cousins throughout the country. While she's in town for just one gig, Silvano says she has extended her stay here to 10 days so that she'll have time to tour and catch up with family. The award-winning Silvano will share the stage with Riki Gal and the Holon Big Band under the direction of Guri Agmon. The main program features Silvano singing jazz classics as well as original material. Gal will also have a solo part, and then the two women will do a piece together. "When the [organizers of the festival] suggested a special guest on my program, I thought it was wonderful," says Silvano. "Our styles are different, but I think it will be great to share the program with Gal. I have a long history of singing with other singers...there's something very magical about voices singing together. It's a very powerful thing." Originally from Philadelphia, Silvano moved to New York in 1976. Over the years she earned a reputation as a daring improviser, first as a dancer and later as a jazz vocalist. She is also an acclaimed composer and lyricist. The roster of musicians with whom Silvano has collaborated, performed, recorded and/or toured reads like a Who's Who of Jazz. They include: Scott Lee, Kenny Werner, Joe Lovano, Dave Holland, Rufus Reid, Ingrid Jensen, Dick Oatts and Newman Taylor Baker. She met her husband, legendary saxophonist Lovano, in 1980 and they've been collaborating together ever since. The multi-talented Silvano, who seems to be everywhere at once, has seven recordings to her credit, leads a number of vocal groups, teaches master-classes across the globe, has been named as one of the Top 10 Vocalists in Down Beat magazine three times, and has held a post as a jazz journalist/columnist (All About Jazz). This is the first time she is taking part in the annual International Women's Festival in Holon. Asked whether there's equality in the jazz world regarding female and male musicians, Silvano says gaps exist, but that it's changing. "I was surprised by the disparity between women and men in the jazz world when I came into jazz in the 70s," she says. "The jazz world is much like the rest of the world, there's a lot of politics and prejudices. Women are starting to get more acknowledgement and recognition." Silvano says she is always invited to perform at concerts because of her musicianship. "My musicianship is the most important part of my performance...For many years I resented being labeled as a female musician. Regardless of the fact that I'm a woman, it's my responsibility to do my best." And while she disliked being pigeonholed as a woman performer, Silvano is now putting the final touches on a new recording called Women's Work. Set for a June release, the album pays homage to under-recorded compositions by great American women including Mary Lou Williams, Abbey Lincoln, Blossom Dearie, Sheila Jordan, Carla Bley, Bessie Smith, Meredith D'Ambrosio and band members Silvano and Janice Friedman. "It's interesting for me to do this project because I never wanted to focus on [women's work in jazz]. The walls are breaking down and there's more receptiveness. I feel good about the progress," she says. "In the past 10 years, the level of women musicians has definitely increased." While the Women's Work project is still in progress, Silvano has other ventures in development as well. During the last year and a half she's been pooling resources with a number of Big Band projects including with Sweden's Norbottens Big Band and with the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra. As such, the invitation from the Holon Big Band came at a good time. "I've wanted to come back to Israel for quite a while, when the opportunity came I was thrilled," she says. So, what should the audience look forward to tomorrow evening when Silvano takes the stage? "The audience can expect a feast for their ears, and eyes as well. Of course, a live performance has more dimensions than a recorded performance. They can watch me interrelate with the other musicians as we make music together. One of the things exciting about jazz is that it's spontaneous, real, and alive. It is different every time as there's always element of surprise," she says. "The audience gets to be a part of that." Judi Silvano takes the stage on Thursday (February 22) at the International Women's Festival in Holon at 8:30 p.m.