Quiana Lynell has chops aplenty. In case you are not familiar with the term, in jazzy circles it is used to describe the ability of a musician to produce robust, technically accomplished performances.
The 41-year-old Texas-born vocalist, now New Orleans resident, will be here between November 5 and November 12, to show Israeli audiences just how she goes about her powerfully emotive musical business. She is flying over to take part in the next installment of the current Hot Jazz series alongside Danish-born reedman Christian Winther and drummer Brian Richburg, both fellow New Orleanians, with Israeli pianist Eden Ladin and bassist Yonatan Levy completing the quintet lineup.
The forthcoming local tour, which takes in a whopping eight dates around the country, including in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa and Beersheba, will offer us a pungent and infectious whiff of early New Orleans jazz, when joyous and eminently danceable sounds and rhythms were the order of the day.
The start of a musical career
“I have been singing [gospel music] in church since I was a baby.”Quiana Lynell
But Lynell did not exactly imbibe jazz with her mother’s milk, although her earliest musical references do come from associated genre environs. “I have been singing [gospel music] in church since I was a baby,” she says. There was plenty of domestic encouragement around too. “My mother was my first voice teacher,” she adds. And a pretty exacting one she was too, setting her offspring firmly on the straight and narrow to musical excellence and precision.
“She would make sure I paid attention to my tone, and we would harmonize together. She would tell me ‘Get off my note!,’” Lynell laughs. That may have been hard going for the youngster, but it was a rewarding learning experience that has been bearing creative fruit ever since.
“I would have to improvise and hear the note in the chord without knowing what I was doing. I had to take care of my diction, and articulating and consonants. My mother was very strict, but I am grateful for that.”
Still, Lynell comes over as a determined character set on doing things her own singular way. That soon came to the fore and led to some familial fireworks. “As a kid, I could see that everybody at church was having a good time [musically], but I had my mother telling me not to sing a note that way, sing it another way.”
The customary teenage revolt eventually surfaced, although Lynell was not about to break artistic ranks completely and get a defiantly different breadwinning field, like accountancy or law.
“Music was always there for me, and I think that is part of the culture,” she notes. “Music is always there, in America, as a way of escape, of expressing pain or joy, and rebelling against things we have no control over.”
Luckily, she was not only motivated to let it all out, she also had the talent to do that by artistic and wholesome means. “Music has always been a way of getting through times you cannot really explain. There are pictures that come back to me when I think about my past. I am not particularly religious now, but there are things you are brought up with that you can’t really shake.”
In the context of music that leans heavily on the liturgical side, with a heaping helping of good old joie de vivre from here, there and practically everywhere. Lynell also adopted an accommodating approach to the musical efforts of the people around her.
“There were things [in church and in life] like making a joyful noise and, of course, you get people who say they can’t sing a note. But everyone can sing,” she explains. “Everybody may not be a soloist, but anyone can make a sound. You may not know what to say, or how to express your feelings but, it can be a hum or any sound, and they say the Holy Ghost will know what your heart is trying to say.”
Lynell has been into looking for ways to offload her inner thoughts and emotions, gaining inspiration from others in the process. “I was always writing songs and journals,” she recalls. “And even the music I would listen to had stories that connected to the things I may not have known how to express myself, but there were lyrics that expressed everything I could possibly feel.”
THE TEENAGER began to get her musical kicks from outside the religious confines, where pop, rock and other commercial genres were considered beyond the pale. “When I was in school, it was the boy band era, and there was also R&B. But I had to sneak that music into my life. I was in a very religious environment, and secular music was almost outlawed. I had to borrow cassette tapes from friends, and my sister would play [commercial] music in the car, on the radio, when we were driving. That was an escape.”
That was the way Lynell chose to go, even though she worked her way through the classical world first. That was simply a matter of default. “There were no jazz studies at the state university I went to,” she recalls. “They didn’t have popular music programs, and Berklee [College of Music in Boston] and New York were too far away. So I sang classical songs, opera too.”
A multifarious musical bedrock began to form, also taking in blues and plenty of jazz. She also got into the stirring sounds and vibes of Sarah Vaughan, one of the divas of the jazz world, winning a Vaughan material-based singing competition a few years back. The iconic singer patently suits the Lynell mindset, with her unique way of portraying the lyrical baseline to jazz numbers.
“She did whatever she wanted and I definitely embrace that approach,” she says, although adding that there has never been any disrespectful intent there. “Sarah Vaughan always did things her way but that is always rooted in the history of the music. I identify with that.”
She also identifies with Winther’s eclectic take on musical dynamics and is looking forward to their Israeli confluence. “Christian has worked together with different band leaders, like Shannon Powell and David Harris, who is a trombonist. They would play in traditional bands together. They maintain the traditional sound of New Orleans jazz.”
Lynell is happy to join in for the time-honored heritage ride. “It is so wonderful to work with the elders of New Orleans, and you try to get in their bands and learn from them.” The torch-bearing goes on. “You start your own band, and continue the legacy.”
The current gigs will spread that message here and, no doubt, disperse a little of the sunny side of the New Orleans street. “I’m excited about coming to Israel to play this music. My first album is called A Little Love. I want to share some of that in Israel.”
For tickets and more information: (03) 573-3001 and http://eng.hotjazz.co.il/