MELISSA WALKER / “Melissa Walker Mixtape”
I think of songs as stories. They represent and convey our universal expectations about love, joy, longing, loss, regret, roads taken and not taken. Songs capture the essence of our spirits and help define our spiritual life; they are celebrations of what we've done and who we are. They are my gifts to the people round the world who have heard and supported me, who love jazz, who hold dear the art of the song.
A cool voice from Canada, Melissa Walker was born July 3, 1964 in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada and reared in a biracial family. Her father was a professional football player. Both parents earned doctorate degrees. Melissa graduated from Brown University with her sights set on a career in law but moving to Washington, DC for law-related work experience was as far as she got before following her heart and pursuing a career as a jazz singer.
Melissa released a 1993 self-produced CD, Little Wishes, and studied with pianist Norman Simmons who is noted for accompanying vocalists (Simmons worked with both Betty Carter and Carmen McRae). When Matthias Winckelmann of Germany's Enja Records heard Melissa sing, he offered her a record deal, which has generated three albums: May I Feel (1997), Moment Of Truth (1999), and I Saw The Sky (2001). The albums generated critical acclaim and numerous award nominations including a 2002 Juno Award nomination. The Juno is the Canadian Grammy.
Ms. Walker founded a non-profit arts organization, Jazz House Kids, which promotes jazz with workshops and performances for students. She is also married to acclaimed bassist Christian McBride.
What I like most about Ms. Walker’s work is that she sings jazz—not smooth jazz, not pop music masquerading as jazz, but straight ahead jazz. Her style is cool and laid-back but her arrangements are muscular workouts that offer interesting and sometimes even intricate interpretations of standards as well as originals. Additionally, she surrounds herself with serious musicians.
The John Coltrane influence is obvious in the arrangements, and also in her originals, particularly “For John,” her homage to Coltrane, and on “Portrait Of Equinox,” not to mention her reading of Trane’s signature composition “Naima,” which in this case is fitted out with French lyrics.
If one thinks of Trane’s work on the Johnny Hartman and the Ballads albums, then Trane’s influence on Walker’s subtle, melodic interpretations becomes clear. I also like how Melissa uses the bottom end of her vocal range, obviously influenced by Carmen McRae who was the absolute master of lyric interpretation.
It’s been a minute since Melissa has released a new album. The date for an expected 2005 release has come and gone. I hope that whatever is the hold-up is worked out. Jazz needs Melissa Walker. We need Melissa Walker.
We need her serious approach to the music. We need the beauty of her subtle sound, the treasure of her commitment to teaching young people how to understand and value jazz. We really need a generation who are conversant with the tradition but not entrapped in trying to recreate the music of fifty, sixty and more years ago. We need voices that extend the cultural legacy into the future. As these selections from Ms. Walker’s trio of albums demonstrate: beautiful music is on the horizon.
—Kalamu ya Salaam
P.S. This just in—Amazon is offering a pre-order on Melissa’s new album, In The Middle Of It All. The album is due out at the end of this month. I have already ordered. A word to the wise: govern yourselves accordingly.
Melissa Walker Mixtape Playlist
These tracks are from May I Feel
Melissa Walker - Vocals
Gary Bartz – Alto & Soprano sax
Terell Stafford – Trumpet & Flugelhorn
George Colligan - Piano
Paul Bollenback – Guitar
James King - Bass
Clarence Penn - Drums
Steve Kroon - Percussion
01 “I'm a Fool to Want You”
02 “Never Let Me Go”
03 “Old Country”
04 “Ruby, My Dear”
These tracks are from Moment Of Truth
Melissa Walker – Vocals
Steve Wilson - Flute, Alto & Soprano sax
Craig Handy – Tenor Sax
Paul Bollenback - Guitar
George Colligan - Piano, Fender Rhodes
Kiyoshi Kitagawa - Bass
Steve Kroon – Percussion
Clarence Penn - drums
05 "Ev'ry Time"
06 “For John”
07 “Portrait Of Equinox”
These tracks are from I Saw The Sky
Melissa Walker - Vocal s
Shedrick Mitchell – Piano
Ann Kim - Cello
Kiyoshi Kitagawa – Bass
Clarence Penn - Drums
Guests: Kenny Barron – Piano
Makoto Ozone - Piano
Stefon Harris - Vibes, Marimba
09 “I'm Old Fashioned”
10 “Some Other Time”
11 “Return to Me”
12 “I'm in Love”
This entry was posted on Monday, August 17th, 2009 at 1:55 am and is filed under Contemporary. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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