Sixteen years ago, I began singing with the Jack Mitchell Big Band. Jack called me up on my birthday…July 11th, 1998, and asked me if I could be the vocalist for his band. I was actually stunned because he already had a singer at the time, so I thought. I had auditioned for the band a few weeks earlier to be the “back up” vocalist, filling in when needed. As fate would have it, I’m still going strong with the newly organized Jack Mitchell Big Band, now known as the Jm Band of Northwest Arkansas.
It’s been a tremendous ride and one that I am not going to give up any time soon. A classically trained singer, I had much to learn in the jazz era of music!! And boy, did I learn quickly!! Jack had a way of throwing you into the frying pan and just expected you to be ready!! He would not allow the vocalist to perform from sheet music during performances. Everything had to be memorized and polished! That’s one of the things I loved about Jack Mitchell…his expectations for musicianship were high and he expected no less from a vocalist!
The fact that I had the skill and training worked to my advantage, and listening to some of the jazz greats, such as Ella, Sarah, and Peggy, just to name a few, was an important part of my learning process. Hours were spent practicing and honing in on my skills as a jazz vocalist. I was able to adapt techniques and styling to what was comfortable and natural to me, and make it work for the big band. I found my own styling and realized that I could sing other genres of music, something that I never thought I could do!
This “big band” singing journey entered my veins and has been my constant companion all these years. It is a journey I will never let go of, and it is a part of me that runs deep, deeper than I realized. I grew up with my mom playing many of the big band favorites on the piano. She is an amazing pianist and still going strong at 90. As I have learned the history behind the big band greats, my love for the music has grown deeper, as well as the appreciation for my mom and dad and the era of music they grew up in.
Now, sixteen years later, I continue to practice daily, and get excited about learning new jazz material. It is true that you have to connect with the music and it has to become part of you. I get so much joy out of singing and entertaining with the big band, and I have so much fun. Sounds kind of cheesy… but it’s true. Something just comes alive in me when I hear the sound of the band and see people having such a great time.
Jack passed away in 2009, and left a wonderful legacy. The music he loved continues on through the Jm Band of Northwest Arkansas. The premiere 4 state performing group plays everything from standards, jazz, rock and roll, Latin, and pop. “We play music people know and love”. I am proud to be a part of such a great group of talented musicians.
So in celebration of my birthday on Friday, July 11th, 2014, I am having a surprise birthday party!! You might call it my “sweet 16 at 60.” Come to Riordan Hall in Bella Vista, from 7:30-9:30 and dance to the sounds of the JM Band of Northwest Arkansas. Help me celebrate my real birthday with the JM Band of Northwest Arkansas. See the flyer for specific details about the upcoming event!