Saturday, August 10, 2013

Pheaturing Stephanie Nakasian

Hello, and welcome to the Phile on a Saturday. I just finished work and I am tired. I should be taking a nap, but instead I am doing this blog for you. I almost didn't come inside. I saw something on the garage door keypad that made me almost not touch it. Lemme show you.

Luckily the little bastard didn't move. If he would've of jumped on me I'd probably be in the hospital right now. Haha. Anyway, enough about me, kids. What is going on in the news?  Who loves the AMC show "Breaking Bad"? This is the final season of "Breaking Bad," and I know how it ends. It turns out that Walter White stops cooking meth and opens his own sports medicine lab with Alex Rodriguez.  Have you heard this news? Major League Baseball has suspended Alex Rodriguez for 211 games, but A-Rod is still fighting. He's vowing to come back 10 times bigger and 10 times stronger. I don't know if that's a good sign or not. It's not just A-Rod. Baseball gave 12 players 50-game suspensions. The rules are clear. If you're going to do drugs and still expect to play, you'd better be a musician. That's the only way you can do drugs and still play. The horrible news for Cubs fans is that not one of their players got suspended. That means they're stuck with the same guys for the rest of the year.  Anyway, 211... that is an odd number, but .211 is what they calculated his batting average would have been without the drug. A-Rod held a press conference in Chicago. He dodged almost every question. But when asked directly, "Did you use performance-enhancing drugs?" he said, "Me no steroids" and then knocked White Sox Stadium down with his bare hands.  In this entry I should be reviewing The Smurfs 2. But no one wants to see it with me. My 13 year old son said he doesn't wanna see it, it's for babies. I'm sure The Smurfs 2 is a great movie. The Smurfs are tiny little creatures that everybody loves. They're like Justin Bieber... minus the part about everybody loving him. I can't decide on a favorite Smurf. I love Papa Smurf, of course. And the one who's always yelling at everyone with those long-winded stories. What's his name? Oh yeah, Regis Smurf. Then there's Tito Smurf, Jermaine Smurf, and Kardashian Smurf. Papa Smurf is their leader, but he wasn't an elected leader. He inherited the position after the death of his father, Kim Jong Smurf.  Kobe Bryant was in China last weekend. The NBA is very popular in China, which makes sense because that's where all the shoes come from.  Even though A-Rod is in trouble with the Baseball bigwigs, they still released a new poster to sell of him at Yankees games.

Pleaing? What the hell is pleaning? LOL. I think that's supposed to say pleading. Stupid MBA people. I'm not gonna blame myself of course. So, do you guys like McDonald's? I like it once in awhile, but I can't get over the latest ad. I think it might turn more people away.

Last week I talked about the 12th Doctor. People have asked me how the BBC picks the actor to be the next Doctor in "Doctor Who'. Well, here is how they do it...

Smoke rises from the BBC when a new Doctor is picked. That doesn't really make sense. That's not really explaining how the Doctor is picked.  Summer is still here, but winding down. Pretty much all through some I have been showing you some phascinating swimming pools. Here's another one sent in by a Phile reader.

It's the Pamukkale pools located in Turkey. That's the only description I got. Okay, now for some sad news...

Karen Black
July 1, 1939 - Aug 8, 2013
Blacked out.

If you spot the Mind Phuck email me at Speaking of fish... this is a bad segue, this past week on the Discovery Channel it was Shark Week. Well, as you might know, I have my own shark on the Phile. So, please welcome once again to the Phile...

Me: Hello, Feargal, welcome back. How are you?

Feargal: Not good. I tried to play Marco Polo today.

Me: Really? What happened?

Feargal: Everyone went out of bounds.

Me: Haha. I'm sorry to hear that.

Feargal: It's okay. I know people only care about me for one week of the year.

Me: Not just you, Feargal, but all sharks. LOL. Do you have any jokes for us today?

Feargal: Yes. Who is the shark communities favorite 1950s film actress?

Me: I don't know.

Feargal: Dorsal Day.

Me: That's really stupid. Do you have one more to hold us over for another year?

Feargal: Why did the shark commit suicide?

Me: Um... I dunno.

Feargal: Because he was tired of feeling like he was swimming in circles.

Me: That's enough. Go back to the ocean and I'll see you next year. Feargal the Shark, kids.

It's 4:34, 92° and Kelly revealed that she just asked childhood pal Ashley Donovan to be by her side during the Oct. 30 ceremony in Nashville. Tweeting a picture of herself with Donovan, Clarkson wrote, "Introducing my official maid of honor!" Oct. 30th?! I thought she was getting married in December! Aggghhhhhh!

Time is running out even more for me! Alright, you know what time it is now. Do you also know what other time it is? Man, I suck at segue's. Anyway, please welcome back phriend of the Phile, singer, patriot and renaissance man.

Good afternoon, humans... doesn't quite feel like a Saturday to me. When I was a kid I would sit with my bowl of cereal in front of the TV and try not to wake my parents up. Now, it's a fistfull of vitamins, V8 juice and try not to let my overnight guest knock over the trash bins as she leaves in the morning. This whole "bein' a grownup" thing sure has it's responsibilities. So, I'm at the duckpond, eating chips with chopsticks and feeding the swans oysterettes. This woman is walking laps around the pond and stops, looks at what I'm doing and sniffs, "What ARE you doing?" "I'm feeding the swans." "NO... why are you eating chips like that?" "I'm bored, hungry and easily amused... Why do you care?" She sniffs again, "There's something disturbingly wrong with you... isn't there?" I thought for a few seconds about how to reply then spewed forth, "Usually, I hear that as a woman leaves my place in the morning... what are you doing tomorrow night?" She then called me an arrogant asswipe and stormed off. Guess she already had plans for tomorrow night.

The 27th book to be pheatured in the Phile's book club is...

Ester will be a guest on the Phile next Saturday.

Today's pheatured guest is an American jazz vocalist and voice teacher whose new album "Show Me the Way To Get Out Of This World" is available on iTunes. She'll be playing tonight at Arts Garage in Delray Beach, Florida. If I wasn't so tired I would be there. Anyway, please welcome to the Phile... Stephanie Nakasian.

Me: Hello, Stephanie, welcome to the Phile. How are you?

Stephanie: Hi, Jason, I'm great... enjoying a laid back summer with my daughter before she goes off to college.

Me: You have been branded one of the leading jazz singers in the world, and now you named your recent album "Show Me The Way To Get Out Of This World". Why do you wanna leave, Stephanie?

Stephanie: LOL. Not branded yet I hope. Well, as you know its a two sided phrase... take me 'out of this world' means to 'send me', 'thrill me' then on the other hand this world is tough to get through sometimes especially in this 'business' so a little escape is a necessary part of survival.

Me: We'll talk about the album in a minute. Before you were a jazz singer you were a financial consultant for a few banks, is that right? Did you always wanna be a singer before that?

Stephanie: I have always been a musician and an artist... it's who I am... who I was born to be. It just took me a while to realize it and claim it... the business career and economics study was fun and interesting but not fulfilling to me in the end.

Me: You also have a BA and MBA as well, Stephanie, which I think makes you the smartest guest I ever had here on the Phile. What is the BA and MBA in?

Stephanie: Not so smart if I left a lucrative career as a 'hot shot young MBA from Northwestern in 1980' to be a jazz singer, and in the 80s no one wanted to hear singers... believe me! BA in Economics, MBA in Finance and International Business from Northwestern University.

Me: Did you always like jazz growing up?

Stephanie: I didn't really know it until 80s played classical piano and violin and sang in choirs and loved show music and pop music (of course in those days the pop music was pretty darn good... from Beatles to Joni Mitchell to Carly Simon, James Taylor, Bette Midler. Hod O'Brien introduced me to jazz in 1980.

Me: You are from New York, but live near Washington DC now, am I right? How long have you lived there?

Stephanie: Brought up in Westchestser County, Bronxville, NY... lived in chicago after b-school and then to NY in 1979. Met Hod in 1980... moved to Poconos in 1986 and to Charlottesville, VA, 2 hours west of DC in 1994.

Me: You have done tribute albums to Billie Holiday and June Christy in the past... are they some of your favorite singers?

Stephanie: I was compared in sound to June so I studied her music and liked it and was asked to do tribute concerts and then sang with Pete Rugolo and decided to record it was asked to teach singer history... so started doing research and doing jazz singer concerts and lectures. Became a course at University of Virginia and a CD entitled "Thrush Hour" tribute to 20 singers from Bessie, Billie, Sas, Anita, Ella, Peggy... to Dinah Washington and Abbie Lincoln.... Pocket songs had already done Ella tributes (probably my closest influence) so they asked me to do early Billie. I enjoyed the experiement though I sing much differently than she did. It was great for me to try to channel all these singers, loved doing my Lee Wiley CD and tributes. She was so cool,  they are all in me, they are the Picasso, Michaelangelo, Matisse, Monet and Manets of jazz singing... necessary required learning.

Me: Last year Ella Fitzgerald passed away. I am guessing you were a fan of hers as well, am I right? 

Stephanie: Ella had it all. She passed away a long time ago... 90s I think. I don't know about having it all... she had a lot !!! She was so warm and real and fun and swinging, not the pathos of Billie, not the cool of Peggy Lee, not the blues of Dinah, not the colors of Sarah... etc. Hey, we're supposed to be different!! There is no one great singer... thank God!

Me: Okay, let's talk about your new album with the long title. Where did that title come from?

Stephanie: It was the story, searching the lonesome road, seeking, looking for a way out from love lost and the pain of the world to optimism and belief in love and a future. It just fit. The CD is a story (too bad people buy one track at a time... they will miss the story and the amazing artwork of my team!

Me: On the CD you recorded songs by Cole Porter, Duke Ellington and Van Morrison. That's a little different. Which Van song did you do?

Stephanie: "Times Are Getting Tougher Than Tough". I sang that with the Danish Radio Big Band in Denmark. It's a swinger but he wrote it.  

Me: I wonder if he heard your version. Did you send him a copy?

Stephanie: Nope... no idea.

Me: How did you go about picking the songs for this album, Stephanie?

Stephanie: I sing thousands of songs. Harris and I had been working at this coffee house and trying out different things some just fit his style and mood and harmonice... re-invention better than others. We made a long list and then I saw the pattern and the story and the CD grew and the concept was born. It's a long process but you use trial and error some songs you think are perfect don't work and others surprise you and are great.

Me: On the album, you record with The Harris Simon Trio. How long have you been working with these three guys?

Stephanie: Harris and I have been teaching at William and Mary for a long time. He longer than I. I met him in about 2000 I think. I'd have to check.  We started doing gigs different bands...  this one is my favorite and features the strong Chris Bridge on bass... the glue guy! And Billy Williams... the next famous drummer. He's young and catching on like fire with so many leaders. He's swinging and subtle at the same time and always supportive. Harris played harmonica too. He plays at many festivals in Europe and harmonic events... he's great. I could never have predicted that I'd use a harmonica on a CD.  Who knew?

Me: You mentioned piano player named Hod O'Brien. That's a great name by the way... Hod. When did you first meet him and get to play with him?

Stephanie: Well, THAT'S a long story...

Me: I figured.

Stephanie: We met in NYC in 1980. He was playing at a famous club called Gregory's with Joe Puma and Frank Luther. We started dating and woodshedding songs and he encouraged me and nurtured my talent and encouraged me to try to do this professionally. I was in love... what did I know? I just loved singing. I didn't care about the career part turns out it has been a wonderful career and a wonderful partnership and marriage.

Me: You married Hod? Do you still perform together and work together?

Stephanie: Thirty-three years and counting!! We've been all over the world together. Sometimes it's his gig with me as guest and other times mine with his trio. He is one of the greatest piano players in the world and one of the true bebop masters left...  he's in the encyclopedias... I guess I am in one too. We play all the time together but he is a leader in his own right and so it's good that I do CDs with other piano players and he does his own recordings. He has many... since 1959. He's a great swinger! And a great man and has been a great father and husband. At 76 years young he's in his prime... has always seemed at least a decade younger than his years.

Me: I said it before on the Phile, I don't know how married couples can work together and be in the same band. How is it working with your husband?

Stephanie: Well, we argue about some things. I like Rubato once in a while, he like to swing all the time so we fight about doing verses... but actually he likes learning my tunes and helps me learn the riffs and rhythmic lingo I need to know as a jazz singer... keeps me cool and centered in the true jazz place not easy for a 'Beatles-generation' kid.

Me: Apart from you two, your daughter Veronica is a jazz singer who also recorded a few albums of her own. That's so cool she's following in your footsteps. My dad was a musician but I did not follow in his footsteps, mainly because I don't have any talent. Were you surprised when she started singing and became a professional singer?

Stephanie: Of course we tried to talk her out of it... it's the sensible thing to do but she got a gig singing with the Young Razzcals Jazz Project when she was 9 and they toured in Virginia, New Mexico and Colordo and did six tours to the Telluride Jazz Festival in Colorado and made some recordings with them as well. She can sing circles around me she gets all the wild meters and modes she's been singing with the more modern cats (instrumentalists) and they stretch her in ways I don't think I can be stretched at this point she's an amazing soloist (scat singer) she sings opera, pop, electo-swing, theater... you name it. She writes she taps okay... there goes mom braggin' on her.  Well, she did receive a full scholarship to University of Miami's Frost School of Music where she will study jazz and studio voice and she was one of eight singers in the Grammy choir last year and was featured with Paquito D'rivera at Tellurid last year and will be back again with the all-star band for the third year... the only singer ever to be in that ensemble. Anyway,  she is the epitomy of an artist... she write vocalese words to faure cello concertos, sings jazz symphonies, plays trumpet and constantly surprises us... the future is in good hands with these young people. She is working with a DJ/mixing artist on combining jazz and hip hop... amazing!

Me: Have you and Veronica worked together yet?

Stephanie: All the time we did. I guess I was the side man on her gig ... two jazz at Lincoln Center performances she has been on, many festivals and in many clubs and concerts with us and is getting called as a leader now.

Me: As well as being a performer, like a lot of jazz performers you also teach. Where do you teach?

Stephanie: I have been teaching jazz and non-classical voice at the University of Virginia sine 1994 and at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg since 2000.  I wrote a book on jazz rhythm in 2000 called "It's Not On the Page" which I took to 25 state and national music educator conferences and I do many workshops, clinics, concerts for elementary, middle school, high school, college and professional level singers all over the world.

Me: I take it you teach singing, am I right?

Stephanie: I help students to find their natural voice... and to let it go!! I help students to prepare repertoire for performance. Learn how to learn song, prepare charts and arrangements. I help them to hear!!! I help them to be who they are... let their voice be released and their story be told its so much fun!!

Me: Have you have any students who can't carry a tune in a bucket like myself, who with training got to be a pretty good singer?

Stephanie: Very few people are really tone deaf most intonation problems are problems with tension its easy to sing when you hear the music music is hard. You have to train your ears to hear and distinguish sounds but very few can't be taught to sing... if you call it that its mostly about confidence and ear training mostly learning to play piano helps!!

Me: Was Veronica one of your students?

Stephanie: No way. Well, not directly. I don't think we've ever had a lesson but she's been watching and listening its amazing what they can learn without being 'taught'.

Me: You mentioned your book "It's Not On the Page" What does the title of the book mean, Stephanie?

Stephanie: I started that book for choir and school teachers who were trying to teach jazz by reading the notes on the page and the music never sounded right jazz quarter notes and eighth notes are different there is 'hidden space'. There is a pulsing approach to swing. Anyway,  I tried to take it from their perspective and get them to experiment and see where they had to be flexible as long as you can hear it you can sing it its the 'reading' of it that is problematic.

Me: How long did it take to write the book, and was it easy to write?

Stephanie: I wrote it after my mom died and I needed an outlet. It poured out actually. I wrote 400 pages... I have two more books written that just need me to get off my butt and edit them and put them out. TIME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Me: You have performed with so many jazz greats over the years, is there one artist or band that sticks out that you were thrilled to be sharing the same with?

Stephanie: MANY. The Jon Hendricks Experience was amazing... my apprenticeship... two years loved singing with Bobby McFerrin, Sheila Jordan and Bob Dorough. I learned so much from them loved begin near Phil Woods, Philly Joe Jones, Hank Jones... what can I say? Phil played on my first CD. Yikes... amazing... he's such a great man! But I couldn't make it through a week without Hod's music... it's so life-affirming up playful with just the right amount of blues and earth and reality but transcending it through the harmonies and swing unexpected wonderful mistakes based in passion lots of 'breath'... and there is no better feeling in the world than singing with my daughter! We are ONE... we scat the same things sometimes... amazing... so much fun to have father, mother and daughter together. The family that plays together stays together as we always say.

Me: You worked with Bobby McFerrin?

Stephanie: He came to UVA and asked me to sing in his circle songs and then do a duet with him. We did "Joy Spring" Wow! As we were trading fours he had the rhythm section lay out and it was just him and me... naked and exposed... frightening... and I had that DAMN bridge. I survived and he was a generous gentleman and great artist.  I hope everyone can experience Bobby live... it's a transforming experience and fun!

Me: Would you consider his 'music' jazz?

Stephanie: Boy, I don't like labels... sure... even when he sings pop standards like the Beatles he's improvising and free. He is his own category.

Me: I used to joke he was to cheap to have a band, he just performed on himself. That didn't sound right, but you know what I mean. Did he have a band?

Stephanie: He loves experiencing singing with bands. The concert I saw him do at James Madison University last year in Harrisonburg, Virginia. He locked horns with the drummer and took off... just like they rehearsed. NOT! It was spontaneous and wonderful.

Me: Stephanie, thanks for being here on the Phile, I hope you had a good time. Is there a website you'd like to mention?

Stephanie: I have a brand new website at I hope your readers will please visit and introduce yourselves to me and come to a gig sometime and say 'hi'. We have fun on the bandstand.

Me: Thanks again, and please come back soon. Also, tell Hod and Veronica I'd love to have them on the Phile as well. All the best, and continued success.

Stephanie: Thanks, they'd love it but you'd better grab Veronica fast before she disappears into college-land! Thank you for your interest in my music,  all the best,  keep swingin!!

I have to say that was one of the strangest, longest and oddest interviews I did yet. Sheesh. She was great though. Thanks to Laird Jim and of course Stephanie. The Phile will be back tomorrow with the guys from the band Blade of Grass and then Monday with singer Adam Daniel. Spread the word, not the turd. Don't let snakes and alligators bite you. Bye, love you, bye. Strawberry Blondes Forever!

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