Multi-Talented Jazz Singer Back In Hartford To Perform at Artists Collective
By OWEN McNALLY
September 19, 2010
As a virtually unknown but enormously gifted young singer, Carmen Lundy dazzled jazz fans in Hartford in the mid-1980s with superb performances in city nightspots ranging from the South End's legendary 880 Club to the North End's famously cozy T-Boe's Lounge.
Lundy, who today is one of the jazz world's premier vocalists, an original stylist, noted composer and a globe-trotting performer and educator, returns to Hartford after all these years to perform in a free concert Saturday at 8 p.m. at the Artists Collective, 1200 Albany Ave.
Back in the '80s, Lundy was often accompanied by a trio led by pianist Ken Hewitt as part of the Connecticut bandleader's still fondly remembered "Jazz Singer Series."
Lundy, who made her New York debut in 1980 with the Mel Lewis/Thad Jones Big Band at the Village Vanguard, was just one attraction in Hewitt's parade of jazz, pop and cabaret singers who performed in Hartford clubs.
While many of those hot nightspots are long gone, Hewitt's high-quality singer series and, in particular, Lundy's dynamite club appearances remain an indelible part of Hartford's rich jazz history.
For her Hartford encore, the celebrated, now Los Angeles-based diva will be accompanied by her own working trio featuring pianist Anthony Wonsey, bassist Darryl Hall and drummer Jamison Ross.
"Well, I certainly remember everything about those gigs in Hartford and have many fond memories," Lundy says enthusiastically from the music studio at her home in Los Angeles.
"I remember Nat Reeves [now a nationally respected and still Hartford-based bassist]. Nat was just a kid back then, and now he's a world-class performer. I haven't seen Kent [Hewitt] in years, but it's great to be able to talk about a place that's outside of New York City that provided so much support, encouragement and positive reinforcement of what I was doing back then."
While auld lang syne for Hartford and the old 880 Club is fine with Lundy, she's very much into the present as she plans her upcoming tour. Her latest East Coast jaunt features her first-ever appearance at New York's Blue Note, one of the Big Apple's leading jazz clubs, on Tuesday and Wednesday nights prior to her "homecoming" Hartford gig.
For the Blue Note dates, Lundy, whose songs have been recorded by such artists as Kenny Barron and Kenny Kirkland, will premiere recently completed compositions that she'll also sing in Hartford.
After the local date, she's teaming up with pianist Geri Allen for stateside performances of Mary Lou Williams' Jazz Mass in honor of the centennial of the birth of the pioneering woman composer and pianist.
Then Lundy, a frequent flier on the international jazz circuit, goes abroad on a tour ranging from Ronnie Scott's, the famous jazz club in London, to concerts in the Ukraine and resort areas in the Crimea, then on to Munich.
A renaissance woman of the jazz world, Lundy is also a painter and actress.
A self-taught artist working in oils, her style ranges from high-keyed expressionism and abstract mosaics to figurative, sun-dappled joys, works that have been exhibited from New York to Los Angeles.
As an actress, she has won plaudits for her portrayal of Billie Holiday in Lawrence Holder's off-Broadway play "They Were All Gardenias" as well as for her lead role in a European tour of Duke Ellington's "Sophisticated Ladies."
Also a peripatetic teacher of the art of the jazz vocal, she's conducted master classes in Australia, Denmark, Japan and Switzerland as well as throughout the United States.
None of her diverse accomplishments would ever have happened — including her critically acclaimed 11 albums — if she had followed either of the two paths that seemed solidly mapped out for her, and which would have ruled out a jazz career.
One path — set by her deeply religious parents in childhood — would have had Lundy devote her singing talent entirely to their church in their hometown of Perrine, Fla.
The second — which she adopted in her freshman year at Miami University — would have steered her strictly into classical music and opera.
"As a little kid, my first 14 or 15 years of life were spent at church, five days a week. I went to school. I went to church. I went to school. I went to church," Lundy says.
By age 6, Lundy, who was born in Miami in 1954 and is the oldest of seven children, was studying piano. She was quite happy to emulate her mother, Oveida, who was the lead singer in a gospel group known as the Apostolic Singers.
Carmen and her equally gifted brother, the now-famous jazz bassist Curtis Lundy, were blessed with the finest in music lessons.
Their church, where the Lundys were immersed in sacred music, had been built years before by their grandfather, a master builder and pillar of the small, tight-knit community. To this day, one of the Lundys' elderly aunts still plays piano for the choir in the same church.
"Because we were raised in this religious environment, we weren't really allowed to have fun with Motown music or with the blues," Lundy says. "But some of us were very interested in secular things — the things that other people were doing in the world. That's how I got exposed to the blues and all the great music of that time in the 1960s.
"Everything for me that was connected to fun or just a little freedom had to do with music," she says. "Music was really a vehicle for discovery for me."
In high school, Lundy
had a terrific teacher who opened the door for her to classical music, which was a little more acceptable to her family elders than blues, jazz or any secular-tainted forms of pop music.
By 17, Lundy was off to the much wider world of the University of Miami, beginning as an opera major.
Thanks to influential teachers and the magnetic appeal of the strong jazz program there (classmates included Pat Metheny, Jaco Pastorius and other future jazz heavyweights), Lundy began her conversion to jazz, eventually switching her major to jazz.
Embracing jazz was a ritual of self-discovery, she says, an epiphany leading to a lifelong journey and profound commitment to jazz and the creative life.
Not that there haven't been bumps along the road taken.
Most egregiously, there's the unpleasant fact that her talent has never really gotten the recognition deserved after 30 productive years in which she has never compromised, never taken a commercially rewarding detour from her chosen route.
Part of that may be because she's always recorded for indie labels, classy companies but totally lacking the wealth and clout that major major labels can pour into building the careers of new talents, some of whom have their 15 minutes of supernova media fame, then vanish forever.
Perhaps because she never got picked up by Blue Note or Sony and never had a powerful, career-making mogul like Bruce Lundvall in her corner, the jazz press has not rallied to her support. DownBeat, JAZZIZ and JazzTimes, three major jazz publications, for example, have never done a feature story on her.
But none of this lack of hoopla seems to bother her, since she feels that, even with all her past accomplishments, she's still got miles to go. There are more songs to write, more concerts to play, more uncompromising recordings to make.
"I feel that as long as someone gives me the opportunity, someone gives me the stage, I get to bring what I hope the audience will see as authenticity coming from something genuine," she says.
"I hope the music has the elements of what makes jazz swinging and that we've got a message for you and bring you all the basic things that are why we fell in love with the music in the first place.
"I feel that if we do that, then I'm good with myself. And if you walk out of that club whistling anything we did, we're all good."
Carmen Lundy performs Saturday at 8 p.m. in a free concert at Hartford's Artists Collective. Tickets are available at the collective in advance and at the door. Information: 860-527-3205 or http://www.artistscollective.org.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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