Born: October 7, 1957 Primary Instrument: Vocalist
When you looked at an album cover in the old days, Veronica explains, it told a story. The album cover and the title kind of prepped you for what you were about to experience, and I always felt that a jazz album isn't just the music that is played - it's the whole package. When you pull out that CD, it should be like a storybook. The cover and the album title kind of whet your appetite, and when you hear the songs, it takes you through an experience. It should all be an experience.
Like her previous release, American Lullaby (which focused on jazz interpretations of lullaby-like melodies), Standard Delivery is very thematic (its dominant theme being a jazz vocalist's relationship with time-honored standards). On Standard Delivery, Nunn puts her personal stamp on an abundance of classics from the Great American Songbook, including George Gershwin's A Foggy Day, Richard Rodgers & Lorenz Hart's Where or When, Dorothy Fields' I Can't Give You Anything But Love and Jerome Kern's I'm Old Fashioned. Not every melody on Standard Delivery originated in Manhattan's legendary Tin Pan Alley; the album moves into Brazilian territory on Antonio Carlos Jobim's One Note Samba, and Honeysuckle Rose was composed by the great stride pianist/singer Fats Waller. But everything on Standard Delivery is a well known standard, and everything on the album receives Nunn's personal touch. I don't want an album to be just a bunch of tunes that I randomly threw together, Nunn notes. That's why I put a lot of energy into having a theme and a continuity when I record an album.
The fact that Standard Delivery sounds both spontaneous and focused has to do with not only Nunn herself, but also, with the presence of her working trio, which consists of acoustic pianist Travis Shook (who is Nunn's husband and frequent musical collaborator and is known for his 1993 debut album on Columbia Records/Sony Music), upright bassist Jennifer Vincent and drummer/percussionist Jaz Sawyer. Nunn's cohesive and highly sympathetic trio, which also appeared on American Lullaby in 2000, has been backing her for 13 years - and their presence is a definite plus throughout Standard Delivery.
It isn't just the singer who makes a jazz vocal record work; it's the whole band and the way the band comes together, Nunn stresses. Travis and Jaz and Jennifer are unbelievably supportive. We really know each other musically; we work together all the time, and have played together in many clubs. We have a real sense of each other, and that is so important when you go into the studio. In the past, I've played with people who just dialed it in, but I've never gotten that with Travis, Jaz or Jennifer. This trio has a real sense of commitment.
Although Nunn - like the members of her trio - is closely identified with New York City, she is not a native New Yorker. Nunn was born and raised in Little Rock, Arkansas, where she grew up listening to a variety of jazz, soul, funk, rock, blues and gospel. Nunn moved to the Big Apple in 1978, and it didn't take her very long to immerse herself in the New York City jazz scene. I moved up here not knowing anyone, and I got a job and an apartment the second day I was in town, Nunn recalls. I worked for Gimbels Department Store on 86th Street and Lexington Avenue. I had such a desire and an energy to be in New York, and we tend to create opportunities for ourselves when we're very focused and have a wishful belief system. I had been in New York about a year and five months when I met Big Nick.
The Big Nick that Nunn speaks of is the late bandleader/tenor saxophonist/singer George Walker, a.k.a. Big Nick Nicholas, who was famous for being a teacher of the seminal John Coltrane (when Trane wrote and recorded Big Nick in 1962, he did so in honor of Nicholas). After meeting Nunn at Sweet Basil (a well known, long-running jazz club in Manhattan's West Village) in late 1979, Nicholas quickly took her under his wing and introduced her to a lot of jazz heavyweights (including trombonist/guitarist Eddie Durham, vibist Red Norvo and pianist Roger Ram Ramirez, who is best known for writing the standard Lover Man). Nunn soon found herself performing one gig after another and getting some valuable on-the-job experience performing with seasoned veterans like trumpeter Doc Cheatham and tenor saxophonist Eddie Chamblee. Along the way, Nunn was offered full scholarships to Boston's Berklee College of Music and New York's equally prestigious Juilliard School of Music, but she turned down both offers and attended Lehman College in the Bronx to pursue a degree in theology.
Studying theology, however, did not decrease Nunn's interest in jazz - and the list of accomplished musicians she has performed with over the years is a long one. It is a list that includes Eddie Harris, Lee Ritenour, Dave Grusin (the G in GRP Records), Jay Anderson, Mark Egan, Roy Hargrove, Astrud & João Gilberto, Michael Bowie, James Carter, Oscar Neves, Rodney Kendricks, Café, Spanky Davis, Manolo Badrena, Ron McClure, Buddy Williams, Bob Cunningham and Xavier Davis as well as pop-rock superstar Sting. Nunn attributes her ability to perform with artists of that caliber to the fact that Big Nick and others were willing to offer her guidance and constructive criticism when she was starting out.
Big Nick made me understand how to use jazz to work through things in your life and how to use jazz to really communicate with people, Nunn remembers. He told me, 'If you don't know what you're trying to say, how can you expect anybody else to?' Big Nick recognized the musicianship in singers, and one of the great lessons I got from Big Nick as well as from Eddie Chamblee was the importance of developing my own style.
Nunn also learned that the most meaningful jazz isn't just about chops, technique or complex chord changes - it is about expression, emotion and feeling. Those are the things that, for Nunn, make a jazz performance compelling regardless of whether the performer is a singer or an instrumentalist. Nunn is quick to point out that her major influences are not only jazz vocalists, but jazz instrumentalists as well - that even though she is a strong admirer of Carmen McRae, Abbey Lincoln, Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday, instrumentalists were also quite crucial to Nunn's musical development.
I was always greatly influenced by instrumentalists, Nunn stresses. I remember reading that Ella Fitzgerald wanted to sound like a horn, and when I read that, I said, 'I guess I'm on the right track.' John Coltrane was a big influence for me, and Hank Mobley, Gene Ammons, Ben Webster and Lester Young were also important influences. I was greatly influenced by the horn players who had really warm tones as well as by McCoy Tyner, who is one of my favorite pianists. I've always admired McCoy's integrity.
Another person Nunn has great admiration for is vocalist/composer Michael Franks, who she has been performing with extensively since 1993. Nunn has toured all over the world with the prolific Franks, who has featured her at concerts in countries ranging from Indonesia to Russia to South Africa.
I have learned so much about performing and writing from Michael, Nunn explains. He is very generous.
In fact, Nunn's third album will be a tribute to Franks. And her fourth album will be a Brazilian jazz project and will include arrangement of songs by Djavan, Milton Nascimento and other Brazilian stars; although English is Nunn's primary language, she looks forward to singing in Portuguese on that forthcoming project. But whatever material she is recording - whether she is interpreting songs by Clifford Brown, Stephen Sondheim, Marvin Gaye or Ivan Lins - Nunn wants to make certain that her individuality continues to make its presence felt.
One of the things I love about Mark Murphy is the way he has done so many different tunes from so many different genres and has done them his own way, Nunn asserts. Jazz has to do with the way you interpret a song and how you use the music to do that. It's not the type of songs you are using - it is what you do with them. All music is emotion-based, and whatever songs I record, I will always use jazz to express my emotions and make my own personal statements.
Veronica Nunn is one of the brightest new jazz singers to come along in quite a while. She's original, discerning, independent, and purely swinging. (Clive Davis, New York Daily News)
Veronica Nunn has an unmistakable sound, a rich timbre at once intimate and reserved. Perfect time and remarkable vocal control make her ballads and fast tempos equally intriguing. And can she swing! (Stuart Troup, New York Newsday)
When I give my love to you,' the sensual, steamy duet performed by Michael Franks with featured singer Veronica Nunn was the highlight of the evening. Her voice complimented his as it laced around the melody, ending with a moving vocalese solo, that had the audience on their feet in applause. (Los Angeles Times Excerpt from Michael Franks review at the Strand in Los Angeles)
It's been a long time since I've heard a real jazz singer! (Renowned jazz critic Stuart Troupe, upon hearing a Veronica Nunn demo tape being played on the house system at Sweet Basil, New York City, 1996)
REVIEWS FOR STANDARD DELIVERY
Her enunciation and intonation are a reproach to better-known singers. (Michael Steinman, Cadence Magazine)
Kudos to Veronica Nunn for the fresh ideas that she’s introduced into her standards album. (Jim Santella, Jazz Improv's New York Jazz Guide)
. . . she is disarmingly comforting, letting her assuring voice caress you like a late night neck rub. (George Harris, All About Jazz)
This young lady is Broadway, where a singer reaches for the same address as a Carmen McRae and Sarah Vaughn . . . (Dick Crockett, Still Another Jazz Show, 88.7FM)
REVIEWS FOR AMERICAN LULLABY
Nunn is very much, her own stylist and sounds like no one else . . . I look forward to more by this talented singer and her group. (Richard Bourcier, JazzReview.com)
She sings with skill and confidence and swings mightily on a mix of jazz chestnuts, popular show tunes and originals. (Ken Franckling, Jazz Improv Magazine)
Unmistakably, this is an exceptional debut . . . (Alan Bargebuhr, Cadence Magazine)
Veronica Nunn is unforgettable. (Jim Santella, LA Jazz Scene)
Dead Horse Records
Tracks: 1. If I Had You; 2. Surrey With the Fringe on Top; 3. I Love You for Sentimental Reasons; 4. A Foggy Day; 5. I've Grown Accustomed to His Face; 6. One Note Samba; 7. I Can't Give You Anything But Love; 8. More Than You Know; 9. Thou Swell; 10. I Hadn't Anyone Till You; 11. I'm Old Fashioned; 12. Where or When; 13. That's All; 14. Honeysuckle Rose.
Personnel: Veronica Nunn: Vocal; Travis Shook: Piano; Jennifer Vincent: Bass; Jaz Sawyer: Drums, Percussion.
Dead Horse Records
Tracks: 1. Medley For Jordan - American Lullaby/Not While I'm Around; 2. Don't Be Blue; 3. This Joy; 4. I Loves You Porgy; 5. Living Room; 6. You Know You're In Love; 7. Green Finch & Linnet Bird; 8. The Meaning Of The Blues; 9. On A Wonderful Day Like Today; 10. It Might As Well Be Spring.
Personnel: Veronica Nunn: Vocal; Travis Shook: Piano; Kebbi Williams: Tenor Sax; Ron Westray: Trombone; Jennifer Vincent: Bass; Jaz Sawyer: Drums, Percussion.
As A Side Musician
Dead Horse Records
Tracks: 1. Awake; 2. Touch and Go; 3. Counterblues; 4. Sacrifice; 5. Leviathan; 6. Broadway; 7. Nothing Like You.
Personnel: Travis Shook: Piano; Kebbi Williams: Tenor Sax; Ron Westray: Trombone; Jennifer Vincent: Bass; Jaz Sawyer: Drums, Percussion; Veronica Nunn: Vocal (track 7).
Travis Shook Plays Kurt Weill
Dead Horse Records
1. Lost In The Stars; 2. My Ship; 3. September Song; 4. Alabama Song; 5. Lonely House; 6. Mack The Knife; 7. Lost In The Stars (Reprise).
Personnel: Travis Shook: Piano; Kebbi Williams: Tenor Sax; Ron Westray: Trombone; Veronica Nunn: Vocal; Jennifer Vincent: Bass; Jaz Sawyer: Drums.
Watching the Snow
Rhino / Wea
1. The Way We Celebrate New Year's; 2. Watching The Snow; 3. Christmas in Kyoto; 4. My Present; 5. I Bought You a Plastic Star; 6. Said the Snowflake; 7. The Kiss; 8. When the Snowmen sings; 9. Island Christmas; 10. My Present.
Rendezvous in Rio
1. Under the Sun; 2. Rendezvous in Rio; 3. The Cool School; 4. Samba do Soho; 5. The Critics Are Never Kind; 6. Scatsville; 7. The Chemistry of Love; 8. Hearing “Take Five”; 9. The Question Is Why; 10. Songbirds.
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