Primary Instrument: Vocalist
At 21 years old, through both training and pure instinct, Jesse Palter has grown into one of the most accomplished and dynamic singers (and songwriters) in the Detroit jazz and overall music scenes. Her voice is a flexible, facile instrument wielded by an ambitious and visionary player; it can be sweet or salty, polished or raw, wide in range and broad in stylistic scope, channeling and combining influences such as Ella Fitzgerald, Betty Carter Sarah Vaughan, Frank Sinatra, Joni Mitchell, Stevie Wonder and Carmen McRae. It's the voice of someone who has a voracious appetite for growth and is fearless in that pursuit -- the perfect equation for a promising future. I've grown so much -- musically, harmonically, as a thinker in general, says Jesse, who took Outstanding Jazz Vocalist honors at the 2006 Detroit Music Awards. Instead of just getting on the bandstand and playing off-the-cuff standards, we have our own unique interpretations of the classic songs as well as my original compositions. Working with such accomplished musicians, we are constantly pushing each other to expand outside of the box. This has taken our group to the next level.
It's fair to say that singing is in Jesse's blood. Her grandmother, Dorothea Ranier, was an opera prodigy in New York who continued singing throughout her life. Jesse's father, who harbored his own ambitions to be a DJ, was raised in a musical household, which he passed along to his family, keeping plenty of Motown, show tunes, Beatles, Michael Jackson, Prince, Carole King, Stevie Wonder and Tony Bennett on the home stereo. The precocious Jesse started singing publicly at age five and learning piano at six. She subsequently studied oboe and trumpet and attended a middle school that specialized in the performing arts, where she starred in a number of theatrical productions. In fact, the first public indication that jazz lay in her future came during rehearsals for Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, when Jesse, playing the narrator, began embellishing the melodies; although the director admonished her, she also told Jesse's mother that Jesse had a natural inclination towards improvisational singing. That's when I started listening to a whole bunch of jazz records, Jesse recalls, and really immersing myself in the language of improvisation. However, she was also conscious of the parade of adolescent and teen stars soaring up the pop charts and decided that maybe she could do that, too. She began contacting producers such as Detroit's Jeff and Marky Bass (Eminem, 50 Cent) as well as Andrew Gold (Linda Ronstadt, Celine Dion). But despite some interesting sessions, Jesse's path was already taking her in different directions. I never felt quite at home, she says, until I finally started performing jazz. Her persistence paid off in getting the University of Michigan School of Music to allow her to be part of its jazz program as a vocalist -- a course of study the school didn't offer at the time. But after hearing Jesse audition, they struck a compromise in which she agreed to take classical voice classes (Working on my vocal hygiene, she says) while studying jazz theory and improvisation with legendary artist/instructors such as Donald Walden and Dennis Wilson.
During the past two years, Jesse has forged her reputation as a live performer throughout the Detroit area, racking up credentials by sharing stages with Geoffrey Keezer, Christian McBride, Uri Caine, Avishai Cohen, Sean Jones, Rodney Whitaker, Carl Allen, Wes Anderson, James Carter, Marcus Belgrave, Dr. Teddy Harris, Keith Hall, Paul Keller and others. Now on leave from school, she's been studying at Mike Jellick University, working tirelessly with the music director and pianist of her Jesse Palter Quartet to develop arrangements and stylistic touches. The group (which also includes Nate Winn on drums and Ben Williams on bass) are regulars at the world renowned Baker's Keyboard Lounge, have performed extensively around the Detroit Metropolitan area, and also served as the house band for the official jam following the 26th Detroit International Jazz Festival.
Jesse and company have just completed her first album, Beginning to See the Light, which will include originals such as Change of Heart, a song inspired from a personal experience with misplaced love, along with standards like One For My Baby (And One More For the Road),Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart as well as the Kermit The Frog classic Bein' Green. Sometimes I'm like, 'Oh my God, this is happening so quickly, Jesse says. I'm real lucky to be playing these clubs and these festivals, especially with musicians I respect so much. On the other hand, I've been doing this for quite some time. People don't realize I have paid many of my dues. When you think about how long I've been trying to go for this, it's been a huge learning experience -- and I'm still learning about it every day of my life.