Interview with singer/bandleader/columnist Ayana Lowe.

I had the recent pleasure of interviewing one of our new contributors (in the New York area) to Jazz Now Magazine. This took place during the IAJE (International Association for Jazz Education) conference in January, 2006, at the Hilton Hotel.

Like many Jazz singers, Ayana Lowe started out singing in church. After studying classical music, opera and having sung in a gospel choir in college, at Washington, D.C.'s Howard University, Ayana moved to New York City, where she developed her singing of Jazz, blues and gospel. She has worked with James Weidman, the late James Williams, Bob Cunningham, Charli Persip, Henry Grimes, Billy Lester, Ben Dixon, Michael Howell and Ray Anderson, among others Ms. Lowe has three CD's to her credit and is working on her fourth CD. I have also had the opportunity of working with Ayana Lowe as a pianist and accompanist.

We have to thank Ayana for introducing us to Jazz Now's other new contributing writer, George Chieffet. I asked Ayana how she was acquainted with George. She responded, "George Chieffet has enjoyed listening to Jazz music for 45 years. I know George through the arts. He's a poet and playwright and we worked on a couple of collaborations together. George wrote a Performance art piece combining poetry and jazz. I performed in this piece, titled 'Honeymoon and War.' It was based on romantic World War II music set to poetry." Ayana also enjoyed a small singing role in the off Broadway show "Notes to the Motherland," that George wrote. In addition, they have collaborated on writing lyrics to songs.


 I wanted to find out more about Ayana's singing and performing, as she is such a natural talent. Although she feels the blues "in her bones," Ayana conveyed her thoughts on blues singers, by saying, "I've done a lot of research on the blues. I like to go back to the archives to find these rich gems that aren't really being done that much. And I'm trying hard to preserve them- I've always loved the music of Big Mama Thornton, Big Mabel, Ida Cox, Ethel Waters, and Bessie Smith."

Ayana is a member of the board of IWJ - International Women in Jazz. They've been doing concerts and workshops, collaborating with the likes of women such as Sheila Jordan. Ayana Lowe has regular engagements at the 55 Bar in Greenwich Village and Orbit in East Harlem.

We wish all the best to Ayana Lowe and George Chieffet, and look forward to their new column appearing in Jazz Now in the month of April, called "Lowe Notes."

 Cyrus Chestnut Trio at Iridium, January 2006  The Iridium sits right in the middle of the crowded New York theater district, and has a neon sign outside specifying "Jazz," but when one walks down the stairs, it is refreshing to be in a room with plenty of space, great food and a good view of the stage. The Iridium has a very interesting lineup of performers, ranging from the legendary Les Paul to a new series of vocal workshops organized by manager Scott Barbarino and pianist Barry Levitt. The night I went, there was magic in the air as the headliners Cyrus Chestnut-piano, Michael Hawkins-bass and Neal Smith-drums walked onto the stage.

 "The Cup Bearers" (by Tom McIntosh) was their smooth opener. In control of the piano, Cyrus glided through chorus after chorus. The band followed him through these transitions, from bluesy to rhythmic phrases. The drummer countered this with a very quiet solo on brushes, and they wound the song up with a flashy ending.

"East of the Sun" had an interesting vamp leading in and out of the solo, after which the rhythm section dropped out. Cyrus did some unbelievable pianistic feats, using huge chords and the entire range of the piano. The audience let out a collective yell when he brought the band back in, still keeping the energy level at top notch, swinging like crazy.


 A perfect tune to follow that was a relaxing rendition of "Bag's Groove," a medium-slow blues. Here, the bass player got a chance to solo, bringing forth a beautiful tone and a lot of soul. Cyrus backed him up with some background chords reminiscent of Bud Powell.

When Cyrus began his solo, two influences were apparent: Erroll Garner and Oscar Peterson. This was mainly due to the fantastic rhythmic and harmonic abilities Chestnut has - he played one hand against the other with equal finesse, playing tremolos, bebop lines and stride bass.


 The next tune was an original that had a classical sound, titled "12-Bar Ballad." He asked the audience to help him name it. He started out on solo piano and, using the soft pedal, proceeded to come out with the most gorgeous melody. Neil used mallets on his cymbals at the beginning of the piece before switching to brushes. Both Cyrus and Neal played just as great whether the music was pianissimo or forte, adding color and nuance to every phrase.

Following "12-Bar Ballad" was "The Brown Soldier," another exciting original with an inherent rhythm that Chestnut used to great advantage, yelling out "Freeze!" every now and then, controlling the rhythm section in the manner of Ahmad Jamal. "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," which Roberta Flack made famous, was tastefully played as a gospel blues, and "You Are My Sunshine," was the closing theme of the set, an up-tempo swing that left everyone feeling positive. This was a great way to spend a Jazz night out in Manhattan.

 Shawn Ryan at Helen's Hideaway Room  Shawn Ryan, a talented baritone Jazz/cabaret singer, will be a recognizable name to those in the know in the Bay Area. His pianist, arranger and musical director is Kelly Park, who owns a nightclub called Kelly's of Alameda. Shawn performed with Kelly at the fabulous Helen's Hideaway Room in Chelsea on a recent weekend in February 2006, on tour to celebrate the release of his recent CD, "Blue Skies."

 From the outset, one could tell that this was a polished group. The pianist and singer have a great rapport, and Kelly's arrangements are excellent - interesting and full of medleys, wit and charm. Shawn sang and told jokes, including the audience in his repartee, as well as the band (in addition to Kelly Park on piano, he had Skip Moore on bass and Brian Fishler on drums).

Shawn is surprisingly mature for age 27, and has a refreshing approach to the old standards, and a great sense of humor. He is also a good musician with an excellent voice and a natural stage presence. He is a charismatic performer on the gay scene, but appeals to all kinds of audiences. His duet with Kim Nalley on the CD ("Baby, It's Cold Outside) is hysterical. I wish Shawn Ryan all the best in his endeavors.

 by Lucy Galliher


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