Kristen Lee Sergeant
Radio Promotion by New World n Jazz
Mixed Media Client since: 2016
Joe Lang Birdland Review
KRISTEN LEE SERGEANT has been gigging around the New York City area for several years, developing her jazz vocal chops. Inside/Out (Whaling City Sound – 087) is her first album, and from the evidence here, she was certainly ready to spread her talent to a wider audience. With backing from David Budway on piano, Chris Berger on piano and Victor Ector on drums, she sings six standards, “Never Will I Marry,” “Old Devil Moon,” “Lullaby of the Leaves,” “So Many Stars” “I Wish I Were in Love Again” and “It Never Entered My Mind.” Like so many younger singers, she grew up listening to the pop music of her generation, and has chosen to include some material from more contemporary sources to her repertoire. In this instance, she selected hits by Tears for Fears, “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” the Police, “Every Breath You Take,” and Modern English, “I Melt with You,” to fill out her program. Perhaps it is a generational thing, but these songs just do not hold up well next to the older songs, but Sergeant does a fine job of bringing them into a jazz context. The lady can sing, and there should be more fine albums like this one coming from her down the road.
August 12, 2016
Kristen Lee Sergeant Debuts:
Some vocalists aspire to be jazz singers. Others claim the mantle but fall short. The lucky few, like Kristen Lee Sergeant, meet the challenge and merit the title.
Inside Out displays Sergeant’s qualifications – her superior intonation and control, an interpretive command that ranges from defiance to gentility, a willingness to take risks with harmony and rhythm, the freshness of her arrangements, synchronicity with her accompanists, and the manner in which all these elements yield a supremely musical package. She has refined these skills over the past decade, and her woodshedding period has yielded an imposing debut album.
Sergeant grew up in Manchester-by-the-Sea, a suburb on Boston’s North Shore that she is quick to point out is the home of Singing Beach. During her high school and college years, she was focused on theater and classical singing, and when she moved to New York after graduating from Brandeis University her intent was to pursue a theatrical career and study opera. Then her roommate suggested that Sergeant check out cabaret legend Marilyn Maye, and a new fascination took hold. “I had listened to cabaret and jazz a bit, but hadn’t really been exposed,” Sergeant recalls. “Seeing Marilyn perform convinced me that there was a more intimate way of reaching an audience.“ Sergeant has become a student of Maye’s. “Marilyn reminds me to celebrate the beauty in my instrument.”
Sergeant also found herself immersed in jazz after the leader of a big band heard her rehearsing bel canto in a practice studio and invited her to sit in. Soon she was a permanent member of the ensemble, which only added to her growing sense of the music. “I was able to observe how the soloists were trying to discover something,” she explains, “which taught me to embrace the process of improvisation. The band played a lot of transcribed solos from Art Blakey records, and just singing along was a great education in itself.”
Hearing Maye and working with the big band led Sergeant to reconsider her musical priorities. “I saw that technique is a double-edged sword,” she says. “Classical training can make you more adept, but it can also be a shield, as if being able to do all of the tricks puts you beyond criticism. And there’s stuff you miss in more traditional vocal study, particularly in the area of rhythm. I began to realize that as a student I had reached a peak, only to discover that I could see a higher summit.”
Another key moment in Sergeant’s development was encountering a Carmen McRae video from the 1960s television series Jazz Casual. “Carmen’s incredible commitment to the lyrics, together with her complete musicality, made me realize that such things were possible. Around that time, a theatrical project I had been involved in for quite a while got a New York tryout on a night that I had a jazz gig. I realized that I had undergone a transition and missed the tryout.”
Studies with vocalist/pianist Tom Lellis put the finishing touches on Sergeant’s jazz apprenticeship. “Tom is a great teacher,” she confirms, “and he was particularly helpful in my approach to rhythm. Hard bop is my favorite listening music, which may seem like an odd choice for a singer, but Tom helped me apply the colors of hard bop to my approach. And he made me realize that, in jazz, vibrato is a choice rather than an essential. Most importantly, I learned that while I may be as deliberate as need be when I practice, what comes out when I perform has to relate more to instinct. When I’m into a song, the chances I take are all instinctual. And the meaning of each tune is my window into improvisation. If what I’m trying to do is not based in a deep well of feeling, it’s not going to happen.”
Sergeant has put her philosophy into practice in this debut program, which places her individual stamp on a half-dozen consensus standards plus three additional hits from the ‘80s. She explains the presence of the latter by noting that “I chose `Everybody Wants to Rule the World’ and `Every Breath You Take’ because these songs are in the back of all of our minds. We hear them at Whole Foods, or in malls, or wherever we find ourselves wandering around; yet they aren’t sacred cows, so they are approachable for rearrangement. I took that freedom,” she jokes, “and abused it.” “I Melt with You,” the Modern English hit, is less familiar than the Tears for Fears and Police tunes, yet provided the kind of open meaning that Sergeant finds inspiring. “Thinking about melting led me to the messy intro,” she explains, “and then thinking more about melting led to the spoken word statement that alludes to both personal attraction and nuclear war.”
The rest of the program is personalized as well, with such memorable touches as her half-time statement against the rhythm section at the start of “Old Devil Moon,” the Monkish setting of “I Wish I Were in Love Again” and the straightforward wonder of “So Many Stars.” As the tracks were being recorded, producer Suzi Reynolds pointed out that Sergeant had created a song cycle, one that began with the power of “Never Will I Marry” and ultimately looped back to another form of never. “All of these songs mean something to me,” Sergeant confirms, “and the musical vocabulary of jazz allowed me to reinvent. `It Never Entered My Mind’ is so personal that I can’t listen to it. It’s the sucker punch at the end of our visit to all of these rapturous places.”
Sergeant is quick to share the credit with her rhythm section, which is comprised of players who, in her words, “can say what they need to say explosively.” She has a history of playing with pianist David Budway and bassist Chris Berger; and while many of her gigs do not allow for drummers, she found Vince Ector “a treat to work with.” She shares this writer’s appreciation of Budway’s contribution, both as a member of the trio and, on the closing two tracks, as the sole accompanist. “I’ve done gigs with David almost as long as I’ve been in New York. He’s such a versatile musician that he’s even done classical things with me. David has an endless imagination. You can work with great accompanists and great soloists, but only a few can do both. David is one of the few.”
What has resulted on Inside Out is nothing less than a confirmation of Kristen Lee Sergeant’s embrace of the jazz aesthetic. “Jazz is about bringing something new to what may be familiar material,” she insists. “The art form doesn’t need you if you’re not seeking a new way. Unlike my work in theater, it’s about what I want to say, what I can bring that no one else can bring. And while my training with a big band was invaluable, your own improvising is limited because this massive machine surrounds you. The trio gave me more opportunity to play off what everyone else is doing, which is another thing that I love about jazz. It allowed me to follow Suzi’s advice to `seize the musical moment.’”
Consider the moment seized.
Track Listing & Publishing Info
1 Never Will I Marry 3:32
(Frank Loesser, rearranged by Kristen Lee Sergeant) MPL Music Publishing Inc. OBO Frank Music Corp.
2 Everybody Wants to Rule the World 4:06
(Orzabal, Stanley, Hughes, rearranged by Kristen Lee Sergeant) Platinum Songs OBO Amusements LTD, Rights Management Rosetta VM PKA Virgin Songs, BMG
3 Old Devil Moon 4:28
(Burton Lane & E.Y. Harburg) Chappell & Co. Shapiro Bernstein OBO Glocca MorraMusic
4 Lullaby of the Leaves 3:38
(Joe Young & Bernice Petkere) Bourne Co. Cherio
5 I Melt With You 5:44
(Richard Ian Brown, Stephen James Walker, Robert James Grey, Michael Frances Conroy, Gary Frances Mcdowell, Dalton Dieh, rearranged by Kristen Lee Sergeant) Universal – Songs of Polyg OBO Universal/Momentum Music 3 LTD
6 So Many Stars 4:02
(Sergio Mendez, Alan Bergman, Marilyn Bergman) WB Music Corp Spirit Two Music OBO Spirit Services Holdings, SARL
7 Every Breath You Take 3:16
(Sting, rearranged by Kristen Lee Sergeant) EMI Blackwood Music Inc. OBO Magnetic Publishing LTD.
8 I Wish I Were In Love Again 2:06
(Lorenz Hart & Richard Rodgers) Chappell & Co., Williamson Music Co. – A Div. of Rodgers & Hammerstein ©1937
9 It Never Entered My Mind 2:45
(Lorenz Hart & Richard Rodgers) Chappell & Co. Williamson Music Co.-A Div. of Rodgers & Hammerstein ©1940
10.27: Kristen Lee Sergeant, Birdland Jazz Club, 315 W 44th St, New York, NY 10036