Learning the Language of Jazz
Singer Quiana Lynell is a natural educator, and from the time the tape started rolling at Esplanade Studios, class was in session. Lesson one: Intro to Scat Singing.
Good scat is based on the art of improvising in counter-melody – taking an established melody and vocalising a different melodic line that reflects directly on the original.
Musically speaking, children are counter-melodies of their parents, especially in their early years. Lynell grew up in the West Texas city of Abilene, where she was raised in an austere, religious household. She learned her first musical lessons in church, “That is how I grew up,” Lynell said, “and my mom was like my first voice teacher. She’d be like, “Stop singing out of your nose!”
And yet, the melodies of childhood weren’t enough for the young Lynell. She had more to say. As a soprano at Louisiana State University, her plan was to sing classical music professionally. But after taking a break from performing altogether in Baton Rouge, she built a repertoire of gospel, blues, zydeco and r&b songs. Soon enough, New Orleans beckoned – and with it, a yen for jazz.
Now, the world is beckoning. In 2017, Lynell won the Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition, which is held each year at Rutgers University in Vaughan’s home state of New Jersey. Since then, she’s performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, across the U.S. and in Europe. In the spring of 2019, she released A Little Love, her first album on Concord Records.
For Lynell, this is the beginning of her life as a renowned jazz artist and bandleader. “I’m not ready to be Betty Carter for you right now,” she tells Gwen. “But catch me in six more years, (you’ll say) ‘Ok, I see growth.'”
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Always a Student, Always a Teacher
To Quiana Lynell, the themes of music and education have always been inseparable. As a child, she used songs as tools to remember her lessons. On Music Inside Out, she recalled the importance of the School House Rock! series originated by the late Bob Dorough:
…Or this one, also from Schoolhouse Rock!, sung by Blossom Dearie:
Eventually, Lynell became a music teacher. She says her work with an elementary school band near Baton Rouge allowed her the freedom to pursue singing professionally:
I’m teaching, because that was part of my transition of, “How do you become a musician that is able to tour?” So I’m like, “Okay, all these people I’m meeting, a lot of them teach and then they tour in the summer.” So I’m like, “Okay, let’s go teach.” I had my degree in Music. I started teaching elementary music and beginning band. All this is great for my stair-stepping into being a better musician, a jazz musician.
Now, she continues to shape young minds by training vocalists at Loyola University in New Orleans.