I didn’t set out to be a jazz singer; I set out to be a teacher. The teaching came first, and it just so happens that I started teaching and playing jazz gigs the same year. A lot of people say I’m a jazz singer, but I’ve also sung with the St. Louis Cathedral Choir and with the Moses Hogan Chorale. Everything I do involves music, but I never put myself in any particular category. I just sang.
How have you used classical music in the classroom?
I was a music teacher, which means I also taught music appreciation and music history. Of course that involved teaching my students about the classical, romantic and baroque periods. We became familiar with Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Verdi—you name it. I had a broad spectrum of exposure, and I felt obligated to share it with my students.
What do you feel is the most important lesson you’ve taught?
I often tell my students two things: Listen and be honest. Those are the biggest requirements, as far as I’m concerned. Listen to everything that’s going on, and be honest with yourself and your performance.
Do you approach singing with the LPO differently from a normal jazz gig?
Obviously, it’s a different environment, but I’m not going to approach it any differently than any other thing that I do. Whatever I do in my presentation on the bandstand—whether in the night club or at Jazz Fest—will go with me into the Cathedral with LPO. Honesty in performance is very important to me. I can’t bring anything to the bandstand but me. If I try to do something that’s not sincere, it’s not going to happen.
After such a long teaching career, what do you hope to learn from your experience with the LPO?
I learn every time. The bandstand or the stage is a classroom. Rehearsing is important and necessary, but I guarantee that at the time of the performance, something will happen that teaches a lesson. I will learn something from working with LPO, and the Cathedral will be a classroom at that time.