From the birth of jazz at the dawn of the 20th Century, women have been a hidden gem in a largely male-dominated music genre. While male jazz singers like Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole, Cab Calloway, Jon Hendricks, Michael Bublé, and many others along the way have achieved enduring fame, taking the stage at the front of the bandstand, and becoming the stars of their day, there is one fascinating area of the genre where females have reportedly dominated—the domain of jazz vocalists.
Ask any female jazz singer who has influenced them the most in their careers. They will hail the mighty Holy Trinity—Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, and Sarah “Sassy” Vaughan, as the top superstars on their list.
Add to that the inclusion of contemporary female jazz singers, among them Nina Simone, Peggy Lee, Madeleine Peytoux, Catherine Russell, daughter of legendary jazzman, Luis Russell, who worked extensively with Louis Armstrong. Then there’s Norah Jones, who combines a sultry voice with brutal piano skills. And of course, there’s Diana Krall—to date, the top-selling female jazz singer of the 21st century.
“Jazz is a great American genre. It was made in the USA,” says award-winning international jazz vocalist Yvette Norwood-Tiger, who admits that being a good jazz vocalist isn’t easy. “Jazz is America’s real, true offering to the world. So, it does my heart good to see the City of West Palm Beach wants to bring jazz in a concert series to its community. I’m really looking forward to it.”
Norwood will perform on August 16 at Soul in the City Jazz Experience inside the Lake Pavilion at 101 S Flagler Drive in Downtown West Palm Beach. This special jazz concert series is sponsored by the City of West Palm Beach and the Downtown Development Authority [DDA], drawing a multicultural crowd and bringing back lost art to the city.
DDA’s Associate Executive Director, Teneka James-Feaman, hopes to bring more events like this to the downtown district. “My hope is that the series will continue to grow and flourish. It would be wonderful to have a summer jazz series in Downtown WPB that engages our community, but also encourages visitors to travel to our destination for amazing live music and entertainment,” says James. “This concert series is an introduction to what many will experience at the Sunset Lounge.”
Built in 1926, the Sunset Lounge is located in West Palm Beach’s historic Northwood district. Sporting a new look with multiple floors, a full-service bar, restaurant, mezzanine, and garden rooftop, very soon it will bring back that incredible moment in history from the mid-1940s to the 50s when jazz was king in America and notable musicians like Fitzgerald and Armstrong performed at what many considered to be the “crown jewel of the neighborhood.”
Internationally renowned jazz vocalist Nicole Henry opened the concert series on July 19 to a sold-out crowd. Labeled by the New York Times as “A pop-soul superwoman whose every gesture and inflection conveys confidence and mastery,” and by Billboard as “An artist who knows how to make a song her own,” the singer can “sell a power ballad as well as Whitney, Diana, and Patti,” reports Jazz Times.
In abstract ways, her repertoire formed a narrative of West Palm, the feel of the city, its charm and romance—replete with myriad complexities and moments of unexpected beauty. Henry’s relaxed delivery and rhythmic tone and style set the mood.
Her charm was evident when she finished the first line of her opening song. “I sing so that I can share my spirit,” says the vocalist who likes to keep her audience in the palm of her hands. “My goal is to encourage people through music; to inspire them and make them feel. I love performing and sharing experiences with my audience.”
The jazz experience at Soul in the City is classy and intimate. And it’s more than just catchy tunes with distinctive rhythms and resonating vocals. It’s where musicians bend the notes and change the pitch of a song to mimic a singer’s voice. However, that’s part of the genre’s charm. This harmonically sophisticated sound blends beautifully with the stunning views of West Palm’s Intracoastal, which serves as its striking backdrop, providing attendees with an elegant but laidback ambiance where they can snap their fingers to the syncopated heartbeat of jazz.
On Wednesday, September 20, from 7 to 9 p.m., vocalist CeCe Teneal brings her soulful melodies to the Soul in the City stage.
“Jazz, blues, and soul music are the heartbeat of our lives and our communities, says Teneal. “These genres remain strong and vibrant today, simply because they are nostalgic. The diverse styles, especially the unique improvisational nature, continue to captivate audiences of all generations and cultures.”
In cities like West Palm Beach, the thriving jazz scene is likely sustained by dedicated and grateful musicians, enthusiastic fans, and venues committed to providing supportive environments for such performances, explains Teneal. “The city’s cultural appreciation and heritage preservation might also contribute to its enduring popularity. All in all, music is the cross-section of the universe. It is the one thing that brings us all together, and I love being a part of that.”
Jazz not only brings a community together but also boosts creativity. Jazz vocalists like Teneal, Norwood, and Henry—like the genre—are constantly evolving, expanding, and changing their repertoire. Soul in the City Jazz Experience concert series is the perfect platform for improvisation—a distinctive characteristic of jazz, and of West Palm Beach, a city constantly on the move.
Tickets for the Soul in the City Jazz Experience are $10 per person. Table Reservations for 4 or more start at $65; includes table service for beverages, available at DowntownWPB.com/Jazz. Early reservations are encouraged as seating is limited.