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March 20, 2009

New York Voices have kept their harmony for 21 years

Kansas City Star (MO):

For the New York Voices, one of the most admired vocal groups in jazz, it’s all about finding the right blend. It’s about making four voices a seamless whole, yet finding room for individual creativity. It’s about old songs and new ones, and old values and new ideas. That’s what they’ll offer up on Saturday at the Gem Theater.

“Conceptually, it’s always been about the vocal blend, obviously,” says one of the group’s founders, Darmon Meader. “But there’s a heavy emphasis on instrumental-jazz inflection and repertoire and style.”

Though their shows are great entertainment, Meader and his cohorts take the art of ensemble jazz singing very seriously. Three charter members of the New York Voices — Meader, Peter Eldridge and Kim Nazarian — have been singing together since they were students at Ithaca College in the early 1980s. Latecomer Lauren Kinhan has been with them a mere 17 years.

The condensed history of the group goes like this, Meador says: In the summer of 1986, after they’d graduated, their teacher put together a six-voice alumni group for a European tour. Meader, Eldridge and Nazarian were on board. “Peter and I took on the task of being musical directors and writers to give it our own stamp,” Meader says. “We had a great time, and the audiences gave us a good response, and we decided it would be something we could try to do professionally.”

By the fall of 1987, they were in New York and working as a vocal quintet, three women and two men, and also doing studio and jingle work. Word of their excellence spread, and they were signed to the then-popular GRP record label.

The blend changed in 1994 when one of the women left the group. They decided to carry on as a four-voice unit. “It was weird,” Meader says. “It was about six months before it felt kind of normal. And eventually it felt even stronger. We have a little more independence this way, and we like the balance of male and female sounds.”

Just as there’s a blend of voices, there’s a blend in the group’s material. “We’re very interested in the traditional repertoire of singers, and we cross over into the instrumental world — Ellington and Coltrane,” Meader said. “We grew up on pop music too, so we can go from Coltrane to Stevie Wonder. And we like to throw in some originals too.”

They’ve found the right blend of personalities in this long-running quartet, Meader says. “What are we most proud of? That we’ve managed to stay together. … We’ve managed to grow up together and survive the challenges of being young and stupid.

“Twenty-one years, and we’re not tired of it.”

Posted by acapnews at March 20, 2009 12:00 AM

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