Featured Musician - June 2006

Name: Valerie Day

Instrument: Voice, Hand Percussion

Early Years/Education: My mom was a classical singer so I grew up around all of that kind of music and we had every eight track of Broadway show tunes..."The King and I," Hello Dolly," "My Fair Lady, etc. Actually, Mom sang the part of Eliza Doolittle with Dr. Lyndon Smith as the professor when I was a little girl. She practiced at home and we sang all the time. She was with the Seattle Opera, Portland Opera and the San Francisco Metropolitan Opera. Growing up I told myself I was not going to be a singer. I did dance, I was going to be a photographer, or an artist. But I started doing percussion and back-up singing and the singing became larger and larger in my life; it just happened.

My dad also sings. He had a barbershop quartet in medical school called the "Forcep Four." My mom and dad sing together beautifully. At age fifteen I started getting into jazz.

My husband and I got together around the same time as Mahavishnu Orchestra was at its peak. My husband is guitarist/producer/arranger John Smith. After Mahavishnu we got into Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Gerry Mulligan, etc.

John went to New York and came back with this Motown book and started a horn band called Nu Shooz. I was back-up singer and percussionist for them in the beginning. They had several other lead singers but ultimately after I returned from Seattle I became the lead singer. I went to Seattle to study percussion. I attended the Cornish Institute and studied with Gary Peacock and Jerry Granelli.

Our single "I Can't Wait" went over to Holland as an import and got re-mixed and ended up back in New York in all the dance clubs. That's where Atlantic Records found us. They had already turned us down but changed their minds and signed us.

That was 1986. We signed with them in January of that year and by September "I Can't Wait" went to number three on the pop charts, one on the dance charts and one for R&B. We toured almost every day that year. In 1987 we were nominated for a "Best New Artist" Grammy.

Artists For The Arts: When my son started going to school, I became aware of the lack of funding for arts in the Portland public schools. I was singing with the Woody Hite Big Band at the time and I thought I'd make a big band recording to benefit his school.

As a result of the "Beginning to See the Light" recording, a 501c3 organization was born called "Artists for the Arts." It's a group made up of artists: musicians, dancers and painters as well as parents, educators, business people, and friends of the arts. We're trying to return art to the classrooms of Multnomah, Washington, and Clackamas schools. Our website is www.artistsforthearts.org.

It was at a fundraiser for the program that I met and started working with Tom Grant. We have one recording together called "Side By Side" released in 2005. It's been a nice partnership and we continue to sing together.

I also continue to work as a percussionist on mostly Latin hand instruments.

Teaching: I currently teach voice to college age and up; I use the Blaylock method (Tom Blaylock); I've studied with him since '83 when I developed nodules on my vocal chords from singing incorrectly. I teach beginning on up in all styles: jazz, classical, heavy metal, Irish music, etc.

Musical Influences: Sara Vaughan, Count Basie, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Aretha Franklin, Charlie Parker, Puerto Rico All-Stars, Annie Ross, Betty Carter, Gerry Mulligan, Stevie Wonder, Ella Fitzgerald, K. D. Lang, Eva Cassidy, Andjelique Kidjo, Nancy King, Peggy Lee, Rosemary Clooney, and classical: Rene Flemming, Sumi Jo, Yo Yo Mah, Bryn Terfel, Astor Piazzolla.

Most Satisfying Experience: Doing the CD release party for the Knights of Swing. It brought together a lot of passions that I have in life. There were a lot of really lovely people there because of the cause. I got to do the big band thing with all the costume changes and to perform with wonderful dancers and I got to sing with Barbara Lusch and Jessica Hollyfield as a trio.

Favorite Recordings: Sara Vaughan with the Count Basie Orchestra in 1979; Aretha Franklin "This is Jazz," Eva Cassidy's "Live at Jazz Alley," and Andjelique Kidjo's "Best of."

Discography: As a vocalist and/or percussionist: w/Tom Grant "Side By Side" '05 and "In My Wildest Dreams;";"Big Blue Eyed Soul" Chris Mayther; "Beginning To See The Light" Knight of Swing ‘03; w/Nu Shooz "Can't Turn It Off" '81, "Tha's Right" '85, "Poolside" '86, "Told U So" '88, "Eat N' Run" (unreleased on Atlantic '92); Toni Land "Karaoke King;" Pepe & the Bottle Blonds, "Late Night Betty;" various artists "Hearing Voices;" as a percussionist only: w/F-5 "Dodging the Dream Killers;" w/John Nilsen "Above Me," "Where The Rivers Run;" w/Dan Balmer "If We Never Met Again," "I Hope So;" w/Theresa Demerest "Moon Rising;" w/Duffy Bishop "Ooh Wee!;" various artists "Kid's Pain Relief Project: Come What May;" w/Michael Allen Harrison "Circle of Influence;" w/ Val Gardena "River of Stone" and "Migration;"; w/Dave Frishberg "Quality Time."

Gigs: With pianist Darrell Grant on June 17 at the Portland Arts Festival on the campus of Portland State University in the south park blocks from 3 to 3:45pm; Also on the 17th that evening I'll be at the Melody Ballroom with the Knights of Swing. This is a benefit for the Albertina Kerr Center starting at 6pm. For more info you can go to www.spotlightonkerr.org

Gigs Coming Up: I'll be back with Tom Grant at Wilf's on July 8 from 8pm to midnight.

Future Plans: In the Fall we're launching a new program for Artists for the Arts called "Percent for Arts Education" (working title). It's a way for artists to donate to the organization.

For example if you were going to do a CD release party or have an art exhibition we'd help promote the event and a percentage of the sales would go to Artists for the Arts. Instead of us doing events by ourselves, we promote all the arts while raising money for arts education in the schools. Also, hope to be apart of future projects with Tall Jazz; would love to do some symphony work as well.

Other: We've re-recorded "I Can't Wait" as an un-plugged jazz version; we slowed it down, lowered the key. It bridges the gap between what we were doing in the ‘80s to now. It'll be offered as a download off of my website in the Fall.

Quote from Mary Burlingame of KMHD: "Valerie is the consummate musician/vocalist. I love that she NEVER sings any bad notes. Her work with Artists for the Arts should be commended because of all the young people's lives that this program will directly affect and all the artists the program has provided work to."

-- Interviewed by Rita Rega

Copyright 2007, Jazz Society of Oregon