Revibe: Carmen Lundy 1995

When ukvibe met with Carmen Lundy at The Jazz Cafe
When ukvibe met with Carmen Lundy at The Jazz Cafe


There is no doubt that the multi-talented (singer, composer, arranger, producer, actor and painter) Carmen Lundy has, for several years, been one of the best voices in jazz. Yet, despite this, plaudit, international recognition has been short coming, (In fact, this is her first interview with a British publication), hopefully things will soon change with the release of her latest album ‘Self Portrait’ for JVC records.

Determined, from an early age, to become a professional singer; “I was six when I started in a gospel group” says the Florida born vocalist – who has quietly and impressively devoted herself to her career. She has studied the piano and some time back was part of a duo called ‘Salt and Pepper’, themselves cutting a record. Initially enrolling to Miami University to study opera, it wasn’t until her second year hat jazz was to come into the picture, performing in jazz clubs along the way. “I was in a group and we were much in the discovery part of our profession, and the only way to get your music heard was if you wrote your own songs. So I took a composition course and explored this whole new part of my expression, which was writing rather than interpreting.” It didn’t take her long to develop this skill, subsequently writing ‘Time Is Love’, one of her first, and most loved, compositions.

After graduating, she moved, in the late ’70s, to New York, to continue her singing career. A reputation soon followed landing her several jobs, including the leading roll in an off-Broadway show; ‘Billie Holiday’. Several years passed, and despite a glowing reputation, a record deal came to be a slow grinding process in her career. “I was frustrated having been in N.Y for around six years, and had not landed any serious recording contract. So I went about doing a demo tape and shopping it around, hopefully leading to a contract, which didn’t happen – yes, they were trying times!” At that time, Carmen had made a few appearances as guest vocalist for other musicians. “My first recording was ‘Angelica’ written by Roger Rosenberg with the group Jasmine, then came ‘Valley Land’ with Walter Bishop Jnr.” She also appeared on two albums by Potter and Tillman. “On their first album, I recorded ‘Good Morning Kiss’ singing and playing the piano, and on their second I did ‘Time Is Love’, again singing and playing piano.” After these recordings, it was to be another five years before the release of her excellent debut ‘Good Morning Kiss’ (1987) for Black-Hawk Records. Times were hard … “But during that period I was singing a lot, all over town, anywhere and with anyone that would hire me. Walter put together a band with Marcus Miller, Kenny Washington and Mayra Sasales and I performed my first show, in Harlem, and that, like other nights, would lead to something else. I was able to work as a performer but always with the objective of becoming a recording artist.” However, Carmen doesn’t regret those years on the road. “I think it’s important to develop your own sense of audience rapport. There’s a lot of things that are valuable, which only come by being a performer, that you may never learn by recording and there’s something about being out there and learning it from the ground up – becoming a seasoned artist. I always felt that the next step up would be to record, rather than do that first, and then become a performer, it was a conscious effort. I always wanted to record but I would never diminish the value of performing.

That next step up came in 1987, with her debut, “I initially sent a ‘Good Morning Kiss’ demo tape to Columbia – they lead me to believe that they were going to sign me, but not use the music, then the demo just sat there and just sat there. Then I was informed that Columbia wasn’t going to sign me, so I took the tape to Black-Hawk and it came out as a record.” The album hosted such names as Bobby Watson, Cecil Bridgwater, Rudy Van Gelder and Curtis Lundy. “Our paths crossed in N.Y., we established a professional and friendly relationship and they were very willing to support me in my first project.” Unfortunately Black-Hawk Records have since collapsed.

Carmen was in the studio the following year to record the album ‘Night And Day’ for CBS/Sony-Japan. Again this was a set-back, since very few people were made aware of the release outside of Japan. “We’ve certainly tried, we’ve done a lot to make that album available. I would prefer if it got distributed worldwide, because a lot of people don’t know that I’ve done an album such as this, straight ahead, all standards. with a couple of my arrangements – which incidentally, they were fussy about. A lot of people think I’ve done all of this straight ahead, hard driving jazz and then started to record and do it, sort of ignored my roots, our history, but that recording speaks for that. So in that regard I hope Sony decide to release it.”

We then had to wait another five years, from the release of the debut to her next album, ‘Moment To Moment’, with Arabesque Records. Again, Carmen wasn’t happy, “Arabesque were afraid to support me, at the time when it was clear they could have taken full advantage. They didn’t want to spend any money, I think they were afraid to support the music.”

Jazz Cafe London
Jazz Cafe London

Despite these albums receiving general praise, it’s interesting to see they have all appeared on different labels, and possibly one of the reasons why success has evaded her, is the unfortunate problems that she has encountered with the various record companies. “I think that when we think of jazz singers, even in this time, we still prefer to honour those who are long since past or that have a 40 to 50 year history, and when I was beginning to actually make records, Ella, Sarah and Carmen McCrae were all very vibrant and full into their careers and very active. There wasn’t really a lot of embracing of the new singer. Maybe my difficulty was that I was a little young to be a jazz singer when you’re 25 no one takes you seriously as a jazz singer.”

I asked Carmen about the progress she has made in the music industry. in comparison with the likes of Dianne Reeves and Cassandra Wilson – two vocalists currently taking the limelight. “Interesting thing was neither of them were recordIng when I did ‘Good Morning Kiss’, maybe there was something more appealing about what they were doing at the time, I can’t compare myself to them, I let my music speak for itself. I think my problem was these labels that I had signed with were not in a position to exploit me. The progress of my career is not something I have complete control over, as we would have liked. There’s a lot of it out of my control, once I make the record the final project, then it’s somebody else’s job to take over, that’s the part that’s not really up to me to determine. As long as the company is behind the music and feel strongly about what has been recorded, then it is they who have to take the incentive and make sure the public is made aware of the product. That costs money, and requires experience, knowing how the business is run are things that I ‘m not required to do. I’m supposed to render my best performances that I have, at that time in my life – during that moment in the studio, I can’t go back a week later to change it.” But despite her relationship with the various record companies, Carmen does believe that the environment is ripe for the jazz vocalist, in fact she believes that among her contemporaries, there is a new breed of jazz singer. “When I listen to the music of other jazz singers, I don’t hear a lineage, I hear a departure. I don’t associate their approach like that of Billie or Carmen McCrae. I think what happens, may be some of these recording companies were buying into the possibilities that the jazz vocal style of singing was taking a new turn, a new direction and becoming more conceptual, becoming more of departure from the old school. The environment still exists partially, if we still want to see and experience the jazz singer, after all, we no longer have the gift and the presence of Sarah or Carmen. We can’t go and see Ella, Betty Carter is the last diva, and it’s not to eliminate Nancy Wilson or Abbey Lincoln or Ellen Anderson – it’s not necessary not to include them, but for me I regard the aforementioned as those who really define what the music is about, and what the art of singing jazz truly is, Billie being the first. Not to overlook Dinah Washington, but I was so young when she passed away, that my experience with her is only through recordings. With the other singers, I’ve seen them dozens of times and I’ve had their examples before me to show me how they interact with their players.”

It’s been a while since Carmen has been in this country, I asked her what she thought of her reception when she was last here? “To think that I was born, raised, educated, and have all my learning experience as a jazz singer, in America, and to go across the Atlantic to a foreign country and have people know me better than they do in my home town – that is a wonderful thing.”

It is! But only two nights at the Jazz Cafe every few years is not enough.

Good Morning Kiss (Black Hawk) 1985
Night and Day (CBS/Sony) 1987
Moment To Moment (Arabesque) 1992
Self Portrait (JVC) 1995
Old Devil Moon (JVC) 1997
Love Me Forever (JVC) 1997
This Is Carmen Lundy (Justin Time) 2001
Something To Believe In (Justin Time) 2003
Jazz And The New Song Book – Live At The Madrid (Afrasia) 2005
Come Home (Afrasia) 2008
Solamente (Afrasia) 2010
Changes (Afrasia) 2012
Soul To Soul (Afrasia) 2014

Features on:
Walter Bishop Jr. – Cubicle (Muse) 1978 [Valley Land]
Jasmine – Jasmine (West 54) 1979 [Angelica]
Charanga 76 – No Nos Pararan (TR) 1979 [My Forbidden Lover/Good Times/We Are Family]
Potter and Tillman – NY To LA Coasting (Poet 1980) [Good Morning Kiss]
Potter and Tillman – Space Rapture (Poet 1982) [Time Is Love]
Curtis Lundy – Just Be Yourself (New Note) 1987 [Never Gonna Let You Go]
Kip Hanrahan – Days And Nights Of Blue Luck Inverted (American Clavé) 1987 [Love Is Like A Cigarette]
Tony Cimirosi – New York International (Epoc) 1989 [Into The Night]
Fred Wesley – Fred Wesley (Antilles) 1990 [Eyes So Beautiful/The Love We Had Stays On My Mind]
Kip Hanrahan – Tenderness (American Clavé) 1990 [Look, The Moon]
Straight Ahead – Body and Soul (Atlantic) 1993 [Never Let You Go]
Kip Hanrahan – All Roads Are Made Of The Flesh (American Clavé) 1995 [The First And Last To Love Me]
Billy Childs – American Voices (Telarc) 1995 [The Distant Land]
Ernie Watts – The Long Road Home (JVC) 1996 [At The End Of My Rope]
Curtis Lundy – Against All Odds (Justin Time) 1999 [Blue Woman/ Long Journey Home/Where’d It Go]
Various – Justin Time For Christmas (Justin Time) 2003 [Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas]
Geri Allen – Timeless Portraits And Dreams (Telarc) 2006 [Timeless Portraits And Dreams]
Mayra Casales – Woman On Fire (Afrasia) 2007 [Take The Time]
Jazz Explorers – Jazz In My Soul (Concord) 2006 [Autumn/Only Human]
Quasimode – The Land Of Freedom (Geneon) 2008 [Time Is Love/Object In The Mirror]
Quasimode – Sounds Of Peace (Geneon) 2009 [Sounds Of Peace]
Build An Ark – Love Part 1 (Kindred Spirits) 2009 [More Love]
Build An Ark – Love Part 2 (Kindred Spirits) 2010 [Tryin’ Times]
Terri Lyne Carrington – The Mosaic Project (Concord) 2011 [Show Me A Sign]

1995 artwork by Sarah Triggs
1995 artwork by Sarah Triggs

Finally, to quote critic Leonard Feather:

“Carmen Lundy: she has it all, except for the mass scale acceptance she continues to seek – and deserve,”

carmen lundy