© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
“‘The definition of a jazz singer is a singer who sings jazz,’ said Mark Murphy with tongue-in-cheek, although, actually, he's a definitive jazz singer himself.
He scats with bravado. He improvises melodically, harmonically, rhythmically, and with the lyrics. He writes vocalese lyrics to jazz instrumentals and also writes his own songs. He can break hearts on a ballad, plumb the deepest blues, bossa like a Brazilian, or wing harder and hipper than just about anyone. [Emphasis Mine]
‘A lot of singers attempt to sing jazz, use aspects of jazz in their arrangements, but without really getting into the whole thing,’ …
‘l think the test is The Jazz Singer Test. You take a singer and three musicians and you put them in a room, or a pub like I used to do in London. I had this trio. The piano player couldn't read. The bass player couldn't read. The drummer read, but it didn't matter. I gave them a list of tunes. We never rehearsed. We just got up. I gave them the keys, and I counted off, and it happened. Because we were all Jazz musicians. I think that's the test. If a singer can get up and cut that, he's really doing it."
- Mark Murphy as told to DJ Michael Bourne
“In this world of ordinary singers, of overrated singers, I’m glad there is Madeline.”
- Leonard Feather, Jazz author, scholar and critic
Michael G. Nastos in his artist biography about Madeline Eastman for all about jazz asserts: “
“In her career as a jazz singer, Madeline Eastman has remained close to home while establishing a worldwide presence without recording for a major label, instead releasing a series of independently produced, critically acclaimed recordings.”
Remarkable in itself, what makes this statement border on the incredulous is that “close to home” is the greater San Francisco Bay Area, which in recent years has not exactly been known as a hotbed of Jazz.
But for those of us who have ready access to the SF bay area, catching Madeline in performance in either a club or a concert venue is one of Life’s great Jazz experiences for nothing compares to the vocal renderings of Mad [an explicable nickname that comes about by shortening her first name; you are gonna have to wait for an explanation of “The Dolphin Lady” until you read the Mark Murphy insert notes to her Point of Departure CD that close this piece].
I mean, where else can you hear vocalese lyrics to tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson’s Inner Urge, or vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson's Little B’s Poem - both of which she wrote [!]- or a scat chorus sung in unison with Phil Woods on Eddie Harris’ Freedom Jazz Dance, or a heart-stopping rendition of the ballad theme to the movie Baghdad Cafe?
Perhaps Madeline’s greatest gift to us goes beyond her interpretative skills as a vocalist and points directly to the quality of her voice which is magnificent in and of itself. Madeline’s voice is the ultimate “point of departure.”
Madeline’s voice is pure and it is powerful and I for one have to take it in small doses because it simply overpowers my emotions.
By way of background, Mad was born June 27, 1954, in San Francisco, CA, where she grew up listening to pop tunes on the radio, including those sung by Barbra Streisand, Jack Jones, Vic Damone, and Eydie Gorme, among others. In her senior year of high school, she viewed the film Lady Sings the Blues and discovered Billie Holiday, then enrolled in college music classes at San Francisco State University, and also attended various local jam sessions during her academic years.
Finding her calling as a “legitimate” jazz singer through early voice coach Charles Richards, Eastman made her recording debut with the Full Faith & Credit Big Band; began collaborating with Palo Alto-based trumpeter Tom Harrell; and over the years worked with internationally known veterans like Phil Woods, Cedar Walton, Kenny Barron, Mike Wofford, the Turtle Island String Quartet, Tony Williams, Rufus Reid, Matt Wilson, and vocal mentor Mark Murphy. Barron and Eastman teamed up for a recording project with the legendary 50-member Amsterdam-based Netherlands Metropole Orchestra.
In 1990, Eastman and Kitty Margolis co-founded their Mad-Kat record label, through which they were able to make their own music with no commercial or artistic constraints. She has also been a member of the administrative staff for the San Francisco Jazz Festival.
Aside from performing, she has conducted many clinics, is director of the Stanford Jazz Workshop, is artistic director of Jazzcamp West, conducts mobile touring Monterey Jazz Festival programs, and does her own Voice Shop retreats. She now serves as Department Chair of Jazz Vocal Studies at the Jazzschool in Berkeley, CA.
A pivotal recording, influential for her in terms of composition, arrangements, and phrasings, was Miles Davis' Filles de Kilimanjaro. After hearing it, Eastman's approach to time, dynamics, and pitch changed her into a jazz vocalist more interested in taking chances than in toeing conventional standard lines. Her debut recording, Point of Departure from 1990, was followed by Mad About Madeline! in 1991, Art Attack in 1994, and the 2001 CD Bare, which concentrated on ballads. While broadening her repertoire, Eastman added Brazilian and soul/R&B tunes along the way for the 2003 effort Speed of Life, featuring Reid, Akira Tana, pianist Randy Porter, percussionist Michael Spiro, and trumpeter Mike Olmos. All of her recordings are available through her website: www.madelineeastman.com.
Along the way, Eastman has picked up awards from Down Beat magazine critics in their annual Talent Deserving Wider Recognition poll, and has twice been named one of the top female jazz vocalists.
She has toured worldwide, from Japan, Finland, Sweden, Germany, and Scotland to New York City nightclubs and festivals close to her West Coast home in the San Francisco Bay Area. Eastman has also become a prominent lyricist, writing her own song lines to several modern jazz classics, and has arranged more than a fair share of her repertoire.
As promised. here’s Mark Murphy’s insert notes to Mad’s Point of Departure CD.
“Just a few years ago I was doing my three or four hips at the local "Y" pool here in San Francisco. This particular afternoon my snail's pace kept being interrupted by a lithe, fishlike lady slipping past me like a dolphin. I stopped after the sixteenth splash and took a pause. Who pops up out of the chlorine from another lane in the pool but the great drummer Vince Lateano. of jazz and latin fame. We shout "Hey..." and begin the rebop that is inevitable between musicians anywhere: what's doing and where etc… Suddenly the dolphin lady surfaces dripping and grinning to join us. It's Mad! I mean Madeline Eastman, the swimmer. She and Vince know one another 'real well,' and the rebop gets louder among us.
So, you might ask, what's doing with Mad? Madeline Eastman has just recently given me one of the best, most stylish and cool album-tapes of contemporary vocal jazz. I hear them all and this is the best in a long time. The dolphin lady certainly does more than swim...she sings.
Wherever I perform, I'm constantly given tapes from songwriters and jazz singers, all over the world, really. I love singers. Jazz singers and all their problems especially. I know them all. (You should have heard my concert in Sydney of the Australian Vocal Jazz Summit a few years ago. Wow.) But, we're talking Madeline Eastman here.
I first heard Mad on my long gig at Jim and Mary Lou Quinlavin's The Dock - in Marin County's stylish Tiburon [north across the Golden Gate Bridge]. Even then Mad was cool, as she belted out Four all the way through, and she lets you do some of the work, making you listen. Now, of course, with that swimmer's bod and her stylish clothes that remind you what a looker she is...you might be distracted from her vocal artistry. But not for long.
Cool, but intense is our Mad. She means it. She did not compromise, and this radiant tape is the result.
Like I say, for years singers have given me tapes, and Madeline Eastman's is just about the freshest, coolest, most interesting of them all.
You'll pick your own favorites of course, but dig the bittersweet heartbreak of "No More" — all those bop lines she sings with such ease. She even makes sense of the silly English lyrics to two gorgeous Ivan Lins songs. And then the brilliant You Are My Sunshine. I could go on.
Special, SPECIAL applause for the charts by Paul Potyen! Hey Paul!...All right! And she's got some good company in trumpeter Tommy Harrell, pianist Mike Wofford and bassist Rufus Reid. Remember the other swimmer? Vince Lateano? Playing here, too. But as for you Madeline Eastman, baby...you did it right!”
— Mark Murphy