By Wendy Lane Bailey
To interview jazz singer Carol Fredette is to get a master class in the art of musicianship taught by a smart savvy woman who is passionate about her craft. Bronx born and raised, she says what she thinks and her thoughts are always worth hearing.
WENDY LANE BAILEY: What was the first song you ever sang in public?
CAROL FREDETTE: It was Nature Boy in my elementary school class play. I don’t remember exactly how old I was, but it was in the single digits. I sang throughout high school. I was always being asked to sing at dances. At one dance, I sang “We’ll Be Together Again.” It was a song I always loved.
WLB: What attracted you to jazz?
CF: I had a natural affinity for jazz because of my older brother, who loved jazz. His favorite band was Stan Kenton, and that really got me hooked on Big Band. My sister listened to Frank Sinatra, two of my uncles were trumpeters, and my father listened to opera. It was in my blood. I learned my phrasing from listening to the instrumentalists. Most singers don’t listen enough to them. It’s all in the phrasing. I’ve learned everything I know from listening to musicians. That has been my Masters and PhD.
WLB: Tell me about your first gig
CF: I came back to New York after one year of college in Florida. My uncle Marty [trumpeter Marty Bell] landed a gig in Union City, NJ at the Kit Kat Club. He asked me to come with him to his gig. He gave me a list of standards to learn in a week; by the time I went to his gig I had learned them all. He called me up to sing. I did a few tunes and the owner immediately hired me to sing for the summer with Uncle Marty’s band.
WLB: What draws you to a song?
CF: The melody has to speak to me as well as the lyrics. I need a beautiful swinging melody, and I have to believe the lyrics. I have to do a tune that’s communicating something on a deep level that I can empathize with. I have to believe what I’m singing because if I don’t, how will I communicate it to an audience? I can’t sing something I can’t believe.
WLB: If you could have any composer living or deceased write a tune for you who would it be?
CF: Antonio Carlos Jobim because I’m so passionate about Brazilian music. His melodies and harmonies: You could faint from them they’re so exquisite! Those melodies speak to me in such a deep place. Most things don’t touch me the way Jobim does.
WLB: You have a flair for languages and frequently perform songs in languages other than English. Does that change the way you approach the material? How do you communicate a lyric to an audience that does not speak the language in which you are performing?
CF: I’ve always had an affinity for languages. I have a passion for the sound of languages. I think it comes easy to me because I’m a singer. When I do a song in another language, I will do a translation as well. I sing it in both languages. I want an English-speaking audience to know what it’s about. They need to know the words so they know what’s moving me. It’s important to communicate in the language that people understand.
WLB: Your newest album is No Sad Songs for Me. What inspired you to make that the title track?
CF: It’s a funny story. I was doing an interview on the phone with this guy before my birthday gig at Birdland two years ago. I was standing in my living room and he’s asking me, “What kind of songs will you be doing on your gig?” I’m from the Bronx; I tell it like I feel it. I said, “Well, I don’t think I’ll be doing any sad songs, it’s my birthday.” As I said this, I’m standing in front of an old movie poster of Margaret Sullavan lying on Wendell Corey’s lap looking up at him adoringly and the title of the picture is written in big, bold letters, No Sad Songs for Me. It stuck in my brain. A day or two later my producer, David Finck, saying he wanted to do another CD. I told him, “We’re going to call it “No Sad Songs for Me” and you need to write the title track and fast or I’m gonna get on the phone with Dave Frishberg and Bob Dorough [and ask them to write it].” David wrote it the next day.
WLB: If you could give one piece of advice to young performers what would it be?
CF: To be honest and develop your own voice, not somebody else’s. Make sure it’s coming from your heart, not someone else’s heart. If you’re withholding your feelings, the words will not come alive. And listen, listen, listen to more instrumentalists.
WLB: If you weren’t a musician, what career would you have?
CF: I’ve never thought of that before. I think I would do something helping children in some way. I love children. Children need to be nurtured more than anybody. I might be a teacher. It would have something to do with informing children that they are worthy and valuable. If they have talent, supporting them can really make a difference in whether they go for it or not. They need to be able to look in someone’s eye and hear “You are wonderful, you are terrific.”