The Spirits of Brazil, Weaving Through Jazz Sounds

Stacey Kent and Jim Tomlinson at Birdland

Ruby Washington/The New York Times

Stacey Kent performing at Birdland.


With her bright, alluring sliver of a voice — a darting musical tongue of flame — Stacey Kent has few of the traits commonly associated with jazz singing. Yet with her lightly swinging delivery, curt phrasing and attraction to Brazilian bossa nova, she is a jazz singer in the iconoclastic mode of the much-missed Blossom Dearie, whom some critics wrongly dismissed as more cabaret than jazz.

Instead of Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald, the spirits who guide Ms. Kent belong to the Brazilians, Antônio Carlos Jobim, and João and Astrud Gilberto. Dreaminess trumps realism. Ms. Kent and her husband, the saxophonist Jim Tomlinson, suggest a latter-day answer to Ms. Gilberto and Stan Getz, whose early recordings remain the foundation of what they do. And on Tuesday evening at Birdland, where Ms. Kent and Mr. Tomlinson arrived for their annual New York City appearance, the opening set was sprinkled with Jobim songs, animated as much by Mr. Tomlinson’s intensely smoky solos as by Ms. Kent’s girlish chirp.

But there is more. In recent years the novelist Kazuo Ishiguro, who writes fanciful, mildly surreal lyrics to Mr. Tomlinson’s music, has given Ms. Kent a quasi-literary identity. The portrait evoked by their collaborations is that of a reflective free spirit and latter-day romantic cautiously following her exploratory instincts. Although Ms. Kent has an introspective side, you could never describe her sensibility as tragic or even deeply sad. She projects an innate buoyancy.

Ms. Kent’s other defining characteristic is her pan-European musical outlook. She grew up in New Jersey, but she and her husband are based in England and have built up large followings in France and Germany. In her 2010 album, “Raconte-Moi,” Ms. Kent sings in fluent French.

It all made for a heady mixture in a show that was a kind of retrospective, the high points being the Sammy Cahn-Benny Carter standard “Only Trust Your Heart,” and a Tomlinson-Ishiguro collaboration, “The Changing Lights,” a song that defines Ms. Kent and Mr. Tomlinson as sophisticated, cosmopolitan jazz impressionists.


An Extraordinary Friend, A Great Loss For Our Family


Dear Sasha,

You came into my life when my life was in shambles. Before I adopted you, you were abandoned, unwanted. Even at the SPCA, none of the children even noticed you. But when the assistant handed me the leash with you bouncing on the other end, sniffing and wagging your tail, I knew we would be pals. You weren’t “cute” enough to be adopted; too old, too scraggly, too smelly. But I knew there was something special about you. After I cleaned you up, you were a beautiful Lab,  full of pep and always ready for that endless game of retrieve the ball. Rain or shine or snow; anything round was yours to retrieve.

I can’t list all what you did for me, Grace, and the children.. For the times you guarded us from other dogs. For the time you fought heroically when attacked by that dog at the kennel. You were always a people dog

Sasha, you brought serenity to our lives. You were probably the only American dog who visited Brazil. You were a great travelling companion. Those at the Miami Airport fawned over you but you especially charmed four very special children. Your warmth, your love, brought six people together; you welcomed all of them to their new home in the United States. And from that moment on, we were seven inseparables.

You had a cunning sense of humor; you would behave and remain in your “area” when I was home but had the run of the house (and the furniture) when I wasn’t. You were a charmer.

You gave unconditionally and only asked in return a pat on the head, a nice belly rub, and of course, a nine hour game of fetch.

You and all of us knew you were getting sick. As much we hoped and prayed and fed you by hand, we knew you were tired of fighting the disease. It was so hard for all of us to see lose so much weight, to see you in so much pain. But as always, you never complained. We just knew it was time.

You will always have a special place in our hearts; we will always love you. You are in a better place now, free of pain, running to fetch that yellow tennis ball. Now G-d will be your protector as you were our protector for almost a decade. Sasha, you brought so much love and joy to my life and to the lives of my family. Rest Sasha rest. Good girl.

Reflections on “Music from the Americas”

The University Shenandoah Symphony Orchestra and I will present the “Music from the Americas” concert this Saturday, March 30, 2013 at 8 PM in Wilson Hall, Lexington Virginia. Tickets are required. Go to the University’s website for information and to purchase tickets >click here.

The program includes the beautiful music from the Americas featuring Villa-Lobos (Brazil), Ginastera (Argentina) and Randall Thompson (United States). MaryAnne Vardaman will perform Bruch‘s Kol Nidre.

As I study the two pieces from South America, I can’t help but recall and reflect on my visits to both countries.

Hector Villa-Lobos 1887-1959

Hector Villa-Lobos 1887-1959 (photo credit:

Villa Lobos’ Bachianas Brasileiras No. 2, with its sensual and suave tenor sax solos juxtaposed to the rustling sounds of the desert and the chugging sounds of the little countryside train of Caipira, capture the swaying rhythms of a country I proudly call my second home. Villa Lobos’ homage to Bach, captures the unique spirit of Brazilians; kind-hearted, full of humor, and proud of their beautiful country.

In contrast, the stylized more aggressive percussive style of Estancia by Ginastera portrays a country which gave birth to Tango; not only the dance but the song. Tango dancing contains sharp, definitive moves that often bring the two dances close in proximity but far in a personal sense; almost a battle of two wills. The songs of Tango are sad melodramas perhaps influenced by the difficult history of a country still defining itself.  “Maambo,” the final dance is a wild, out of control dance that ends the Suite in an explosive fashion–so different from the train from Caipira.

I met many Argentinians in my travels; often sharing stories with me of sadness and profound loss. It is a humbling experience hearing about a friend who passed away, leaving a loving family to grieve or a talented singer going it alone even after so many disappointments. The long melodic lines of the second movement of the Ballet gives us time to pause and pray for a better life.

Thompson’s home-spun Second Symphony is from an era of innocence and patriotism. Though parts of each movement often reflect the new machine age with its repeated highly rhythmic motifs, there are countless singable, folk-like melodies that dot the entire work. Though the composition doesn’t incorporate the jazz rhythms that were showing up in concert pieces during the same time, the “American sound” sung by the strings at the end of the last movement leaves us with feeling of pride and hope. Whatever country you call home, we all cling to hope…all of us.

Shenandoah Symphony Orchestra to present the Music of Western Europe


The Shenandoah Symphony Orchestra’s “Around the Symphonic World” presents Music of Western Europe on Saturday, Feb. 2 at 8 p.m. in Wilson Concert Hall in Lexington Virginia.

Under my direction, the SSO will perform Bizet’s Symphony in C, Bach’s Keyboard Concerto No. 3 in D Major, BWV 1054 featuring Shuko Watanabe on piano, and Mozart’s  Clarinet Concerto in A Major, K. 622 with Alicia Bishop as soloist.

Tickets can be purchased online at:  or by calling the Lenfest Box Office at 540-458-8000.