10x10 Upstreet Arts Festival: Ten great women of jazz emanate from one great voice


PITTSFIELD — The sound of Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn, Billie Holiday and seven other female jazz greats will emanate from a single voice Saturday night — Stephanie Nakasian.

The national recording artist renowned for her unique vocal insights and style will perform at Pancho's Mexican Restaurant songs from 10 of the 20 women she believes laid the foundation for women in jazz.

The 8 p.m. concert sponsored by Berkshires Jazz Inc. is part of Pittsfield's 10x10 Upstreet Arts Festival and is drawn from one of Nakasian's earlier albums, "Thrush Hour: A Study of the Great Ladies of Jazz."

Nakasian says she looks to emulate — not imitate — when paying tribute to the jazz greats before her.

"I take a song that is a standard and put my own spin on it, without making it weird," she said in a recent phone interview with The Eagle. "I'm trying to be me and best represent the singer."

After hearing "Thrush Hour," Berkshires Jazz Inc. president Ed Bride knew Nakasian's renditions of the great ladies of jazz would be a perfect fit for 10x10.

"This will be stealth education when Stephanie is here on [Saturday]," Bride said. "She will put into context these women of this great American music."

Bride is also thrilled to have Nakasian back in downtown Pittsfield for the second time in 15 months. After years of trying, Bride and his group finally landed Nakasian and the Hod O'Brien Trio as a headliner for the October 2014 Pittsfield CityJazz Festival.

The quartet will reunite for Saturday's concert with the internationally acclaimed O'Brien, Nakasian's husband, on piano, David Clark on bass and George Schuller playing the drums.

A Washington D.C. native, Nakasian, 61, grew up in Bronxville, N.Y. She studied classical piano and violin, but her college days at Northwestern University in Chicago were focused on earning a BA and MBA in economics. She eventually parlayed her degrees into a job as a financial consultant for major banking institutions until 1981 when music became her full-time vocation.

During her 35-year career, Nakasian has recorded a dozen albums and been a featured vocalist with such contemporary greats as Urbie Green, Pat Metheny and Bobby McFerrin.

Residing in Charlottesville, Va. with O'Brien, who have a 21-year-old daughter, Veronica, Nakasian teaches voice at the University of Virginia and the College of William and Mary.

Her recording of "Thrush Hour" was the result of an academic exercise.

"I wanted to do more about [jazz] and people wanted to know more about the music and it happened to end up on an album," she said.

Nakasian says her jazz style comes closest to June Christy and Ella Fitzgerald. Christy was best known for the cool jazz genre and is often omitted when the great jazz singers of the mid-20th century are mentioned.

No matter who Nakasian emulates, individuality and the swing of jazz is what defines the music.

"No two jazz singers should sound the same," she said. "One song can have 10,000 interpretations, just like a piece of art."

Contact Dick Lindsay at 413 496-6233


Who: Stephanie Nakasian and the Hod O'Brien Trio

What: Berkshires Jazz and 10x10 Upstreet Arts Festival

When: Saturday, 8 p.m.

Where: Pancho's Mexican Restaurant, 154 North St. Pittsfield.

Tickets: $20 in advance, $25 day of event

How: BerkshiresJazz.org


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