Music-making is all in the family for Pittsfield vocalists

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PITTSFIELD — A mother and child reunion of two prominent jazz singers will help cap the final weekend of the Pittsfield CityJazz Festival.

Stephanie Nakasian and her 25-year-old daughter, Veronica Swift, will make a rare appearance together Saturday night at the Colonial Theatre.

Nakasian and Swift have performed at previous festivals, but never as one.

Since both have such busy schedules, Swift says she joins her mother on stage only once or twice a year, making their Pittsfield gig a special one.

"When we do sing together, we like to show our dynamic relationship by singing songs that are both humorous and serious — we have an empowering show," she said in a phone interview from the road this week.

Added Nakasian in a separate phone interview, "It is a joy to share music with your family."

The joy extends back to Swift's childhood when, as a young adolescent, she began performing with her musician parents, the late pianist Hod O'Brien, and singer/educator/author Nakasian. Swift was exposed to big-time venues early, appearing at Lincoln Center in New York City at age 11 when she performed at the "Women in Jazz" series at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola.

Professionally, Swift's career began to take off in 2015 and since she has won second place at the prestigious Thelonious Monk Jazz Competition, toured as a featured vocalist with Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, and Chris Botti; and headlined at top festivals including Monterey, Montreal and Telluride.

Swift has released two albums in the last four years, her latest being "Confessions," songs from which she will feature during Saturday's concert.

Nakasian has been part of the jazz scene for nearly 35 years. She's a late bloomer compared to her daughter. The Bronxville, N.Y. native graduated Northwestern University with a masters in business administration, becoming a financial consultant to major banks in New York and Chicago until 1981 when she decided to pursue a full-time music career. Two years later, Nakasian had her big break when she sang and toured from 1983 to 1984 with Jon Hendricks and Company. Since then she, like her daughter, has performed among the jazz greats, Nakasian herself considered one of the best vocalists, world-wide.

"I got to work with the best people in the business and Veronica is fortunate to have, too," she said.

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The mother and daughter also share similar sounding voices, according to Swift, the two meshing well when they do hit the stage together.

Each also has learned from the other, while maintaining their own style.

"[Veronica] is teaching me a few things," Nakasian said. "She's also forging new territory and I don't think jazz will be the same in the near future. She speaks well to the younger audience."

Swift may help take jazz to a different level, but it'll be based on what she has learned and inherited from her parents.

"I like [my mother's] sense of programming and storytelling. I've pulled from her picking the right songs for a show and how they are delivered," she said.

Swift hopes her career does include more of Nakasian by her side, developing a show with her mother.

For now, both mother and daughter continue focus on individual goals, with Nakasian at 65, showing no signs of slowing down.

"I'm singing better and singing more than I ever have," she said. "I still have fun on the bandstand and connect with the audience without worrying about a [critic's] review."

The Berkshires Jazz Youth Ensemble will open the concert at 7:30 p.m. Pre-show entertainment will be provided by pianist Ben Kohn at The Garage in the Colonial lobby starting at 6 p.m.

Dick Lindsay can be reached at rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com and 413-496-6233

     


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