“Breezy Jazz on a Hot Night”, The Voice of the Hill
The lightest jazz tickled our ears last Saturday night when vocal artist … Michelle LeBlanc bought a summer-breeze program of jazz standards … to Norman Thomas Social Hall. Read more»
“Jazz Singer Honors Ella”, Poughkeepsie Journal
Jazz vocalist Michelle LeBlanc celebrates music of the first diva star, Ella Fitzgerald… Read more»
“Michelle LeBlanc: Helping American History to Sing Its Song”, New York Times
If life is a cabaret, inevitably history is too. That's why Michelle LeBlanc, a jazz vocalist and Putnam Valley resident, created a concert program … titled “Jazz: The American Story.” Read more»
Breezy Jazz on a Hot Night!
By KAY HAREL
The lightest jazz tickled our ears last Saturday night when vocal artist and local activist Michelle LeBlanc bought a summer-breeze program of jazz standards, along with a band of four distinctively mellow dudes, to Norman Thomas Social Hall.
Their program of love songs, compiled around the theme "I Remember You," included classics by Cole Porter and Johnny Mercer, and many in our audience knew the lyrics. And the lilt of the tunes got the usual suspects dancing. This, despite a heavy heat that had LeBlanc joking that she "needed my Louis Armstrong hankie."
She seemed to need for nothing. LeBlanc’s tiny frame gave out a resonant voice just right for our hall, not too big, not too small. She deployed it like a lasso, unfurling graceful strands of melody ending in artful snaps. Maybe the fact that she has practiced yoga in our Sunday classes added ease to her performance.
LeBlanc introduced her musical collaborators, whose careers include associations with the likes of Benny Goodman, Quincy Jones, Liza Minelli, the National Endowment for the Arts, Frank Sinatra, and Vassar College. But for all that, their instruments each echoed something of Three Arrows. Bill Crow’s string bass evoked bull frogs. When Ron Vincent brushed the cymbals on his drum set, he gave out the succor of cicadas. The notes of Ed Xiques’ flute and sax seemed to scintillate like sparkles of sunlight on the pond in the mornings. And Tom Kohl’s keyboard burbled like the brook just south of Rochdale Road.
After the quintet left, Piano Mountain was still full of music. In one cabin, someone was tinkling a piano, playing something old-fashioned and elegant. The sounds of raucous opera spilled downhill from another. Were cooperators inspired by the concert or had they stayed home only to find themselves inspired by a blithe spirit that wafted up the hill?
Jazz singer honors Ella
By ANGELA R. HOOKS-BATCHELOR
Jazz vocalist Michelle LeBlanc celebrates music of the first diva star, Ella Fitzgerald, at Saturday's concert at Beacon Riverfront Park.
The concert is part of the seventh annual Hudson Valley Summer Music Festival, one of a series of free concerts sponsored by Highland Cultural Center.
“Her music is lovely, lively and fresh,” Carol Donick, library director of Desmond Fish Library in Garrison, says of LeBlanc. “She understands the people who wrote the music and the historical context behind the songs and the times.”
“Ella Fitzgerald has always been one of my favorite jazz vocalists. Ella set the standard for jazz singing with her creative phrasing, impeccable sense of swing, pure tone and virtuoso scat performances,” says LeBlanc, who began singing professionally in the early 1990s.
LeBlanc’s Ella show is one of a series of history-themed jazz shows she developed and performed in various venues, from libraries to jazz clubs.
“A few years ago, The Hudson River Museum in Yonkers commissioned me to do a show honoring Yonkers native Ella Fitzgerald. While researching her life story, I found her experience as an African-American artist to be important in our understanding of the history of our country. My Ella tribute includes anecdotes from her life story that touch on issues of poverty, gender and race, which of course are still major challenges for our country today,” says LeBlanc.
And LeBlanc follows in Ella’s footsteps by having a talented backup group. Accompanying her are Phil Forbes on guitar, Ed Xiques on saxophone, Lou Pappas on bass and Junior Medina on drums. Xiques has played with Frank Sinatra. Pappas and Medina are mainstays of the West Point Jazz Knights.
“It’s a great family affair,” says Rob Lunski, HCC-Arts executive director and organizer of the series.
The concert starts at 7 p.m., on the banks of the Hudson River behind the Beacon train station. Bring lawn chairs, blankets and picnic baskets.
July 9, 2000, Sunday
Westchester Weekly Desk
The New York Times
AT A CONCERT WITH
Michelle LeBlanc: Helping American History to Sing Its Song
By THOMAS STAUDTER
IF life is a cabaret, inevitably history is too.
That's why Michelle LeBlanc, a jazz vocalist and Putnam Valley resident, created a concert program three years ago titled ''Jazz: The American Story.'' It intertwines her performance of well-known songs with short anecdotes and reflections about how jazz developed in such times as Prohibition, the Great Depression and World War II.
She has taken her history-as-cabaret program to libraries, museums, places of worship and historical societies throughout the New York metropolitan region, and for the second consecutive year she has received a grant from the New York State Council on the Arts to present it at six places in Putnam County.
For the past several years she has fronted a quintet that includes Phil Forbes, a guitarist; Ed Xiques, a saxophonist; Kevin Callaghan, a bassist; and Gerry Fitzgerald, a drummer. They have just released their first CD, ''Now or Never.''
In a recent interview, Ms. LeBlanc talked about her concert program.
Q. How would you describe your program?
A. It presents jazz as sort of a parallel to the development of the United States, and while pulling together a lot of strains of American music I show how the times significantly influenced the writing of different songs themselves.
Q. What prompted you to put together ''Jazz: The American Story'' ?
A. When I first started singing professionally in the early 1990's I didn't say more than ''thank you'' after the song was over. Along the way, however, people in audiences would ask me why I'd chosen to perform certain songs and what various songs meant to me. I read a lot, more than I sit at my piano, and so when I started introducing songs all these anecdotes and ideas issued forth -- about rejection of Victorian mores in the 1920's, for example, and how the blues, with those bent notes, was first regarded as the ''devil's music,'' and so on. The music and the stories all fell together, it seemed.
Q. Do you pick the songs first and then fit them into historical contexts or start with the events and find the songs?
A. I go for the songs first -- how they strike me emotionally is why they would get picked or not. I have my repertory cataloged by decades, though, so when I started to design the show it was a matter of going through what I like and balancing the two sets I usually perform in terms of energy, mixing bebop numbers with ballads for a proper pacing. It's like working on a puzzle.
Q. Do you find that the audience relates to your work in ''Jazz: The American Story'' differently from your regular performances?
A. People really do respond to the history angle, you could say. I always talk to the local historians wherever I'm playing and try to include material they give me in the show. I presented the program in April at the Putnam Valley Historical Society, and one of the old-time residents shared with me stories about how there were numerous speak-easies in the area back in the 1920's and that people from neighboring towns would travel to them on their horse-driven sleighs during the winter. All in all, I find that people -- at least in my audiences -- are becoming more interested in history, especially that of their communities.
Q. What anecdote and corresponding song does the audience really pick up on?
A. The march on Washingtonin 1932 by the bonus army of World War I veterans and ''Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?'' I find audiences know the song but not the story behind it. The real challenge in what I do in this program is to keep the show entertaining without making it too depressing, which is why I've hesitated including ''Strange Fruit,'' a song about racial lynchings.
Q. What aspects of the 1990's could be incorporated into ''Jazz: The American Story''?
A. The whole idea of global connections seems to be most significant -- our country's position in the world. Robert Pinsky, our country's poet laureate, comments in one of his essays that we're still creating ourselves and the kind of people we are. We very well may be the greatest nation, but Pinsky questions whether we are indeed the greatest people.
Q. Are there any songs that you feel address our present history in the making?
A. Abbey Lincoln, the jazz singer, writes songs that are more socially conscious and depart from the usual themes of love gained, love lost. Last year I frequently sang her song ''Learning How to Listen,'' which compares the appreciation of music with the experience and savoring of life.
Ms. LeBlanc's next performance of ''Jazz: The American Story'' will be at Sycamore Park in Mahopac in Putnam County on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.
© 2000 The New York Times Company. May not be reproduced or transmitted without permission.