By ROB LESTER**** “Swift is not only her surname, but also the adjective describing her recent ascent to anointed jazz-singer stardom.” If I were Veronica Swift‘s PR person, that’s what I’d be trumpeting. Everyone’s toasting this talented old soul old-school who’s barely old enough to drink herself, a remarkable fresh voice who began drinking in the sounds of jazz as a child, a tot trotted out to the gigs of her professional jazzer parents. And absorb she did, showing their influences (the splendid vocalist/recording artist Stephanie Nakasian and the late be-bop pianist Hod O’Brien), with a fresh and refreshing take all her own that lovingly also evidences attention to strides made by the assertive hard drive of icons like Anita O’Day and the abandon of the great Ella Fitzgerald in her prime.
And, when she takes a break from her skillful scatting and fleet flights inventively soaring through melodies and chord progressions to bring her laser-sharp attention to especially emotional story-songs and torch numbers, she can break your heart as she sings of her own being broken beyond repair. The voice can be bright or dark, as required and desired. If her first name weren’t Veronica, other “V” words would suffice: Velvet, Versatile, and certainly Vivacious. But Vivacious Swift would be a hell of a name to go through life with. Let’s just call her sublime.
It’s the 18th Django Reinhardt Festival at the club (315 West 44 Street in Manhattan) this week and Veronica is a guest vocalist in their shows saluting the music legend on July 4 and 5. (Other special guests appear during various times during the run, too.) Then on Saturday (July 8) the swingin’ Swift has her own 6 PM show with the Birdland Band.
I’ve had the pleasure of seeing her previously at Birdland, where she’s already become a regular attraction and returns a few times this week. I also caught her when she was presented at Jazz at Lincoln Center in a show hosted by Michael Feinstein, garnering applause and cheers from the audience, sounds she’s perhaps used to by now, but not something she takes for granted. The eager-to-please and grateful expressions are real and she’s “the real deal,” to quote what I heard Jonathan Schwartz say after he played one of her excellent recordings on his radio show. That’s the kiss of approval from a musicologist who’s not easily impressed with new young talent. Veronica has also come to the attention of KT Sullivan of the Mabel Mercer Foundation because she’s been selected for a coveted spot in the annual Cabaret Convention in October on the closing night’s (October 19) tributes to songs co-written by Hoagy Carmichael or Richard Whiting. Almost all the slots go to singers who have performed in previous years, some many times in the past.
I first heard Veronica perform as part of the annual Long Beach, Long Island Artists in Partnership (A.I.P.) Cabaret Festival with which I’ve become increasingly involved and nobody had to twist my arm when founder Susan James suggested that she make a return visit this year to be on the panel we co-moderate and to also do her own solo show again. I enjoyed seeing her perform from just inches away as she stood up from the chair near her on stage where I’d been tossing questions at her on our Cabaret Panel Discussion afternoon both years. And, getting to know her through chatting before and after, backstage, over dinner, and on the Long Island Railroad trip, I am pleased to say that she’s as delightful and unspoiled and lively in person as she is when performing. Treat yourself.
See www.birdlandjazz.com for info and prices and reservations.