PANAMA CITY— Jazz starts on the inside, particularly when your musical instrument is your voice.
Kitt Lough will take to the festival stage at 3:30 p.m. Saturday during Jazz by the Bay at Oaks by the Bay Park in St. Andrews. A resident of Pensacola, she has spent the last 20 years performing songs from the Great American Songbook, including jazz spots in New Orleans and Nashville, Tenn. At the festival, Lough’s performance will include songs from her CDs,“Orange Colored View” and “A Blossom Fell.” I caught up with Lough on Friday morning:
Q:What do you love about living in Florida?
A:“In no particular order, the beach, my family, my sweetheart, my little garden cottage and the beach.”
Q: Who has been your greatest musical influence?
A:“That's so hard to say. Linda Ronstadt is the reason I got into this music in the first place. I grew up on her rock ’n’ roll and pop, but it was her recordings with Nelson Riddle that made me abandon a planned country career for the world of jazz and pop standards and big band. Then there’s Ella and Frank for their phrasing and swing, the two Louis (Armstrong and Jordan) for their joy, Julie London for her moodiness and sensuality, Blossom Dearie for her personality ... ”
Q:Have you had any musical training?
A:“I mostly trained by doing. I had a few years of piano lessons that, regretfully, I failed to pursue and a lot of choir and glee club up into my 20s. I think it’s important to mention my 12 years of dance training, which gave me a solid sense of rhythm. I don’t always know where the ‘1,’ is but I’m always in time!There was some sporadic vocal coaching … “
Q:How does jazz vary in different cities and countries from Pensacola to Nashville and New Orleans to Bangkok, and how has it shaped your musical tastes and abilities?
A:“Well, of all places, Nashville is where I got started in the genre. Turns out many of the stellar musicians recording country in the studios had alot of training in and love for jazz. … Jazz is so much more challenging to play than other genres, and the musicians I was blessed to work with and learn from there would practically play for free for the joy of it.
“Pensacolais still a little behind in terms of its ability to sustain jazz in numerous venues and its appeal to younger people, but there is a lot of talent here, both seasoned and young. Mynew favorite player is 26 and from Curaçao. (Gino Rosaria, who’s playing with me today.) …
“New Orleans is in a class by itself. There’s so much incredible music and talent there. My friendship with Tim Laughlin, the ‘clarinet savant,’ allowed me entre into that jazz scene and influenced my songselection. … When we are fortunate enough to grace the same stage, there is often a powerful interplay that’s more like two singers blending voices. And really, the only difference is that his instrument is external while mine is internal, because we’re both using our breath, emotion and spirit to bring the song to life.
“Bangkok was an amazing experience. … It was also where I really learned, albeit a little too late, the importance of reaching out to your audience between songs and keeping them engaged. I can sing songsuntil the cows come home, but I’ve always gotten nervous when I had to talk. That’s starting to go away, but not so much that I don’t still drop the occasional lead balloon, especially if I’ve had a cocktail or two!”
Q:How do you put your own personal spin on jazz standards?
A:“I just try to make the song the star, because it really is about what came out of the writer. I’m just the delivery girl, so I try to find the meaning and sentiment in a song and convey that. For me it’s short story-telling; I just happen to be singing it.”
Q:Who is the most fun to perform with?
A:“Well, there’s no way to answer that fairly and diplomatically. I’ve performed with so many different players and have shared magic musical moments with many of them. Each instrument strikes a different fancy in me, and I like all my fancies!One of my big dreams is to be the singer in a big band that travels all over the world, and I was twice afforded the opportunity to sing with the Glenn Miller Orchestra. I actually did three songs in a show with them in September 2011. It was like riding a magic carpet.”
Q:What have been your most memorable performances?
A:“Obviously the Glenn Miller thing. A show at Harrah’s 528 Club in New Orleans where an ER surgeon expressed his joy and relief in having the day’s traumas fall away in a single song. That epitomizes why I do this.”
Q:“Do you warm up before a performance and give your voice a rest?”
A:“I probably should, and I used to. But now I just say a little prayer of thanksgiving that I get to do this for people who actually want to hear me. If I can touch just one person in a positive and meaningful way I am fulfilled.”
Q:How does the audience play into your performance?
A:“Oh, I couldn’t do this without them! I try to stay aware of what’s going on out there so they know I see and appreciate them. There are wonderful opportunities to make them part of the show, especially in an intimate venue. It’s a little harder in a festival setting, but I’ll give it my best shot.”