Singer Lezlie Harrison hosts and performs at Smalls Jazz Club in the West Village for its Vocal Open Mic Session on Sundays from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.
By LEZLIE HARRISON
My first memorable experience with performing came from my early days spent in the alto section of the young adult choir in my grandfather's North Carolina church. It was from there, in the front row directly behind the pulpit, that I witnessed the effect that the choir’s selections and the preacher’s sermon, had on the congregation. As an ensemble, we were able to stir souls, ease whatever troubles may lay heavy on the mind. As performers, we possessed the power to move the audience to "get happy", do the "holy dance", cry, shout and release. I loved that. That's what I wanted to do.
Singers, like preachers, are storytellers. We are responsible for giving our audience, a true and deeply heartfelt experience in hopes of lifting someone’s spirit.
On my way to becoming a professional singer, I had the good fortune to spend many hours in the company - both on and off the stage - with singers who could really deliver lyrics. Shirley Horn, Carmen McRae, Phyllis Hyman, Jimmy Scott and Abbey Lincoln are the most memorable to me. They drew you in, held your attention and made you feel their truth. The beautiful, the bad and the ugly truth.
Unfortunately, I am witnessing a lot of un-truths being perpetrated on the bandstand these days from some "aspiring singers," lacking in inspiration. This phenomenon is perhaps a sign of the fact that the legends have gone on to bigger, better, eternal gigs and there has been no one to replace them on the "scene." No elder to shout out, "OH HELL NO!" , if you dared to scream your version of Love for Sale, in the wrong key, oblivious to the form and looking like you just rolled out of bed to sit in with the band.
Recently, I became the host of the Vocal Open Mic Session at Smalls Jazz Club, in New York City. I accepted gladly but trepidatiously. Some singers come to the sessions to work on new material, hear and encourage their fellow singers and are serious about advancing the art form. For others the session provides an opportunity to "sing in front of an audience". To that I say, gather your friends and go to a Karaoke bar. The audience deserves more than your mere presence. The music must be given the highest respect.
Singers. The audience must get the very best from us. Hit them in their souls not below the belt or beat them "upside the head" Choose material that is suited for you, your voice; songs that share what is true and real from your heart. Go in deep and bring out truth - in the right key!