Topping the APAP|NYC Don’t-Miss List: these three artist debuts at APAP- Perez mines the past for songs about today; Richard Howell and Sudden Changes make listeners move to their steady groove; Kristina Koller has a personal vision for standards, originals and pop faves.
APAP|NYC attendees should mark their calendars now to ensure they don’t miss three jazz highlights of the upcoming annual event: Vocalist Perez, saxophonist Richard Howell and Sudden Changes, and singer Kristina Koller, sure to be stand-out performers at the January 2018 conference.
Singer, composer, recording artist. Concert producer and promoter. Photographer and foodie. The Harlem-born vocalist Perez can swing a standard, share a story through song, or nail a protest anthem. Her delivery is intimate enough to touch individual hearts and minds, and powerful enough to fill a concert hall. Is there anything this self-described “hip chick” can’t do? Apparently not.
Image John Abbott
With her current “Truth Concert,” the dynamic vocalist Perez shines the spotlight on stories through timeless tunes made famous by Nina Simone, Simon & Garfunkel, Laura Nyro and her original compositions. The enduring messages of this carefully curated material resonated when first heard in the 1960s, and continue to be relevant today. Perez doesn’t shy away from taking a clear-eyed look at the current state of the world, but addresses the challenges we face with love and optimism, sincerely and joyously looking to a brighter future.
Perez spent her early years in foster care, an experience she credits with firmly rooting in her the improvisational skills so necessary for creating jazz. Her musical gifts were apparent virtually from the get-go: By age 4, Perez could hear a tune once and have total recall of both lyrics and melody. Despite her obvious affinity for music, she initially pursued the visual arts, moving to Los Angeles and building a thriving career as a photographer, designer, and stylist.
The vocalist’s impeccable musical taste developed while working in the art department at Paramount in Hollywood, sharing her space with a colleague who listened to jazz all day long. Mingus, Anita O’Day, Coltrane, and Bill Evans are just a few who made strong impressions, along with two divas who are perhaps Perez’s strongest influences: Abbey Lincoln and Nina Simone. Her quest to discover and develop her own jazz voice led Perez to Europe, where she spent a decade studying with more established musicians, building a reputation as a singer, eventually leading a weekly session at Amsterdam’s highly regarded Bimhuis and performing in festivals across the continent.
Since returning to the Big Apple, her hometown, Perez has released three well-received albums—garnering kudos from the likes of the notoriously difficult to impress Stanley Crouch. She captivates and challenges listeners with her sultry and direct style, and continues to build an enthusiastic following. Perez’s inspirational life story would make a great book, and it’s easy to predict that some of the best chapters have yet to be written.
Bay Area-based saxophonist Richard Howell may be among the best-kept secrets in jazz: Though he’s released four albums as a leader, he’s better known in his usual role of supporting and guiding others. During his lifetime in music, Howell has built a great reputation as a producer, arranger, educator and sideman, working with a who’s who of jazz, blues, Latin and soul. Chaka Khan, Etta James, Carlos Santana, Babatunde Lea, Buddy Guy, Cecil Taylor, Don Cherry, Taj Mahal, Regina Carter and Bobby Watson are among some the greats with whom he has shared a stage or studio. The versatile Mr. Howell also sings, and doubles on bass, drums, keyboards, guitar, and percussion.
These days he is stepping to the fore, fronting his band Sudden Changes, and proving that he is a straight-ahead jazz force to be reckoned with in his own right. Acclaimed trumpeter Christian Scott, who makes a guest appearance on Sudden Changes’ most recent release, Burkina, has dubbed Richard Howell the Jedi master of jazz. Maurice White, founder of Earth, Wind and Fire, has worked with Howell and compares him to the icons of jazz, such as the legendary tenor master Joe Henderson.
A regular on the international jazz festival circuit, Howell cites John Coltrane, James Brown and the Isley Brothers among his influences. He describes his own offerings as “bridge music,” which celebrates diversity as it bridges, unites and merges the experience of all listeners. “Bridge music is a jazz pathway over obstacles that joins differences and links through the sonic connection,” he notes.
It won’t be long till American listeners discover what audiences in Berlin, London and other points around the globe already know: Richard Howell and Sudden Changes are playing some of the most engaging jazz produced today.
From her earliest years, vocalist Kristina Koller, a New York City-area native, was inspired by the wide variety of live performances she attended in her early years, absorbing the best of Broadway, ballet, opera and jazz. Bitten by the performing bug, she tried her hand at musical theater, did solo singer/songwriter gigs, sang with an alternative band, and studied classical music and opera.
Koller gravitated to jazz after realizing what an opportunity it offered for self-expression. Instead of re-creating the performances and styles of others, her goal is to add something unique to the jazz legacy. Koller approaches improvisation with a spirit of fun, reveling in the opportunity to create music on the fly, while exploring her musical chops and revealing her vulnerability.
The young vocalist studied jazz at the Hartt School’s Jackie McLean Institute of Jazz, in Hartford, Connecticut, and City College of New York. Koller also honed her craft through lessons with jazz veterans including Steve Wilson, Charenee Wade, Marion Cowings, Cyrille Aimee and Amy London.
Koller is looking forward to the release of her first album, Perceptions, in January 2018. On her upcoming release, Koller, who has been gigging regularly since her teens, stamps her personal jazz point of view on everything from standards to originals to pop tunes by the likes of John Mayer, Blink-182 and Bon Iver.
With each song she sings, Koller aims to stay true to the spirt of the music, while interpreting it in her own fresh and personal way.