Apr 15, 2020 9:06 PM
Saxophonist Camille Thurman kept her singing under wraps all throughout her time at the famed LaGuardia High School for the Performing Arts in New York City. And in college at SUNY-Binghamton, she wasn’t even a music major—she earned a bachelor’s degree in geological science. But in less than a decade as a professional singer and woodwinds player, she’s made her mark as one of the most promising—and intriguing—young musicians around.
Thurman hails from the St. Albans section of Queens, known for the many jazz greats who’d lived there during the swing era, including Count Basie and Ella Fitzgerald. Growing up, Thurman took inspiration from their musical accomplishments; she listened to these jazz masters, taught herself to plunk out tunes on the piano and started playing flute in middle school. (Tenor saxophone, her bailiwick today, came later.) Several educators along the way encouraged her playing, and eventually the final piece of her musicianship—artful scats and rich vocals—fell into place.
“It took a while to find out what I was comfortable with as my identity,” Thurman said. “I play and I sing. Sometimes society—especially for women—might pressure you to do one thing, because it might be aesthetically easier to accept.”
Arguably, as a musician, Thurman has taken the less-worn path, and so female role models were harder to find. She credits saxophone player Tia Fuller and bassist/singer Mimi Jones with helping her to land on her feet in New York after graduation. Their advice? If you’re going to sing and play, be great at both or don’t bother. Thurman took this advice to heart, and within a few years had placed as a finalist in the 2013 Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition, played at Jazz at Lincoln Center, toured internationally and performed alongside some of the biggest names in the jazz and r&b worlds.
Her debut album, Origins, and her second, Spirit Child, both released in 2014 on Jones’ label, Hot Tone Music, fueled Thurman’s rapid ascendancy. She followed these successes with Inside The Moment: Live At Rockwood Music Hall last year—her first album as a Chesky artist, and her first time using the binaural recording technique, which creates a three-dimensional sound sensation for the listener. This method doesn’t allow for audio “punch-ins,” however, so on her Chesky albums, Thurman relies on her expert ear and indefatigable skills as an improviser to guide her in her quest to record complete takes.
Her second recording for Chesky, Waiting For The Sunrise, dropped in August. Thurman sings more and plays less on this album, often deferring to her band, an ensemble of instrumentalists who worked with the singers who captivated her young ears back in St. Albans: Steve Williams, Shirley Horn’s drummer; Cecil McBee, Dinah Washington’s bassist; Jack Wilkins, Sarah Vaughan’s guitarist; and Jeremy Pelt, Cassandra Wilson’s trumpeter.
“She made it happen,” said Williams, remarking on the challenges a young player faces when recording with such iconic musicians. “She’s a bright light in the future of this music.”
This fall, Thurman has plans to finish a Horace Silver tribute album and tour as a guest musician with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. The latter is quite an accomplishment for a player who made her Lincoln Center debut three years ago as part of a “Generations in Jazz” concert. DB
Apr 15, 2020 9:06 PM
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