Camille Thurman Eager To Give Back To The Jazz Community

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Camille Thurman is among the 25 artists DownBeat thinks will help shape jazz in the decades to come.

(Photo: Courtesy of Artist)

​With ambition to spare and serious cred supported by a weighty professional resume, Camille Thurman has made a considerable contribution to the legacy of jazz while paying tribute to its heroes. The 33-year-old New York native—a scatting jazz vocalist with equally strong chops on tenor and soprano saxophone and various woodwinds—has four leader albums to her name, the most recent being 2018’s Waiting For The Sunrise (Chesky), on which she delivers inventive takes on jazz standards in the company of trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, guitarist Jack Wilkins, bassist Cecil McBee and drummer Steve Williams. Thurman also has been the recipient of distinctive honors, taking second place in the 2013 Sarah Vaughan International Vocals Competition and winning the ASCAP Herb Alpert Young Jazz Composers Award two times.

For the past two years, Thurman has toured internationally as a member of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, temporarily taking the place of tenor saxophonist Walter Blanding, who’s expected to reclaim his chair in the near future. She has spent considerable time on the road and in New York clubs with her own band, the Camille Thurman Quartet, and has been frequently featured with a trio led by her partner, Darrell Green, in collaborative performances at such high-profile venues as the Kennedy Center and Alice Tully Hall.

Mentored and encouraged early in her career by bassist/vocalist Mimi Jones, saxophonist Antoine Roney and reed player Tia Fuller, Thurman has proven her eagerness to give back to the jazz community by conducting workshops and master classes, teaching at jazz camps, presenting lectures on jazz and gender issues, and inspiring young artists toward musical excellence in whatever ways she can. Recently, she has been leading a virtual mentorship series called The Haven Hang for female artists.

“This is what I’ve been wanting to do for so many years: find other young women musicians who are figuring out the beginning of their journey and connect them with legendary artists that are already doing it,” she said.

Thurman has remained active in recent months, putting on occasional livestream concerts from the New York home she shares with drummer Green and serving as a faculty member for virtual jazz camps and workshops, including the Summer Jazz Academy at Jazz at Lincoln Center. She has been composing a commissioned piece for the Quarantine Music Project that she expects to release in recorded form sometime next year. And she plans sometime in 2021 to release an album of Horace Silver compositions she recorded about four years ago with Green’s trio (which includes pianist David Bryant and bassist Rashaan Carter) plus special guests Regina Carter and the late Wallace Roney.

“When we recorded, we didn’t know that these pieces would be so relevant right now,” she said, noting the inclusion of Silver compositions like “Love Vibrations,” “Nobody Knows,” “Lonely Woman” and “Won’t You Open Up Your Senses,” and pointing out that Silver wrote lyrics to many of his compositions.

“I fell in love with the album that Horace made during the early ’70s, That Healin’ Feelin’ [which appears in its entirety on the 2004 Silver compilation The United States Of Mind]. I was moved by how the compositions are so relevant for today, even though this music was written over 40 years ago.”

In discussing the Silver compositions she rearranged for the album, Thurman said, “They reveal a Horace who is really conscious about his community and how he plays a role as a member of society. I was checking out a song of his about environmental consciousness, and being conscious of the food that you eat. This was in the ’70s. Fast-forward 40 years, and now we’re all getting into being health conscious and realizing our actions and their effects on the environment.

“I have a background in environmental science, so I understand the balance between what we do and how it affects our environment. And for him to be thinking about that and putting it to music is mind-blowing.”

Watch for upcoming online performances by Thurman and her collaborators during the Virtual Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival in late February. DB

This story originally was published in the November 2020 issue of DownBeat. Subscribe here.




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