Tacha Coleman-Parr is on Her Way  

Tacha Coleman-Parr stood out at the Blair Mansion Jazz and Blues Jam
two weeks ago, singing a rousing, Ruth Brown-type blues number
called “You’re My Centerpiece,” written by trumpeter Harry “Sweets”
Edison and vocalese master Jon Hendricks. Possessing an unusual
flair and projecting a controlled confidence, she articulated beautifully
and swung just right. She injected these same qualities into
conversation, comfortably at ease with herself and others.

Classically-trained in North Carolina, Ms. Parr began singing as a child,
in church choirs and school choruses, willing to “sing anything that
could be sung,” including choral and chamber music. It wasn't until she
moved to the Washington, D.C. Area that she began her studies in jazz
singing. Training and singing for several years, marriage and children—
a pleasant life—interrupted, but did not derail, a budding singing career.
Eventually, she left an enjoyable but stressful job as a health care
administrator to focus exclusively on family and music, and she is
happier for it.

Trained by the late Ronnie Wells and Ron Elliston, respected
Washington, D.C. jazz instructors, Ms. Parr is a technically proficient alto.
She can, with her controlled tone, emote syrupy sweet to achy and
wistful, becoming in the space of a couple of songs petulant and
withdrawn, fiery and life-affirming. These qualities were on full display
as she performed her show that kicked off her and Barbara Walker’s
Jazz Vocal Series at Blair Mansion in Silver Spring, MD. (Yes, I find
myself there a lot lately).

Her band was a good one. Her feisty teacher, Ron Elliston, was on
electric keyboards, Paul Wingo played some interesting guitar solos
and bassist Tommy Cecil is always on the money. The musicians were
definitely there, never obtrusive, always supporting, but capable of flights
of fancy with less than a moment’s notice. The absence of drums,
although regretted at times, contributed to the intimate feel.

Ah, but what endeared this listener, though, was Ms. Parr's honesty. The
show was enjoyable enough, but halfway into a ballad she had us. Her
intimacy—not the phony sort, but the sort that made you believe without
question (whether or not it was true) that she was talking about a failed
love affair—in an intimate room was very endearing. She was telling us,
her old friends, a very personal story. We all  believed her and wanted to
pour her a drink and tell her it was going to be alright. Aside from
singing, to have an audience eating out of her hand, to be able to pull off
a controlled intimacy—engaging, tasteful, endearing and respectful—is
more than training; it is the sign of an artist.

The show was not perfect: there was a technical problem that broke the
spell, she didn't inject enough blues for this writer’s tastes, given her
ability to do so, and some of her material had been heard too often (Bye,
Bye Blackbird). She was nervous, too, having been away for a while, but
that was not a problem. When she asked how one enjoyed the show
she really listened, without offense and full of questions.

This world is full of thin-voiced, artificially sultry singers who think it
would be nice to earn a living as a “jazz singer” without bothering to “go
to school,” formally or informally, as most serious instrumentalists do
and, subsequently, earning the instrumentalists’ scorn as they are
labeled lazy and unprepared. Tacha Coleman-Parr is neither thin-voiced
nor sultry. She can really sing, she knows how to use her voice, she
feels the music, she can interpret a lyric well enough to remind one of
Carmen McRae, and she is too honest to pretend. I would like to hear
her in different settings; with drums, bluesier and with a horn section,
whatever. The future beckons. Look out.

The Jazz Vocalists Series continues on Thursdays at Blair Mansion
throughout the summer.

July 2009