March 18th, 2009
Susan Carr just before performing at Egan’s Ballard Jam House last month
“The jazz-vocals world has plenty of belters, few screamers. Susan M. Carr is neither. But the singer of jazz and popular song, and of many other styles, can lay claim to a most unusual
skill and line of work. A seasoned performer of stage and screen, she uses her unusual expertise in vocal techniques to help singers of rock, grunge, thrash, and metal to produce ungodly output from the far reaches of the capabilities of vocal cords and larynx….
She’s a full package. Her voice does not lend itself to any classic jazz style; rather, it has some of the characteristics and constraints that classically trained voices often have when turned loose on jazz. But as she delivers her sets, carefully varied with songs from all over, qualities of assurance, delivery, and staging win through. Carr sells her songs.
It helps, certainly, to have on board the likes of saxophonist Brian Kent and pianist Fred Hoadley, both veterans of various parts of the local scene. Hoadley has long led the Latin jazz ensemble, Sonando, while Kent is a highly respected, solid, and imaginative saxophonist, although to some degree he flies beneath the radar of popular acclaim.
Adding to the ensemble’s assurance is guitarist Robert Peterson, electric bassist Dan Schmidt, and drummer Don Dietrich, who have all worked with Carr for more than 20 years.
Carr sings some standards, but prefers to do what singers like Diana Krall do: “If you really listen, she takes obscure pieces that aren’t jazz and she jazzifies them. I’d rather do that, because it’s unexpected. “Traditional jazz is cool, but there is Americana, too, where it can cross over to other things. Brazilian creates that bridge, and you can still have that little flair.”
A pleasure of working in LA, she says, was that she could present shows that mixed in all her musical styles—opera, musical comedy, jazz, and folk—and perform for friends and friends’ friends’, and at the same time keep up her chops in all the genres.
She tries to think of her own ensemble the way she has always viewed bands she has worked with. “I go and see my bands perform, and give them lots of feedback,” she says. “I say, ‘OK, I’m just a person coming to your show.’ I imagine I’m a manager or a label guy coming to the show and asking myself, ‘Why would I sign your band?’
The only reason she would, she says, s obvious: If “it’s the whole thing—it’s not just what I heard on a CD; it’s what you present to audiences.” It’s the staging. The selling of the song. The engagement of folks out for an evening. All her training and experience tell her, she says, that “if people are going to pay money, they should get to come and see a show.””
From this month’s story in earshot Jazz by Peter Monaghan. See Earshot Jazz Magazine for the complete story.
Photograph by Seattle photographer Daniel Sheehan, a photojournalist specializing in jazz photography, photojournalism and portrait photography for publications and corporations. He is also a Seattle wedding photographer with an unobtrusive, story-telling approach creating award winning wedding photojournalism among Seattle wedding photographers.