Article: Audrey Shakir

Here’s my latest piece for The Guide, the weekly entertainment magazine on Hilton Head Island, SC. This version is slightly longer than the piece that ran, which was the victim of space considerations.

For vocalist Shakir, jazz music is in the blood
By JASON CRANE
Special to the Guide

When Atlanta’s Audrey Shakir sings at The Jazz Corner on August 24-25, she’ll be bringing more than one generation of musical DNA to the stage with her.

“I grew up in a musical family,” Shakir said. “My mother was Ruby Patton, a very well respected musician in the Cleveland, Ohio area, with some national standing as a church musician. I was the oldest of five children, and a regular part of our upbringing was to learn to play the piano. So I really can’t remember not being able to read music. I did the usual — sang in and played for church and school choirs. And in our house, we grew up listening to everything. My folks really loved the big bands and swing music, so we heard a lot of that.”

Shakir said that television played a part in her musical education, too, in the days when jazz and swing artists made regular appearances on the small screen.

“There were variety shows where one could see Ella Fitzgerald and the Count Basie Band,” said Shakir. “I remember seeing [Ella] sing with Duke Ellington on television, and with Joe Pass once. The Nat King Cole Show was just swinging.”

Early in her career, Shakir honed her musical chops singing then-current music by Chaka Khan and Stevie Wonder. It wasn’t long, though, before she made the move to jazz.

“Pop music was easy to start with,” said Shakir, “because it’s all given, you know what I mean? But the regular comment I tended to get was something like ‘That’s nice, but it isn’t quite right.’ It seems to me that when performing pop music, one really needs to be like a record player. Everyone knows how it goes, so you just reproduce what everyone knows. So it was more or less put on me that I was trying to be a jazz musician, because everything I did was kind of my way anyway.”

Like many aspiring jazz musicians, Shakir moved to New York City to try her hand on the world’s biggest stage. For nearly a decade, she sang in New York clubs and went to nightly “classes” with the great names of jazz.

“New York was a great big school of music for me,” said Shakir. “I remember one jam session at the Star Cafe on 23rd Street, I think it was, and I was sitting at the piano. [Trumpeter] Tommy Turrentine was there, [pianist] Albert Daley, and someone called for ‘Sweet Georgia Brown.’ I said I didn’t know it and moved away from the piano. Tommy made me sit there and we went over that tune until I could play it — badly. Everyone just stood around until the lesson was over. I found a great deal of encouragement in New York.”

Shakir often performed and studied with bebop piano master Barry Harris, who is famous not only for his playing, but for his weekly teaching sessions that are frequented by newer musicians and veterans alike.

“I still call him to see how he is, to hear his voice,” she said. “He has a way of teaching — maybe coaching is a better term. He doesn’t crank out jazz musicians; he doesn’t show you how to be a jazz musician. He has a way of helping you discover what you want to do, how you want to express yourself. He’s one of the most thoughtful persons I have met in my life.”

Shakir will be singing with pianist Justin Varnes and his trio when she performs at The Jazz Corner.

“Expect to hear people trying to match the high level of proficiency that has been set by the earlier practitioners,” she said. “We work individually to develop ourselves as musicians, and we are working together to develop strong group concepts.”