REPORT: 1st International Jazz Voice Conference, Helsinki, Finland

Trudy Kerr performing at the conference. Photo credit: Maarit Kytöharju


Vocalist and educator Trudy Kerr discovered the existence of the 1st International Jazz Voice Conference online six months ago. She wrote a proposal to present a lecture concert on The Art of Vocalese, and her proposal was accepted. This is her report from the conference in Helsinki, Finland, which had as its strapline "The Artistry in Jazz Singing - jazz-music-education-research." Trudy Kerr writes:


The conference was held over three days at the Sibelius Academy and organised by two of their doctoral students Jenny Robson and Elena Mindru. both of whom are educators and performers. There were over 100 delegates from all over the world.

From the US were the keynote speakers Michelle Weir, a well-respected jazz educator, Carmen Lundy, performer and educator and special guest Judy Niemack, again educator and performer. All three ladies did not disappoint.

Michelle Weir, opened with her personal story, putting everyone at ease and articulating the ups and downs of finding your place as a jazz musician.  She posed the question of whether jazz singing should be “Cognitive” or “Intuitive”. My favourite quote of the day: “Sing from the heart, but prepare like a musician”.

Judy Niemack, was a highlight for me. I’ve been using her book “Hear it and Sing it! Exploring Modal Jazz” for a few years now as a teaching tool.   She performed content from her latest book “Hear it and Sing it! Exploring the Blues”.  Her vocal style was warm and informed.  Judy also played excerpts from the CD that accompanies her book.   They had been recorded by Sheila Jordan and by Mark Murphy, who sadly passed away a few days after the conference (his music was celebrated throughout).

Judy Niemack. Photo credit: Maarit Kytöharju (right)


Carmen Lundy talked about finding yourself as an artist through song. She asked, “How can we honour the music but still define the times we live in without compromising the sound of the past.”  Carmen had been in Helsinki working as a mentor to the musicians studying at the Sibelius Academy.  We watched the up-and-coming students perform with confidence and Carmen followed with her astonishing concert.  She had a band to die for Victor Gould (piano), Darryl Hall (bass), Jamison Ross (drums).  The concert ended with a standing ovation.

American Kat Reinhert called herself a jazz singer/songwriter.  She gave very practical methods for song writing, and encouraged us to take the jazz art form forward by writing new jazz repertoire.  I’ve already penned some new lyrics using her methods.

Ecuador, was represented by Maria Naranjo.  She gave an in-depth analysis on jazz phrasing, where she compared techniques of the great vocalist - Sarah Vaughan, Mark Murphy, Betty Carter and Kurt Elling.  

Dutch vocal coach Ineke Van Doorn presented a lecture on technique for jazz singers.  Ineke sang for us and demonstrated clearly some of the technical skills required to sing jazz.  I’m looking forward to getting a copy of her book ‘Singing from the Inside Out’.

The Australians were out in force.  Firstly, Leigh Carriage presented a comprehensive paper on Korean vocalist Youn Sun Nah, who crosses many stylistic boundaries, predominantly classical and Jazz.  Youn Sun Nah is new to me. She has absolutely mind-blowing skills and is well worth checking out.

Singer Michelle Nicolle I’d only ever heard on CD, but hearing her live was incredible. Her vocal range must be four octaves, she scats, she manipulates the lyric both rhythmically and melodically, she has a soulful sound and sings everything from the heart.  I just wanted to hear more.  I’m going to do my best to get her to the UK for some concerts because audiences here would love her work.

I am Australian, but went to the conference representing the UK. I performed a lecture concert on The Art of Vocalese. I hope I have recruited a few more young singers to sing vocalese both ones written by the greats, Jefferson, Hendricks and Pleasure as well as experimenting with writing their own lyric. Let’s take the art form forward.  To that end, I’ve just finished putting a jazz melody to a rap!

Louise Gibbs also represented the UK.  She showcased her skills as a songwriter performing music from her latest CD “Seven Deadly Sings” and discussed the motivations for her writing as well as her writing process. 

Other highlights for me were: conference organiser Jenny Robson, who presented a lecture concert on improvisation in Jazz Rock Fusion, Petra Ahlmark, who gave an imaginative Bossa Nova Clinic and Lina Nyberg, who taught a masterclass incorporating free jazz with standard repertoire.  (My students beware!)

There were also lectures by Emma Larsson, Sanni Orasmaa and Gunilla Tornfeldt, who looked at different methods of teaching and gave very practical advice to take away and try out.

Lee Ellen Martin, Susanna Mesia and Elena Mindru, all currently undertaking doctoral studies, talked us through their research. I look forward to reading their findings.

Two other American singers completely unknown to me were Kate Skinner and Kate Reid, who both performed concerts exploring the standard repertoire.  Their work is definitely worth checking out.

I’ve returned to London exhausted, but completely inspired to practice and to share with my colleagues and students the new techniques and ideas I’ve gathered from the conference.  It was wonderful to spend three days with so many like-minded people who love the music and want to take the Art of Jazz Singing and how to teach it forward.

I was so pleased to have been part of it. The only thing missing were male vocalists.  Perhaps we could organize the second International Jazz Voice Conference here in the UK, starting with two of our greatest male singer/educators Ian Shaw and Pete Churchill... Just a thought if anyone is interested… I’d be happy to start organising it! 

The delegates assembled. Photo credit: Maarit Kytöharju


LINKS:European Voice Teachers Association website The International Jazz Voice Conference on Facebook

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