“It’s about the words. My voice teacher told me, ‘Your job is not to be the best singer in the world—there’ll always be someone better. Your job is to make people feel.’ I’m here to tell a story.” – Joyce Lyons
Maryland native Joyce Lyons, who has performed from New York to Arizona to Italy to the U.S. Supreme Court, became a Twin Cities resident about five years ago. Described by Backstage Magazine as “what cabaret is all about,” Joyce salutes one of her favorite muses with “I Thought About Her: Remembering Carmen McRae,” in the Dunsmore Room at Crooners Lounge on Sunday, April 10, 7 pm. Always in the company of the top rhythm section players in town, Joyce will be joined by her long-running cohorts, Phil Aaron, Graydon Peterson and Jay Epstein.
Joyce Lyons feels she was born to perform, and has been on stage much of her life. After high school, she attended the Colorado Women’s College, where she studied voice (pop, musical theater and classical) and piano. Particularly drawn to theater, she was cast as the Emcee in Cabaret, receiving glowing reviews by The Denver Post. She returned to the East Coast, spending a year in Washington, DC where she performed in Godspell, then moved to New York where she had roles in Tintypes, Sophisticated Ladies, Little Shop of Horrors and Company, among other productions. Most attracted to small stages and cabaret, Joyce even tried her hand at some stand-up comedy. Perhaps one of her greatest thrills to date has been a performance at the U.S. Supreme Court, following a chance meeting with Justice Clarence Thomas. Her debut CD in 2004, Sooner or Later, pushed the jazz envelope. With Lee Musiker, Jay Leonhardt, Mark Egan, Walt Weiskopf and more, the recording is filled with sweet moments and plenty of swing, from a sultry “Round Midnight” and surprising arrangement of “Ticket to Ride,” to a triple dose of Cole Porter (including the sassy “Give Him the Ooo-la-la”).
Joyce has worked with the late Joe Beck, Kenny Ascher, Bucky Pizzarelli, Jay Leonhart, Lee Musiker, Lou Marini and Al Gafa, and has appeared at jazz clubs and private events nation-wide, including the Turning Stone Casino and Spa, Canyon Ranch, Mirival Tucson Resport and Spa, and the Jazz on the Hill Series at Fort Lewis College in Durango, CO. Joyce also developed a master class on reading lyrics for vocal students, which has been offered as part of the Artist in Residence Program at Fort Lewis College and in New York City. Joyce left New York in 2009, landing in the Twin Cities where she has performed at The Dakota, Jazz Central, Parma, recently closed Three Crows, Twin Cities Jazz Festival, Jazz @ St. Barney’s, and more. She has been working with the quartet on a recording project, hopefully to be released later this year.
Pianist Phil Aaron is a Chicago native who studied music at the Berklee College of Music and the University of Illinois. After ten years in LA, he moved to Minneapolis in 1989, becoming fully immersed in the local jazz scene, and hosting a long-running trio gig at the Hotel Sofitel. By day, Phil works as an Emmy-winning composer of film and television scores. As a performing jazz artist, Phil has shared the stage with Lee Konitz, Eric Alexander, Jim Rotondi, Jim Snidero, Byron Stripling, Barbara Morrison and Jackie Allen, among others, and has provided piano accompaniment to many local jazz singers and ensembles. An active recording artist as sideman and on five CDs of his own, Phil plays regularly with his own trio, Lucia Newell, the Phil Hey Quartet, Batunde Lea, Lila Ammons, Joyce Lyons, Peter Kogan, and more.
Bassist Graydon Peterson was a member of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire’s Downbeat Award-winning Jazz Ensemble I and performed with such guest jazz artists as Lewis Nash, Ingrid Jensen, Jason Marsalis, Chris Botti, and Christian McBride. Based in the Twin Cities over the past decade, Peterson is a first-call bassist who works often with area vocalists including Joyce Lyons, Arne Fogel, Debbie Duncan and Connie Evingson. He also performs regularly with Cuban ensemble Charanga Tropical, the trio Firebell with Park Evans and Jay Epstein, three-bass trio Mountain King, Jazz Central All-Stars, and combos with Mary Louise Knutson, Reid Kennedy and more. Peterson launched his own quartet in fall 2011 and more recently brought pals Park Evans and Adrian Suarez together as Ghost Tour. His bands have performed at Jazz Central, the Artists Quarter, Amsterdam, Twin Cities Jazz Festival and more. The Graydon Peterson Quartet has released its self-titled CD and recent Duets, featuring every member of the ensemble in duet with each of the others.
Of trapset master Jay Epstein, Cadence Magazine’s David Lewis noted that “his dazzling cymbal and snare work extends the lineage of Tony Williams and Jack DeJohnette.” In addition to his long run with the Phil Aaron Trio, Jay has more recently toured with Richie Cole and Five by Design. These days, Jay keeps busy with Red Planet, Framework, Counterclockwise, Firebell, Bronkow Vision, Off the Map, Dean Granros’ Tall Tales, and in support of a long list of area vocalists and instrumentalists. Jay released Long Ago on Igmod Records, has recorded with Bill Carrothers, and appears on each of Gordon Johnson’s Trios, among a long list of sideman credits.
Although she had a lovely voice, Carmen McRae was most noted for her behind-the-beat phrasing and ironic interpretations of lyrics. Born in Harlem in 1922, she studied piano and was playing piano at Minton’s in Harlem and working as a chorus singer in her late teens. Her first break came with Benny Carter’s big band in the mid-40s, during a period when she married and then divorced drummer Kenny Clarke and worked briefly with Count Basie and Mercer Ellington. After spending a few years in Chicago, she returned to New York in the early 50s. Her career took off when she began recording as leader in the mid 50s, and was voted “Best New Female Vocalist” of 1954 by Downbeat. Among the projects she covered through the late 80s were Dave Brubeck’s Real Ambassadors with Louis Armstrong, live dues with Betty Carter, and acclaimed tributes to Thelonious Monk and Sarah Vaughan. While Carmen was significantly influenced by Billie Holiday and bebop, she developed her own unique style; her performances always included at least one Holiday tune, and she released For Lady Day in 1995. Over her career, Carmen recorded over 60 albums and was a popular performer throughout the U.S., Europe and Japan. A long-time smoker, Carmen was force to retire in 1991 due to emphysema; she died in 1994 at age 72 following complications from a stroke.
Notes Joyce, “Our tribute is merely to remind you of her amazing choice of material and the life that she brought to each piece. Be it Monk, Bachrach, Berlin, Mancini or even Leon Russell, Carmen had the unique ability to make them new to her audience. We are taking some of those tunes and giving them a ‘Joyce Lyons’ spin!”
Enjoy the Joyce Lyons spin as she remembers Carmen McRae in the intimate ambience of the Dunsmore Room!
The Dunsmore Room at Crooners Lounge is located at 6161 NE Highway 65 (Central Av) in Fridley, just north of I-694 and about 20 minutes northeast of downtown Minneapolis. Tickets $8, dinner show $35, reservations online