CULTURE

Jazz romantic on at the Half Note venue

If you enter the name Robin McKelle on YouTube, one of the videos you’ll find is «Abracadabra.» Readers over 30 may recall the smash hit of the same name by the Steve Miller Band, released in 1982. Interestingly, McKelle, an American singer of jazz ballads, offers a radically reworked version of the old pop hit, which she delivers as a pure jazz song with a latin touch. In a telephone interview, conducted just a couple of hours before McKelle was due to fly from Paris to Athens for performances at the Half Note Jazz Club (see What’s On), I asked her whether this kind of cover was a common thing for her. «The truth would be not really,» she responded in a happy and direct tone. «But when I succeed in doing something that touches me, well, why not?» McKelle, whose mother was a professional folk singer, began playing piano at a young age. Early on, she was drawn to her childhood era’s pop hits, but once the piano lessons began, McKelle was suddenly drawn to jazz. «I immediately fell in love with jazz music and although I intended to pursue a career as a jazz pianist, my instructor heard my voice and advised me to take up singing,» said McKelle. «At the time, I began studying opera and music in theater, but the enthusiasm that overtook me for jazz was extraordinary.» She joined her school’s jazz band, completed music studies in Miami and Berklee and then relocated from her native Rochester in New York to Los Angeles. Her extensive musical background helps explain why McKelle does not just sing her songs but plays an active part in arranging them. From Los Angeles, McKelle made another move to Boston, formed a trio, and, in 2004, took part in the Thelonious Monk Jazz Competition, a distinguished event in which she won third prize. She has released one album to date, «Introducing Robin McKelle,» which includes a cover of «Bei mir bist Du Schoen,» a classic Andrews Sisters track that was originally released in 1938. Her work echoes jazz of the 40s. During the interview, I read her a previous comment of her own in which she said she would have liked to have lived in that era. «I probably said that during an excited moment because, yes, I would have liked to walk into a club of that period with the big bands, but I am, well, here and now,» McKelle responded. «Perhaps I miss that feeling of romance which characterized the era, even though those were hard times for people everywhere,» she continued. McKelle expressed admiration for fellow artists such as Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn, Dinah Washington, and Aretha Franklin. «Dinah has amazing blues moments and Aretha is a unique soul act. I like to combine both in my music,» said McKelle. Jazz romantics would do good to catch this talented singer and her band here in Athens.