Kristin Berardi Knows How to Navigate Nuance in New CD “The Light and the Dark”

Kristin Berardi has a voice that lilts, rises and falls, all stepping-stones and light movements. Her new CD, The Light and the Dark, is a full-course meal of storytelling and melodic finesse. “He Was a Loaded Gun” takes you on a trip with a guy her heart should have avoided but the pull was inevitable. Punctuated with percussive beats weaving around and between the piano, Berardi has set the stage for an energetic journey. There’s a funky feel to “Full of the New,” and here she leads with modulations in key, that voice tumbling lightly, dynamics purposefully picked. Maybe the most inventive (though all the tracks are noticeably original) is her “Slow Waltz,” where leaving space and air and letting the music make its own time is a bold move; she comes in, fades, presses forward and holds back, all in right time.

Personnel: Kristin Berardi – vocals; Ingrid Jensen – trumpet; Miro Sprague – piano; Marty Jaffe – double bass; Jerome Jennings – drums; Troy Roberts – saxophone; Sam Anning – additional bass.

When did you first realize you wanted to be a musician?

I remember seeing an orchestra play on the ABC channel in Australia at age five and asking to play the violin. I carried the idea of playing in an orchestra with me for all of primary school. But I listened to pop music – the stuff on the radio, and I’d sing constantly.

I didn’t realize how much I loved and needed to sing until I was 15 and I had started to do more and more singing, doing some gigs on the weekends, and I started to have problems with my voice. I went to an ENT specialist and found I had the start of nodules on my vocal folds. The treatment at that stage was silence for two weeks and to begin speech therapy and singing lessons, as I was singing and speaking incorrectly.

It was in these two weeks of silence I realized how often in each day I went to sing, and while this time was really difficult not to make music (not speaking was fine as I was so shy back then), it made me determined to get on top of the technique side of singing and speaking and to not take this for granted.

It was at that time that I knew I wanted to be a singer. I needed to be a musician to express myself.

What’s the first jazz you remember hearing and what was your reaction?

I played alto saxophone and sang in the high school big band, and my teacher would make me these mix tapes…he made Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday, Mel Tormé tapes for me, but none of it really made me too excited.

I could appreciate the skill of everyone involved but they were different sort of voices than I was used to – it just sounded like “old” music to me. Which is embarrassing to say now, but that’s the truth.

It was not until he made a tape of some Tower of Power and Vince Jones, an Australian jazz vocalist, that I could get into the music more. Vince was singing his own music and also the standard repertoire, but his tone was more contemporary and his embellishments from more of a soul and R&B style. It was through bingeing on the Vince Jones records that I then discovered a love for this jazz genre and the repertoire. I then went back and listened to the masters, the pioneers, and I could listen and love it in a whole new way.

How would you characterize your growth as a musician since your first music was recorded?

My earliest settings were in duo format – mainly because I was from a rural town, and there were not many people to play with. I think this was actually a blessing as it made me, from the very start, take responsibility for all the different parts of the music. However, I was so very shy. I desperately wanted to sing, but I wouldn’t talk or move….I’d just sing.

I think my growth as a musician came from being more comfortable with space and taking my time in soloing. I also feel more comfortable on stage – more “allowed” to take up space and create the way I hear and feel it.

The other thing I am getting better at is choosing people to work with who both respect me and my music. I think growing as a person is vital to your music growing also.

What stuck with you from your formal training in music?

I started my university degree in the North Queensland Conservatoirum in Mackay, and did a year there before I transferred to Griffith University’s Brisbane Conservatorium of music. I completed my Bachelor of Music there, and I did my master’s degree in vocal pedagogy also at the Brisbane Conservatorium around ten years later.

I was encouraged to listen to music that moved me, and that was so freeing to me. Some of my first teachers in jazz told me to stop listening to all the pop and R&B I listened to or I’d never be a good jazz singer.

The community and the feeling of family stayed with me also. I had finally found my people….I spent all of my schooling years feeling so different from everyone. Then at music school, I could finally talk, think, do and share in music all day. I adored it and vowed to never take it for granted.

When you compose, are you thinking of the instrumentation or do you write first for voice?

Each song is quite different in approach. I am usually just thinking about the intention or message of the song and then finding the sounds that are needed to convey the emotion best.

I also find it best to write for specific musicians if it’s a recording that I’m arranging my songs for.

But yes – I try and keep my voice in mind – where do I want to grow and so perhaps where should this piece “sit”; where do I think are the warmest parts of my voice for this ballad, etc.

What type of ensemble do you like best, small or large, and why?

I like small ensembles the best because there is more space, more opportunity to just change things with a single glance, and of course more interplay. It’s riskier and more revealing, but I think I also get a bit too excited or distracted by the larger groups as I love listening to what everyone is doing, and I end up doing less in turn. Having a great time, but perhaps not singing all the things I hear – which may or may not be a good thing.

Favorite venues that you have played?

Recently I played in Ukaria – in the Adelaide Hills, Australia, and that was the best sound in a venue I’ve ever experienced. The recital hall (Melbourne) also has beautiful acoustics, and Hamer Hall in Melbourne and the Sydney Opera House concert halls are just so thrilling as you are playing to more people in those big rooms.

The 55 Bar in NYC was thrilling to me as I loved that place. I saw so many gigs there over the years. Birdland Jazz Club in NYC was also a goal of mine, to play one of the bigger clubs there. When I played at Montreux Jazz Festival, I just couldn’t quite believe it was happening, so that was amazing – and Al Jarreau and his band were cheering me on from the side of the stage – that was madness!!

What’s the jazz scene like now where you live?

It is smallish in Luzern, but the nearby towns are so close I feel like I’m in a big scene. In Brisbane where I lived before, the other side of the city was 45 minutes away, so to go to Zurich doesn’t feel so far to go and see a great gig.

There are great local musicians, but also folks are touring from USA and Europe all the time, unlike in Oz where you may see some of your favorite musicians once in their lifetime. Quite often, folks just don’t do that journey unless they fall in love with the country (which is easy to do!).

What are some of the production highlights of The Light and the Dark?

How the band really got behind the stories of these pieces was amazing to me. They took the time to ask about the thoughts/intention behind the pieces and then were completely with me in finding the right sounds to portray those emotions and settings.

I find “He Was a Loaded Gun” both challenging to sing and empowering as it’s basically about dealing with a very difficult human. So it’s always a balance of tapping into the memories from a place of strength and standing strong. Singing out the truth of my reality in the hope I continue to grow sturdier and continue to heal.

Mark Sholtez’s song “What You Want” is also still quite difficult to sing, as it really feels like he understands exactly how I think. I am very happy with this track and how Miro and I could capture the fragility of it all. There are two times where I have to watch my “footing” emotionally.

“Bunker” is something I’m proud of because up until now, I would not have dared to make sounds like these – especially on a record. But I am trying to push the boundaries and find where the extremities lay so that I don’t become complacent in my own music-making. I’m proud that I made some crazy, bold sounds in my improvisations in this song.

What do you look forward to with the new music?

Sharing it with more people, now that it is going to be released. I also look forward to sharing it with a new audience now that I am living in another part of the world.

Other comments?

I am very grateful that music gives me the opportunity to process and feel all that happens in my life and in the world. I love that it even gives us the ability to make something of beauty with the pain we all face. I think that will always amaze me.

For more information, visit

Photos courtesy of and with permission of the artist.

© 2022 Debbie Burke

Tasty Jazz Jams for Our Times VOL 1 and VOL 2 here on Amazon!

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