Debut Album by Adam Beaudoin Tips a Top Hat to Class in “I Hear a Rhapsody”

Vocalist Adam Beaudoin’s new album I Hear a Rhapsody introduces the world to a seasoned voice that nails the nuance of the slide and slur with mood and energy. With musicians Paul Janoschka (piano), Giacomo Tagliavia (bass) and Jonas Esser (drums), this release is a celebration of classic songs like “You Don’t Know What Love Is” and “I’ll Remember April.” The band steps it up with “It’s You or No One” where Beaudoin keeps things fizzy and bright, and on “If You Could See Me Now” he aptly conveys the bittersweet sense of longing and opportunities that have passed us by.  As a debut offering, I Hear a Rhapsody shines a light on Beaudoin’s natural dulcet tones with a pacing that befits the legacy of the Great American Songbook.

When and how did you come up with the concept for this, your debut album? 

At the end of my first year of graduate school, I’d reached a point in my musical development that I wanted to document, and that I felt was worth sharing publicly. So I put together a group of standards that I found musically and lyrically compelling, and that I could bring something of myself to, and brought them into the studio.

What do you want to communicate with this music?

That’s a tricky question for a singer. Music is a language of its own, but not one with fixed conceptual referents. On the other hand, vocal music usually has a lyric which does carry concrete meaning(s). So we have to interpret the melody in such a way that it communicates the lyrical content while also having a conversation in the musical language of the song.

In the broader sense, I wanted this album to represent my approach to the standard jazz repertoire, which is to be a participating member of the ensemble. Yes, I tried to interpret and communicate the lyric of each song, but not at the expense of interaction and improvisation. That’s what makes it vocal jazz, in my perspective, instead of just classic show tunes accompanied by a jazz combo.

How did you meet the other musicians and what do they bring to your overall vibe?

Jonas and Paul were my classmates from City College; Giacomo I had met around a few times. They’re all stellar musicians, and I’d been playing with Paul and Jonas for about a year. Jonas is such a dynamic, spontaneous drummer; Paul has an incredible ear, and plays with real diversity of texture; and Giacomo is a very agile, lyrical bassist. In jazz, the whole is always more than the sum of its parts – everyone is constantly aware of what the others are doing, and the interplay between musicians brings out results that wouldn’t have been possible individually. I know that my performance would have been very different with another ensemble, and I think that we complemented each other well.

What singers and songwriters did you cut your jazz teeth on? Who has inspired you?

The two jazz singers who I probably owe the most to are Billie Holiday, for her interpretive approach to melody, and Chet Baker, for the horn-like way he treats vocal improvisation. Though it might not show in this recording, Esperanza Spalding has been a major creative inspiration for me – listening to her music brought me back to jazz and showed me the breadth of creative possibilities it contains. (She’s also one of the most technically capable and sophisticated singers around, which sometimes gets overlooked because of just how good a bassist and composer she is.) Bobby McFerrin was also an important early influence on me, and Elis Regina is a model of natural, unencumbered vocal delivery.

Beyond singers, though, many of my influences are instrumentalists. The short (and utterly incomplete) list would include Miles Davis, Jim Hall, Ahmad Jamal, Dexter Gordon, Clifford Brown, Joe Henderson, Thelonious Monk, Cannonball Adderley, and Alice Coltrane. (And that’s just historical figures – there are so many inspiring jazz musicians working now as well.)

Do you start with the idea for a melody, a lyric, the chord structure, or something else when you compose?

None of these tunes are original compositions, but that said, I’m still finding my feet as a composer, and I think it will still be some time before I have the capacity as a writer that I do as a performer. With that caveat, the answer is that I can and do start anywhere – bass line, melodic idea, rhythm, harmonic motion, lyric – because ultimately they all contain each other. A melody often implies a particular harmony, for example; a rhythm might suggest a melody’s contour, and a lyric might emerge from and/or transform a rhythm. So songs can start anywhere, but evolve as their different components interact and shape each other.

What was the most challenging part of producing this album?

The most challenging part was hearing the recordings as a listener rather than a performer. And I had to try to do that in every stage of the process, to make the most objective decisions possible, rather than get stuck on the minutiae of my performance. I might feel that the vowel sound on a particular word is off, or an entrance isn’t clean, but that’s not necessarily what’s going to matter to the listener. A compelling melodic variation or the whole band really syncing up and playing off each other – those are the kind of factors that need to take priority when you’re making decisions in the production process, because they’re musically important in a way that perfect technique might not be.

How would you characterize your voice? How do you take care of it?

Ha, well, I know this isn’t what you mean, but I’d characterize it as “developing.” I don’t sound the same today as I did when I made this recording a year ago, and I’m sure that will continue to be true for quite some time. And it’s hard to see your own output objectively, but I think “exploratory” and “versatile” are probably fair descriptors. I’m honestly much more curious how others would characterize it. You can learn a lot from hearing people describe your sound and respond to your performing.

I take care of my voice by using it daily and paying conscious attention to how I’m using it. I also get periodic guidance and feedback from an excellent teacher, which then helps direct that daily use. A lot of vocal pedagogy will emphasize the things you shouldn’t do in order to care for your voice, but there’s sometimes less discussion of what you should do, which is slowly and deliberately condition the vocal mechanism towards a relaxed, flexible strength.

Is scat like improvising and how does one get good at it?

The term “scat” just refers to a singer’s improvising. I think it came from the exaggerated syllables some singers used. I don’t use the term myself, because it can have a bit of a pejorative connotation – the idea that what singers do is fundamentally different from what instrumentalists do. It is true that not all singers take improvisation seriously, but that just means they’re not very good improvisers, not that a vocal solo is somehow different than a bass, piano, or saxophone solo. After all, jazz improvisation as we think about it today started with Louis Armstrong, who improvised both with his voice and on his horn.

As for how to get good at it, the boring answer is to practice it like you would anything else. It helps to have a good ear, to understand the harmony of the song, and to have a sense for melodic phrasing, but the more you do it, the better you’ll get at it. Singers have some natural advantages as well as disadvantages, just due to the nature of their instrument, but the end goal for us is the same as it is for a horn player: to create spontaneous melody within a song’s harmonic space.

Do you have a preference for performing with a big ensemble or more intimate group?

It depends on the arrangement and orchestration of the music. I enjoy singing in mid-size ensembles where I can be part of the musical texture in harmony with other instruments, and I enjoy singing in small combos as well, where there’s often more space for experimentation and variation. I don’t have any experience singing with a big band, so I can’t comment on that.

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Photos courtesy of and with permission of the artist.

© 2022 Debbie Burke

Books by Debbie Burke, jazz author

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