One essential ingredient in the art of jazz singing is the ability to present a song to audience in a way that shows the vocalist at least understands and identifies with the lyrics -- whether or not he or she has lived them.
The lyrics must be believable. Some messages just aren't credible when they come from the sweet voices of young talents who are just dipping their toes into the Challenges and traumas of life and love.
Singer Carmen Lundy has been crafting her art and building on her skills for more than 25 years. And on her newest recording, she has gone one big, bold step beyond past challenges.
She has lived the material -- and has opened her heart to share it with listeners.
All of the songs on "This is Carmen Lundy," an exquisite session released by Montreal-based Justin Time Records, were written or co-written by Lundy. Her brother, the bassist Curtis Lundy, is her musical director and produced the session. The recording features a superb blend of musicians, some of whom have worked with her since her earliest days on the jazz scene.
Her bandmates include pianists Onaje Allan Gumbs and Anthony Wonsey, saxophonists Bobby Watson and Mark Shim, young trumpeter Kevin Louis, her brother on bass, drummers Victor Lewis and Ralph Peterson, and Mayra Casales on percussion.
Lundy has sung some original material on most of her half-dozen prior recordings, but this was the first to feature it throughout.
"My brother inspired me to focus on original material as a way to say ' This is Carmen Lundy.' There has been a lot of question about how I was perceived as a jazz singer, dating to the 1970s when all the great singers were still here," Lundy said.
"I think the jazz audience has been curious as to whether I would be the interpreter of great songs or do something different. This shows I want to be different -- to include signature tunes that you don't get anymore.
"I felt it was time to step up and meet the challenge and trust the music -- and that with the support of the musicians, we could convey these songs."
Most of the material explored by her artful, sometimes teasing, deep voice focuses on many facets of romance and relationships: passion, lust, hope, desire and joy, wisdom, love gone wrong, forgiveness and the self-confidence to try again.
"Better Luck Next Time" is a horn-filled gem, while "Send Me Somebody to Love" has a standard quality that will forever identify it with Lundy.
Two songs, "(I Dream) In Living Color" and "One More River to Cross" both have a romantic quality but speak more deeply to the state of the world and the need for peace and respect. "One More River to Cross" opens with her lyrics and bridges to the Langston Hughes poem "The Negro Speaks of Rivers."
"A lot of things were simmering with me that I needed to release and bring some closure to -- including racial attitudes around the time of the O.J. Simpson trial," Lundy said. "The poem added the final statement to the wholeness or completion."
Lundy and her brother grew up in Miami. She enrolled in the University of Miami where she studied opera singing. But she soon gravitated toward the jazz program and became its first vocal major.
"I was performing locally six night s a week in Miami. I met a lot of the Latino players, was gigging 'til 2 in the morning and making my 8 a.m. classes. We all did that."
As they completed their studies in Miami, fellow students Watson, guitarist Pat Metheny, guitarist Hiram Bullock and bassist Mark Egan were leaving Florida for New York. Lundy soon followed, and made the Big Apple her home base for 14 years.
In her early New York years, she worked with pianists Walter Bishop Jr., Don Pullen and Jaki Byard in bands that included a wide array of players both in style and generation.
She moved to Los Angeles 10 years ago but spends considerable time touring Europe. Lundy will perform January 16-20 at Le Club in Moscow and be featured at Ronnie Scott's, London's premier jazz club, from February 18 to March 3.
Wherever Lundy's travels bring her, audiences will delight in a woman who is a complete musician, whose heart and voice are essential parts of her songs.
"There used to be marriage of a singer and a song," she said. "We're not hearing a lot of that these days."
Carmen Lundy is doing her artful best to help fill that void.