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‘With jazz, one can improvise freely’

Jazz vocalist and tenor saxophonist Camille Thurman grew up in St. Albans in Queens, New York. Years ago, famous jazz personalities like Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, Fats Waller, Milt Hinton and Frank Wess lived there. Thurman’s mother, a teacher helped her turn the interest in the area’s history into a study. After learning the flute and clarinet, Thurman took up the tenor saxophone, mainly inspired by Dexter Gordon. Eventually, she was voted as the Rising Star in Tenor Saxophone in jazz magazine, Downbeat’s critics’ polls. Thurman will perform with drummer Darrell Green’s Trio at the NCPA International Jazz Festival. The festival also features the Dal Segno Trio with vocalist LaToya Smith, the Mandy Gaines Quartet, the Round Midnight Orchestra, soprano Yuval Cohen’s Sextet and the Mingus Dynasty Quintet. An all-star jam session will conclude the event.

On her first visit to India, Thurman is excited. “I’ve heard a lot about this country from my neighbour who is half-Jamaican and half-Indian. She would talk of her visits to the Taj Mahal,” she says. Though she hasn’t heard much Indian music, she’s been exposed to this region’s culture through the work of harpist and pianist Alice Coltrane, who has explored Hinduism, Hare Krishna culture and Zen Buddhism.

Working with legends

Among her achievements, Thurman has worked with famed trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, besides rhythm n’ blues singers Chaka Khan, Gladys Knight and Alicia Keys. “Sharing the stage with Wynton has been incredible. I learn everything each time, and it’s fascinating to hear his stories of working with legends like Abbey Lincoln, Art Blakey and Betty Carter,” she says.

How does Thurman divide her practice time between vocals and saxophone? She says, “I try to organise myself, using whatever pockets of time I get. I practise mentally and sing most of the time. For the instrument, be it flute, clarinet or saxophone, I work on scales, arpeggios and long tones.” The musician says playing with a jazz band is a total contrast to accompanying a rhythm n’ blues singer. “In jazz, one can improvise freely, whereas in the latter, one has to stick to the composition,” she explains.

Doing it her way

Last year, Thurman released her third album, Waiting For The Sunrise. Featuring Hoagy Carmichael’s ‘The Nearness Of You’, Milton Nascimento’s ‘Tarde’, the standard ‘September In The Rain’ and other old classics, it won the Independent Music Award for Best Album – Jazz With Vocals. “I wanted to pay my respect to singers I’ve grown up on – Sarah Vaughn, Carmen McRae, Shirley Horn and rhythm n’ blues vocalist Angela Bofill. Yet, I wanted to arrange that material my own way,” asserts Thurman.

The NCPA International Jazz Festival, Tata Theatre from October 11 to 13; more details at bookmyshow.com

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