Just Friends (of Lance) Jazz

Brian Sward and me
Brian Sward and me

All my life I have sung, but singing jazz standards with Just Friends (of Lance) has been really challenging and really rewarding.

Let me tell you about the band.

It all really starts with Brian Sward, on the right, who plays guitar in his sleep, I think, and transcribes songs for fun. He got a band together around Lance Owens, a 92-year-old professional saxophonist, with Jack Knight on the silver trumpet and Wayne Stagg, the barefoot bass player. He asked me to provide the chanteuse factor.

The music I have done prior to this was mostly Irish or Scottish or Appalachian music (you can check that music out at my former band’s website, where you can also buy our CD–which, by the way, is selling like hotcakes in the Great Smoky Mountain National Parks shops).

I have to say now that before, I didn’t really like jazz. That’s because some jazz players get so involved in ornamentation that they forget they had a melody line, and even the beat, it seems to me, sometimes goes out the window.

But this was really different. Jack plays the trumpet as if silver streams of light were issuing from heaven. Lance spirals around an implied melody line that never loses the intricate chord changes or often offers a harmony to Jack that I can only barely hear, and harmony (I always thought) was my gift. They’ve shown me differently. Brian’s guitar work is Bach-like in its precision and absolute certainty. Wayne keeps us all on task. So I’m just trying to find my “voice” in this new medium, only too aware that my voice is better suited for a folk song and grateful for the opportunity to be in the same room with these people.

We practice every Saturday in the famous O’Hanlon Manse in downtown Knoxville and occasionally play out. Our next engagement will be a fundraiser at the O’Hanlons’ at the end of August, 2015.

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