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Carmen Lundy

If sometime during the mid-1970s when dreck like Carl Douglas’ “Kung Fu Fighting” and Van McCoy’s “The Hustle” was dominating the pop charts, had fate smiled on a peppy little ditty called “The Price of Silence” we might have been denied one of our truly great jazz singers. During her teens, Carmen Lundy teamed with a Miami high school buddy to form a duo called Steph and Tret (Lundy, whose middle name is Latreta, was Tret). “We used to do ‘Let It Be Me’ and ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,'” she recalls with a giggle. “Then, when I was 16, we got a record deal. We recorded ‘The Price of Silence,’ and the B-side was ‘Boy, I’m the Girl for You.’ Well, of course, I just knew my career was made!”

The platter went nowhere.

Lundy, soon formed a jazz alliance with pianist David Roitstein (now director of the jazz department at CalArts), and went to the University of Miami, where the only option for a vocalist was to enroll as an opera major. “About a year into that program,” she explains, “there was a course I took called Jazz Vocal 101-a Swingle Singers sort of thing. David would come in and accompany me, and we’d do things like ‘Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most.’ Fortunately, my voice teacher was open to that, so sophomore year they allowed me to switch my major to jazz on the condition that I take all the courses the musicians took. So I ended up being the very first jazz-vocal major at the University of Miami.”

After graduation, Lundy relocated to New York with her bassist brother, Curtis. “My brother is responsible for introducing me to some of the world’s greatest musicians,” she enthuses, “and he’s also responsible for introducing the world to a lot of great musicians! We started out together and then kind of went off on our own paths and developed our own histories. Occasionally we’d meet and play together and then he’d be off with Pharoah Sanders or Johnny Griffin or Betty Carter or Art Blakey, and I’d be off doing my thing. Then we began to record together and write together and work together more often. The best thing for me is that he decided to stay in New York when I moved to L.A. because he now keeps me plugged into what’s happening there.”

In 1983, Carmen scraped together the cash to self-produce her debut album, Good Morning Kiss (recently rereleased on CD by Justin Time). Five equally exquisite albums have followed, including two standards-heavy releases-Self Portrait (1994) and Old Devil Moon (1997)-for JVC Japan, one for Arabesque (1991’s Moment to Moment) and a superb pair of discs (focused more on Lundy originals) for Justin Time: 2001’s This Is Carmen Lundy and the new Something to Believe In.

When the Montreal-based label initially approached Carmen, Curtis was already part of its roster. “I did a couple of tunes on Curtis’ record Against All Odds. That’s how I came to meet [Justin Time A&R director] Jean-Pierre Leduc. At first I thought, ‘Hey! I should be with Blue Note or Verve!’ But based on the response from the tunes I did with Curtis, I agreed to sign with him. The interesting thing is they gave me complete artistic freedom to just lay down the music. I gotta say that’s a beautiful thing these days. In hindsight, I realize that if I had been signed, instead, to a label that was then more to my choosing. I wouldn’t have the discography I have.”

The gorgeous Something to Believe In is comprised of six Lundy originals and four covers, including a hauntingly beautiful “Windmills of My Mind” that is, she says, “inspired by Dusty Springfield’s voice and the way she performed that song.” The album seems overflowing with faith and hope. “Definitely!” agrees Lundy, “especially compared to wherever I was on my last record. I would say I have a renewed perspective on what really matters. And it certainly takes faith and hope to hang in this business for as long as I have!”

Something to Believe In features Curtis on bass and as producer. “I wanted him to produce,” she says, “because I get so close to the tunes that I can’t have any objectivity. His perspective is broader in a lot of ways than mine. He has a wonderful way of pulling out the very best in a performance. We’re really both very fortunate that we have each other.”

Several of the songs, particularly the bold, self-penned “Wild Child” and the Gershwins’ “I Loves You Porgy,” also suggest a keen desire for escape. “I’ve gone through a lot of personal changes during the last two or three years, getting out of a bad relationship and learning that I can be OK on my own.”

Originally Published