Vocalist Keith Ailer didn’t sing in front of an audience until he entered the University of the District of Columbia (UDC) about 12 years ago, but since then he’s performed at Blues Alley, the Kennedy Center, and Sweet Basil. He was also a semifinalist in the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition in 1998, and has just released his first recording, Spaces and Places, on the Jazzateria label. Clearly, the man has not wasted any time.
“I always had a singing career in mind,” he says, “but I was never in an atmosphere that fostered professional activity.” At UDC, however, Ailer met with Calvin Jones, chairman of the jazz department, who helped him develop his technique and sharpen his jazz chops in a course on jazz studies. Since then, Ailer’s course was set.
“I’ve found that my voice comes through singing the standards,” he says. “Standards let you know where jazz has been and they teach the basics, especially about jazz. All the great jazz singers did their thing on standards, and they became the teachers for all of us.”