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Judi Silvano

What Judi Silvano has been able to accomplish thus far gives the appearance of multiple artists’ careers strung together — but it’s all Judi. In fact, she’s always got a new project ready to fly, oftentimes dovetailing and overlapping her previous efforts.

Born in Philadelphia, with a degree (in both Music and Dance) from Temple University, Judi made her way to New York City in 1976 where she launched her career as an improviser — of dance at first. But jazz would not be far behind.

An alchemist of music and movement, her career as a choreographer and dancer led her straight to NYC’s downtown music scene where her improvisational spirit could run free. It also steered her toward what would become a long-term collaboration with saxophonist Joe Lovano that began in 1980 and continues to this day.

Throughout the ’80s, you could also find Judi on any given Monday night at the Village Vanguard where the Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra held forth, soaking in the great charts of Thad Jones. Before long, Judi could sing along with all the lead trumpet parts. You can trace the roots of her unique horn-like approach to vocalizing directly to this experience.

To date, Judi Silvano has 9 recordings to her credit, including 1997’s “Vocalise” on the Blue Note label and a landmark duo recording with Billie Holiday’s last accompanist, the great pianist Mal Waldron “Riding A Zephyr” on Soul Note Records. She’s led multiple vocal groups from Voices of Juniper to Voices Together, won numerous awards and grants (Meet the Composer and New York State Council on the Arts two times), been named one of the Top 10 Vocalists in Down Beat magazine 4 times and has contributed as a jazz journalist/columnist to All About Jazz & Jazz Improv Magazine for several years.

Silvano has been the subject of an original composition “Sketches for Silvano” by Lori Dobbins for vibes, percussion and voice (recorded on Capstone Records) and premiered Kenny Werner’s “No Beginning, No Ending” in May 2007, commissioned by MIT and written for her with fellow soloists Joe Lovano and Kenny Werner and Wind Orchestra.

As a gifted educator with a great heart (that comment comes straight from her students), Ms. Silvano has passed on her knowledge and experience to a multitude of young musicians both privately and through her Vocal Improv workshops in NYC, and at such esteemed institutions as Banff International Center for the Arts, Manhattan School of Music, Vassar College and Rutgers University. As a progressive composer and arranger, Judi Silvano’s work has been recognized by the industry in many ways, including taking First Prize in The Brooklyn Lager Band Search at the original Knitting Factory, with judging for the Search led by trumpeter Lester Bowie. Silvano has written over 35 pieces for jazz and chamber music ensembles as well as a-capella vocal arrangements, incorporating improvisation with written material.

Silvano dons the “Producer’s Hat” quite often, notably a Vocal Series at Cornelia St, Cafe in lower Manhattan for 3 years after the attack on the Twin Towers on 9/11. Recent efforts in NYC clubs include presentations featuring established and emerging vocalists spanning a deliciously eclectic array of themes including: “A Tribute to Monk”, “Sephardic Meets Jazz”, “New Songs for Singers” (which included 14 singers presenting new repertoire), and with jazz journalist Lara Pellegrinelli, an evening of alternative lyrics to songs entitled “Strangers in the Night – An Evening of Uncommon Lyrics to the Great American Songbook”. Since 2003 she has researched and presented an annual program of under-performed compositions by American Jazz women to celebrate Women’s History Month.

The roster of musicians with whom Silvano has collaborated, performed, recorded and/or toured reads like a Who’s Who of Jazz. A short list of these stellar artists includes Kenny Werner, Joe Lovano, Tom Rainey, Billy Drewes, Ratzo B. Harris, Bill Frisell, Tim Hagans, Paul Motian, Charlie Haden, Jack DeJohnette, Gunther Schuller, Erik Friedlander, George Garzone, Manny Albam, Dave Holland, Dave Douglas, Mike Formanek, Gerry Hemmingway, Michael Abene, Rufus Reid, Ingrid Jensen, Dick Oatts, Janice Friedman, Allison Miller, Jennifer Vincent, Newman Taylor Baker, Christopher Dean Sullivan, Neil Alexander, Bernice “Boom Boom” Brooks, Stefan Bauer, Chris Bacas, John Lockwood, Bob Gullotti, “Sweet” Sue Terry and Yoron Israel – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. She’s performed at a multitude of festivals and concert houses around the globe, including the Montreal, Paris, London, Verona, Perugia, Istanbul, Jerusalem and North Sea Jazz Festivals as well as the JVC & Caramoor Jazz Festivals in New York.

Silvano’s 5 latest recordings are both surprising and diverse in her growing body of work. The first, “Sound Garden – Spirit Music” is the first in a series of CDs of music for healing meditation Judi recorded (Silvano on flute, alto flute, recorder & percussion) along with sax great Joe Lovano (on gongs, shakuhachi wood flute, bass clarinet and percussion). The second, “Sound Garden – Celestial Voices” is a lush yet earthy soundscape of women’s voices that show Silvano’s roots as a choral singer. Chronogram Magazine said “This disc transcends the conventional relaxation recording and is a truly glorious disc!”

Her jazz offering, “Let Yourself Go” (ZOHO Music, 2004) was a loving birthday gift to her mom of her favorite standards with little big band arrangements by Michael Abene for an all-star Sextet and won a place on several Top 10 CD’s that year.

2006 and 2007 found Judi doing several Big Band Projects: with Tim Hagans and Sweden’s Norbotten Big Band, a recording with the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra with arrangements of some of her original songs and a concert in Israel at the International Women’s Festival with the Holon Big Band in Tel Aviv and a Master Class in Jerusalem.

Look for Judi’s WOMEN’S WORK (released June, 2007) which features songs by American Women such as Mary Lou Williams, Abbey Lincoln, Blossom Dearie, Sheila Jordan, Carla Bley, Bessie Smith, Meredith D’Ambrosio and band members Janice Friedman and Silvano herself. This homage to the under-recorded works by great American women composers, includes a swinging band made up of Janice Friedman on piano, Jennifer Vincent on bass and Allison Miller on drums. “Silvano and company are in fine form, obviously having a ball with this material going from softly introspective to joyfully buoyant and delightfully saucy.” (Chris Loudon, Jazz Times). So look for Judi Silvano’s live appearances with a variety of wonderful musicians where she always shares her love of music! A continuation of this project, Volume II is already in the works with songs by such illustrious composers as Melba Liston, Bertha Hope, Sarah Cassey, Jane Herbert Hall, Peggy Lee and others.

Silvano’s immense musicality blooms on her most recent Cleome: Live Takes recording, released in 2008. Keenly dedicated to her adventuring approach to songcraft, Silvano teams up with a stellar group of collaborators on the album: saxophonist George Garzone, bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Gerry Hemingway (with John Lindberg taking over the bass chair on two tracks). Together they create a vibrant garden of performances and each of the nine songs on Cleome stands as an evocative glimpse into the soul of Silvano’s creative personality and love of collaboration. Down Beat Magazine gave it 4 stars and said “Vocalist Judi Silvano has guts and takes big risks… singing with rhythmic snap. These are a series of audio snapshots, exciting in their spontaneity.” As a whole this release reminds us of the voice’s unwavering primacy as a tuneful instrument and of Silvano’s genuine gifts in this regard.

You may have to stop and take a deep breath just from reading what Judi Silvano has accomplished to date – but she won’t! Judi’s ideas, spark, talent and enthusiasm know no limits. She’s off and running again, bringing her abundant talents and tireless spirit to the next endeavor.