Virginia Schenck, a creative jazz singer based in Atlanta, has gained recognition as a music educator, a music therapist, and for creating free improvisation soundscapes that are used in major productions. She learned from her studies with Bobby McFerrin and Rhiannon about the infinite possibilities in music.
VA is the singer’s first CD as a leader, and it finds her exploring straight ahead jazz. She is joined by pianist Kevin Bales, bassist Rodney Jordan, and drummer Marion Patton for a set of mostly standards that includes three songs associated with Abbey Lincoln.
Virginia opens “As Long As You’re Living” in courageous fashion, singing the first chorus unaccompanied before she is joined by the powerful rhythm section. She manages to sound comfortable despite the fast tempo and the many words; Oscar Brown Jr. wrote the philosophical lyrics. Bales, while hinting at early McCoy Tyner, is in fine form during his five chorus solo.
The set’s lone original, “Compromise,” has Virginia discussing the pros and cons of making compromises in relationships. “Better Than Anything” has been performed many times but it is doubtful if any other version sounds like this one. The singer is just accompanied by bass and drums, with the rhythm section playing New Orleans parade rhythms that are quite funky and catchy, giving new life to the song. She mostly sticks to the original lyrics other than paying tribute to her musicians near the song’s close.
“Song Of Bernadette” gives the vocalist an opportunity to display her warm voice on a heartfelt ballad. Jobim’s “How Insensitive” has some wordless singing at its beginning before Virginia digs into the words which are about the breakup of a love affair.
“In The Wee Small Hours” has lyrics about yearning for the man who isn’t there. The sensitive piano and bass solos perfectly fit this rendition. In contrast, “Do Something” is taken uptempo and has witty words in which the singer urges her would-be lover to take some action. Rodney Jordan’s bowed bass solo (a la Paul Chambers) is a highlight.
“Learning How To Listen” is an Abbey Lincoln piece about learning to listen to yourself, not just musically but one’s innermost thoughts while not missing the wonders of life. Speaking of wonders, on “When I Fall In Love,” trumpeter Melvin Jones makes a
memorable guest appearance, blending in very well with Virginia’s voice and taking a lyrical solo. “’Round Midnight” is taken as a vocal-bass duet. The dark and intense version is about having nowhere to hide, whether musically in a duet or in the darkness of night from oneself. VA concludes optimistically with the happy “The Music Is The Magic.”
All in all, VA is an impressive debut from Virginia Schenck, a singer who we will be hearing a lot from in the future.
— Scott Yanow, author of ten books including The Jazz Singers, Trumpet Kings, Jazz On Film and Jazz On Record 1917-76