The Tuesday Conversation: Jamie Broumas
For nearly three decades, jazz singer Jamie Broumas has livened up clubs in the Washington area and across the country. She is now working as a mentor with the Strathmore Artist in Residence program. As director of the Kennedy Center Fortas Chamber Music Concerts, she has offered a wealth of advice to fusion violinist Chelsey Green and cellist Alicia Ward. Before her Dec. 1 concert, the Chevy Chase resident shares her thoughts about singing and passing her knowledge down.
Jordan Edwards: Have you always been into jazz, or did you have other musical interests growing up?
Jamie Broumas: I went to [Louise Archer] Elementary School in [Vienna,] Virginia, and my first band teacher when I played flute was Dizzy Gillespie's high school trumpet teacher. His name was Philmore Hall, and he used to keep time with a trumpet mouthpiece. He knew Duke Ellington and brought his trio into the cafeteria. So I got to meet Duke Ellington when I was in fourth grade. I always sang, but I never trained until I got to college. When I was in high school, I just fell into a group of musicians who played some [jazz] recordings for me. I think the spark was already there from when I was a kid. I just got bitten by a bug.
JE: Why did you decide to stay in the D.C. area? Did you ever want to try New York?
JB: I came to Washington, and at the time [the early 1980s], there was a really vibrant jazz scene. First of all, you could make a living. And there were clubs like the One Step Down that were a direct connection to New York because they booked all the cats from New York. I fell in with an amazing group of musicians that was really nurturing. Shirley Horn was here. She was a mentor to me. It was a really great place to cut my teeth. And then I got married and raised kids. Now I have my eyes set on New York again.
JE: Why did you decide to get involved with the Strathmore Artist in Residence program?
JB: Strathmore asked me to be a mentor, and I accepted the invitation with a lot of pleasure. They identify some of the most extraordinary young talent and I'm pleased to be part of the program. I just give whatever advice I can. A lot of these people are so accomplished, there's not a lot you can say.
JE: How do you go about choosing music to perform? Do you purposely try to avoid common standards like "Summertime" and "How High the Moon"?
JB: I'm not saying that those are bad tunes by any stretch. I do tend to want to do more unusual stuff. I'm not just influenced by singers. I listen to everything I hear. I listen to a lot of instrumental horn playersMiles [Davis], Wayne ShorterI like to do vocal adaptations of their pieces where I can really stretch out and improvise. I sing songs that touch me in some way. That sounds really cliché, but it could be just a melody that I find intriguing. Sometimes it's just the lyrics. Sometimes it will strike and I realize that I have to do the song.
JE: Is it difficult to balance your duties at the Kennedy Center with your music career?
JB: It's very complimentary. Music is music. I love being in any musical environment. I love hearing people play music, and I love playing music. The fact that I get to listen to listen some of the greatest players in the world on a regular basis helps me be a better musician.
See Jamie Broumas on Wednesday, Dec. 1 at 7:30 p.m. at the Mansion at Strathmore, 10701 Rockville Pike, North Bethesda. Tickets are $15. Call 301-581-5100 or visit www.strathmore.org.