“My sound is not so much straight-ahead jazz,” Ashleigh Smith claims. “It’s very R&B and funk infused. That’s a part of my upbringing and I love that about my singing.” The 27-year-old Dallas-based singer and songwriter was reflecting on what set her apart from other singers at the 2014 Sarah Vaughan International Vocal Competition of which she won. “I noticed it more when I was competing against other people. You are what you listen to.”
Raised in a nurturing, musically enriched household with her two sisters in LaGrange, Georgia, Smith seemed destined to become a musician. Her mother, Deborah Smith sang constantly even though she’s physical therapist by trade, while her father, Edwin Smith, is a pianist and former school band director. Smith also had a grandfather who played jazz saxophone; a grandmother who played classical piano and sang; and an uncle who played jazz trumpet. At the tender age of four, Smith began singing along records that her father played. “I would just imitate everything. When I heard Ella Fitzgerald’s ‘How High the Moon,’ that was it for me,” Smith fondly recalls.
But Smith also absorbed the sounds of Stevie Wonder, Prince, Bill Withers, and Sting during her early years. Those touchstones and several others echo on her August 19, 2016 Concord debut, Sunkissed, produced by Chris Dunn and Nigel Rivers. “I listen to a lot of new stuff but I really dig a lot of old stuff,” she says. “I wanted that side of me to be a part of the album. I believe in that older R&B and pop music and the time when real instruments were used. And while some of those old recordings with singers weren’t always perfect, they were beautiful. The mistakes are what made them beautiful.”
In choosing which covers to include on Sunkissed, she was mindful of exploring fresher terrain. That explains her winning renditions of Hall & Oates’ 1975 classic, “Sara Smile” and Chrisette Michele’s 2007 soul ballad, “Love Is You.” Other none originals include a R&B-inflected makeover of the Beatles’ 1968 gem, “Blackbird,” and mesmerizing a capella version of “Pure Imagination,” which features Smith harmonizing with herself via various overdubs.
Those covers are juxtaposed with enticing originals, many of which Smith co-wrote with bassist Nigel Rivers or guitarist Joel Cross. As a songwriter, Smith explores themes of romantic heartache (“Best Friends,” “Into the Blue,” and “Brokenhearted Girl”), self-empowerment (“Sunkissed”), and universal love (“The World Is Calling”).
Before Smith won the 2014 Sarah Vaughan International Vocal Competition, she studied classical music at Georgia’s Columbus State University on a full-ride scholarship. After attending a jazz camp at the prestigious University of North Texas, she transferred.
It was there that she met Rivers, Cross, and the cadre of other musicians, including percussionists AJ Flores and Greg Beck; pianists Shelton Summons and Sergio Pamies; and drummers Cedric Moore III, Marcus Jones, and Cleon Edwards. “The album features no big names,” Smith says. “I don’t think I tried for it to be that way. But I wanted people who have already been an integral part of my musical development. It was only natural for me that they would be on the first album because they played a big part into the making of who I am as a musician.”
Music teacher Rosanna Eckert also played a pivotal role in Smith’s musical development at the University of North Texas. The singer shows her respect to her mentor by including Eckert’s gorgeous composition, “Beautiful and True.” “Rosanna was one of my first teachers and biggest mentors there,” Smith says. “She’s a phenomenal singer, pianist and teacher. I wanted Rosanna to write a song because she knows my voice very well. I love her ease of lyrical expression. I love how fluid her lyrical thoughts are and how well they match her musical thoughts.”
Smith was already recording an EP before she won the 2014 Sarah Vaughan International Vocal Competition. She says the process of finding her voice and material was organic. “When it came to writing, my voice is what just came out,” Smith remembers. “I was very picky in choosing the musicians to help bring that out. I’m very big on authenticity. Everything was very organic – even up to the week of recording. That’s exactly what I wanted.”
Ashleigh Smith’s full-length debut album, 2016’s Sunkissed, is a languid, sophisticated combination of jazz and R&B that beautifully exhibits Smith’s warmly resonant vocals. A graduate of the University of North Texas and winner of the 2014 Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition, Smith is a gifted singer with a burnished, romantic vocal style. While contemporary in tone, Smith is clearly as adept at delivering a jazz standard as she is a more modern pop tune. Produced by Chris Dunn and Nigel Rivers (who also handles most of the arranging), Sunkissed features a mix of originals and well-chosen pop covers reworked here with a nuanced and expansive soul-jazz style. Cuts like Hall & Oates’ “Sara Smile” and the Beatles’ “Blackbird” are transformed by Smith and her bandmates into flowing, harmonically rich grooves that touch upon the passionate R&B of Alicia Keys, the ’70s soul of Stevie Wonder, and the forward-thinking jazz of Esperanza Spalding. Interestingly, Smith doesn’t lock herself into the past — she delivers an inspired, orchestral soul reading of former boss (whom she sang backup for) Chrisette Michele’s “Love Is You.” Similarly, Smith’s originals, including the Latin-tinged “Best Friends” and the horn-driven “Into the Blue,” are highlights that display her broad stylistic range. While Smith certainly has chops to spare as evidenced by her multi-tracked vocal harmonies on the classic standard “Pure Imagination,” she generally sings in an understated, supple style that makes for a relaxing and intimate listening experience. In the end, it’s Smith’s relaxed warmth on Sunkissed that leaves you feeling good.
Aubree-Anna’s influences while growing up was everything from Country Music to the Classics from the Great American Songbook. As a little girl she’d pretend she was Dolly Parton, using the vacuum cleaner handle as a microphone instead of doing her chores. Aubree-Anna’s musical journey started in school choirs, competitions and plays. She attended Texas Military Institute (TMI) in San Antonio, TX. Aubree-Anna is a very well-known Dallas local favorite, and every week, her fans enjoy her music every Friday at WinStar World Casino & Resort (the world’s largest casino) and every Saturday, at The Warwick Melrose Hotel in Dallas – A Dallas Historical Landmark. Aubree-Anna has performed at The Big State Fair of Texas for 5 years in row on the main Chevrolet Stage.
Currently, Aubree-Anna is very excited about her latest original cd, recorded in Nashville, TN. Recording her original songs CD EP at one of Nashville’s most prestigious and historic recording facilities located in the heart of Music Row. Aubree-Anna had the pleasure of working with Jeff Wood and Kevin Beamish on this project.
Corey Breedlove is a singer/songwriter/entertainer born and raised in Dallas, Texas. Although never formally taught, Breedlove developed a strong connection with music through means of guitar and songwriting at a young age. After years of writing, recording, and performing with several original psychedelic rock groups throughout grade school, Breedlove developed a passionate interest with tunes from the Great American Songbook, following a spontaneous purchase of a $1 Sinatra CD at his local bookstore. “The music spoke with grace I had never heard.” Immediately after, Breedlove began the formation of a group that would become his jazz combo.
Damon has been privileged to perform with luminaries like Bernard Wright, Caleb McCampbell, Liz Mikel, Tatiana Mayfield, Neeki Bey, and most recently Myles Tate III to name a few. Although Damon has performed in Europe, all over the United States, and in many venues across DFW such as the Winspear Opera House, Dallas City Performance Hall, and the Dallas Museum of Art, he considers Oak Cliff’s Kessler Theater to be his artistic home. Damon’s gifts are not confined to singing. He is a producer of live concerts and shows, is a very active arts advocate and consultant and happens to be one of the busiest professional vocal coaches in the Dallas. From beginners to professional vocalists, outside of singing, Damon’s passion is assisting vocalists to use their gifts in the most effective and brilliant manner possible.
A professional singer/voice over artist, I currently returned to my Dallas/Ft. Worth roots, but worked in New York for over twenty years. I’ve done hundreds of voice overs and thousands of singing jobs which include jingles, studio sessions, jazz gigs as well as corporate and social gigs. Voice over clients include MasterCard, Allstate, Travelocity, and Johnson&Johnson. Ballads, Latin, smooth and swing jazz plus pop.
Heather Paterson studied music at SMU where she received a degree in opera, vocal performance, and music pedagogy. She subsequently taught voice in the Dallas area and sang with several jazz and pop groups. After several years of teaching and performing in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, she returned to college to study nursing, earning two associate degrees, one bachelor’s, and her master’s in science and nursing.
Heather has had a long career (more than 25 years) as a pediatric nurse at Children’s Medical Center Dallas, and is currently a Masters’ prepared Nurse Practitioner in the Pediatric Palliative Care Department at Children’s. She is one of only 69 nurses in the USA certified in pediatric hospice and palliative care (CHPPN).
She returned to the music scene in the 1980s after a 10 year absence and, along with her husband, saxophonist Walter Pearson and pianist Jody Binford, founded The Straight Ahead® Jazz Quintet (aka Straight Ahead®). With the band she performs at corporate events, private parties and area restaurant/clubs. The band’s name says it all about its favorite jazz form. The group has played at the WinStar Casino and at jazz festivals in Corpus Christi and Lake Texoma, the Dallas Jazz Society’s Salute to Duke Ellington, The Denton Arts and Jazz Fest, Fort Worth’s Main Street Art Fest and the Taste of Dallas in The West End.
Heather freelances with other jazz groups and big bands, too, including The Celebration Orchestra, Swing Time, and Pecos River Brass. Her inspirations are the famed practitioners of the Great American Song Book, most particularly the late Ella Fitzgerald. She also counts Sarah Vaughan, Chet Baker, Carmen McCrae, and Keith Jarrett (not his singing!) as influential.
She has performed with many local favorites, including Neil Slater, her most significant musical mentor, Dave Zoller, Jeffry Eckels, and Brian Piper along with conducting vocal forums for the vocal division of the Department of Jazz Studies at UNT. Heather has been the featured performer many times at Sammons Jazz, performed in the inaugural season of Sammons Cabaret, and was the 2011 recipient of the Sammons Jazz Artist of the Year award.
Jennifer Barnes has developed a reputation as an exceptional musician through her work as a live and studio vocalist, composer, arranger and educator. Referring to her debut CD recording, “You Taught My Heart”, legendary jazz bassist Rufus Reid says, “Jennifer integrates rich vocal quality, clarity of pitch and emotion with an additional pivotal skill that sets her apart from other great singers; she sings improvisations that are melodically and rhythmically interesting from the point of view of a jazz instrumentalist.” She sang in a nationally aired Chili’s television commercial, and her voice has been featured on television and radio commercials including Epson, Old El Paso, McDonalds and Kellogg’s. She has opened for the Count Basie Orchestra and performed with her trio at the 28th Annual IAJE International Conference in New York City. Jennifer demonstrates tremendous versatility in her ability to not only lead her own small jazz group, but also as a big band vocalist, most notably as the featured vocalist on the Doug Lawrence Orchestra CD, “Big Band Swing”.
Joel Cross developed a passion for music in the church, singing gospel songs with his seven siblings. After picking up his first guitar at age 12, it was evident that making music was his calling. His dedication to perfecting his craft eventually led him to the University of North Texas where he studied jazz guitar. After graduation, Joel made a name for himself playing gigs throughout the Dallas music scene. Whether original music or cover, his heartfelt approach showcased his ability to make each piece sound new, truly a sound all his own. One afternoon, while playing the Dallas Arboretum, Joel decided to appease the crowd’s unconventional request for a Taylor Swift song. A fan happened to catch his very soulful rendition of “Shake it Off” on video and uploaded it to YouTube. The next morning, over a half a million people had watched the video, and Joel’s face was on every major news source in Dallas.
Born in Paris, Texas, and later on moving to Dallas Tx, Lola attended St. Anthony Catholic Church where she joined the choir whose pianist had somewhat of a repressed style. Singing the hymns of the church influenced Lola more towards a laid back melancholy vibe.
In 2017 Lola competed in the “Denise Lee Onstage So You Think You Can Cabaret” competition where she won 3rd place with her rendition of Billie Holiday’s “Fine and Mellow” which she sang in an upbeat tempo.
She has worked with some of DFW’s finest such as jazz vocalist Victor Cager and has been a member of the prestigious Women’s Choir of Dallas under the artistic direction of Melinda Imthurn.
In the stage play production of “ Reveal (a dream tale with music)” a play directed by the accomplished actor-director and writer Akin Babatunde a play that had its debut at the Kalita Humphrey Theater in Dallas, she portrayed one of three singing dolls that came to life.
Lynne Cadena grew up in a small town just outside Pittsburg, PA, the first of a brood of creatives. She moved to Dallas and began subbing at the Melrose Hotel. During the 1990’s she performed regularly for Sunday brunch audiences at the Doubletree Hotel off 75. Soon the popular Steve Fields Steak and Lobster Lounge discovered her and gave her free rein to entertain. She enjoys giving original interpretations to classics and standards from a wide range of time periods, which her loyal audience (including her father) appreciates. Her repertoire includes a wide variety of music, from sultry ballads both classic and pop, to traditional jazz and swing standards, and even bossa novas.