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Uptown Vocal Jazz Quartet: Scat Singing To Its Own Tune

Aug 4, 2012
Originally published on August 5, 2012 11:43 am

The Uptown Vocal Jazz Quartet has been serenading audiences in its native Washington, D.C., across the country and even as far as France for more than two decades. But its members are finding ways to bring something new to their performances. Bandleader and co-founder Ginny Carr says she wrote the words and music to all 10 songs on the quartet's new album, Hustlin' for a Gig — a relative rarity in a jazz world defined by time-tested standards.

"For me, this is the culmination of what I've always wanted to do with this group," Carr tells NPR's Susan Stamberg. "I've been kind of stealing other people's material, writing other people's material for years, and it was really, definitely, clearly time for us to put our own stamp on the genre and write our own stuff."

Carr says her group's No. 1 focus will still be perfecting its intricate vocal harmonies — a task that, she says, requires a special kind of singer.

"You have to think like an instrumentalist. You have to be an instrumentalist in your head and your voice," she says. "It helps if you have a good voice, but I'm looking for a horn section."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

SUSAN STAMBERG, HOST:

The Uptown Vocal Jazz Quartet is - are - with us. And they - it - has a new album. And probably a firmer grip on grammar. They are tight harmonizers, jazz riffers, and here in Studio 4A right now. Hi, everybody.

UPTOWN JAZZ QUARTET: Hi.

STAMBERG: Would you do me a favor, please, could you make a chord for us as an introduction?

QUARTET: (Singing) My name is Andre Enceneat and I'm the bass of the group. Believe it or not, this is my note. Robert McBride's over here. I'm the tenor. Ginny Carr. I'm the alto. Holly Shockey. I'm a soprano. You see the Aurora Borealis. Seen every glorious royal palace...

STAMBERG: That song, like all 10 on the new CD, was written - words and music - by alto Ginny Carr. Wowee, is that a lot of writing, huh?

GINNY CARR: It's a bit.

STAMBERG: Is something that you collected over the years that...

CARR: Oh, absolutely. For me, this is the culmination of what I've always wanted to do with this group. You know, I've been kind of stealing other people's material, writing other people's materials for years, and it was really definitely clearly time for us to put our stamp on the genre and write our own stuff.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

QUARTET: (Singing) Let me tell ya what I'm talking about. You're living a life that's fun and pleasing in a general destination, but I suppose you never had love like mine to tease and tickle your imagination...

STAMBERG: We spoke on this program in the year 2000, and the cast of characters of the Uptown Vocal Jazz Quartet has changed since then. Alto Ginny Carr, tenor Robert McBride, you two started this group back in college in the year (unintelligible).

CARR: Hundred and fifty years ago.

STAMBERG: OK. But now you got two new singers - Holly Shockey, soprano. Andre, you say your last name, please.

ANDRE ENCENEAT: Enceneat.

STAMBERG: Oh, thank you so much. Bass. So, talk a little about the biggest challenge to the two of you fitting in with what had been such a long, ongoing process. Holly?

HOLLY SHOCKEY: Oh, I guess you want to do it justice, first of all. I think when you first come to something like this amazingness...

ROBERT MCBRIDE: And the thing about this type of music is that you have to have experienced it, you have to have had a background in it. It's very hard and intricate harmonies to sing. And just to audition someone off the street, you might not necessarily get the kind of person that you want.

STAMBERG: You mean to tell me (hums) that all I've ever wanted to do in my life is make music like this and I can't just try for you now? (hums)

CARR: Robert and I have shared this philosophy for the many hundreds of years that we've done this group together. And that is you have to think like an instrumentalist. You have to be an instrumentalist in your head and your voice.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

QUARTET: (Singing) Hustling for a gig, harder than it ought to be. Hustling for a gig, what a crazy lottery...

STAMBERG: Well, your album's called "Hustling for a Gig." So, amongst you all, which one - show of hands - has never had to hustle for a gig?

(LAUGHTER)

STAMBERG: Not a single hand went up.

CARR: This is jazz musician's lament.

ENCENEAT: That's a (unintelligible) sure that no one has raised their hand right now.

STAMBERG: OK. And why, Andre? What's the deal? What's the life?

ENCENEAT: What we do is not the popular art form anymore. Our popularity started to wane after the '40s and '50s.

STAMBERG: Well, and the days of the great jazz clubs. Many in most towns or many towns, those days are long gone.

ENCENEAT: This is by no means the way that we make our bread, so to speak.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

QUARTET: (Singing) No, it isn't the same as here. No, not like when the (unintelligible) the blues all night long in the park and (unintelligible) ruckus. Really rockin'. They would be grooving to what the band said now, instead of just grooving alone in their head now...

STAMBERG: What's your day job, Holly?

SHOCKEY: I am a professional singer of the United States Army Band.

STAMBERG: Boy, are you lucky. You get to make music for a living.

SHOCKEY: I do. I have been very...

STAMBERG: What about you, Andre?

ENCENEAT: I am a professional teacher with Montgomery County Public Schools, and I teach little kids music.

STAMBERG: Oh. So, you keep music in your life.

ENCENEAT: I keep music in my life.

STAMBERG: Ginny.

CARR: I am employed by the Library of Congress. I do nothing having to do with music there. I train the workforce.

STAMBERG: And Robert?

MCBRIDE: I support the U.S. Agency for International Development with a configuration management business process analyst that the computer...

STAMBERG: I think you should stick with the music 'cause you're running out of time, right. Well, that's - what a range of skills and paychecks the four of your represent. It's quite amazing.

ENCENEAT: A cool way of putting it.

SHOCKEY: I know.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

QUARTET: (Singing) Oh, Robert? I never heard of you. (unintelligible) hustling for a gig. He let the hustle back in, yeah. (unintelligible) hustling for a gig, yeah.

STAMBERG: Tell how you work, because you don't all four get together in one room like this very often, do you?

MCBRIDE: We try to. Depending on traffic, we're all within an hour or two of each other.

ENCENEAT: Right.

STAMBERG: So, you do. You get together to rehearse when you can. But I wonder in this age of all of these modern conveniences, do you ever Skype a rehearsal?

MCBRIDE: Well, actually, it's funny you should say that because we tried that several times, but the problem is you need to be there to get the expressions and...

ENCENEAT: It's terrible. And you don't get the personal connections and the feel and the spirit.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

STAMBERG: You got a song - you call it "Gone Gone Gone" - that's really about the pace of modern life and all the stuff that's coming at us all the time, either through the smartphones or the various devices. Are old-fashioned things like radios, newspapers, but it's just that quick, quick, quick pace.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GONE GONE GONE")

QUARTET: (Singing) There's a sound coming out of the radio, nothing like it's been heard here before. And they're all spinning round going crazy, yo, as they run to the music store. (Unintelligible) and then gonna groove a bit till the next song to play can appear. Then it's gone, gone, gone, then it's gone. And they won't remember squat about it, nothing left that's hot about it. It's gone, gone.

STAMBERG: I love that song because every single one of us has felt it, except maybe the four-year-olds (unintelligible). But tell about the background of it. Where'd that come from, Ginny?

CARR: Just basically, you know, every time you turn around, you're just bombarded with something new. Television is haranguing at you and there's just this plethora of inane commentary and music and this drone under our lives going on all the time. And we can't remember squat about it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GONE GONE GONE")

QUARTET: (Singing) It's gone. Thanks for telling me what you're selling me, so compelling. I'm hip to the scene. Your (unintelligible) and then there's no retention. Nothing on the screen...

STAMBERG: On a scale of one to 10, how much fun is this...

ENCENEAT: Seventeen.

(LAUGHTER)

MCBRIDE: For me, it's 17.

SHOCKEY: Exactly. It's hard for us.

CARR: It's above a 10 but the work that goes into it is, nobody will tell you it's anything small.

STAMBERG: But you know what, the best thing is it never sounds that way. It sounds as if you just opened your mouths and make some music.

CARR: That's the goal.

(LAUGHTER)

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

QUARTET: (Singing) This is the life, it's where the living is. This is the life, baby, you're there. You've made it...

STAMBERG: The Uptown Vocal Jazz Quartet - Ginny Carr, Robert McBride, Holly Shockey...

ENCENEAT: And Andre Enceneat.

STAMBERG: Their new CD - most of the music and lyrics by Ginny - is called "Hustling for a Gig." Thank you so much for hustling over our way today, gang.

CARR: Thank you.

ENCENEAT: Thank you.

SHOCKEY: Thank you so much.

MCBRIDE: You're welcome.

STAMBERG: And you feel like scatting us out live here in the studio?

CARR: Sure.

QUARTET: (Singing) One, two, three four. (scatting)

STAMBERG: More from the Uptown Vocal Jazz Quartet on our website, nprmusic.org. This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Susan Stamberg. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.