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from Jazz Times June 13, 2012
Rhiannon: Total Improvisation
Roseanna Vitro interviews vocalist and educator about her life’s work
Rhiannon is a unique and extraordinary vocalist, performance artist, composer and master teacher whose musical vision embraces jazz, a cappella, improvisation, world music and storytelling. Rhiannon has a brand new recording just released titled Spontaneous. I felt this would be the perfect time to interview this gifted artist and mentor. I have attended three Rhiannon workshops in the New York City area, where she has accumulated a very large following of singers as well as around the world. Usually Rhiannon's workshop's run for a minimum of two days. One can expect to play improvisational exercises guided by Rhiannon that will enhance and enlighten a singer’s ability to hear and create harmony. We worked on various time feels with accuracy while improvising with lyrics and scat syllables. In general, she builds confidence and musicianship in the participants. Her classes usually breed a feeling of brother and sisterhood, a unity with a strong bond in spirituality that says: music is not simply fast chops and notes on a page.
Roseanna Vitro: What are your earliest memories of singing and music? Did you know you were a singer from an early age?
Rhiannon: I grew up on a farm on the banks of the Missouri River on the border of South Dakota and Nebraska. I went to a one room country school house for my first five grades. There were eighteen kids in the whole eight grades. That educational beginning was amazing. It served me well to be in that one room hearing everyone's lessons and having the open country as my real textbook.
I spent loads of time wandering the pastures in the neighborhood of our farm making up stories and playing all the characters. I sang out loud with no inhibition, lucky me. I don't know if I was singing songs my mom played on the piano or making them up or both. There was a period of years where I buried small dead animals that I found in my adventures. I would sing as I buried them some invented blessing for their safe journey and make up details of their animal lives. That was very important to me. I felt the power of singing as part of ceremony. I didn't tell anyone but kept it as my secret world. My mother studied piano and French in college there in Yankton, South Dakota. She had some dreams didn't she? She played throughout her life and encouraged all of us. She knew tons of songs from the American songbook and I learned many of them without realizing. There is no other reason I would know all the lyrics to those old songs because I don't remember studying them. She infused them into me. My father was a farmer and a beautiful dancer. He had some dreams too. Both of them ended up on the farm, so they did the best they could to pass those dreams on to me and my sisters. What I got from them was that improvisation was a life skill. There is nowhere better to learn that than on the farm; weather, animals, emergencies of equipment, banks, changing seasons, all of it and you need to roll with it and not resist. Just go with it the best you can.
Review: Vocalist amazes with a cappella improv extraordinaire.
By Jon Bream Star Tribune
Wait! Was that really Bobby McFerrin holding open the door to the Dakota Jazz Club just before 7 p.m. Wednesday? Yes it was. Why not? McFerrin did just about everything else during his first show Wednesday at the Dakota. More
"Blizzard conditions outside while inside I am on the line with Rhiannon in Hawaii. Her book, Vocal River, carries a strong current of music/love/music = all musicians can relate to this well crafted work discussing the art of vocal improv. It's as much about technique as it is about fearlessness; it has as much to say about freedom as it does about collaboration. Who would think growing up on a midwest farm full of wheat fields would have anything to do with music?! She makes perfect sense of it. You will love hearing her masterful singing voice + her voice of reason making music analogous to life. Find out more at www.rhiannonmusic.com Women On Air is very pleased to bring you this interview; she has been on the play list for 25+ years."
Susan Lachmann, Women On Air
Great News!! Shapeshifter Lab was selected by DownBeat Magazine in the Feb 2014 issue as one of the 150 great jazz venues in the world. And the New York City Jazz Record has picked two of the performances Shapeshifter Lab presented in 2013 as best performances of the year: Jack DeJohnette, Ravi Coltrane, Matt Garrison Trio, and...Rhiannon!
Pinpoint musicality, soaring invention and irresistible passion.
Don Heckman, LA Times
One amazing voice emanating from a truly wonderful lady in one of the most honest and passionate performances I've seen... Rhiannon's vibrant personality and larger-than-life stage persona are matched only by the smorgasbord of vocalisations she manages to conjure up... magical.
Christchurch, New Zealand
...daughter of a Dakota
...purveyor of priceless vocal jazz purrrrfection
...reincarnated Sumerian Priestess
...vanished mother of goddesses
...changer of lives
...leader of those who care to dare
...improviser of stunning vibrancy
...looker of stunning vibrancy
Say you there, reader of these notes.....WHAT ELSE DO YOU NEED?!! Get it! You'll thank me, but mostly you will forever thank Rhiannon.
Rhiannon,the grand sorcerer, lures all whom she meets, her collaborators, I being one, her students, and her audiences, into the mysteries of her enchanted world of song. How lucky we have been.
That concert at Shapeshifter was AMAZING!
There’s still a buzz in the NYC jazz vocal community.
Managing Editor, The New York City Jazz Record