25-year-old jazz singer Veronica Swift brings youthful flavor and wide influence to her music
If you go
What: Veronica Swift and the Emmet Cohen Trio
When: Wednesday, Aug. 7, 5:30 p.m. and 8 p.m., Thursday, Aug. 8
Where: Ludwig’s Terrace, Sonnenalp Hotel on Wednesday, Vail Jazz tent in Lionshead Vail Square on Thursday
Cost: $40 on Wednesday, $25-50 on Thursday
More information: Visit vailjazz.org or call 970-479-6146.
“What am I? I’m a storyteller,” said 25-year-old jazz singer Veronica Swift. “A jazz singer is a storyteller. I aim to put the music and lyrics in perfect marriage. I have to sing lyrics that will apply to a large range of ages and races. That’s what jazz does.”
Hailing from Charlottesville, Virginia, and now residing in New York City, Swift returns to Vail with the Emmet Cohen Trio just before the release of her Mack Avenue Records debut album, “Confessions,” on which she spins creative interpretations of obscure gems — such as “Gypsy in My Soul” — with the accompaniment of the Emmet Cohen Trio as well as the acclaimed Benny Green Trio.
In her still-young career, Swift’s vocal skills have also landed her gigs as a featured vocalist with the likes of Wynton Marsalis, Chris Botti and Michael Feinstein. Inspired by singers and strong musical personalities ranging from Anita O’Day to Lady Gaga and Marilyn Manson, Swift’s earliest influences were her parents.
An only child, Swift began performing with her father, jazz pianist Hod O’Brien, and her mother, singer Stephanie Nakasian, before she reached double digits. Since growing up playing the piano and the trumpet from a young age, music has been second nature to Swift.
“My first serious instrument was trumpet. I was playing trumpet before I was singing jazz. I played the piano. I marched drum corps. I played in the all-state orchestra. There wasn’t ever a certain sense of duty,” Swift said. “I was always surrounded by some of the greatest legends of jazz, getting bootleg recordings, here in this environment. It wasn’t until I guess, high school, even though I’d been touring already at that point, where I felt a purpose. Until then, it was more like speaking a language, like speaking English … something I did without thinking.”
By the time she was 10, Swift was recording with and sharing the stage with saxophonist Richie Cole and at age 11, landing a spot in the Women in Jazz series at Lincoln Center.
She attended the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami and then landed second place in the prestigious Thelonious Monk Jazz Competition. Gaining quick traction in the jazz world, Swift has also dabbled in opera and theater, which connects back to her aforementioned identity as a storyteller above all else.
For her, expanding her musical repertoire is the same as a poet expanding her lexicon.
“The more songs you know, the more vocabulary you have. I’m always learning songs and listening,” she said. “When I’m picking tunes, I’m always asking, ‘does this make sense with the story?’ I have a concept for every show. The story has to make sense. I like to mix it up between American songbook and obscure tunes. It’s the lyrics that draw me in. It’s like poetry.”
Swift refers to the Emmet Cohen Trio — Cohen on piano, Russell Hall on bass and Kyle Poole on drums — as “the best young musicians on the scene today,” rife with elegance, sophistication and most importantly, spontaneity.
“People will say to us, ‘Oh you’re born in the wrong era.’ We are the culmination of our ancestors and our peers. We are constantly learning from each other. They’re all such creative people, and it’s inspiring to constantly be moving forward together,” Swift said.
Cohen, who returns to Vail on the heels of winning the prestigious Cole Porter Fellowship from the American Pianists Association, describes his trio’s role in the storytelling as “explorative.”
“We follow the energy of the room; that’s part of the magic of our presentation,” Cohen said. “We play in the style of all of our favorite bands, spanning a hundred years of jazz, from Jelly Roll, Fats Waller, Duke Ellington, to beboppers and some of our favorite modern composers. We’ve taken a lot from the history of jazz and our own take on the way our music can be presented.”