Nov 29, 2022
On Straight No Chaser this week, we feature two promising young female vocalists and their most recent releases. Both Samara Joy McLendon and Tawanda Suessbrich-Joaquim have professionally dropped their last names. Both were winners of the Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Competition, in 2019 and 2021, respectively ( Tawanda’s competition was originally slated to be held in 2020 but delayed due to COVID). Both are following well-worn paths of singing standards and modern pop songs with small group backing. And the sky seems the limit for both.
Samara's major label debut on Verve Records is Linger Awhile, an often thrilling collection of standards and lesser known gems. Recorded at Sear Sound in New York City, it features a crack band of Pasquale Grasso (guitar), Ben Paterson (piano), David Wong (double bass), and Kenny Washington (drums) behind the singer. Whether she is singing classics by Gershwin or Monk, or digging deeper for the title track and tunes by Fats Navarro what stands out is that voice - cutting through the material, and emoting for all she is worth.
Music has always been a guiding presence within Samara’s family. Her grandparents, Elder Goldwire and Ruth McLendon, led the well-known Philadelphia-based gospel group, The Savettes, and her father toured with the renowned Andrae Crouch. Although her earliest influences are the gospel and R&B sounds of Stevie Wonder, Lalah Hathaway, George Duke, and Musiq Soulchild, Samara fell in love with jazz while attending Fordham High School for the Arts, where she performed regularly with the jazz band and eventually won Best Vocalist at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Essentially Ellington competition. Samara attended SUNY Purchase and recently graduated as the Ella Fitzgerald Scholar.
Podcast 943 is my conversation with Samara Joy, recorded on Zoom while she was on tour recently. We talk about how she came to fall in love with jazz, how she chooses material and works on the arrangements, and what her next step (hint: Christmas music and tour) will be. Musical selections include "'Round Midnight" and the title track.