A Jazzy Lady Takes to the Stage
by HEATHER FRYE of the Tribune
Moscow, ID -- Drummer Wally (Gator) Watson, bassist Christian fabian and pianist Kuni Kikami had just finished teaching their Friday morning jazz clinic and were free to go. They decided to stay.
Dee Daniels was in the house. It was just after 11 a.m. when the tall, lean and elegant Daniels, in her flowing black clothes and a necklace fit to rival Mr. T's golden ropes, took the Kenworthy Performing Arts Center stage. She had given her 11th annual performance at the University of Idaho's Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival Special Guest Concert the night before.
"I stayed up later than I should have," she noted, joking to her audience of more than 100 that she was still not awake and worried the other musicians might show her up.
There was a reason, however, these three musicians, jazz notables in their own right, wanted to hang out. And equally good impetus for saxophonist Lance Bryant, who studied with Count Bassie's orchestra director Frank Foster, to come back for the jam.
Whether tired or not, Daniels' four-octave voice is a show starter and stopper. The the house of her natural father, who was a serious blues musician, she learned from the 78s of jazz greats. In her stepfather's church choir in Oakland, Calif., she learned to sing gospel.
Today, in addition to touring the world, Daniels can claim singing with legends Sarah Vaughan and Joe Williams, among her many accomplishments.
By the third song Daniels, and her accompaniment, had hit their stride. No highball glasses clinked and no blue-white cigarette haze clung about the audience's heads. But the little theater's atmosphere could have been a night jazz club on any corner in Chicago, with all the shouts, whistles and foot stomps.
Mid show, Mikami gave up his seat at the ivory to Daniels for a sultry, but spirited rendition of Billy Holiday's "God Bless the Child."
"Dr. Feelgood," screamed audience members.
"Oh, we know that one, don't we boys" Daniels said, and let go, pulling out all the stops. She suspended one last note, pulling it up and down the range of her voice until it ached and with that, ended the concert.
Daniels also has another side - that of a practical, patient music instructor, with as much gift for teaching singing as doing it.
The second half of her clinic she spent answering questions, teaching positioning and technique, and reminding aspiring vocalists the craft is as much practice and practical use of the body as God-given talent.
"Think vertical, like Howdy Doody," Daniels instructed. "The mouth moves vertically to open the oval. That is the power, that is the volume, that is the quiet, that is the expression."
A moment later Daniels had the audience on their feet again, this time practicing breathing and scales rather than cheering.
"I enjoy doing this, the clinic," Daniels said, as she left the theater, slowed by mobs of fans and talking to every one. "But it is also the fellowship. After 11 years I have a lot of friends (here). I come to hang and listen to good music. But also just to see my friends again."