Jeanie Bryson's jazz is sultry, smooth and sexy. On New Year's Eve, she'll be swinging and swaying at her First Night Annapolis debut.
Bryson, daughter of legendary jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, is one of nearly 50 acts that will entertain on festival stages at this year's celebration.
Bryson, who has established herself as a jazz vocalist in an age when critics have lamented the scarcity of them, is expected to be one of the most popular draws at the festival. Organizers have planned second-chance tickets, which give late-comers to
early performances priority for seats at later 45-minute sets at the Banneker-Douglass Museum.
Bryson, 40, was an easy choice for festival organizers. Local jazz musician Rob Levit, a member of the artistic review panel, recommended her, but it was her smooth voice that sealed the deal.
"We got her CD and totally fell in love with everything about her voice and her presentation," said Elizabeth P. Melvin, program manager. "And she turned out to be as nice a person as she was an artist. She loves Annapolis, so she was anxious to come down."
Bryson's mother, Connie Bryson, is a songwriter, and her grandmother a pianist who studied at the Juilliard School. Holidays in the Bryson household in East Brunswick, N.J., quickly turned into performance sets that included grandpa on the organ, an uncle on drums and an aunt leading the rest in song.
Bryson said she wasn't heavily influenced by her father in her career choice. Her parents were not married, and Gillespie's schedule kept him on the road about 300 days a year. Many father-daughter visits involved her trekking to a club where her father was playing, Bryson said.
Those experiences -- taking backstage tours and meeting famous musicians -- left her thinking that a musician's life was attractive and exciting, but she never aspired to it.
"My family didn't push me into being a musician," she said. "I didn't know anyone could make a living doing it."
Bryson didn't start singing before audiences until she was at Rutgers University, where she studied anthropology.
After college, she returned to East Brunswick and worked for the U.S. Postal Service as a mail carrier, taking singing gigs on the side. By 1987, she was singing full time.
"As soon as I started doing it, I realized that I could do it and that I loved it," she said.
But breaking in as a jazz singer is difficult.
"Singers have a hard time because people know what they're used to hearing when it comes to voice," she said. "It's like, 'That's not Ella Fitzgerald,' or 'That's not Billie Holiday.' I just sound like me."
That has been good enough. Bryson recorded her first live album in 1991 and has toured the United States and Europe performing in jazz festivals. She has appeared as a guest singer on recordings by Grover Washington Jr. and Terence Blanchard and has made three solo recordings.
Her latest, "Some Cats Know" is a tribute to Peggy Lee with selections that were performed by or written by Lee.
Visitors to First Night who are lucky enough to hear Bryson can expect to hear a few Peggy Lee songs, including "Fever" and "Honeysuckle Rose."
A First Night button buys admission to all New Year's Eve performances. Buttons are available for $10 through Saturday at area Giant Food stores, Annapolis Zany Brainy, Annapolis Marriott, Bay Trading Company in Annapolis Mall, Starbucks Coffee at the Harbour Center and First Night Annapolis offices on Cathedral Street in Annapolis. After Saturday, buttons are $14.
Pub Date: 12/17/98