All That Jazz: An Interview with Jazz Vocalist Yvette Norwood-Tiger

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By Denise Marsh

Prelude

My music tastes are predominantly eclectic in nature; I can go from Classic 70’s to 80’s dance to Motown within minutes of each other.  However, one genre of music that I have always found to be refined and extremely relaxing is Jazz. This particular genre of music can be lovely acoustically, and when accompanied by sublime vocals, it just hits that sweet spot for me!

Equinox, performed at the PB International Jazz Festival on April 30, 2022

The first time I heard Yvette sing, was when she was with a jazz band called The Jazz Cats.  In the past, this band played at Wellington’s Village Music and Café every second Thursday of the month.  I can recall not just falling in love with her smooth yet robust voice when she sang the Classic “At last” by Etta James but also captivated by her peaceful and graceful smile-a smile that she displayed so graciously with band members and her audience.  Yvette’s smile is reminiscent of a warm embrace and a bond or seal with which she connects with the public, both domestically and abroad.   Looking back, I realize, that I had longed to interview her one day.  At last, that “one day” has come to fruition…

Jazz vocalist and founder of the PB International Film Festival Yvette Norwood-Tiger

Getting to Know Yvette Norwood-Tiger

AW: Tell us about yourself. Where did you grow up? Was music ALWAYS your passion?

YNT: First of all, thank you so much for the interview.  I appreciate your interest in local South Florida artists. I was born in Detroit, Michigan, home of Motown.  I was surrounded by music as a child; my mom played drums and my dad played guitar in church.  My five sisters who are older than me, had a singing group in the church and also sang in the church choir.  I have loved to sing since I can remember.  Although, I had that passion and listening to music since childhood, I did not sing in public until many years later, due to my shyness.  It took the love of God to bring me out of my shyness and to feel comfortable being on stage.  I truly know it was God, because now I feel comfortable on stage.  The bigger the audience, the more loving energy I feel, and more at home I feel. 

AW: At what age did you realize that you were meant for “great things” in the jazz world? Who or what inspired this “revelation”?

YNT: Very interesting question.  At my first gig which was in 2005 in Asbury Park, NJ at art gallery called El Lobo Negro, Gary Smerillo, the contrabassist who accompanied me that night, said to me (as were leaving the gig), “you are going to be great!”  I never really thought about it, until I saw your question.  I really don’t consider myself “great”, I just hope that I am doing my part to make a positive impact in music, which includes uplifting, entertaining, and inspiring my audience with my testimony; and inspiring other vocalists and young jazz artists to follow their dreams. 

AW: Who are the people in your jazz ensemble? They are excellent, and their personalities definitely shine through in their performances.  What was your process in picking them and how would you define your relationship with them?

YNT: One of the beautiful things about jazz is that it is universal between jazz musicians, making it easy to select local musicians who can perform with me.  For the most part, the musicians that I have accompany me interchange from concert to concert.  I am blessed to have a wonderful selection of accomplished musicians, whether I am performing in the U.S. or abroad, whom I hire to perform with me. My choice of musician depends on the location of the event, availability, and theme of the concert/event.   

(Side note: at the Palm Beach International Jazz Festival I was accompanied by Trenton Klaz on piano, David Einhorn on contrabass, Gary Palmer on saxophone, Jose Roman Duque in drums, and Miles Hoyt on guitar).

AW: Do you play mostly covers and a few originals? I just listened to a very funny song you wrote about your memory foam mattress after being “triple doggy dared” by a close friend/musician. Please elaborate on this-I cannot get the song out of my head and it is a wonderful story!

YNT:  My friend and colleague Dr. Joan Cartwright, who is the founder of Women in Jazz South Florida contacted me one day and asked that I write her a blues song to put on a CD that she was going to release.  She is aware that I shy away from blues music and prefer to listen to and perform jazz.  I find blues songs to have, for the most part, a sad or troubling theme to them, with a repetitive arrangement, which I do not usually care for. However, she wanted to challenge me.  So, I decided to write a blues song that, although it’s somewhat troubling, it has humor to it.  I took a common blues arrangement and added lyrics to it, which the title came to me immediately after speaking with Joan.  After having the title in my head, lyrics followed to me that fit the title of the song.  It was quite timely, because at the time, I was setting up a small recording studio in my home office and I wanted an easy song to record that would help me learn the recording programs that I used to make the song.  With my recording, I was able to send it to my musician friend, Marty Gilman (who plays multiple instruments), so he could add some instrumentation to the recording.  The organ and saxophone were performed and recorded by Marty. 

AW: What are some of your favorite songs to sing and which are the hardest ones to sing (either emotionally or instrumentally)?

YNT: My husband calls me a human juke box.  Although, on stage, I sing Jazz, I truly enjoy singing songs from most music genres, with some exceptions. It is somewhat hard to pick a favorite.  There is one song that I sing at all of my concerts called, “A Song for My Father,” which was written by Horace Silver.  I sing it as a dedication to my Heavenly Father for saving me from a brain tumor nearly ten years ago.  Although, the tumor was non-cancerous (benign), my doctors told me to get my affairs in order, even after surgery and radiation due to the size and location of the tumor.  After recovering from this ordeal, I now sing and perform more than I did before I was diagnosed.  That is why I give God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) all the praise because I know I could not have survived it on my own, in addition to becoming more involved with my career in music. 

AW: I have heard one of your songs that I believe was sung in Portuguese. What other languages do you know, and can you sing in all of them?

YNT:  I sing several Portuguese songs, the one you might have heard me sing is called Mas Que Nada (which is written by Sergio Mendes).  Although I do not fluently speak any language other than American English, I perform songs in six other languages including French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Xhosa (one of the official languages of South Africa and Zimbabwe), and Mandarin.  I am working on composing a song in Hebrew. 

With Eric & The Jazzers (Yamin Mustafa-Trumpet, Ken Burkhart-Keyboard) at Kreepy Tiki – Ft. Lauderdale, FL. – 2015

AW: Share with us some details and information on the International Jazz Festival.  What have been some of the highs and lows of being part of the festival?

YNT: Thankfully, there are not many lows with producing the jazz festival.  It is surreal, as I watch each band take to the stage and give a spectacular performance and as I watch the audience enjoy what they are hearing.  I pray that the festival will gain more publicity and a larger audience and appreciation.  Denise, I truly appreciate your interest and effort by conducting this interview to help make the dream come true!

AW: Has your music/singing career ever put you in any “interesting situations”? Please share a story or two.

YNT:  A few years ago, my husband and I went on a transatlantic cruise. The first thing I always look for anywhere we travel is live music, especially jazz bands.  The first evening on the ship, we went to listen to a jazz trio.  After the first set, I introduced myself to the band and told them that I am a jazz vocalist and that I would like to sit in for a song or two on their next set.  One of the band mates asked if I could perform with them throughout the cruise because their vocalist developed a sore throat and couldn’t sing. It was a wonderful experience to perform with them. 

AW: Going to get up close and personal for a few minutes.  Would you like to share the life-altering experience that you have dealt with and how it has affected your music career and inspired others as well?

YNT: In September of 2012, I began to experience numbness and tingling in my extremities, along with other symptoms that I could not explain.  Then one day, after working out, I fainted, which I have never done before.  At this time, my husband strongly suggested that I go to the hospital.  After three days, my doctors diagnosed me with a brain tumor.  Although it was benign, the size of it posed an imminent threat to some very important functions in my brain.  Although I went on to have surgery and radiation to reduce it, the doctors could not remove it all and they told my husband I could die at any second or suffer a stroke.  I had quite a physical and spiritual battle during this time.  My hearing was severely affected to the point where I could not stand to hear noises let alone sit and listen to music.  I also had loud ringing in my ears from which I would cry myself to sleep over it.  My throat was affected as well, I couldn’t talk for long periods of time, let alone sing. These were some of the many symptoms that I suffered, including depression.  The doctors could not explain any of it.  The results of my Google search of my symptoms suggested that I would have to deal with these symptoms for the rest of life, however long or sort my life would be. 

Through many prayers from my family and friends and the church that I grew up in Ecorse, Michigan, I was able to overcome and heal not just in body, but in mind and spirit as well.  Eventually, I recovered from the symptoms, and I started back singing, but with a life purpose.  To Show God’s (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit) light and how He performs miracles. 

After my recovery from surgery and radiation, I started back singing in a restaurant after the owner contacted me and said that he saw me at a jam session a few years back.  While performing the restaurant as a duo with a keyboardist, I prayed that I would go on to perform in concert settings and with a full jazz band.  A keyboardist that I hired to accompany me introduced me to a band that he performed in called Eric & the Jazzers.  After sitting in for a song with them, the band leader, Eric Trouillot, hired me to perform with them as their lead vocalist.  In addition to my bookings and productions, I continue to work with Eric & the Jazzers to this day.  I have gone on to meet and work with many highly acclaimed jazz musicians and perform in venues around the world, including Royal Albert Hall in London, England; Berlin, Germany; Cape Town, South Africa; Italy, France, Cuba, Argentina, and Belgium.  This year (September 2022), I will start a worldwide tour to celebrate my ten years of survival from the brain tumor.  The tour will start in Italy.

AW: All music evolves over time, especially genres like Jazz.  Do you feel like your music has remained constant and current, or have there been many instances where specific tributes have been mandatory?  Please enlighten us.

YNT:  Yes, jazz has evolved over time and one of the aspects of jazz is that I enjoy performing many of its sub-genres, including the Great American Songbook, Standards, Bebop, and Latin Jazz.  Within those genres, I have done tributes to jazz artists including Ella Fitzgerald, Billy Holiday, Nina Simone, Edith Piaf, and Celia Cruz.  While I don’t consider the tributes to be mandatory, I do think they help the audience identify with the music. 

In addition to performing covers of those genres, I also write and record original songs, which are mostly in the vein of jazz.  I also take previously recorded instrumental jazz songs and add my lyrics to them. 

AW: Has jazz music and the industry been any different for you as a woman than it would be for your male counterparts?

YNT: Unfortunately, it is typically more difficult for a female jazz artist to be as successful as her male counterparts in the music industry.  It has been that way for many years, and it is one of the main reasons that motivated me to start and produce my own jazz festival (Palm Beach International Jazz Festival) and to produce other jazz events.  I see it as one of the surest ways for women to gain a greater audience in jazz-to produce and host their own events. 

AW:  Where can we see and hear you perform? I know you have a lot of amazing stuff on YouTube.  Do you currently have anything in the works?

YNT: I was asked by Rudy’s Pub in Lake Worth Beach, Florida to produce jazz concerts there, titled “Wednesday Night Jazz on the Patio Concert Series”. It is a wonderful place to hear live jazz performed by local jazz artists.  Featured artists have included Mickey Smith Jr., a 2020 Grammy Music Educator Award Recipient and saxophonist with his wife and two children; vocalist Meri Ziev; and vibraphonist Nathan Skinner with saxophonist Sean Devivo. They were all great shows, with more to come to come!

August 14, 2022, I will be performing at the Mandel Public Library in West Palm Beach, Florida.  My following concert will be at Elegance Café in Rome, Italy on September 2022.  You may view dates on my website:

www.yvettenorwoodtiger.com

AW: What are your future plans for your music?

YNT: My plan is to continue to write music, record CDs, perform, and to share my testimony.

I am a recipient of the 2022 Palm Beach Cultural Council Artist Fellowship, which I will use to produce a CD, that will be a tributed to a sub-genre of jazz called Bebop.  I will also start a world tour in September 2022 to celebrate ten years of survival from the tumor.  I am looking forward to producing Palm Beach International Jazz Festival 2023.

AW: You have such a bubbly and charismatic personality; have you ever done any acting or has your music ever been showcased in a “Hollywood-like” arena?

YNT: Thank you so much for that wonderful compliment!  I do not have any acting experience.  However, my inspiration for performing with passion and storytelling stems from my love of opera, where the performers sing with grand aplomb.

Last Notes

If Jazz is not your “cup of tea”, maybe, possibly, one day you will tune in for a few seconds to listen to Yvette singing (whether is live or online).  I promise you that those few seconds or even minutes will be worth it and that you might even find Yvette to be “all that jazz” and more because your first impression will be pure bliss.  It might just be time for you to fine tune your listening or update your genres-remember the name, Yvette Norwood-Tiger. You’re welcome.