The Kennedy Center

Melissa Walker



Biography

A new type of jazz singer has emerged at the dawn of the 21st century and 3rd millennium. This artist has the ability to consolidate the many aspects of jazz singing-blues sensibility, lyric interpretation, rhythmic phrasing and improvisation-into an artistic expression that is both timely and timeless. Melissa Walker is that artist.

Melissa's new recording, I Saw the Sky, currently being released, promises to be her strongest release to date. A beautiful, beguiling collection of standards and original material that capture an intimacy which has become her trademark. This swinging piano trio oriented project features pianists, Kenny Barron, Makoto Ozone, and Shedrick Mitchell rounded out by her rhythm section of Kiyoshi Kitagawa and drummer/producer Clarence Penn, with special guests Stefon Harris on vibes and marimba and a lush string quartet. I Saw the Sky is gorgeous display of Melissa's extraordinary talents as a singer and lyricist coupled with exquisite selections and captivating arrangements. Choreographer, dancer and producer, Debbie Allen, recently noted after taping Melissa for an upcoming TV episode of Cool Women, "The world will be a better place when it discovers Melissa Walker."

Blessed with an artistic imagination pointed toward the future and a reverence for the rich jazz tradition, Melissa's gifts are also heard on her second Enja Records release Moment of Truth-inspired by the work of John Coltrane and Betty Carter. This release showcases her talent for balancing and shaping each lyric with the subtle and nuances expected of a great singer.

May I Feel-her 1997 debut release on Enja Records, produced by Gary Bartz contains a wonderful mix of standards that have since become her signature songs including "Miss Otis Regrets" and "I'm a Fool to Want You." Mixed with strong original compositions "Dancing in the Wings" and "Love Is," May I Feel reached number seven on the Gavin Jazz Chart, and received "Honorable Mention" in the 1998 Indie Awards. Billboard Magazine, declared, "Melissa Walker stakes her claim as one of the most sensitive and engaging of young jazz singers."

Melissa's anchored, yet wide-open musicianship mirrors her bicultural heritage. She was born and raised to American parents in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, where her father played professional football. Melissa discusses her music, "I think of the songs as stories. They are the vehicle by which we all become friends, for songs are stories that we all know. Standards represent our universal commonness for love, joy, longing, loss, regret, mistakes and reflection. Other stories reflect our spiritual life; still others are celebrations of life."

Melissa graduated from Brown University where her interest in pursuing a career as a jazz artist bloomed. Later, Melissa abandoned her plans to attend law school, much to her family's chagrin. In 1993, she self-produced her debut recording Little Wishes. Not long after she moved to the New York area and studied with pianist and master vocal accompanist, Norman Simmons while continuing classical voice training. Shortly thereafter she was singed by the head of Enja Records, Matthias Winckelmann, as Enja's first female vocalist since Abbey Lincoln.

Melissa has performed with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, conducted by Wynton Marsalis as part of the Duke Ellington Centennial Celebration; as well as a guest with other noted big bands. Melissa tours regularly in the United States including such noted New York venues as the Jazz Standard and Birdland. Melissa will tour across the United States with her band in the fall of 2001.

In July Melissa will perform at major European festivals as a guest of Ray Brown's for his 75th Birthday Celebration Tour. Melissa is no stranger to Europe where she has performed consistently with her trio for the last four years at many noted jazz clubs and festivals including Berlin and the North Sea. Internationally acclaimed performances also include concerts in Canada, South America, the Middle East and Africa.

Melissa's television appearances include CBS, NBC, Reuters, Pure Oxygen, WE TV, BET, Orbit and Deutsche Welle. She has been featured in magazines ranging from Vogue, US, Billboard, Savoy, JazzIs, Jazz Times and Down Beat and her music is played regularly on both national and international radio.

With a future full of promise, renowned critic Ira Gitler declared, "Make no mistake. Melissa Walker is an intelligent, talented singer with all the attributes necessary to pick up the mantle of past greats and drape it around her shoulders."
Photo of Melissa Walker

Additional Resources