Singer Veronica Swift

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heck out the film clip of Anita O’Day singing “Sweet Ge­or­gia Brown” at the 1958 Newport Jazz Fes­ti­val, and you’ll see the epit­ome of stylish singing. Ella Fitzger­ald, Bil­lie Hol­i­day, Sarah Vaughan, Car­men McRae, and all the other greats had their dis­tinc­tive ways with words, but for Veronica Swift, O’Day is the one. “She’s such a big part of my sound and my phras­ing,” said the singer, who plays the Len­sic Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter on Fri­day, Nov. 9. She had just per­formed at a Los An­ge­les event spon­sored by Ken Pos­ton’s Los An­ge­les Jazz In­sti­tute in Oc­to­ber. “They had a lot of the orig­i­nal charts, and I got to sing all of Anita’s old scores, and ‘Sweet Ge­or­gia Brown’ was one of them.”

Swift is in her early twen­ties, but her taste also em­braces King Plea­sure, An­nie Ross, and Ed­die Jef­fer­son, the early-1950s pi­o­neers of vo­calese (in which the voice em­u­lates an in­stru­men­tal part), as well as June Christy, whose ca­reer was jump-started I when she joined Stan Ken­ton’s jazz orches­tra in 1945 — fill­ing the singer spot re­cently va­cated by O’Day.

Swift grew up in a jazz fam­ily. Her mother is the vo­cal­ist Stephanie Nakasian, and her fa­ther, Hod O’Brien, was a pi­anist. “When my dad was my age and younger, he started out play­ing in New York with [trum­peter] Art Farmer and [bassist] Os­car Pet­ti­ford’s band in 1958 and with Chet Baker. He was one of the cats! And mom, tour­ing with Jon Hendricks in the ’80s, I’m just so lucky to have had the child­hood I had, grow­ing up tour­ing with them and be­ing ex­posed to the mu­sic at a very early age.”

At the age of nine, Swift worked on her first al­bum, singing with her mother, her fa­ther’s rhythm sec­tion, and sax­o­phon­ist Richie Cole. She per­formed at the “Women in Jazz” se­ries at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola when she was eleven, then two years later, she teamed up with sax­man Harry Allen for an­other record­ing. Swift went on to study at the Frost School of Mu­sic at the Univer­sity of Mi­ami. In 2015, she won sec­ond place in the Th­elo­nious Monk In­sti­tute of Jazz vo­cal com­pe­ti­tion, and in 2016 she per­formed at the Tel­luride Jazz Fes­ti­val and earned her de­gree in jazz voice at Frost. She moved to New York City and was soon play­ing Satur­day nights at the renowned Bird­land Jazz Club.

Swift pos­sesses a dy­namic voice with a con­trolled vi­brato and of­ten breaks into scat singing. Her reper­toire in­cludes jazz from the 1920s and ’30s, be­bop and vo­calese stan­dards, and se­lec­tions from the Great Amer­i­can Song­book. She is ded­i­cated to jazz, but rock is also part of her sphere. “I’m not stuck in the older times,” she said. “I’m still very much an evolv­ing artist to­day, and I’m a writer. I write mu­si­cals and screen­plays and I like to live through my char­ac­ters that I write about. As mu­si­cians, even, we’re all ac­tors, you know? It’s the­ater — and I re­ally love rock and opera. A lot of these types of mu­sic are very dra­matic, so that’s where I get to ex­plore my dra­matic side. Jazz is, for me, the more sub­tle art form.”

At the end of Oc­to­ber, she was in Mi­ami record­ing songs for a mu­si­cal. “It’s about a fe­male band­leader in the 1920s and it’s in­spired by Blanche Cal­loway, Cab Cal­loway’s older sis­ter and the rea­son that he was a mu­si­cian. It’s a story I’ve writ­ten, in­clud­ing about the com­pli­ca­tions that come with be­ing a fe­male. It’s very much in with the times to­day.

“I’ll just say that when I was in col­lege, I re­ally didn’t want to do jazz, be­cause when you do some­thing for so many years you kind of just need to take a break,” she con­tin­ued. “Right be­fore the Monk com­pe­ti­tion, I spent a few years writ­ing a rock opera, very Mar­i­lyn Man­son-es­que. And then when I came back to jazz, I had the edge that I was miss­ing be­fore. In a sense, that’s ma­tu­rity, too, hav­ing that ex­pe­ri­ence, be­cause I wasn’t grow­ing up with any hard­ships. Rock mu­sic got me that edgy spirit that was miss­ing be­fore.”

A few gigs af­ter Santa Fe, Swift is back in New York, where she plays 10 sets at Bird­land, Nov. 20 through Nov. 24. “I used to play ev­ery Satur­day, but then my ca­reer has me on the road so much. Now I can only ap­pear at Bird­land two weeks of the year, in July and Thanks­giv­ing week.”

Af­ter four days’ rest, Swift be­gins a two-week gig called Big Band Hol­i­days at Lin­coln Cen­ter. She said she doesn’t know much about it yet. She has only done one con­cert with a big band, which was a re-cre­ation of a fa­mous Benny Good­man con­cert at Carnegie Hall. The trib­ute con­cert fea­tured the Jazz at Lin­coln Cen­ter Orches­tra with Wyn­ton Marsalis. “He liked the way I sang, and they asked me back, with Vuy­ol­wethu So­tashe, who was also a fi­nal­ist in the Monk com­pe­ti­tion. Vuyo and I are both go­ing to be singing for the Big Band Hol­i­days. I have no idea about a songlist yet. I’m just look­ing for­ward to singing with one of the great orches­tras around to­day.”

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