Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Defying Gravity: an artist hits a new level

I've written before about my sister Suede, a professional jazz singer who lives on Cape Cod. On January 1 in Provincetown she delivered her annual New Year's show.
This year there was a big difference: she'd had significant abdominal surgery 11 days earlier, and none of us knew whether she'd be able to sing at all.
But she did, and she blew us away. Still recovering from deep incisions through four layers of muscle wall, she didn't have the customary powerful vocal mechanism that singers learn to use - and hers is stronger than most. But the artist was still there, and she pulled together everything she did have, and she performed. Man, did she perform.
Defying Gravity, from Wicked, starts: "Something has changed within me - something is not the same." When she sang it this night, there was new meaning; we got to see who the artist is when the usual palette isn't there. And a different kind of power emerged: authentic, vulnerable, sometimes softer. Yet there was no sign of weakness or compromise; before her last song she announced she'd had the surgery, and there were gasps and murmurs.
And the show she found inside her was newly excellent. There were two standing ovations within the show, before we even got to encore time. In 20+ years of seeing her perform I've never seen that. Yes, this was mastery; this showed a layer of the performer we'd never seen before.
In the end, for her second encore, she pulled out her eternal crowd-pleaser, Sister, from The Color Purple. Including trumpet solo. (Hear the full song on her sample tracks page.)
Unbelievable. As a chorus singer myself, I have an inkling of what it must have taken to achieve that breath control with that sutured abdomen.
Later she said it was quite something, confronting her own mortality. (Don't I know it!) Her surgery was more complicated than planned; the surgeon discovered things were much worse than expected, and the recovery was difficult. She went right home to bed after this show, and her recovery is continuing well.
Yeah, I'm proud of my sister. But more than that, I'm in awe. Because really, two days earlier we all didn't know if the show would even be possible. And she pulled together a masterpiece.
Her next show is in Annapolis on January 15, then Ogunquit, Maine on Valentine's weekend. Ticket info on her schedule page. Here's hoping that future shows include more of this newly discovered gem side of her - the softer side of Suede.

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