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Quiana Lynell’s Phenomenal Ride

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Wednesday June 27, 2018

From Offbeat Magazine

Leap Of Faith: Quiana Lynell’s Phenomenal Ride
By: Raphael Helfand

‘The last year of my life has been phenomenal,’ Quiana Lynell says. It stands to reason. In the past 12 months, she’s scratched more items off her musical bucket list than most of us have ever written down. And unlike most of us, she actually does write them down. ‘I’m a planner, so I had this ten-year plan on my wall,’ she says. ‘But this last year’“my little ten-year plan is out the window. It accelerated exponentially!’

Lynell may be stretching the English language slightly, but jazz is what she does for a living, after all. Lynell’s only been consciously pursuing a career as a jazz vocalist for about five years, but already, she’s won one of the genre’s most prestigious awards, signed to one of its most storied labels and collaborated with some of its most legendary artists, so her excitement and figurative language are more than warranted.

Music has always been Lynell’s calling, but her path to jazz was far from standard. ‘I grew up in a very religious home,’ she says. ‘My parents loathed secular music, so there was not a lot of push to do anything outside of gospel.’ Still, Lynell’s talent was apparent from the start. ‘In Abilene, [Texas], we’d have all the holiday programs and we’d vie for the solo, and it came to the point where ‘We know Quiana’s gonna get the solo,’‘ she says. She made the all-state choir in high school and won a scholarship to LSU. But even in college, jazz was never on her musical horizon. ‘I’m pre’“the [Popular and Commercial Music] and pre’“the Jazz Studies programs that are at a lot of schools now,’ she explains. ‘For vocal majors, it was strictly classical voice.’

[…] Singing the blues is what broke Lynell into a higher stratosphere of the jazz world last fall, when she won the Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Competition in New Jersey. When she was selected to perform, a friend urged her to ‘bring all that New Orleans with her to New Jersey.’ She wasn’t sure what it meant at first. ‘But then I looked at the people who were picked and there’s a teacher [who had been] at Berklee for 14 years, other jazz artists who had multiple CDs they’d released’“and I only have a five-song EP!’ she says. So she brought the ‘New Orleans’ with her and stayed true to herself. ‘I can’t out-jazz these people and if I try to get in a mindset to think I’m about to be at the level of Sarah Vaughan in my fourth year of studying jazz, there’s no way! So my goal was to go have fun and be Quiana. I didn’t go to school in New York. I haven’t shed in New York. I haven’t grown on the scene in New York. I can only be who I am and that’s what I did. I sang [‘Hip Shakin’ Mama,’] an Irma Thomas blues, and I sang ‘After You’ve Gone,’ which is a traditional song, and then I sang an original song of mine. It was phenomenal.’

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