Nnenna Freelon first began singing in church with her family years ago. Now she tours the country as a six-time Grammy Award nominee jazz singer.
Freelon performed at the de Jong concert hall at BYU on Sept. 23, 2015 as part of BYU’s BRAVO! series. She told the audience how happy she felt performing at BYU after she sang her opening number.
“This is the moment I’ve been waiting for all day,” Freelon said.
The concert program included a Stevie Wonder song, Lina Horn’s “Stormy Weather” with a different twist to it. It then ended with a praise song. Each band member had a solo part in almost every musical number. Freelon danced on stage and sometimes sat on a stool and enjoyed their solos.
Freelon was born in Massachusetts to a father who loved Big Band music. She described her style as classic jazz with a modern flare. She has performed alongside other singers such as Ray Charles and Al Jarreau.
Freelon is a wife and mother of three children. She chose to develop her vocal craft locally while her children were young in order to balance work and family responsibilities. She later signed a record contract in 1992 when her youngest was 11 years old and began touring nationally.
“I believe strongly in family,” Freelon said. “Values help you make right choices.”
She graduated from Simmons College in Boston with a degree in healthcare administration, a management degree that Freelon said came in handy as she manages her jazz band.
Nnenna Freelon and her band couched BYU jazz musicians in a masterclass at 3pm in de Jong Hall. The students included music majors and minors. Half of the class raised their hands when asked if they planned to pursue a career in music. Two students said they wanted to teach music.
She and her band played a song for the students and then asked them what they noticed. Two groups of students then performed, each with different instruments. Freelon and her band members commented on eye contact, listening, unifying and taking responsibility for their own sounds.
“We have a unique situation as musicians,” Freelon said. “We come from different faiths, backgrounds, races and philosophies, but when we play music we are one.”
Her band members, Wayne Batchelor on bass, Miki Hayama on piano, and Leon Joyce Jr. on drums stood by the students playing the same instruments they do, couching them one on one.
Music minor and pianist Katrina Welker said one usually gets general critique in masterclasses.
“It was cool to get direct feedback,” Welker said.
Jazz studies major and trumpet player, Austie Robinson said performing for them was nerve racking.
“They’re watching every little thing,” Robinson said.
The main lesson he said he learned from the masterclass was constant communication with his fellow musicians.
Freelon sang Moon River as her performance encore. She dedicated it to students and to her mother who supported her career from the beginning.