Carrying on the mission to preserve the traditions of American vocal music, the American Traditions Vocal Competition is expanding its reach with a new series.
In collaboration with the Tybee Post Theater, ATC is launching a new, intimate concert showcase of vocalists from the competition. The first will feature 2013 ATC Gold Medalist Kimberly Hawkey on Oct. 12. Rebecca “Bex” Odorisio and Nat Zegree will return to Savannah for concerts on Nov. 15 and Dec. 16, respectively.
“The Tybee Post Theater provides a beautiful venue with a friendly atmosphere, making it the perfect location for this unique concert series,” ATC Artistic Director Mikki Sodergren said. “We are excited about this partnership with the theater and are honored to have such talented artists coming back to Savannah to participate.”
Hawkey has been back to Savannah three times to perform at the ATC since winning the competition in 2013 — in which she bested Sodergren, who then took gold in 2014. The annual concert, produced by the 501(c)(3) nonprofit, awards over $35,000 in cash prizes, allowing for winners to finance their future in music. The competition, whose alumna are some of the most celebrated singers working today, also helps launch careers.
Before applying to the competition, Hawkey was an administrator and teacher. A vocal coach encouraged her to apply for the competition. From being accepted to winning, Hawkey was simply astounded at the entire journey.
“Every step of the way, it was more and more of a shock,” Hawkey said. “Getting accepted, OK, that’s cool, I am just happy to be there; all of these amazing musicians. Than I advanced to the next round, and I said, this was weird. Winning was a surreal experience and very humbling. I was up against singers who perform at the Met and professional jazz singers and people I really admire.”
Hawkey released an album of traditional and original tunes, “Elvanelle & The Escape Act,” last year after she purchased a number of vintage scores of sheet music on eBay. With arrangements from pianist and musical director Assaf Gleizner, Hawkey put together her album of classic jazz and pop tunes.
“I like vintage music and old songs,” Hawkey said. “I love to dig for material that has either been forgotten about or has a connection in some way to what I am doing. Vintage Hollywood songs. I really took my time picking them and planning my interpretation.”
While she’s still plotting out the final setlist for her Oct. 12 show, which will feature Gleizner, Hawkey said it will probably include numbers she competed with at the ATC and some original tunes, like her Vaudevillian comedy tune, “11 o’clock number.”
Jazz opened a new world for the singer, who had worked in classical and musical theater historically. The ability to improvise with the melody and create on stage was an alluring factor.
“Just being able to get up and sing something from their soul. My background. I did musical theater in school. Everything was memorized and exactly the way it was supposed to be. Get up and do the same thing every night. Which is good. It’s its own art form.
“I wanted to do it the other way, where you get up and you don’t know what is going to happen and what it’s going to sound like. That really appealed to me. I started doing more and more of it. To get good at it, you have to get up and make a fool out of yourself over and over again until you sound good.
“It’s a balance between keeping the original melody and inserting expressiveness. There’s definitely a balance. I love melodies. I think that’s why I love traditional jazz; it’s very melodic.”