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Vicki Burns presents Lotus Blossom Days

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    Posted: 06 Jul 2022 at 10:29am

Although vocalist VICKI BURNS specializes in the romantic music of the 20th century, she is not tethered to the Great American Songbook. Her newest album, LOTUS BLOSSOM DAYS, comprises 12 songs, three of which are originals. Of the other tunes, all started life as instrumentals, except for the standards, ‘This Times the Dream’s on Me” and “Out of this World,” both by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer, and “Close Your Eyes,” written by Bernice Petkere. The album is a showcase for Burns’ appealing three-octave range, gorgeous tone, heartfelt expression, and assured sense of rhythm and dynamics.
LOTUS BLOSSOM DAYS is Burns’ third CD as a leader and follows Live at Anna’s Jazz Island (2008) and Siren Song (2005). Dr Herb Wong wrote, “Avoiding the predictability of safe havens, her music brims with many more surprises and uncharted delights... Vicki Burns is irresistible.”
Growing up in Maine, Burns decided at the age of six to be a singer and performed throughout her early years in school musicals and choirs. Her father, a college English professor and a bit of a bohemian, was a major influence, and she began writing plays and musicals when she was 11 years old. By the time she was 15, she was singing in a pop band that performed at school functions and casuals all around the state. She also started classical voice lessons and won 2nd place in a classical vocal competition. Her father, however, encouraged her to listen to Ella Fitzgerald and told her he’ll be really impressed when she could sing like that. She was hooked on jazz and said, “I’m not going to rest until I figure out how to scat like Ella.”
Burns went on to study music at the University of New Hampshire, and, while in school, became the vocalist for a professional big band that toured throughout New England. She got married shortly after graduating and moved to Boston where she and her husband formed a jazz band that played in clubs around the city. One of the highlights of her time in Boston was opening for Billy Taylor and Max Roach at a large outdoor jazz festival.
When her marriage ended, she moved first to New York City and then to California where she enrolled in San Jose State’s graduate program for improvised music. At first, it was not easy to get her singing career off the ground, but everything changed for Burns when she began to frequent a jazz club called Garden City where the renowned pianist Smith Dobson held court several times a week. Burns relates, “I went to hear Smith so often, that he finally took notice and called me up to sing. He liked my voice, and after that, I sat in at least once a week. He became my friend and mentor, and he even accompanied me for my graduate recital.” The time spent sitting in with Dobson led to many other performance opportunities, including performing at the San Jose Jazz Festival.
 With her reputation growing, she decided to move north to the San Francisco Bay area where she established herself on the local jazz scene by attending jam sessions. She was soon singing in clubs around the Bay Area and got a regular gig at a swanky San Francisco hotel. Although she was doing well, after several years in the Bay Area, she began to miss her family and the East Coast vibe, so decided to move back to Maine. However, she did not stay long and moved to New York to pursue her singing career.
Musically, moving to the Big Apple was a great decision for her. Burns says, “The best part of New York is playing with world class jazz musicians.” She currently performs regularly around town and has a regular gig at the Lexington Hotel.
Firmly ensconced in the New York jazz scene, Burns met many expat musicians from the San Francisco Bay Area. The group formed a supportive community and became the nucleus of LOTUS BLOSSOM DAYS. Pianist ART HIRAHARA, sax player DAYNA STEPHENS, Grammy-winning trumpeter JOSH DEUTSCH, reed player MAX KOGA, and bassist SAM BEVAN, who arranged most of the tracks, are part of the West Coast expat community. The band also includes drummer BILLY DRUMMOND, who has performed with a veritable Who’s Who of jazz greats on over 350 albums, and trombonist NICK VAYENAS, a longtime member of Michael Bublé’s horn section.
On LOTUS BLOSSOM DAYS, Burns wanted to chronicle the arc of a love affair, from the early seduction and love to the sadness and bitterness when the relationship doesn’t work out to gaining a perspective that leads to a wider view of love, life, and ultimately happiness.
Burns wrote two songs on the album. “Love Spell” is about the doubt that sometimes starts creeping into a relationship. She had worked in a shop that sold magic paraphernalia and used some of the imagery from her time there in the lyrics. She also wrote “Siren Song,” which she recorded on her first album but is re-imagined here with a new arrangement by Bevan. Burns’ good friend vocalist Tessa Souter wrote the Flamenco inspired “You Don’t Have to Believe.”
Burns opens the album with the Latin swing “If You Never Fall in Love with Me.” Originally called “Del Sasser,” the song was written by Sam Jones with lyrics added later by Donald Wolf. The lyrics to Billy Strayhorn’s “Lotus Blossom Days” and “Bittersweet” were written by Roger Shore, who was thrilled that Burns was singing his songs. Lee Morgan’s “The Sidewinder” is re-named “Watch Out” with lyrics by Burn’s student Mary Ellen Donald. Rock musician Chris Caswell wrote lyrics to Coltrane’s “Equinox” and titled it “A Long Way to Go.” Carmen McCrae first sang “It’s Over Now,” with lyrics by Mike Ferro to Thelonious Monk’s “Well You Needn’t.”
Vicki Burns is the complete package. With her three-octave range and perfect intonation, she can scat convincingly, swing like a horn, and write hip songs worthy of attention from other vocalists. Burns has not recorded in many years, but LOTUS BLOSSOM DAYS is well worth the wait. 
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LOTUS BLOSSOM DAYS is set for release on July 8, 2022 on ViBu Jazz and will be available everywhere.
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