Grammys, Here She Comes
Practice, practice, practice. The answer to that old joke about how one gets to Carnegie Hall could also apply to those who long to record in the Capitol Records studios in Hollywood. Or who want to sit in the audience at the Grammy Awards, held in Los Angeles each February.
And when she hasn’t been sleeping, maintaining A grades or rehearsing with the Dartmouth College Gospel Choir, Chloe Brisson, the 18-year-old jazz vocalist from Hanover, has been spent hundreds of hours practicing her vocal technique, breathing and phrasing, all key in her development as an artist.
Her approach is a far cry from instant fame that draws would-be stars to American Idol tryouts. But fame is secondary for Brisson, a bubbly Hanover High School senior with tight brown curls and a broad grin who speaks with the maturity of someone far older. “Someday, I want to be a respected artist, and I want to have people say, Wow, not only can she sing, but she really knows her music. She really knows what she’s doing. She knows what it’s all about,” Brisson said earlier this month.
Brisson’s dedication has led to her being chosen as a participant in the 2013 Grammy Camp-Jazz Session in Los Angeles. She’ll fly to L.A. next week, along with the 31 other high school-age jazz musicians who are part of this year’s session, for a week of performances at music industry events and a group recording session at Capitol Records. She’ll also attend workshops for young musicians on how to support themselves through their art, and on Feb. 10, the week will culminate in Brisson attending the Grammy ceremony as a guest of The Recording Academy and performing at the show’s after-party.
Brisson is one of two jazz altos selected for this year’s jazz session of Grammy Camp. Being chosen is akin to being anointed as one of jazz’s up-and-coming stars; past Grammy Camp participants include jazz pianists Peter Cincotti, Aaron Parks and Gerald Clayton. In sifting through the 800 to 1,000 applications submitted for the program, David Sears, the Grammy Foundation’s executive education director, said the organization is “looking for the best performers in the genre we can find, so it’s very performance-oriented. We’re looking for the best singers we can find at the high school level, who not only sing good jazz, but have a flexibility of genres, because we don’t just perform jazz.”
During an interview at the Dirt Cowboy Cafe in Hanover, Brisson spoke with anticipation about the recording session at Capitol, the same space where Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole recorded albums. Then, of course, there’s “the excitement of being a teenage girl, and you get to the go to the Grammys,” she said.
“It’s a mixture of professional excitement,” Brisson added, “being excited to work with these people, work with the director, work with the other kids my age who love this kind of music, and also” — here, her voice rose slightly — “I’m going to L.A., for the first time ever! Hopping on a plane, and going to sing. It’s all around pretty exciting to prepare for.”
Brisson has had little time to bask in the glow of being selected. If anything, participating in the Grammy Camp’s jazz program has only meant more hours of rehearsing — three, sometimes four hours a day. When she arrives in L.A., Brisson and her fellow Grammy campers are expected to have mastered a demanding set of songs they’ll perform at the Grammy after-party and record at Capitol Studios.
Alisa Brisson has observed her daughter’s relentless rehearsing in the eight years that Chloe has been singing jazz professionally, but “I think she’s working harder than I’ve ever seen,” Alisa Brisson said.
“I think the music and the arrangements are more difficult than anything she’s ever done before. … It’s a lot of focused work.
“The thing about Chloe,” Alisa Brisson added, “is you never see her happier than when she has a microphone in her hands. Something just changes. She opens up and beams. She just seems to love doing it.”
Chloe Brisson’s commitment to perfecting her technique is famous among family members and the jazz musicians she’s performed with over the years.
“Chloe’s extremely disciplined, and that’s what makes her successful,” said Sabrina Brown, Brisson’s longtime vocal coach. “She’s talented and she’s got a great spirit, but without choosing to do the kind of work she’s done, and without her mindful single-purposefulness, she would not be where she is today.”
Besides Brisson’s mother and her father Mark, a jazz pianist whose playing inspired his young daughter to start singing along, no one has borne witness to Brisson’s musical development more than Brown and her husband, Fred Haas, a jazz saxophonist and Dartmouth music professor. Haas first encountered Brisson’s vocal range when he was recording an album to accompany a children’s book with students at the Ray School in Hanover, and the then-10-year-old Brisson demonstrated a great command of a bluesy song. Haas was equally impressed when, a year later, she revealed to him and to Brown her five-year plan for her career, which included recording an album.
“How many of us, at that age, have a five-year plan for what we want to do at that age? Most kids aren’t thinking about anything like that,” Haas said.
At Interplay, the annual summer jazz camp in Woodstock that Brown and Haas run, the couple took a pre-teen Brisson under their wing. Brown serves as Brisson’s year-round vocal coach, and Haas has helped her to build her repertoire.
Brisson’s summers at Interplay have allowed her to grow as a singer in front of some world-renowned performers, like vocalists Sheila Jordan and Karrin Allyson and drummer Matt Wilson. The latter arranged a Brooklyn studio session for 12-year-old Chloe that led to the release of her first CD, Red Door Sessions, when she was 13, a few years ahead of her own schedule. Wilson played drums on that CD, and on Brisson’s second album, Blame It On My Youth, released last year.
The Blame It On My Youth sessions also saw Brisson record a duet with her mentor Jordan, a singer who once performed with Charlie “Bird” Parker and Charles Mingus, and who was named a “Jazz Master” by the National Endowment for the Arts last year. In the studio, Jordan said she and Brisson carried on a “musical conversation,” as though they were two friends chatting, instead of cutting a record.
“Every year, she just sounds more wonderful, and she was wonderful when I first heard her,” said Jordan. “But she’s a lot more confident now and she has her own sound. She sounds like Chloe. It’ll be to the point one day, if she keeps doing the music, everybody, as soon as they hear her, they’ll say, ‘Oh, that’s Chloe.’ ”
Brisson’s career in jazz thus far has been a demanding pursuit, and she’s had to abandon activities like hockey and ski racing. Between playing gigs, rehearsing and attending jazz conferences, there’s little time to attend sports events or be more involved in school activities.
“It’s just one of those things that is an obvious choice for me,” she said. “Although it would be nice to have those things, I would much rather do what I do, and have what I have, because it’s just important to me, and it makes me happy and it’s what I want to do with the rest of my life. So why wait?”
As her Grammy experience unfolds, Brisson is hard at work arranging the next step in her professional training. She’s auditioning for a spot at several prestigious music schools, ready to undergo the training that will allow her to improve her artistry and steadily build a career.
“I’m hoping to continue playing out all through my college years and I’m looking forward to applying for more opportunities, meeting new musicians, and seeing what happens. It’s something that’s really hard to predict. But I feel like I’m on the right path.”
First, though, she has songs to record, a Grammy dress to shop for, a red carpet to walk, and new jazz musician friends to make.
“I could not feel more blessed to be a part of this group,” Brisson said. “I can’t wait to meet them and go, You are so good!”
Katie Beth Ryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3242.