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Sunday November 23, 2014
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Shahida Nurullah

 

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pensive lament "It's Not Easy Bein' Green." This may not seem like a great vehicle for a jazz vocalist, but Nurullah made it her own, without tricks, without bathos, and without scatting, but with a direct simplicity that evoked Billie Holiday and a vocal control that reminded me of Sarah Vaughan. She may bring to mind such illustrious precursors, but her sound and phrasing are all her own.

Since that evening at the Bird I have heard her many times in various settings, and my admiration for her musicianship has grown steadily. Whether swinging on standards, rocking the blues, or gently swaying a bossa nova, she delves deeply into a song without affectation and without unnecessary vocal acrobatics. She seeks out unusual pieces to sing and has even been known to offer texts in original languages such as Portuguese. Her strong musical training at Cass Tech, a school that has produced many famous jazz players, is evident in her intelligent and soulful approach to melody, phrasing, and rhythm. It is not easy to make a living as a jazz singer in Detroit. But Nurullah has persevered, and when a terrible accident left her with injuries that would have overwhelmed most people, she overcame them by sheer force of will, and with the love and help of friends from the Motor City's close-knit jazz community.

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