Wednesday, June 16

Clairdee helps celebrate Jazz Appreciation Month – Times-Herald


Now that Clairdee rolled up her sleeves for two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, she can roll up her sleeves and get back to touring as an acclaimed jazz vocalist.

Well, almost.

“I’m waiting until things are little safer to get out and mingle with folks,” she said.

So, for now, it’s a pre-recorded streamed event Sunday, April 11, 5 p.m., on behalf of the Vallejo Jazz Society as Clairdee is joined by her pianist and husband Ken French and bass player Ron Belcher.

April is Jazz Appreciation Month and April 30th is International Jazz Day.

“With that in mind we decided that an April streaming concert is definitely in order,” said Kevin Ingraham, president of the VJS.

Clairdee’s last real-people-in-the-audience gig was March 8, 2020 for her album release, “Love Letter to Lena Horne.”

Vocalist Clairdee is joined by her pianist and husband, Ken French, in a streamed performance on behalf of the Vallejo Jazz Society. (Courtesy photo)

Her concert the following night at the Freight & Salvage in Berkeley was canceled — and everything else after that.

“My last performance with an audience. Weird,” Clairdee said by phone from her San Francisco home.

Clairdee did a “streaming thing” for the Freight & Salvage last December, and a holiday show in Washington state to perform with the Vancouver Symphony in an empty auditorium.

“Me on one side and plexiglass everywhere,” recalled Clairdee. “It was hard to hear.”

Sure, there were concerns about flying. So she was treated to First Class air and a hotel suite with her own kitchen.

“I felt good once I got there,” she said, emphasizing that the music “was healing for me.”

Fortunately, Clairdee said, “Washington considers musicians essential workers. They did take every safety measure possible. I felt really safe.”

Why California doesn’t consider musicians essential “is a good question,” Clairdee said.

“Let me call (San Francisco) Mayor (London) Breed and the governor,” she quipped. “We are essential. People need music.”

The pandemic undoubtedly caused Clairdee to go the longest without publicly showcasing her pipes. There was that time she went “a month or so” without a performance “only because I wanted to take time off. This has been so strange.”

Yes, she sings at home. Every day.

“I’m always singing. But it isn’t the same. You need that interaction with musicians and the intensity of the music,” she said.

Because of the layoff and fretting her allergies, Clairdee was wary of that concert with the Vancouver Symphony.

“I remember sitting there trying to warm up and the voice was not there,” she said. “I was really afraid. ‘What’s going to happen if I get there and I can’t sing?’ Fortunately, that didn’t happen.”

Clairdee’s grateful that she doesn’t have to venture far for her accompanist, living and all that with French, her husband of 21 years.

“I’m very fortunate,” she said. “Not only does my husband play beautifully, he loves accompanying singers. The gorgeous thing about our relationship is that he can be practicing and it can be so soothing.”

She doubts it’s reciprocal.

“I’m singing around the house all the time. Whatever pops into my mind. It must drive him crazy,” Clairdee said, thankful there’s “a real simpatico of how we approach the music from an arrangement standpoint. We have this great connection.”

Not surprisingly, music brought the two together though it took a decade for a date to materialize.

Clairdee was headlining an AIDS benefit at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco in 1988 and French was pianist for another vocalist.

French later admitted that Clairdee caught his eye at that event.

“I didn’t know any of this until 10 years later,” she said. “He said he gave me his card but I don’t remember that.”

For a decade, French and a colleague would catch Clairdee’s performances, eventually comparing female vocalists to her.

“They’d go hear someone else and say, ‘She’s good, but she’s no Clairdee.’ I had no idea,” Clairdee said.

It was 1998 and she returned from Paris needing a piano player. And French walked by. He did the gig. And the relationship wasn’t history, but the future.

“I wasn’t aware he had a crush on me,” Clairdee said. “He was such a nice man and a gentleman. I wanted to know him better.”

Finally, the first date: Dinner and a play. When they arrived at the theater, it was the same musical director Clairdee had at the Fairmont 10 years earlier. It was destiny.

And here they are, doing a streamed recorded show and still making music together, including the tribute tunes to Lena Horne.

Clairdee recalled that she was 4 hearing her parents talk about Horne.

“My parents, loved, loved, loved her. Not because she was gorgeous and they loved her singing. They really respected her civil rights and social justice activities,” Clairdee said. “That made her topnotch for them. They took her example and shared it with their children.”

Horne died in 2010 at 92. But if Clairdee could have ever met her, “I asked if I could be her daughter,” she said laughing.

Seriously, “I don’t know. I did so much research on her; reading her books and her biography and lots of reviews,” Clairdee said. “I would just have liked to be in her presence.”

Clairdee would have hugged Horne, no doubt. It’s just her thing, which makes social distancing even more difficult.

“I’m a hugger. I give great hugs and I miss that,” Clairdee said. “The human touch is really important and giving someone a hug is a wonderfully healing experience. I miss the hugging.”

The Vallejo Jazz Society presents Clairdee in a streamed concert, Sunday, April 11, 5 p.m. Free. Donations accepted.

For more, visit vallejojazzsociety.org.



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