Camaraderie Overcomes Ego

Duchess brings jazz vocal royalty to Oakland.


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Amy Cervini, Hilary Gardner, and Melissa Stylianou.

Courtesy of Duchess

Unflattering stereotypes about woman jazz singers abound, and while the music’s enduring bro-culture is responsible for many of the jokes and jibes, there’s a grain of truth about clashes and conflict between vocalists. In a hyper-competitive field in which sympathetic accompanists are precious, and gigs hard to come by, powerful contervailing forces often make collaboration difficult.

The delightful New York triumverate Duchess is a shining example of camaraderie overcoming ego, with three very different artists finding common ground in their love of lush vocal harmonies and overlooked pop treasures from the likes of Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh, Sammy Fain, and the Gershwins.

Featuring Amy Cervini, Hilary Gardner, and Melissa Stylianou, who’ve all earned critical acclaim for their performances and recordings as solo artists, Duchess plays a series of gigs around the Bay Area, culminating June 25, at the Sound Room. Not to traffic in stereotypes, but perhaps one reason these gals work so well together is that Cervini and Stylianou both hail from Toronto and bring an enticing dose of Canadian naughty/niceness to the project. Gardner also hails from the Great White North, but in her case that’s Wasilla, Alaska, where she got her start singing Patsy Cline tunes in dive bars.

Gardner’s 2014 debut release is a wry and knowing love letter to her adopted hometown New York, The Great City (Anzic). Cervini casts the widest net for material, bringing together styles often portrayed as antithetical with her 2015 album Jazz Country (Anzic), which features her smart and swinging “North Americana” arrangements of jazz, country, folk, and pop songs. And Stylianou earned rave reviews for her latest Anzic release, No Regrets, a simmering standards session powered by drum maestro Matt Wilson (who also produced Cervini’s Jazz Country).

Touring with New York pianist Michael Cade, who plays on Duchess’s 2015 eponymous Anzic debut, Duchess is joined by the ace Bay Area rhythm section tandem of bassist John Wiitala and drummer Greg Wyser-Pratte.

Duchess, 8 p.m. June 25, The Sound Room, 2147 Broadway, Oakland, $20, 510-496-4180, SoundRoom.org.

Editor's Note: This story appears in the June edition of our sister publication, The East Bay Monthly.

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