Beginning to See the Light
How does one, in reality 'see the light?' For many it is a spiritual element, while others have an epiphany or revelation about an aspect of life or relationships with something they may suddenly discover, have known all along and finally accept, or experience an event that changes them forever. In the case of Metro-Detroit's up-and-coming jazz singer Jesse Palter, she is seeing the light while concurrently being surrounded by it. As the past few years of her young life have progressed, she is continually spreading the aura of her musical being to listeners in local night clubs, concert halls and festival performances. Her rising star has been meteoric, as anybody can quickly recognize her clear, natural talent for transforming a well worn song into one all her own, and enchanting listeners in ways few vocalists can. Recently Palter has been duly recognized for her effort, winning the prestigious Detroit Music Awards for Best Jazz Vocalist. It's no small feat in a marketplace dotted with great singers and role models such as Bettye LaVette, Ursula Walker and of course the all time Queen Of Soul, Aretha Franklin. Jesse Palter is a product of the well respected West Bloomfield school district in Oakland County, north of Detroit. Singing publicly since age 5 and playing piano at 6, she took up trumpet and oboe, instruments with completely different timbres & techniques, and a stark indication of her versatility. Her music studies at Abbott Middle School, West Bloomfield High School, and the University Of Michigan served as a prelude to becoming a jazz singer that has all the background and is gaining experience to reach lofty flights of swinging improvisational fancy. In fact, Jesse held a unique place at U-Michigan in that she was accepted as a vocal student in their classical and jazz programs devoted solely to instrumentalists. There she toiled under the tutelage of ex-Count Basie trombonist Dennis Wilson, and veteran Detroit saxophonist/bandleader Donald Walden. This debut CD demonstrates Jesse Palter's flexible, poignant, attractive vocal instrument, complemented by unique arrangements that surround that sweetest of sounds. What immediately grabs you though is that she challenges herself by using charts that are a departure from the norm. Check out the title track, using mixed meters, mostly in 7, or the 5/4 'Zing Went The Strings Of My Heart.' She absolutely tears up 'There Will Never Be Another You' starting in a quick waltz, moving to hard bop, and back again. Jesse scats with the verve and vigor of a vocalist wise beyond her years on several of these selections. She can sing succinct ballads as 'It's Not Easy Bein' Green' and 'One For My Baby' with ease and equal aplomb as her loping, soulful take on The Turtles pop tune 'Happy Together,' the funky original 'Lovesick,' or a delicate version of 'Taking A Chance On Love.' She'll break your tears into thin, misty dewdrops on another original 'Change Of Heart' and the classic 'Some Other Time.' Her yeoman peers/accompanists need to be mentioned in spades. Pianist/musical director Mike Jellick, bassist Ben Williams, and drummer Nate Winn are strong, supple & sensitive players who seem to be inside the pulse and at the heartbeat of Jesse's every phrase, nuance and quirk. They seem virtually telepathic in their ability to frame, shade and embellish what Jesse extracts, from the underbelly, to the soul, guts and glory of any lyric. This trio, much more than a 'back-up' band, lends greatly to the sense of these tunes not being merely copied,but fully interpreted and realized. Seeing the light might be easy for some, difficult or impossible for many others. But in the case of Jesse Palter's fine debut effort, with infinite promise down the road, an illumination of sorts should be something all listeners will surely be able to sense, feel, and actually hear! -Michael G. Nastos; Senior Music Host/WEMU, 89.1FM (Ypsilanti, Mi.,) Cadence Magazine, All Music Guide, Downbeat Critics Poll Jesse Palter started singing before she could talk. She hasn't stopped -- and she doesn't plan to any time soon. 'There are videos of me when I was a baby -- I was barely getting the words out, but the melody was there,' she says. 'I can't tell you the time when I got 'into' music because I was always into it. It was natural.' At just 20 years old, through both training and pure instinct, Jesse has grown into one of the most accomplished and dynamic singers (and songwriters) in the Detroit jazz and overall music scenes. Her voice is a flexible, facile instrument wielded by an ambitious and visionary player; it can be sweet or salty, polished or raw, wide in range and broad in stylistic scope, channeling and combining influences such as Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Frank Sinatra, Joni Mitchell, Stevie Wonder and Kurt Elling. It's the voice of someone who has a voracious appetite for growth and is fearless in that pursuit -- the perfect equation for a promising future. 'I've grown so much -- musically, harmonically, as a thinker in general,' says Jesse, who took Outstanding Jazz Vocalist honors at the 2006 Detroit Music Awards. 'Instead of just getting on the bandstand and playing off-the-cuff standards, we have our own unique interpretations of the classic songs as well as my original compositions. Working with such accomplished musicians, we are constantly pushing each other to expand outside of the box. This dedication has taken our group to the next level'. It's fair to say that singing is in Jesse's blood. Her grandmother, Dorothea Ranier, was an opera prodigy in New York who continued singing throughout her life. Jesse's father, who harbored his own ambitions to be a DJ, was raised in a musical household, which he passed along to his family, keeping plenty of Motown, show tunes, Beatles, Michael Jackson, Prince, Carole King, Stevie Wonder and Tony Bennett on the home stereo. The precocious Jesse started singing publicly at age five and learning piano at six. She subsequently studied oboe and trumpet and attended a middle school that specialized in the performing arts, where she starred in a number of theatrical productions. In fact, the first public indication that jazz lay in her future came during rehearsals for 'Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,' when Jesse, playing the narrator, began 'embellishing' the melodies; although the director admonished her, she also told Jesse's mother that Jesse had a natural inclination towards improvisational singing. 'That's when I started listening to a whole bunch of jazz records,' Jesse recalls, 'and really immersing myself in the language of improvisation.' However, she was also conscious of the parade of adolescent and teen stars soaring up the pop charts and decided that maybe she could do that, too. She began contacting producers such as Detroit's Jeff and Marky Bass (Eminem, 50 Cent) as well as Andrew Gold (Linda Ronstadt, Celine Dion). But despite some interesting sessions, Jesse's path was already taking her in different directions. 'I never felt quite at home,' she says, 'until I finally started performing jazz.' Her persistence paid off in getting the University of Michigan School of Music to allow her to be part of it's jazz program as a vocalist -- a course of study the school didn't offer at the time. But after hearing Jesse audition, they struck a compromise in which she agreed to take classical voice classes ('Working on my vocal hygiene,' she says) while studying jazz theory and improvisation with legendary artist/instructors such as Donald Walden and Dennis Wilson. During the past two years, Jesse has forged her reputation as a live performer throughout the Detroit area, racking up credentials by sharing stages with Marcus Belgrave, James Carter, Dr. Teddy Harris, Keith Hall, Paul Keller and others. Now on leave from school, she's been studying at 'Mike Jellick University,' working tirelessly with the music director and pianist of her Jesse Palter Quartet to develop arrangements and stylistic touches. The group (which also includes Nate Winn on drums and Ben Williams on bass) are regulars at the world renowned Baker's Keyboard Lounge, have performed extensively around the Detroit Metropolitan area, and also served as the house band for the official jam following the 26th Detroit International Jazz Festival. Jesse and company have just completed her first album, Beginning to See the Light, which includes originals such as 'Change of Heart', a song inspired from a personal experience with misplaced love, along with standards like 'One For My Baby (And One More For the Road)','Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart' as well as the Kermit The Frog classic 'Bein' Green'. 'Sometimes I'm like, 'Oh my God, this is happening so quickly,' Jesse says. 'I'm real lucky to be playing these clubs and these festivals, especially with musicians I respect so much. On the other hand, I've been doing this for quite some time. People don't realize I 'have' paid many of my dues. When you think about how long I've been trying to go for this, it's been a huge learning experience -- and I'm still learning about it every day of my life.'