Big Voice, Bigger Heart

Dee Daniels jazzes up Fort Smith Symphony

Posted: October 20, 2017 at 1 a.m.

Courtesy Photo Dee Daniels says what she brings to a performance, whether it's with four musicians or 40, is the energy of love, healing, joy, peace and health.

Jazz singer Dee Daniels has a great big voice -- with a four octave range -- and a heart even bigger. Performing with an orchestra like the Fort Smith Symphony gives her a chance to project some powerful emotions to her audience.

"I consciously choose to direct my energy to everybody in the building," says the Vancouver-based performer. "And that energy is about love, healing, joy, peace, health -- that's where I'm coming from.

FAQ

‘The Great Ladies of Swing’

With Dee Daniels

WHEN — 7:30 p.m. Saturday

WHERE — ArcBest Performing Arts Center in downtown Fort Smith

COST — $17-$45

INFO — 452-7575

"It's not about my voice," adds Daniels, who has a list of collaborations and successes even bigger than her heart. "There are plenty of people who can sing. For me, it's the spirit of it that's important to share with people. It brings people hope. Music is a very healing thing. I know the power of it. And I know when I choose to direct that energy, it has an effect on people. To be able to multiply that with an orchestra? That's an incredible opportunity."

Although she started singing in her stepfather's church in Oakland, Calif., Daniels did not consider herself a musician. Neither was Oakland her home. Instead, at 17, she fell in love with Seattle, Wash., when the family moved there, and she earned a bachelor of arts in art education before teaching for a year. She started singing as a hobby and soon, the music trumped visual arts.

"I would say that the music won, but I don't see them as being separate and never did," she says. "To me, it's just another expression."

As her career blossomed, Daniels moved to Los Angeles, then back to Seattle, where she realized she was in "a very comfortable rut. I had done everything you could possibly do in Seattle -- TV, radio, the Opera House many times. I was the big fish in the little pond -- and I knew the only way I could keep growing, which was very important to me, was to leave."

A fan, artist LeRoy Neiman, encouraged her with his story of growing from the "best known artist in Minneapolis and Minnesota to the best known artist in Chicago and Illinois." But New York never accepted him, she says, until he'd spent a couple of years in Paris.

"I left and went to Europe, and I was there for five years," Daniels says. "In the fifth year, I came back for a concert in Vancouver, and met the man who in one year would become my husband."

Daniels did take her spin in New York, staying for three years and accomplishing all but one of her goals. Then, she says, she knew it was time to come home. "And I'm a happy camper."

Whether she's playing with four musicians or 40, Daniels says, "I consider myself not the singer in front of a symphony orchestra or any group, we are the unit, and my goal is to invite the audience and everybody else in the building to become a part of that unit." And for any performance, she brings a musical background with "a myriad of different styles and genres. I'm not necessarily a purist in the tradition of Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn or Billie Holiday. Stylistically, it's a culmination of my entire musical experience I bring to my performance."

Besides, she adds, "this particular symphony pops program has an entertainment value to it, too."

The concert, titled "The Great Ladies of Swing," offers music from "Porgy and Bess," "Sweet Georgia Brown," "Bill Bailey" and a Fitzgerald medley that includes "Summertime" and "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man."

"I hope that people leave uplifted," Daniels says. "I want them to have a moving emotional experience and, in the end, be uplifted."

The orchestra may leave exhausted. After this program on Saturday, the musicians will stay overnight, and on Sunday, rehearse an Earquake educational concert they'll perform three times on Monday for 4,000 kids from 78 schools in western Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma.

"It's a big weekend," John Jeter, music director for the symphony, says with a laugh. "I just wanted to mention that other part of it."

NAN What's Up on 10/20/2017