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Music Inside Out: Quiana Lynell

Music Inside Out: Quiana Lynell

Singer Quiana Lynell is a natural educator, and from the time the tape started rolling at Esplanade Studios, class was in session. Lesson one: Intro to Scat Singing.

Good scat is based on the art of improvising in counter-melody – taking an established melody and vocalizing a different melodic line that reflects directly on the original.

Musically speaking, children are counter-melodies of their parents, especially in their early years. Lynell grew up in the West Texas city of Abilene, where she was raised in an austere, religious household. She learned her first musical lessons in church. “That is how I grew up,” Lynell said. “And my mom was like my first voice teacher. She’d be like, “Stop singing out of your nose!”

And yet, the melodies of childhood were too sparse for the young Lynell. She had more to say. As a soprano at Louisiana State University, her plan was to sing classical music professionally. But how often do people do exactly what they thought they’d be doing in college? Lynell built a repertoire in gospel, blues and r&b music in Baton Rouge, before realizing she had still more to say. New Orleans beckoned — and, with it, a yen for jazz. She’s been growing her jazz vocabulary — and chops — ever since.

Now, the world is beckoning. In 2017, Lynell won the Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition, which is held each year at Rutgers University in Vaughan’s home state of New Jersey. Also, Lynell performed in Europe this summer and New York. She’s currently working on a new album with a slew of jazz masters, including trumpeter Terence Blanchard, David Torkanowsky on piano, Max Moran on bass and Herlin Riley on drums, among others.

To Lynell’s mind, this is the beginning of her destiny as an renowned jazz artist and bandleader. She’s growing — and so is her vocabulary. And, yes, she has a lot more to say about that.

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Gwen Thompkins is a New Orleans native, NPR veteran and host of WWNO's Music Inside Out, where she brings to bear the knowledge and experience she amassed as senior editor of Weekend Edition, an East Africa correspondent, the holder of Nieman and Watson Fellowships, and as a longtime student of music from around the world.