Q. How does an aspiring jazz singer make it from the guppy bowl to the fish tank in NYC or LA? Twenty something Melissa Morgan has talent. What else does she need besides chops and Nancy Wilson as a major influence?
A. She needs her own style.
Sitting poised and collected, surrounded by a snappy trio and a few patrons, Melissa Morgan certainly looked the part. The raven-haired singer, her lavender silk dress a perfect complement to her tawny skin and shoulder length tresses, red pump dangling from one foot, looked like she just dropped into your living room to sing a few songs from an album she'd just completed.
During her 50-minute performance, Morgan proved she has technique that could some day approach the caliber of her major influences - Nancy Wilson and Dinah Washington. She has an exceptionally clear voice, fine elocution, and timing that grooves with the swing titles and ballads on her set list.
What she did not demonstrate this slow Monday evening was that she has a grip on a style she can begin to call her own. As she launched into each of the seven songs in the first set, I kept hoping she’d stop singing pretty and start singing with conviction. And take a chance once in a while.
Morgan surprised us with an exquisite falsetto register that climbed an octave as she made her way through two lovely ballads. She found the jazz singer she hopes to become with her final song, “Until I Met You,” a Nancy Wilson classic.
She caressed the lyrics and seemed to forget everything except her memory of being the little girl who sat transfixed as she listened to her grandmother’s record collection and set her sights on a singing career.
This hastily booked appearance, a “showcase performance,” wasn’t on Scullers schedule and was intended to introduce her to an East Coast audience and a few booking agents in the room. Quite possibly it served as a tune up for seven shows in which Morgan opens for Spyro Gyra in the next five days in San Diego and San Francisco.
If I hadn’t bumped into the bass player as I made my way out the door, I’d never have guessed they only rehearsed for a half hour before the show. And that the bassist and drummer from Brooklyn had never met the LA guitar player until that rehearsal. Their solos were crisp and uninhibited, as if they were coaxing Morgan to let out the stops herself. The falsetto register she used to wonderful effect on "Until I Met You" could become part of her emerging signature style.
In time, her inner voice will merge with her outer talent. Or she may never see her own albums where she dreams of seeing them - a few rows away from Nancy Wilson’s in music store racks across the country.