Jazz Album of the Week: Vocalist Veronica Swift Lights Up the Darkness with Confessions

Sep 30, 2019

September 30, 2019. Confessions may be her debut album for Mack Avenue Records, but vocalist Veronica Swift, who is 25 years old, has been doing this jazz thing for a while. Swift had a relatively normal childhood for someone who recorded her first album with saxophonist Richie Cole at age nine and made her first appearance at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola at 11.

With those kinds of credentials, you might picture a Veruca Salt-mannered, stage-parented Manhattanite. But this daughter of two jazzers actually grew up on a cow farm near Charlottesville, VA, and went to public school.

You might also expect that for her major label debut, Swift would trot out the well-worn Songbook standards. So much for expectations. Make no mistake: the tunes here originate from songwriters whose names you know, but they’re more the B-sides, the ones left unattended for so long they’ve become something like musical orphans.

Loneliness, the darker, edgier sides to the human condition—these are things that resonate with the introspective Swift, whose last album (2015) was titled Lonely Woman. Swift also got into the goth/metal scene as a college student, writing a rock opera that she’s described as “Lady Gaga meets Marilyn Manson.”

After the loss of her father, the great bebop pianist Hod O’Brien, Swift was called to return to her jazz roots, but she’s still drawn to songs that have helped her persevere through some of those darker times. And, so, many of the selections here reflect Swift acknowledging a source of pain or darkness and then using the cathartic power of singing to exorcise those feelings.

Catharsis abounds in Confessions’ opener, the self-empowering “You’re Gonna Hear from Me,” a tune originally written by André and Dory Previn for Natalie Wood’s character in the 1967 movie, Inside Daisy Clover. Swinging and declaratory, Swift presents the self-assuredness of one who’s come to the big city to sow her fortune and, come what may, will not be denied.

Johnny Hodges’ “A Little Taste” speaks to Swift’s penchant for approaching everything in moderation…including moderation. There’s an irresistible attitude with a capital A present here, an exuberant heedlessness, redolent of Sinatra’s swaggering “I’m Gonna Live Till I Die.” Ms. Swift might be trouble, but she sure is fun. And, at least in terms of pitch and phrasing, perfect. It’s impossible to believe this isn’t owing to her pedigree—Swift’s vocal presentation is an example of the power possessed by nature and nurture when they conspire.

As different a jazz singer as she may be, Swift still is, at close of business, a jazz singer. And a jazz singer still needs the ability to own a Broadway tune. Some beautiful voices just don’t have the personality for it, or don’t know how to make that personality shine through in an audio recording. But “Forget about the Boy,” the album’s resident ear-worm and an empowered, and empowering, anthem from Thoroughly Modern Millie, is no problem for Swift, whose voice is possessed of such personality and maturity that it betrays the almost certain truth that this 25-year-old has been an old soul for a long time. In celebrating a break-up, it speaks to those times when feelings of lightness and freedom, not heartbreak, follow a severed relationship. Maybe Ms. Swift hasn’t lived this experience, but she’s got me fooled.

Among my other favorites here is a medley of Dietz and Schwartz’s “Confession” and Nina Simone’s “The Other Woman.” It’s on “Confession” where Swift most closely replicates the elegance and charming wit of Anita O’Day, whom Swift cites as her biggest jazz-singing inspiration. Swift segues seamlessly into the Nina classic, imbuing it with a different kind of emotionality I’ve yet to put my finger on—suffice it to say, she’s not out of her depth here, emotionally. Musically, it’s hard to conceive that Swift would be out of her depth anywhere.

This includes the realm of satire, where Bob Dorough’s timelessly funny “I’m Hip” resides. The album’s penultimate tune, this may be the most pure fun to be found here, the chemistry between Swift and the great young pianist Emmett Cohen is on fire. What most excites me about Swift’s performance on this particular style of tune is that it suggests she’ll do one killer version of “Too Close for Comfort” someday, whenever she’s ready. I, for one, can’t wait.