When Alita Moses stepped onto the stage for the finals of the 2014 Shure Montreux Jazz Voice Competition in Switzerland last July, she had come a long way from West Hartford, Connecticut, and a long way from Philadelphia’s University of the Arts, where she is a senior jazz vocal major.
Alita thought about her late father, Fredric “Fritz” Moses, an operatic baritone and voice professor at the Hartt School. He had encouraged her early musical talent (“I was singing since I could speak,” she says) by playing music for her and by having her sit in on his classes. Even though classical music was his first love, he was a good swing dancer and loved Billie Holiday. He and her mother, Broadway singer Janelle Robinson, also made sure that Alita took cello, guitar, and piano lessons.
She had been making up songs, singing in choirs, and playing in orchestras all through middle and high school. Alita credits her teachers for recognizing her love and talent for music, and, she emphasizes, for “pushing” her. Even so, she was thinking about becoming a veterinarian until she started singing with the school’s jazz band. Then, the pieces started coming together.
One of the tours the band took was to the University of the Arts. It “had the most collaborative feel,” and she remembered that when it came time to think about college. Although she was accepted everywhere she applied, she chose UArts.
Her parents both knew that in a music career, nothing is certain, but were very supportive. She came to love many styles of jazz, pop, and rhythm & blues, but “standards have a special place in my heart,” she admits, loving what Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Nancy Wilson, and her father’s favorite, Billie Holiday all brought to performance.
On the Montreux stage, one of the songs in her finals set was George Gershwin’s “Someone to Watch Over Me.” She can never sing it without thinking of her father, who died in 2009. Although Alita Moses was the youngest of all the contestants, her special feel for this song was noticed as she sang, “Oh, how I need someone to watch over me.”
“The longing is in her face while she sings,” the judges wrote, and when she walked off the stage for the last time, they awarded her the First Prize and the audience voted her first with the Public Prize.
Program for Philadelphia Music Makers show on March 15 at 6 pm:
“A Sleepin’ Bee” by Harold Arlen
“Four” by Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson (attr to Miles Davis)
“Precious” by Esperanza Spalding
“Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise” by Sigmund Romberg and Oscar Hammerstein
“Someone to Watch Over Me” by George Gershwin
“Amour, t'es là?” by Magda Giannikou
“Holding Back the Years” by Mick Hucknall (Simply Red) Gretchen Parlato adaptation
“Our Love Is Hear to Stay” by George Gershwin