After two locally distributed CDs, Hawaii-based vocalist Azure McCall has released her first national effort with "The Gift."
The CD serves as a strong introduction to McCall for the recording showcases her deep, honey voice and a wide-ranging repertoire. Whether the song is a jazz standard or a pop tune, the music has an air of earthy spirituality much like McCall herself.
"My voice is my gift," she said. "I want to reach out and touch people with my music."
McCall moved to Hawaii in 1972 with her husband, who was serving in the Navy. Audiences there have known about her for decades. Hawaii, she said, has a small, but growing jazz scene. McCall is at the center of that world. She has twice been named "best jazz singer" in the Na Hoku Hanohano Awards and has also earned a "Best of Honolulu" recognition.
McCall and producer Pat Murphy wanted "The Gift" to be a journey of different musical styles, from jazz numbers to folk songs to original compositions. In many ways, the CD is a roadmap of the singer’s life.
"We wanted to have a collective so we could touch a lot of different people," she explained. "Basically, I’ve been doing classic jazz. This is my first attempt at something other than classic jazz. I’m spreading my wings, girl."
"Without a song, the day would never end," sings McCall to open the album. The gospel-tinged number features McCall’s big, rich voice accompanied only by keyboards. "Without a Song," she said, captures her feelings perfectly. "My life would be empty without music," she said.
Next comes "Hello Love," a song written by her longtime friend and pianist Tennyson Stephens, who contributes five compositions to the disc. "My mother used to answer the phone, ‘Hello, love,’" McCall said. "She always called everybody love."
There’s also her own song, "I Don’t Know What To Do," which she wrote while sitting on a Hawaiian beach in the 1980s. Her husband was often away in the Navy, and the song discusses her feelings about separation.
McCall also includes two Joni Mitchell songs, "Shades of Scarlet Conquering," and "Be Cool." Mitchell has been one of McCall’s favorite writers since the 1970s.
In a nod to jazz standards, she delivers a graceful rendition of "Happiness Is A Thing Called Joe." She closes the disc with Alan and Marilyn Bergman’s hopeful "You Must Believe In Spring."
As a child, McCall said she was "crazy, rambunctious, silly. I’m still the same - young at heart."
While growing up in Berkeley, Calif., she listened to Sarah Vaughan, Dakota Staton, King Pleasure and other classic vocalists. One of her childhood friends is Anita Pointer of the Pointer Sisters, who stepped in to provide background vocals on McCalls’s new CD. "She’s my sistah," McCall said. "We’ve been friends since the seventh grade."
The two shared the same music teacher in school. The 6-foot-tall instructor taught her students how to articulate and stand tall, remembered McCall, who also gets some help on the CD from other top musicians, including drummer Vinnie Collauta and bassist Alphonso Johnson.
McCall landed her first singing job after moving to Hawaii and has developed a following over the years. Legendary bassist Ray Brown took her on tour in Japan in 1998 as part of a band that included Joe Lovano and Nicholas Payton. She has also toured New Zealand, Sweden, Finland and performed with Dizzy Gillespie.
She has two children and one granddaughter.
When she’s not working, McCall might be on one of the island beaches. "I love to play in the ocean. I don’t go out far though," she said with a laugh. "I only go waist deep and then I go left and right. You know what I mean? Up and down the coast. I don’t go out there. I stay in my neighborhood."
The new disc, however, will bring her recognition beyond the island. McCall is hoping to do more touring and has plans for more recordings in the future, including possibly a disc of her favorite local songs and a gospel album.