The material is wide ranging, but not without a theme. "These are observations about an inner journey," Dollison explained. It’s a trip worth taking with the classically trained soprano, who won best jazz vocal soloist in the DownBeat 2000 annual student music award.
Her original composition "Forward, Like So" reflects the time she lived in New York and how the city can make one feel so small. Dollison layered her vocals to create a feeling of being overwhelmed.
Another original song is "Lost at Sea," which is based on a cruise ship gig. Dollison was working a six-week job on a cruise and noticed that the others on the ship seemed to be aboard for life. "I pondered if I could live on the ship," she remembered.
Living in one place is something that Dollison isn’t used to. Growing up, she lived in eight states and twice as many cities. "People ask me if my dad was in the military," Dollison said. "He wasn’t. My dad was just restless. We moved around a lot. It helped me see the United States from different angles."
It also exposed Dollison to different styles and interpretations of music. Every city and school had a different music program. As a result, she sang in a gospel choir in Memphis and then a madrigal choir in Sacramento, Calif.
Dollision was a shy girl from having moved around so much. "Music was my outlet," she said. "I always wanted to be a singer."
Her grandmother played ragtime piano. She played music by ear and would adapt Barry Manilow songs and other tunes on the radio and turn it into a ragtime number. This helped Dollison hear how songs could be interpreted in different ways.
These different influences come together on Observatory, a project that was five years in the making. Dollison laughs that it took so long because she is indecisive. In reality, she was writing the music, selecting the instrumentation, and finding the musicians. She is joined on the CD by jazz guitarist Ben Monder, who has worked in Schneider’s band; bassist Matt Clohesy; and drummer Ted Poor.
In one of the more compelling arrangements, they rework Cole Porter’s "Night and Day" by superimposing it on top of Coltrane. The melody has been altered to fit the chord changes. The song opens with Dollison scatting. It serves as an invitation for the other musicians to join in. When they do, the song lifts off and takes flight.
Dollison’s ear for rich harmonic content drew her to jazz. "I crave sounds that are harmonically complex," she explained.
These days, Dollison calls Sacramento home. She teaches in the music department of California State University at Sacramento. She has also served as adjunct professor at New School University and at the University of Miami.
"Teaching helps me reinforce the direction that I want to go in," Dollison said. "I learn as much from my students as they do from me. It’s interesting to see the different intentions." From the students who sing for recreation, Dollison learns to be more light-hearted. From those who want to make music a career, she is inspired by their drive.
She recently married vocal jazz arranger Kerry Marsh, who also teaches at Sacramento State. Marsh shot the cover photo of Observatory. The couple was married at sea, and the photo is an image of Dollison on the observatory deck of a ship looking out into the horizon. It was only later that they realized that the photo would be a fitting cover.
Dollison will showcase her CD and debut new music at the International Association for Jazz Education annual conference on Jan. 12, in New York City. She will be performing April 11 at the Dave Brubeck Jazz Festival at the University of Pacific in Stockton, Calif. In addition, pianist Geoff Keezer is writing a concerto for voice that will feature Dollison and the Sacramento State University Jazz Ensemble. A performance is scheduled for April 12 in Sacramento.