Music from the 1940s resonates with vocalist McKelle |

Music from the 1940s resonates with vocalist McKelle

Erin Gleason

Robin McKelle will perform forties-inspired jazz tonight for Strings in the Mountains.

— Robin McKelle was born in the wrong decade. So, when would have been the right time?

“The ’40s,” McKelle said. “You listen to the music from that time period and these wonderful love stories between men and women. You picture how it was really supposed to be.”

McKelle’s vocal sound combines the style from her favorite era with contemporary styles. The result is vintage jazz vocals.

Much of McKelle’s early training stemmed from the classical piano she learned beginning in elementary school. In her teenage years, McKelle found inspiration in jazz.

“I was curious,” McKelle said. “The sounds of the melodies and harmonies – it was more than the regular pop music I’d heard.”

McKelle started listening to more instrumental jazz music and played jazz piano in her high school band – until her teacher found out she could sing. Continuing to follow her passion for jazz vocals, McKelle studied at the Berklee College of Music in Boston and dabbled in backup singing in Los Angeles.

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“It’s the freedom of jazz; I feel like I have a place I can freely interpret the melody and the lyrics each time I sing them,” McKelle said. “It’s acceptable to be different.”

After the brief stint in L.A., McKelle competed in the Thelonious Monk Vocal Jazz Competition in Washington, D.C. Competing against some of her idols, McKelle didn’t expect much as far as top results go. She surprised the jazz scene by finishing third.

“It really gave me a sense of where I stood,” McKelle said. “The phone started ringing.”

Just months after her success in D.C., McKelle was offered the soloist position in the Boston Pops Orchestra. She continued touring nationally while financing and recording her debut album, “Introducing Robin McKelle.”

“I had a lot of say in the recording,” McKelle said. “I wanted a vintage feel, sticking true to jazz roots.”

McKelle, using a songbook from the 1930s, created the album using swing and big band arrangements.

“You don’t hear many big bands playing classical ’30s and ’40s music,” McKelle said. “The CD is true to the arrangements and the approach of that era. It sounds very stylistically like the time period.”

McKelle has had a busy summer. She flew to Colorado for tonight’s performance in Steamboat, and she will return to France shortly afterward. She also has a second album in the works.

“It’s a lot, but it’s good,” McKelle said. “I’m looking forward to being on some home turf, even if it’s for a short time.”

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