In both jazz and life, timing is everything. Musicians know that wide scale recognition and financial success will usually not come about if their offerings fail to connect with audiences. All the talent and preparation in the universe mean nothing if a platform for presenting one’s ability never materializes. Such opportunities have become rare in the jazz idiom, where the paucity of plum gigs all too often prevent the cream of the young crop from rising.
An exception to this rule is Camille Thurman, a fledgling musician of rare exuberance whose lush, inspired sonic offerings are paving the way to a luminous future career.
The St. Albans, New York native attended the prestigious Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music and Art and then graduated from Binghamton University, before returning to New York City and eventually establishing herself within the musical community. She became know primarily as a tenor saxophonist, with her rich, earthy, elegant tone reminding some of Dexter Gordon.
Two ASCAP Herb Alpert Young Jazz Composers awards (2012 and 2013) added to her credentials, as did associations with an ever growing list of luminaries that included Dr. Billy Taylor, Benny Golson, George Coleman, Terri Lyne Carrington, Charli Persip, and Valery Ponomarev.
Thurman turned in a jewel of a performance at last summer's Newport Jazz Festival, staking her claim with rich sumptuous, well thought out solos while sitting in on tenor with the dynamic and perpetually swinging vocalist, Charenee Wade.
When her latest release, "Waiting For The Sunrise" (Chesky Records), dropped in the waning days of August, it featured her abilities as a dexterous, confident singer in addition to her sonorous horn playing. There was no doubt that this deeply soulful musician/vocalist's profile was rising, and that the world was beginning to catch on.
Little wonder, then, that in early autumn Thurman was invited to join the venerable Jazz@Lincoln Center Orchestra as a member of their highly regarded saxophone section for the duration of the current season.
Prior to assuming her current position in the orchestra, Thurman had undoubtedly been on Jazz@Lincoln Center's radar for some time. This past June, she performed as part of a vocal trio that included stellar contemporaries Jazzmeia Horn and Brianna Thomas, accompanying the Jazz@Lincoln Center Orchestra in presenting the world premiere of Wynton Marsalis' long-form composition, "The Ever Fonky Low Down". Commissioned by J@LC, the piece served as the culminating event of the organization's thirtieth season.
In late October, trumpeter and band leader Wynton Marsalis announced from the stage during the course of a JLCO concert featuring the compositions of Thelonious Monk that Thurman would be a regular presence with the orchestra through this coming June. The audience's approval and excitement were palpable as the historical significance of what they were witnessing began to dawn upon them.
The Jazz@Lincoln Center Orchestra is an aggregation stacked to the gills with musicians whose vitality and virtuosity are matched only by their sense of purpose. As the focus of both critical acclaim and philanthropic generosity, the band's parent entity, Jazz@Lincoln Center, has raised the profile of the art form globally during the three decades of its existence.
Yet the ensemble has traditionally included few female players, a trend that must be reversed. So on this night, Camille Thurman - prodigiously talented and thoroughly prepared - performed the music of one of the greatest composers in the history of jazz as a member of one of the preeminent contemporary orchestras.
Thurman navigated the inherent complexities of the tunes and their nimble, intricate arrangements with aplomb, displaying an easy, relaxed versatility while doing so. By the third tune of the night, Thurman had contributed to the band's reed section on three different instruments, shifting seamlessly from clarinet for "Off Minor", to bass clarinet on "Friday The Thirteenth", then to tenor saxophone for "Ruby, My Dear".
The orchestra's interpretation of "North Of The Sunset", a rarity, recorded by Monk on his 1965 album, "Solo Monk", found Thurman in a supporting role on flute, while the Sherman Irby arranged "Well, You Needn't" featured a rolicking, joyous solo by her on tenor saxophone.
Camille Thurman is a prime example of a stellar young, female musician whose bonafides also include highly developed skills as a vocalist, composer, and band leader. And she is just one member of a large cohort of similarly endowed women who are in the process of leveling the playing field that is improvised music. This is inevitable, as there are simply too many extraordinarily talented, deeply committed women around for any other outcome to be possible.
Ricardo Burke is a Brooklyn, NY based writer and lover of jazz, cinema and art.
Camille Thurman will perform live in the WGBH Fraser Performance studio with the Darrell Green Trio on Monday, December 17, 2018 at 7:00 p.m. Hosted 89.7's Eric Jackson and streaming on the WGBH Facebook page live.