DADE CITY — Whether performing alongside music legends or in her own neighborhood, jazz musician Valerie Gillespie is living the Lush Life — the title of her latest CD with the Valerie Gillespie Ensemble, which offers her signature saxophone and sentimental take on new and classic jazz songs.
Lush Life is a locally produced disc that features both jazzy classics — such as the title track, a Billy Strayhorn ballad, Dizzy Gillespie's Tanga, Fats Waller's Honeysuckle Rose, and Billie Holiday's Don't Explain — and contemporary tunes from acts such as Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea.
"The title track is a beautiful jazz standard called Lush Life that has always been one of my favorite songs," Gillespie said. "It was my mother's favorite, and my dad, a singer, used to sing it for her on his gigs. Aside from his day job in sales, he played a regular gig with the same band in the same restaurant for almost 30 years, which is unheard of in this business. I've always wanted to record the song, but it is an especially tough tune to sing, so it took me some time and experience to feel up to the task."
The CD was produced in Brandon at Path of Palms recording studio, where Gillespie did her previous CD, A Little Rough Around the Edges. She hopes that the latest CD's diverse content will impress and broaden her listening audience.
"As for the inspiration for the variety of tunes, that is one of the things I love about playing with my guys Rick Stuart and Dave Rudolph; they are always ready to try something different," she said.
Aside from her solo efforts, Gillespie has been providing musical accompaniment to nationally known musical acts; within the past year she provided saxophone accompaniment to R&B superstar Natalie Cole at the Jacksonville Jazz Festival, playing songs such as Unforgettable, Pink Cadillac, Route 66, Everlasting Love, The Very Thought of You and Ella Fitzgerald's Somewhere in the Hills.
"My experiences with Natalie Cole have been just incredible in every way. She carries a full rhythm section and two backup singers with her, and then hires 15 horn players wherever she goes. Not only are the horn players the top from all over the state and beyond, but she has one of the best rhythm sections of any in my experience. They are also incredibly nice and friendly, and always open to trying something different," Gillespie said. "Natalie would sometimes call a tune in the middle of a set that we hadn't rehearsed, and no one thought twice about it! One of the things I remember most about my first tour with her was that in spite of the fact that she was very, very sick at the time, when she walked out on that stage, you would never know it. She carried herself well, held her head high, and sang beautifully no matter what . . . a true professional."
Gillespie's upcoming festival performances will include the New Smyrna Beach Jazz Festival on Sept. 22 and the Suncoast Jazz Classic Nov. 17, as well as performances at the More Jazz Club in the Villages July 19 and multiple shows at Della's After Dark in Brandon. Locally she has been performing shows at the Garden Cafe in Dade City, a mellow venue owned by Melanie Armstrong.
"She decided she wanted to have a jazz night once a month, and had enjoyed our performances in town for Church Street Christmas, so she called me and suggested it," Gillespie said. "I jumped at the chance. We will be back there again starting in September and we just can't wait!"