Dr. Darden Purcell waited eight years to record Where the Blue Begins as a follow up to her debut recording Easy Living (Armored Records, 2009). The Dr. part? Yes, well Dr. Darden is the Director of Jazz Studies, Jazz Voice at George Mason University, and holds a doctorate of Musical Arts in Jazz. Her bona fides aside, Darden, is as much a vocalist as an educator and each role feeds the other in a most convenient relationship. Easy Living is a collection of mostly well-known standards from Cole Porter's "Love for Sale" (1930) to Gerry Goffin and Carol King's "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" (1960) with the surprises of "Your Red Wagon" and "Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead."
Darden largely does the same with the present Where the Blue Begins save for her much sharper programming focus, including songs with a nocturnal focus, crepuscular, if you will, twilight. Her voice is well suited for the material, sonically well balanced and precise. Compare the punchy humor of "Destination Moon" with the almost sardonic bluesy-churchy delivery of "This Bitter Earth," and one can hear a great deal of ground covered. Purcell's control of her instrument is in the same neighborhood as that of Roseanna Vitro, who I consider a gold standard. Purcell has fun with "Old Devil Moon," intricately arranged by guitarist (and husband) Shawn Purcell, playfully tickling those old lyrics in the same way pianist Todd Simon does the keys during his taut and angular solo. Purcell and the band do qualitatively the same with "Darn That Dream," introduced by guitarist Purcell's drowsy, Les Paul-influenced lead in. Vocalist Purcell takes full advantage of her well-studied and expressive voice of hers.
As Easy Living had surprise, so too Where the Blue Begins. "The Nearness of You" is given an almost early 1970s rock rave up and before smoothing into one of the most accessible and pleasant performances recently heard. Shawn Purcell's guitar in the introduction of the Hoagy Carmichael classic strangely recalls Caleb Quaye's playing in Elton John's "My Father's Gun" (from Tumbleweed Connection (Universal, 1970). Shawn Purcell's ability to effortlessly slip this aural idée fixe into this otherwise well-worn standard provides the piece with an entirely new perspective.
For her part, Darden Purcell is a singer who will express exactly the intention of the composers, meeting that very necessary need in jazz for newer listeners to understand what the melody was to begin with to the American Songbook before jazz works its magic. Shawn Purcell's understated, round-toned guitar playing provides the perfect foil to his wife's precision vocals. The piece closes with the same figure used in the introduction, making for a tightly constructed performance that makes perfect sense. Not a dropped note within earshot. Darden Purcell need not wait another eight years for her next release. She has all of the talent, her own and in her support, to follow this fine recording with something even more special.
C. Michael Bailey, All About Jazz
Darden Purcell – WHERE THE BLUE BEGINS: One of the things a jazz vocalist must have is – precision; in the sense of timing, and in their ability to “mesh" with the instruments that are supporting them. Ms. Purcell has that in ways no other vocalist I’ve listened to lately does… just listen to Shawn Purcell’s arrangement and Darden’s lively execution on the (totally) upbeat opening track, “Destination Moon“… this isn’t like any other version you’ve heard, and will have you hitting the repeat button often… since I’m a (sometime) keyboard player, I was especially attracted to this piece… the organ (Todd Simon) is jam-packed with raw jazz energy!
Darden has an excellent cast of players helping her out – Stockton Helbing (drums and cymbals) produced, with musical direction by Shawn Purcell (nylon string and electric guitar); other players are Todd Simon (B3 organ, piano, wurlitzer and Fender Rhodes), Paul Henry (acoustic and electric bass) and Kenny Rittenhouse (flugelhorn and trumpet), and they are totally “on" from opening note to the very last bar! I just loved the group’s performance on “Old Devil Moon“… again, it may be a classic, but Darden & her folks just “own" it!
Make sure you arrange for (at least) an hour to listen to this CD (headphones recommended), so you can absorb every scintillating note on this high-end musical adventure… my personal favorite of the eleven songs offered up on this release is the mighty mellow “Lullaby of the Leaves“… beautiful bass intro from Paul & a segue into a “Peggy Lee" type vibe that is pure jazz perfection… I give Darden & her folks a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, with an “EQ" (energy quotient) rating of 4.99.
Rotcod Zzaj, Contemporary Fusion Reviews
DARDEN PURCELL/Where the Blue Begins: A classic thrush with two degrees of separation from Doc Severinsen, Purcell swings around a classic lyric with ease and style. With some great B3 work powering the background, this is a nice new look at a boatload of classics, most of which haven't been beaten to death by the recent class of jazz divas. A solid treat throughout for jazz vocal fans.
Chris Spector, Midwest Record, Entertainment, Reviews, News and Views
Working backwards, I discovered DC-area jazz vocalist and educator Darden Purcell with her second recording, Where the Blue Begins (Armored Records, 2016). It was an impressive recital with the nominal theme of twilight winding through its repertoire. While less thematically focused, Easy Living remains a well programmed set of eleven standards, "My Funny Valentine" thankfully not among them.
Easy Living smacks of youthfully precocious invention, a collection of master musicians trying their individual talents out in creative ways. Vocalist Purcell possess an instrument finely tuned through study and performance. She is easily the most precise singer I have heard in sometime. Her delivery and sense of time are impressive and immediately evidenced of the opener, "What a Little Moonlight Can Do." Purcell displays some pretty impressive scat chops in the introduction before launching into a very precise delivery of the song. Clinically precise.
The "clinical" part of this precision softens, particularly in the soft ballads like "Alice in Wonderland" and a terrific reading of the Goffin-King classic, "Will You Love Me Tomorrow." "Love for Sale" finds both Purcells relaxed and swinging. Singing with sardonic humor, Purcell reveals the same delicate shabby hopelessness present in Billy Strayhorn's "Lush Life" and, in doing so perfectly capturing Cole Porter's intention for his 1930 The New Yorkers showstopper.
The satisfying surprises lay in a rollicking "Your Red Wagon," that finds pianist Chip Stephens and winds player Chip McNeill playing con brio supporting both Purcells to do the same. What? Another tired performance of the 1930 Arlen-Koehler chestnut, "Get Happy?" Not on your life. Just as he did on "The Nearness of You" from Where the Blue Begins, Shawn Purcell transforms what begins as a churchy reverent performance into a Ben Monder—Shawn Lane shootout that is delightful. Now, that's what I am talkin' about! Easy Living finds Darden Purcell doing some pre-event warm ups in anticipation of the classroom, concert stage, and Where the Blue Begins.
C. Michael Bailey, All About Jazz
Guest solo vocalist Dr. Darden Purcell, of Washington, D.C. Air Force Band notoriety, was a pure joy to listen to. Her husky rendition of “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?" was flawless as was her five star performance of “Halleujah I Love Him So.
Audrey Thornton, DCMetroTheaterArts.com
Darden Purcell also returned as soloist in an intriguingly different Bryan Kidd arrangement of the old classic, “My Funny Valentine," and in a hot, scat-singer arrangement of Bert Kaempfert’s and Milt Gabler’s “L.O.V.E.," aided and abetted by instrumentalists Jim Carroll, Dave Detwiler and Dave Perkel.
Terry Ponick, Communities Digital News
Of worthy note, I found Guest Vocalist Dr. Darden Purcell’s vocal range and jazz expertise superb. Her voice very capably caressed a mature up tempo, playful rendition of “On a Clear Day" and, in a Spanish/English duet with guest vocalist Brazilian-born Gina Mirenda of “The Waters of March," drew a standing applause. A sought-after clinician and jazz vocal educator, Dr. Purcell’s students have benefitted from her talent, winning “Outstanding Soloist" awards at collegiate festivals as well as Downbeat Student Music awards.
Audrey Thornton, DCMetroTheaterArts.com
"Darden's time has come...a remarkable first recording from a singer of incomparable talent and depth...partnered with some of the finest jazz musicians anywhere. In a CD filled with interesting twists and turns and great songs, the treatment of Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow alone is worth the price of admission."
Jim Pugh, Trombonist and Professor of Jazz Trombone at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
"Once in a while you hear a jazz singer whose voice is so unique and intimately communicative, that it simply reaches out and makes you stop and listen. Darden has one of those voices. Her style is understated and yet extremely expressive with an unerring sense of pitch, swing feel and phrasing. In her first release, Darden demonstrates a sense of balance, restraint, honesty and thoughtful musicality that is usually reserved for the experienced veterans. Look out for this young lady, a formidable voice has emerged onto the scene."
Dr. Lisanne Lyons, Jazz Vocalist and Jazz Voice Professor at Florida International University
"Easy Living is a a solid recording from top to bottom - great musicians, great arrangements, great production, and Darden is simply wonderful throughout."
Alan Baylock, Composer, Arranger, Leader of the Alan Baylock Jazz Orchestra and Director of the UNT One O'Clock Band
"This new CD by Darden Purcell is the real deal. Her take on familiar standards like Love for Sale and Get Happy is bold and fresh, and she brings an easy, innate sense to swing to every track. She is one jazz singer worthy of the name!"
Bob Bernotas, Host of “Just Jazz" www.wnti.org
"Bravo! It is beautiful!! Darden’s voice is pure, sweet and relaxed. Very at-home in the jazz style. It’s a nice collection of a wide variety of songs. Great arrangements and guitar playing Shawn! It gives the music a distinct personality for the entire project. I love getting to hear Chip S.’s playing on piano and Chip’s McNeill’s saxophone and producing is superb."
Steve Allee, Pianist, Composer and Arranger
"The first thing you’ll notice about Darden Purcell when you listen to her new album Easy Living is the gorgeous timbre of her voice and the precision of her diction and time feel. She’s obviously a top-notch vocalist and her band includes some terrific performers. Saxophonist Chip McNeill is something of a hero among inner circles of jazz musicians and the harmonic substitutions he employs in some of his solos make for interesting listening. Shawn Purcell, while not as well-known to me, is highly skilled and very swinging guitar soloist. While all of the tunes were performed well, the pieces that stood out to my ears were the ballad performances, particularly Alice in Wonderland and You Don’t Know What Love Is. I would recommend the album and I plan on adding it to the queue of new recordings that I feature on my radio program."
Peter Solomon, WCVE-FM, Richmond, VA
"Darden Purcell’s CD, Easy Living, is a fantastic introduction to this vocalist. She has a great control of pitch and nuance. She does great material. Most singers sing in 7/4 by mistake. Not this one. Darden is in control and the arrangements give her ample opportunity to showcase her knowledge and talents with jazz standards presented in fresh surroundings. I was equally drawn to the band. What a great group. Everyone one on this CD is doing their job, supporting Darden with a flourish. I was really taken with the quality arrangements and their superb execution. The solos are fantastic; the vocal accompaniment always on the mark. You must hear this music!"
Harry Miedema, Director of Jazz Studies, University of Indianapolis
"I go to L.A. Jazz Institute Fests, I go to Chicago Jazz Fest, and I travel to others around the U.S, and your band and singing topped singers I have heard at these events, in other words to my ears your simply the best I've heard. Top Jazz Vocalist on my list. Please keep on swinging."
Harry Condon, Jazz Aficionado
Darden Purcell, who is based in central Illinois where she performs regularly and is an educator, has a beautiful voice, a direct delivery, and an understated style. She is reminiscent at times of Carmen McRae, Irene Kral and Maxine Sullivan but has her own sound.
She is joined on her debut CD by guitarist Shawn Purcell, saxophonist Chip McNeil (heard on tenor, soprano and flute), pianist Chip Stephens, bassist Dennis Carroll and drummer Stockton Helbing. Shawn Purcell in particular displays a lot of versatility, ranging from a laidback 1950s jazz guitar style to sounding rockish on “Get Happy." McNeil and Stephens also have their solo spots and each of the musicians is a strong and sympathetic asset.
Darden Purcell interprets 11 standards which are uplifted by both her voice and the consistently inventive arrangements. The opening “What A Little Moonlight Can Do" begins as a fairly free duet with drummer Helbing on which the singer displays some fine scatting before the song becomes a cooker. On “Comes Love" Darden expresses sensuality worthy of Billie Holiday, and she is quite wistful on a lyrical version of the jazz waltz “Alice In Wonderland." “Love For Sale" is taken in 7/4 time with funky bass patterns by Carroll. The lowdown blues “Your Red Wagon" and a bossa-nova flavored version of “Last Night When You Were Young" offer contrasting moods that make the two songs sound fresh.
“Get Happy" is taken slower than usual and has Darden putting plenty of feeling into the words . She is featured on a nice wordless passage during “You Don't Know What Love Is," fearlessly sings “Ding Dong, The Witch Is Dead" over advanced harmonies by the group, and concludes the set with a warm version of “Easy Living."
Throughout Easy Living, Darden Purcell displays a willingness to stretch herself while doing justice to the melody and lyrics that she interprets. Clearly, she has a great future in jazz.
Scott Yanow, Author of ten books including The Jazz Singers, Swing, Jazz On Film, and Jazz On Record 1917-76
Darden Purcell - "Easy Living" (Armored Records)
It's easy living indeed while relaxing and listening to singer Darden Purcell take on this choice set of classics. Starting off with some nice scatting, Purcell tears into "What a Little Moonlight Can Do" - which also features some fine work on the piano by Chip Stephens and tenor saxophone by Chip McNeill. Besides having two Chips in her band, Purcell possesses a smooth and confident voice with an appealing presence. A sultry tango version of "Comes Love" is a highlight with some pleasing guitar by Shawn Purcell and Darden's ability to sell the lyrics. For me, however, the standout track may be the version of Sammy Fain and Bob Hilliard's "Alice in Wonderland" - which is often covered as an instrumental, but here shines in all its lyrical glory, and even offers a too-rare Dennis Carroll bass solo. Purcell's relaxed phrasing continues even on the funked-up "Love For Sale" which again showcases Shawn Purcell's guitar work to good effect. McNeill pulls out the soprano saxophone for a sexy and somewhat mournful take on Carole King and Gerry Goffin's "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?" which enhances the underlying fear inherent in the lyrics. More delights follow, including the swinging and bluesy "Your Red Wagon," three Harold Arlen tunes ("Last Night When We Were Young," "Get Happy' and improbably "Ding, Dong! The Witch is Dead"), "You Don't Know What Love Is" and the album-ending title track - all of which are performed well by the band and sung with charm by Purcell. Hearing these tunes in this setting is an agreeable experience and Purcell is clearly comfortable with these melodies. As engaging as this recording is, I'd almost hope to hear this singer stretch out even more with a bit more power and edge and show us what heights I believe she is more than capable of reaching (more scatting perhaps?), but in the interim, this is a beautiful release and a great start to a talented singer's recording career, and I wish her the best.
Easy Living - Darden Purcell
Darden Purcell – Vocals
Chip McNeill – Saxophone, flute
Shawn Purcell – Guitar
Chip Stephens – Piano
Dennis Carroll – Bass
Stockton Helbing – Drums
The appeal of reworked standards is similar to that of a newly made batch of one’s favorite cookies: The familiarity gives one comfort while the freshness thrills the taste buds. Darden Purcell’s Easy Living does exactly that for the ears.
Purcell opens the record with several bars of highly original scatting and then launches into “What a Little Moonlight Can Do," delivered in an up-tempo arrangement. Her full-range voice is warm and sensual, with a touch of melancholy that makes for a pleasant listen as she works through several other jazz and pop workhorses, infusing them with a new life. From the Latin-inflected “Comes Love" to the funky “Love for Sale," which she delivers with a playful whimsy, the old songs sound better than they have in awhile. It is shame that Purcell limits her improvised scatting to a few tracks since she has clearly mastered the technique.
She is backed by an able quintet made up of masterful musicians who support her without drowning out her voice, even when they are soloing behind her. They also creatively improvise during the instrumental interludes. Highlights include Chip McNeil’s saxophone solo on “Alice in Wonderland," Shawn Purcell’s guitar solo on “You Don’t Know What Love Is" and the bluesy “Red Wagon." Although fresh, the overall effect is mainstream...nevertheless, it has enough substance and creativity to maintain interest and reward repeated listenings, thanks primarily to Purcell’s superlative arranging and vocal skills, and her honey-and-spice-drenched voice.
Harry Attayrin, Chicago Jazz Magazine
VOCALIST PURCELL IS EASY ON THE EARS
Jazz fans packed The Iron Post on Wednesday evening for vocalist Darden Purcell's CD relese party, prompting me to tell her during the break that she needs a "bigger room"
She thanked me and said she hadn't expected so many people. I told her the sexy photograph on the cover of her new CD, "Easy Living" might have been responsible. I was just kidding about that but not about Purcell needing a bigger room. Post owner, Paul Wirth has called her the next Diana Krall. I expect it won't be too long before Purcell is playing places like the Green Mill in Chicago and Blue Note in New York.
She has a supple, subtle, slight smokey alto that is easy and pleasing on the ears. Her phrasing is great too. Her well-produced and engineered CD is impressive as well, featuring first-rate players like Chip Stephens, Chip McNeill, Dennis Carroll, Shawn Purcell and on drums, Stockton Helbing, the youngest music director ever for Maynard Ferguson's band. The CD was released on Helbing's label, Armored Records.
On "Easy Living," Darden sings jazz standards (some by Harold Arlen including "Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead") given contemporary arrangements by herself and her husband, Shawn a guitarist who produces a beautiful tone.
By the time Darden's two hour gig came to an end and on Wednesday evening, many in the audience had bought her CD. At least 53 copies were sold. I bought one myself, at the reasonable price of $12 and have been giving it repeated spins.
Melissa Merli, The News-Gazette - Entertainment Section - Sunday Nov. 15, 2009
Darden Purcell - Easy Living CD
A szép és igen kellemes hangú fiatal énekesnő első lemeze ragyogó indulás a pályán, ha az ő esetében egyáltalán szabad indulásról beszélni. Purcell ugyanis hosszú évek óta hatalmas sikerrel szerepel pódiumon, szűkebb hazájában közép Illinois-ban az egyik legkeresettebb jazz énekesnő. Purcell kiváló zenei képzésben részesült, és énekesi tehetsége hamar megmutatkozott. Ezt mi sem mutatja jobban, mint az, hogy meghallgatás után szólistaként felvételt nyert az U.S. Air Force Band “High Flight" együttesébe, amellyel szinte az egész világot bejárta. A karrier csúcspontját az jelentette, amikor a légierő “The Airmen of Note" nevű elit jazz együttesével turnézott.
Ezt követően fejezte be zenei tanulmányait, jelenleg az éneklés mellett oktatással és együttes vezetéssel is foglalkozik. Az Easy Living lemezen ismert számok hangzanak el (What A Little Moonlight Can Do,Love for Sale, Get Happy, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow) Purcell egyéni, nagyon újszerű interpretálásában.
Hatalmas rutinból fakadó biztonság érezhető az előadáson, semmi sem emlékeztet arra, hogy egy fiatal énekes első lemezét halljuk!
A lemez Stockton Helbing Armored Records kiadójánál jelent meg 2009-ben. Kiváló hangminőségű, szép, zeneileg érett album.
Rudolf Radnai, Hungary CD Reviews
One of the things that is a fun part of writing about new albums is the opportunities it provides to find new talents who offer a great deal of promise. Like Henry Darragh whom I reviewed above, Chicago-based vocalist DARDEN PURCELL has just released her initial CD, Easy Living (Armored Records – 8007). It is a far more mature effort than is normal for a first album. She starts out with “What a Little Moonlight Can Do," and leaves no doubt that she knows how to swing. So do the cats who back her, Chip McNeill on sax and flute, Shawn Purcell on guitar, Chip Stephens on piano, Dennis Carroll on bass and Stockton Helbing on drums. She sticks mostly with selections from the Great American Songbook, but has included a couple of surprises, her wistful readings of “Alice in Wonderland" and “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow," and the bluesy “Your Red Wagon," once a favorite in jazz and blues circles, but much less frequently heard these days. Particularly impressive is her phrasing. She knows how to do justice to lyrics. This is one hell of a fine debut for Darden Purcell. (www.armoredrecords.com)
Joe Lang, The New Jersey Jazz Society Journal
CU HIGHLIGHTS LOCAL TALENT WITH NEW PROGRAMS AND WEEKLY EVENTS
217.com - Music - Leslie Goldberg
In case you’ve been living under a rock, you should know that one of the best parts of living in Champaign-Urbana is the many amazing, world-class concerts that you can see for dirt-cheap. Referring especially to the jazz scene, every week you can see world-class shows for an average of $3.
Whether you are already a jazz-lover, or just looking for quality music on any given night, you can find all kinds of jazz in CU. The most popular venues for jazz are The Iron Post and Zorba’s, both of which have a Jazz Night on Thursday for a $3-$5 cover. Both are great for people looking for an intimate venue, although The Iron Post has a better venue-style set-up and acoustics. The venue also has jazz performances on Fridays from 5 p.m.-7 p.m. and Sunday evenings.
Besides these venues, the best place to go and see jazz on a weekly basis is Jazz Forum, which is held in Room 25 of Smith Memorial Hall every Friday from 12 p.m.—1 p.m. Each week, a different U of I Jazz band, combo, or ensemble plays for free. This is also the best place to go and hear about upcoming events, since the students spend time before the performances announcing their gigs for the upcoming week. The Illini Union Courtyard Café also has a free hour of U of I jazz performers every Thursday at noon.
Although the weekly performances are great and serve as the basis of the jazz community, several standout performances exist this season that should not be missed. The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, a band originally formed by Thad Jones and Mel Lewis in 1966, is coming to Krannert this weekend, Friday, Oct. 10. Darden Purcell, a jazz vocalist Doctoral candidate who Wirth describes as “the next Diana Krall," is holding a CD release party for her first (and highly anticipated) album, Easy Living in early November at The Iron Post.
There are several jazz Doctoral candidates holding their final recitals at The Iron Post this semester, namely Mark O’Connor (jazz saxophone) on Oct. 25 and Chris White (jazz piano) on Nov. 4, both of which should be fabulous. Along with these standout performances, every Wednesday from 6 p.m.-9 p.m., Don Heitler, one of the longest performing jazz musicians in town, plays piano at The Great Impasta in downtown Urbana. A fabulous musician, Heitler is a virtual encyclopedia of jazz charts and puts on an amazing performance. He also periodically performs at the Appy Hour at Silvercreek Restaurant with Darden Purcell.
The newest facet of jazz in CU is vocal jazz. With the support of Chip McNeill, Darden Purcell started a vocal jazz studio at the School of Music last year, its newest facet is the Vocal Jazz Ensemble. Previously, the only vocal jazz on campus was the student-run jazz acappella group, No Strings Attached. Darden said the reaction from the community about vocal jazz has been phenomenal. “Last week, the vocal jazz studio performed at Zorba’s restaurant, and had a line of people out the door waiting to come in. You can’t beat that kind of support," Purcell shared. The vocal jazz studio will be performing once more this semester, at The Iron Post on Dec. 9.
DOWNTOWN FESTIVAL OF THE ARTS CELEBRATES COMMUNITY
217.com - Arts - Syd Slobodnik
The 6th Annual Champaign Park District’s Downtown Festival of the Arts is just around the corner on Aug. 15, in the heart of downtown Champaign at Neil and Main Streets from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Champaign Park District’s Special Events manager Katie Flint says the festival will “emphasize the different types of arts local and regional … for the music lover, dance lover, jewelry lover, etc." for people of all ages.
Over 70 artists will be featured in this day long celebration of the area’s myriad of creative fine artists from music, photography, watercolor, jewelry, glass work, sculpture and much more. This family event will offer a variety of foods from the immediate local eateries (like Aroma Cafe, Jim Gould, Café Kopi) and enrich the hearts and souls of local art lovers.
The fest will feature three venues: a main stage of local musicians, a performing arts stage, highlighting theatre and dance and a family entertainment stage with music, storytelling and a magician.
Featured performer Darden Purcell is thrilled at the opportunity to perform at this year’s fest:
“I think it is fantastic that downtown Champaign hosts a day for artists and performers to showcase their talent. There are so many gifted people in this town and it is wonderful that this community supports these local artists".
Among the many musical artists featured in this year’s fest include local acoustic and folk group, The Hathaways. The Darden Purcell Quartet, a jazz group lead by Purcell, a renown jazz vocalist, will also perform. According to Purcell, “The audience can expect to hear classics from the Great American Songbook as well as Jazz Standards and some Brazilian music."
FORMER AIR FORCE MUSICIANS SPREADING THEIR WINGS
The News-Gazette - Melissa Merli
Most people have weird notions about military bands, say Shawn and Darden Purcell. They think of John Philip Sousa and marching music, and bass drums and bugles.
Shawn, a guitarist, and Darden, a jazz vocalist, will tell you their experiences with the U.S. Air Force bands were quite different.
Darden's main repertoire was pop-rock and jazz; Shawn's was jazz. The venues they played varied as they traveled the world as international ambassadors of music. Back in the States, they performed at monuments and museums in the Washington, D.C., area, where they were stationed, and at theaters and other venues nationwide.
And they didn't have to live on base. "It was about as unmilitary as you can get," Shawn said. The two met in 1999 in a concert series featuring a number of Air Force bands. They later started dating and then married.
They are now studying for advanced degrees at the University of Illinois School of Music and performing often at clubs in Champaign-Urbana. They have been well-received by listeners and fellow musicians alike.
"They've contributed greatly to the scene because of Shawn's guitar abilities – he's extremely versatile and plays with several groups, bigger bands and trios and quartets," said Paul Wirth, owner of the Iron Post in Urbana. As for Darden, Wirth said she has a distinctive alto with a full range. "I like to say she could be the next Diana Krall," Wirth said.
Darden, 33, attributes a lot of her musical growth to the Air Force because it forced her to quickly learn and perform music. One day she might have had to learn pop-rock tunes, with choreography, and the next day, big band songs. "The first gig I had was for the highest ranking officer in the Air Force," she said. "I'd been out of basic training for four weeks. I was told, 'Learn this music, get in your uniform and go over to his house.'"
As soon as Shawn finished his basic training, he found himself in a studio recording an album with Airmen of Note, the top big band in the Air Force, considered the direct descendant of Glen Miller's Air Force band.
Before joining the military, Shawn had an even more unusual musical experience: For two years the guitarist toured with the Ringling Brothers and Barnum Bailey Circus band, after graduating from Duquesne University. "It was a unique gig for musicians, a really good job with a good salary and benefits," he said. "It was kind of strange being around the circus people and traveling two years straight, especially being only 21 at the time." As a circus musician, Shawn did nine shows a week, visiting 93 cities in two years. He burned out quickly, and six months after leaving the ring, he joined the Air Force. He stayed for eight years.
Darden and Shawn met in 1999 and married three years later; the ceremony was conducted by a two-star general who is the chief chaplain of the Air Force. The week after their wedding, the Purcells were touring with Airmen of Note, for which Darden was the featured vocalist during her last six months in the military.
"Our first honeymoon was on taxpayer expense," Shawn joked.
That unofficial honeymoon and "creme de la creme" tour took them to San Diego, Palm Desert and other cities in California as well as Arizona and Nevada. With Airmen of Note, the Purcells also enjoyed a 21-day tour of the Middle East, performing on R&R bases for American soldiers and seeing parts of the world that most Americans never visit.
Even though her father and grandfather had been in the Air Force, Darden enlisted at the suggestion of jazz vocalist Lisanne Lyons, her mentor/teacher at Virginia Tech. Lyons also had sung with Air Force bands and taught at Virginia Tech the same time Chip McNeill was there. Lyons and McNeill, now head of the UI Jazz Studies Program, have been influential in Darden's career.
As for Shawn's musical influences, they were mainly familial. Both his grandfather and father were trombonists in the Navy band. Shawn's father, Randy Purcell, toured with Maynard Ferguson in the '70s and is on a couple of the jazz giant's best-known albums.
While many musicians make the military a career, Shawn, now 36, and Darden are among the few to return to civilian life. They wanted a change of pace and to live in a big city. They chose Nashville, mainly because of its music scene and location somewhat close to their families. They stayed in Music City for three years and would have stayed longer if they hadn't decided to pursue advanced degrees. They moved to Champaign in August 2007.
"We drove into town on a Wednesday and my first gig was on a Friday," Shawn said. "It was very promising." In fact, the Purcells play more gigs here than they did in Nashville, which has only one jazz club and many more musicians. "The thing we really like is the musicians here are really nice to one another and support one another," Darden said. "It's interesting. Here, musicians come out to other musicians' gigs."'
TWO VOCALISTS REUNITING FOR A CONCERT
The News-Gazette - Melissa Merli
URBANA - Two jazz vocalists - Lisanne Lyons and her former student, Darden Purcell - will reunite Thursday evening as guest vocalists of the University of Illinois Concert Jazz Band in concert at Krannert Center. Chip McNeill, director of the Jazz Studies Program in the UI School of Music, will conduct the band and singers in the 7:30 p.m. concert in the Colwell Playhouse. They will perform new and original compositions written and arranged by band members and taken from the band's new CD, "As of Yet." Tickets are $10 for adults, $7 for senior citizens and $4 for students and available at the Krannert Center ticket office.
Lyons, who was a guest artist in the 2006 UI Summer Jazz Festival, is finishing a doctorate in jazz performance at the University of Miami. She has performed frequently at famous music clubs here and abroad and her latest CD, "Smile," with the John Toomey Trio, received rave reviews from The Washington Post. As lead soprano for the Uptown Jazz Vocal Quartet, Lyons performed as one of the headline acts for the Ottawa Jazz Festival, Detroit Jazz Festival, Clearwater Jazz Festival and the LaNuit du Jazz.
Before going to the University of Miami, Lyons was an associate professor of music at Virginia Tech, where she founded the vocal jazz program and was director of the Down Beat award-winning jazz vocal group, The New Virginians. While at Virginia Tech, Lyons received the Gamma Mu Chapter of Delta Omicron Music Professor of the Year Award. She began her singing career immediately after high school by joining the Air Force and becoming featured vocalist for the Air Force bands. After she received her master's degree, Lyons joined the national touring company of Cy Coleman's Broadway hit "City of Angels." She recently debuted the live performances of Nelson Riddle's arrangements of Ella Fitzgerald and George Gershwin songs. Along with her busy performing schedule, she is a sought-after clinician, educator, adjudicator and vocal arranger.
Purcell lives in Champaign and is pursuing a master's degree at the UI in vocal jazz performance. She obtained a bachelor's degree in vocal jazz performance from Virginia Tech, where she studied with Lyons and McNeill and performed with The New Virginians. After graduating, Purcell also joined the U.S. Air Force Band; she was a featured vocalist in its rock/pop group "High Flight" and the jazz big band, "The Airmen of Note." After her honorable discharge, Purcell moved to Nashville, Tenn., where she performed on Nashville Public Radio and was the alto voice in the jazz vocal quartet, "Third Coast Vocals." She also has sung backup for many major musicians.
A tenor saxophonist, pianist, composer, arranger and clinician, McNeill was formerly an associate professor and director of Jazz Studies at Florida International University before joining the UI School of Music faculty six years ago. Before going to Florida he was an associate professor and director of Jazz Studies at Virginia Tech University. Before that McNeill was on the road with Arturo Sandoval and Maynard Ferguson. McNeill was the musical director and jazz tenor saxophonist for Sandoval and played on his Grammy Award-winning recordings "Americana" and "Hot House." Before working with Sandoval, McNeill was the music director and jazz saxophonist for Ferguson.