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Vocalist Abby Burke: Press...

"So ambitious is the Nashville Symphony’s upcoming “Nashville Swings!” program that the orchestra is bringing in reinforcements. For the wide-ranging survey of big band music, the symphony will be joined by Nashville Jazz Orchestra’s rhythm section and vocalists Abby Burke and Mike Eldred. Albert-George Schram will conduct this Pops series concert.

“Nashville Swings!” will be presented 7 p.m. Jan. 17 and 8 p.m. Jan. 18-19 at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center.

Jeff Bailey is the symphony’s co-principal trumpet.

“This is kind of a unique situation in that all of these guys are from one specific ensemble,” said Jeff Bailey, Nashville Symphony’s co-principal trumpet.

These musicians are no stranger to Bailey, who said he played numerous shows with Nashville Jazz Orchestra members, including trombone player Barry Green and founder/director Jim Williamson (a fellow trumpet player) as an Opryland musician back in the 1980s.

Burke is another Opryland alumna from that era. The Massachusetts native came to Nashville to sing in the park’s version of “Showboat.”

“Abby Burke is incredible, Mike Eldred is too,” Bailey said. “Abby, vocally she’s kind of a freak, the things she can cover; she’s like a gymnast. She’s extremely musical.”

Burke will perform a Peggy Lee-influenced version of “Come Rain or Come Shine” and “I’ve Got That Fascinating Rhythm,” a Gershwin medley. She and Eldred also will sing duets, including “Birth of the Blues” and “Bandstand Boogie” — a 1954 instrumental by Les and Larry Elgart that got a second life as the theme of “American Bandstand” with lyrics by Barry Manilow.

“I never knew in my life there were so many words in that song,” Burke joked by phone.

Burke’s first performance with the Nashville Symphony came as a last-minute replacement at a big band concert at Centennial Park. She last performed with the orchestra at the 2006 Ray Charles tribute at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center.

“Being asked to do this is like coming full circle,” she said.

“Nashville Swings!” will include Mike Eldred. Photo by Derrick Pierce

It’s also a chance to play homage to music that served as a soundtrack to her life.

Burke remembers her mother playing a song called “Bye-Bye Blues” every Saturday: at 9 months old, Burke reportedly sang the refrain and matched three pitches. Her mother’s excitement was only tempered when she realized her young daughter’s first words hadn’t been “mama.” Burke also recalls her uncle playing big band records and asking her to repeat the lines played by the saxes.

This personal history informs Burke’s approach to songs, as does an awareness of a song’s history and context.

Big band music is closely associated with the 1940s, wartime pride, acrobatic jitterbugging and even a certain sound. These things have become shorthand for music that is actually much more diverse — and covers a longer time span — than the big band label implies.

“Nashville Swings!” acknowledges the variety in the genre with selections from a wide array of composers and songwriters. The sweet, full sounds of Glenn Miller’s “Moonlight Serenade” open the program; Louis Prima’s energetic “Sing Sing Sing” closes the show. Along the way are iconic tunes by Cole Porter (“I’ve Got You Under My Skin”), Cab Calloway (“Minnie the Moocher”), George Gershwin along with later swing music by John Williams (music from the “Star Wars” cantina scene), Brian Setzer, Victor Vanacore and Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band.

— MiChelle Jones, for The Tennessean 

MiChelle Jones - The Tennessean (Mar 13, 2014)

Nashville Swings! Nashville Symphony Orchestra, January 2013

“……Abby Burke, a vocal gymnast of the extreme was undeniably the shining star of the evening. This woman has pipes that are just hard to believe. With a personality to match the sweet and sassy vocals, this incredible performer is alone worth more than the price of the concert….”

Linda Brewer, Nashville Arts & Entertainment Examiner

Linda Brewer - Nashville Arts & Entertainment Examnier (Mar 13, 2014)
Abby Burke looks for sweet release...

When Abby Burke sings, rooms fall silent. She is irrepressible with a multi-octave range overshadowed only by the depth of her tone and the drama in her physical delivery.

A Cabaret singer with a penchant for Blues, Gospel and Jazz performance, Burke doesn't typically receive and seek out the press afforded to other performing artists in Nashville. But, if her local career path continues the trajectory it is on, the attention will most certainly come.

Having attended such heralded music academies as the New England Conservatory and the Boston Conservatory, as well as receiving a master's degree in education from Cambridge College focusing on the psychology of music, Burke has delved into countless musical genres. In the 70s she sang in the popular New England and disco/funk showband Darker Side, spent a great deal of the 80s performing big band music in Connecticut with Top Brass, and even spent a few seasons at Opryland USA starring in Showboat '82 and Sing Tennessee '83. Yet, it is her work in Cabaret and Blues music that marks her career with distinction.

Burke, who moved to Nashville full time in 1998 with her husband, saxophonist Glenn Burke, has performed various operatic roles from The Queen of the Night in Mozart's Magic Flute to Serena in Gershwin's Porgy & Bess. She has acted as soloist with the Boston and Hartford symphony orchestras, appeared many times with the Nashville Symphony and Nashville Chamber Orchestras and in March 2008, she will be scene with the Tuscon Arizona Symphony. She is a regular at The French Quarter Cafe in East Nashville with her "Manly Band."

With all of the things, what really stirs this vibrant woman's soul is NY style Cabaret Theater. "The first thing people always ask me is, Do you keep your clothes on???" Burke, who has performed cabaret for over 20 years, said, "Adult entertainment places around town are called cabarets. The first thing people thought, when i said we do cabaret, was that we were some kind of strip group!" Burke defines cabaret as the "art of compiling thematic shows and performing them in intimate settings using American musical standards, pop and jazz." She's even created the Nashville Association of Cabaret Artists (NACA), a group dedicated to bringing the art of cabaret singing to Middle Tennessee. Burke states: "Cabaret allows me to be more personal with my audience. It affords me the opportunity to showcase my own writing and that of area writers." "I want to prove the point that music is truly universal. Where else can I showcase the musical Oliver in unison with the heart stirring music of Phoebe Snow's 1976 Second Child album??"

"If with music I can speak to a soul, than I have done what God commanded. I simply speak to the spirit in a person by using music they can wrap their psyche around, that's all."

That's all indeed! Abby and her Manly Band can be seen once a month at French Quarter Cafe.
Drew Walen - City Paper-Nashville (Jan 11, 2007)
“Abby Burke has the range of Aretha, the chops of Callas and the presence of Mahalia. She’s performed with everyone from the Boston Pops to local jazzers, and still she doesn’t have the reputation she deserves. Hopefully that’s changing.”
"Burke gets it on Disc: "Finally!"

"Abby Burke has progessed from her days performing at Opryland USA to stints with the Manly Band...a local favorite, Burke has demonstrated impressive technical ability and electryfying skills as a live performer....she has done appearances the past four years with a stirring ensemble called The Manly Band, and they recently released the CD Finally! : the album.....the disc fully and and faithfully showcases Burke's booming voice and range (3.5 octaves) as well as her versatility...."
"Abby and her band offer a unique musical experience that takes the listener to the highest heights."

"Finally! The Album, features a collection of tunes by local Nashville writers along with a few recognizable cover tunes...among the many stand out cuts on the CD are "Summertime," which starts with just Abby's voice against a light, almost distant, background (bass) guitar. After the first verse, the whole band comes in for a soulful, driving journey through this Gershwin classic. In a like manner, the band puts their signature sound to the Bill Withers' classic "Ain't No Sunshine."

"Everything Abby and the band does is uniquely their own, played with energy, power and passion. The band is tight, laying down sweet solos over a rhythm groove that stays right on track, and supports vocals that are equally right on."
"A local presence since her gigs at Opryland 20 years ago, R & B singer Abby Burke has released her debut record aptly titled Finally: the album..Her six piece Manly Band lay down a comfortable adult contemporary groove and polished pop textures for her delicate touch on ballads, but the group can stretch their palette for some earthy twang, homey organ riffs and modestly raucous beats when called for....."
About NSO & Bernstein's Fancy Free
"....Beginning with a first-class song, “Big Stuff,” the dance score that ensues makes for a suite of a little less than 30 minutes, never flagging in its energy and inventiveness. Abby Burke’s vocal in the song has an affecting simplicity.....
Of the Nashville Symphony November Naxos release- “ (Bernsteins)Fancy Free of course is delightful, and often recorded, but this performance holds its own with the best--the excellent version of "Big Stuff" (featuring Abby Burke) that opens Fancy Free also is a plus. If you're a Bernstein fan, you will certainly want this.”
The Nashville Symphony has won considerable acclaim for its recordings of American orchestral music -- and so much American classical music is nourished by popular roots. This is true for few composers more than for Leonard Bernstein. There are plenty of other recordings to choose from in the case of the ballet Fancy Free, an exuberant youthful work drenched in jazz and blues, but defining harmonic realms that do not belong to either one. A plus here is the relaxed performance of the original Bernstein popular song "Big Stuff" at the beginning of the ballet (Bernstein specifies that it should be sounding from a jukebox as the curtain goes up). Vocalist Abby Burke evokes Billie Holiday, who later recorded the song. ~ James Manheim, All Music Guide
"We (Deborah and her husband Al Roker) LOVE it! Thanks for sharing your amazing talent with us. Your voice is unforgetable!!!! good luck.... "
Deborah Roberts, ABC Television NY, NY
"....rafter-raising vocalist Abby Burke (along with her Manly Band) celebrates the release of her independently produced CD, "Finally!"...."
I will begin to introduce you to not only Cleveland music or events, but also to independent bands from somewhere in the U.S. This week, may I introduce you to ABBY BURKE AND THE MANLY BAND.........

Abby's style incorporates jazz, funk, blues, R+B, and pop. FINALLY!-THE ALBUM showcases Abby's ability to perform any style. The album contains standards like George Gershwin's "Summertime", along with other well known songs. It also contains original compositions written by some of Nashville's best songwriters. There are even two songs written by former Clevelander Mike Farley.

FINALLY!-THE ALBUM isn't just about Abby Burke, it's also about The Manly Band. The Manly Band is made up of very talented musicians. All of the songs were arranged by members of the group.

Together, Abby Burke feat. The Manly Band have produced one of the best albums I've heard in a long time.

Give Abby Burke feat. The Manly Band a listen- you won't be disappointed!