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Singer Still Has a Few Things to Learn

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A few years ago, Julie Kelly devoted a lot of her time to performing. One of the top jazz singers in Los Angeles, the Studio City resident was often heard in Valley jazz rooms such as the now-defunct Le Cafe, and elsewhere.

These days, Kelly has other pursuits that vie for her attention. Of course, her 12-year-old son, Anthony, is a primary focus, as is her husband, Sam DiMaggio. There are her private students, who number about a dozen. And there’s school: not just the teaching she does at Musicians Institute in Hollywood, or occasional subbing at USC, but as a student.

Kelly, a vivacious woman who is nearing 50, currently is pursuing her bachelor’s degree in music at Cal State Northridge and is the school’s first vocal jazz major. Her teacher is Michele Weir, the nationally acclaimed jazz singing instructor.

Kelly’s a real pro--her last album, 1994’s “Stories to Tell” (Chase Music Group) is hands-down first rate. So what’s she doing back in school?

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“It’s both a personal goal, and it will enhance my skills as a singer and a teacher,” said Kelly, who also is taking private classical singing lessons.

“I’ll work on transcribing solos, expanding my knowledge of harmony, doing improvisational stuff. All that will help me get my degree. And I’d like to do more vocal clinics, and this would be a way to do that. Eventually, I’d like to get a master’s.”

Kelly makes one of her infrequent appearances tonight at Ca’ Del Sole. She and pianist Marty Harris will deliver a bouquet of usual--and unusual--standards. She says that classical studies are another way to widen her artistic vision.

“If I just think of myself as a jazz singer, that’s a small world,” Kelly said. She looked properly casual for an interview on a weekend afternoon, wearing jeans and a black sweater with a burgundy plaid shawl over her shoulders, her hair a mop of golden-brown curls. “But music is a vast world, so why not investigate as many things as I can?

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“When I sing an aria, there’s something you have to express that’s so over the top, from a jazz point of view, that emotionally you have to surrender to,” she said. “Then when I come back to a standard song, there’s something more in there for me. Part of that is technical: learning to use my upper register like I never did, which is a form of expression.”

Teaching appeals to Kelly the way that performing does. She is particularly enthused about assisting young beginning singers, many of whom have grown up on pop music but have an “intuitive pull to jazz.”

“The problem is getting the singer involved with a lyric,” she said. “A song like ‘In a Sentimental Mood’ can sound very square to younger people. How do you make it seem like something that has to do with their lives?” Kelly listed some of her strategies: “You can sketch the story, make the student visualize a picture, create an environment. Or you can find one word that sets a mood or attitude.”

Asked why she felt singing was so rewarding, Kelly was at first exasperated, searching for a quick answer. Then she said, “You get to express feelings. Music is something invisible that everybody can feel, and I can’t express those kinds of feelings in other ways.”

Vocal Encore

Cathy Segal-Garcia, an agile vocalist with a feel for jazz, is heard from 8 p.m. to midnight Saturday (and Feb. 14, 15, 21, 22 and 28 and March 1) at Ca’ Del Sole. . . .

Jeanne Pisano, a delicate and emotive soprano, joins her husband, guitar maestro John Pisano, and reed man Ray Pizzi from 9:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. Friday at J.P.'s Lounge, 1333 Hollywood Way, Burbank; no cover, no minimum; (818) 845-1800. On Saturday, Michie Sahara offers the vocals, backed by Carl Saunders’ trio. . . .

“Blues with a witty flair” is how singer B.J. Sharp is billed. The singer carries on from 8:30 p.m. to 1 a.m. Saturday at Monteleone’s, 19337 Ventura Blvd., Tarzana; (818) 996-0662. No cover; without dinner, $9.95 food/drink minimum.

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BE THERE

Julie Kelly sings from 7 to 11 tonight at Ca’ Del Sole, 4100 N. Cahuenga Blvd., North Hollywood; (818) 985-4669. No cover, no minimum.


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