Jazz Vocalist Dara Tucker

The up and coming jazz vocalist discusses her musical influences, and performs a song from her new album, The Sun Season.

Lauded by critics as "a vocalist who blends the soulful creaminess of Nancy Wilson with the sass 'n grit of Dinah Washington," Dara Tucker has performed at such prestigious jazz rooms as NYC’s Blue Note and Smoke, New Orleans’ Snug Harbor, and Boston’s Sculler’s. Born in Tulsa Oklahoma, Dara was nurtured with music from an early age, as her father was a music minister and preacher, and her mother a singer. The third of seven children, Dara cut her teeth musically singing harmony with her siblings, and learned to play the piano at eight years old. After earning her degree in International Business & German Studies at Oral Roberts University, Dara moved to Nashville in 2004 to pursue a career in music. She has since released three acclaimed studio albums, including her latest, The Sun Season.


Tavis: Pleased to welcome Dara Tucker to this program for the first time, not the last, celebrating her third album, “The Sun Season”. The project is a collection of original songs and two covers. If you’ve not heard Dara Tucker sing, one, you’re missing out.

And two, tonight you’re in luck, as later in this program, she’ll perform the song, “Giants”, from the new project, “The Sun Season”. Dara, good to have you on this program.

Dara Tucker: It is mighty good to be here, Mr. Tavis.

Tavis: Who is Dara Tucker [laugh]?

Tucker: Well, it’s a question I’m still asking myself [laugh], but for right now, we’ll see a jazz singer and, yeah, a lot of other things, but really focusing on this right now and…

Tavis: From where?

Tucker: From Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Tavis: Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Tucker: Originally from Tulsa, Oklahoma, now Nashville, Tennessee. But done a lot of travel in my day and, you know, picked up a lot of different experiences.

Tavis: How is it that on the third project, folk are just starting to figure out that you exist?

Tucker: You know, I don’t know. Sometimes it just takes a little time to get that momentum and then it also takes time to find your voice, I think, and that’s a process that’s been happening really from that first project till now. As we started out, it was more like a standards, like a Nat King Cole type thing. The second project was really more focused on like an R&B kind of situation.

Now I’m really focusing on my own material, you know, which is more in the contemporary jazz vein and this is a place–I’m finding that place of comfort in. A lot of it has to do with just understanding yourself and where you belong, and that’s really gelling now with this third project.

Tavis: Every single artist I know, if they’re being honest, will tell you if they’re honest that they start out copying somebody. That’s what we all do until we find our own voice and become original. So you’ve become an original. Who did you start out emulating?

Tucker: Oh, gosh. A whole lot of folks, you know. My mom’s a singer. My father was a music minister and my mom was a singer. So I think she was probably my first and biggest influence. After that really in the world of jazz, you know, you got folks like Nancy Wilson. Mel Tormé is my favorite singer.

Tavis: Mel Tormé is your favorite singer?

Tucker: Absolutely.

Tavis: Wow.

Tucker: It’s difficult to hear that influence because, you know, he’s a male. You know, you really don’t make that connection, but, yeah, Mel Tormé was…

Tavis: I love Mel Tormé, but what is it about his voice that you love so much?

Tucker: Oh, gosh, it’s just as smooth–I mean, they called him the Velvet Fog, though he didn’t like that nickname. But, you know, man, it’s like honey on your ears, you know, and such a wonderful improviser. So I listen to a ton of Harry Connick, Jr. and, in the gospel world, Andre Crouch and The Wynans, Clark Sisters, folks like that.

And then from the singer-songwriter role, I was borrowing a lot from James Taylor and John Denver and, you know, some of those folks. I’m just all over the place. Audra McDonald, you know, was another huge influence.

Tavis: You have an eclectic taste for music.

Tucker: Absolutely [laugh].

Tavis: That’s always been the case?

Tucker: Always, absolutely always. I started out–you know, I grew up in a very strict Christian home and I wasn’t allowed to listen to a whole lot of secular music, so I had to sneak away.,,

Tavis: I know that story well, yeah.

Tucker: Yeah. I had to sneak away and do that. You know, put the radio under my pillow. You know, I just started discovering some classic jazz in addition to all the gospel and stuff that we were being introduced to and a lot of classical as well. But it just created a hunger, you know. It was like what am I missing? Let me figure out what’s out there.

Tavis: So given all of your influences and given your amazing gift and your range, why do you think–not why do you think–tell me why you settled into this jazz lane.

Tucker: Well, I’ve always kind of been an old hat, I guess, a little bit. I love classic films, classic television. You know, not being allowed to listen to a lot of secular music, the exception was always with musicals.

So my mom was a huge fan of, you know, Danny Kaye and Julie Andrews and stuff like that. So that’s a lot of the music that we actually did to listen to. It was just classic, you know, music in films. So I think it really helped me to develop an ear, you know, a craving for it.

Like I said, I started out doing standards and then kind of got into writing more and more. So jazz just felt like a natural fit, I think, for me when I decided to launch out on my own.

Tavis: So tell me about “The Sun Season”.

Tucker: Well, “The Sun Season” is a collection of songs really written over probably a 10-year period. It’s kind of a reflection. A lot of “The Sun” theme songs were written closer to the date of the recording a couple of years ago. Just a reflection of a really happy time in my life.

You know, I was starting to–I write a ton and I started thinking, wow, we just have this theme of the sun that keeps coming up over and over again. I must focus on that and investigate maybe why that is.

Tavis: Half the titles have the word “sun” in them.

Tucker: Yeah, they do, and it wasn’t even intentional, honestly. It wasn’t purposeful…

Tavis: “Waiting for the Sun”, “Sun, See Through Me”…

Tucker: Yeah.

Tavis: “The Sun Suite”.

Tucker: “Sun Suite”, yeah. You know, even talking to like Cassandra Wilson, another one of my big influences, she has a fixation on the moon. She said, “Well, that’s just kind of the way it is sometimes.” You have this thing that kind of draws you and leads you and inspires you. That’s what the sun has been for me.

Like I said, it was just such–you know, I went through a really melancholy period, I think, early on and then was able to, I don’t know, focus on more of just that intentional joy. And that’s really what this is a reflection of, just my embracing of, you know, you’re an adult now. You have the right to stand in your place and be happy. That was kind of a new place for me.

Tavis: There’s a wonderful story for how this project got done, how it got completed. Do you want to share that with me?

Tucker: Yeah. This was a crowd-funded project, actually. This is our first time.

Tavis: Crowd-funded.

Tucker: Yeah. Kind of a kick starter thing. It was a site called Indiegogo. You know, we just launched out really into the deep because, you know, it’s no fun to have to ask. But, I mean, friends, family supporters, people that we didn’t even know shared the project and helped us to gather enough money in a matter of a couple of months to put the project together.

So I feel like, because of that, it’s so much more cohesive. We recorded this one over a period of just a couple of days and I think, you know, the project reflects that. It’s very uniform and makes a really concise statement, I think, because of that.

Tavis: What kind of–you fill in the blank–responsibility, pressure, expectation. What is an artist responding to, what does an artist take into the studio with him or her when they’re doing a project not just for the fans, but a project the fans helped them to fund?

Tucker: Well, you take the best of yourself in any case. I don’t know that I necessarily would have approached it any differently, considering that it was a crowd-funded project. They knew that it was going to be a project full of original songs and that was the most important thing for me, is make my statement, you know, in the here and now.

I’m not here to out Ella Fitzgerald or try to imitate anything that’s come before. You know, who is Dara Tucker? And if I can deliver that to them to the best of my ability, then I feel like I’ve given them their money’s worth. At least I hope I have.

Tavis: There are a lot of folk over the years–I say this with great pride and a deep sense of humility–there are a lot of folk on this program over the years who the country writ large have not heard of till they saw them here first ranging from Esperanza Spalding to Kanye West.

Tucker: I saw her [laugh].

Tavis: So I’m hoping that you will remember the name, Dara Tucker, and that you saw her first on PBS. So now you get the joy of hearing Dara perform. You can judge for yourself how beautiful this voice really is, along with her keyboardist Josh Mosher. The song is called “Giants” from the new album, “The Sun Season”. Dara, good to have you on this program.

Tucker: So good to be here. Thank you for championing jazz, Tavis.

Tavis: Oh, honored to have you on this program. All the best to you in the future.

Tucker: Thank you so much.

Tavis: Now don’t forget about us.

Tucker: Absolutely.

Tavis: When you blow up, don’t forget about us [laugh].

Tucker: Absolutely.

Tavis: Thank you for watching as always, and keep the faith.


Announcer: For more information on today’s show, visit Tavis Smiley at pbs.org.

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Last modified: June 30, 2015 at 5:43 pm