I believe in the creative spark of music.
One morning in 2001 on a crowded Atlanta highway I joined the NPR listening audience in discovering the music of Eva Cassidy. For most people her voice causes a musical traffic accident as suddenly all else falls out of focus. When listeners discover Cassidy’s tragic early death from melanoma a sense of loss makes the music precious. In the six years that have followed, I’ve become the chief moderator of a 1000 member internet group dedicated to discussing her work and finding her musical legacy.
Eva Cassidy’s life story may be the reason people are initially drawn to her music but it is not the reason they continue to listen. Her version of the American Popular Song classic “Over The Rainbow” has become a recognized arrangement that stands on it’s own merits. Testimony to this is an adaptation for concert band and solo cornet by British cornet player and composer Alan Morrison. According to Morrison the selection routinely has the audience in tears. Cassidy approaches music from the vantage point of the composer – understanding the emotion that forms the work and in some instances how it can be challenged.
This insight has translated into life changes for several singers. The UK based singer Alexandra Lorence graduated from university after writing a thesis on Cassidy’s style. Lorence is now a successful jazz singer and uses Cassidy’s arrangements to teach breath control to her vocal students. Cassidy traversed musicals styles with the grace of a character actor changing scripts; a preference Lorence’s own recordings now emulate.
The St. Louis based singer Erin Bode received Cassidy’s SONGBIRD album from a relative. That album’s influence was largely responsible a career path change from opera to jazz. Her first professional release, “Over And Over” is dedicated in part to Cassidy whose influence is obvious. Bode’s selections cross genres and one song bears the same multi-track harmonies that are trademarks of Cassidy’s work. Thanks to the confidence she drew from Cassidy’s music Bode has since moved on to a style completely in her own signature.
Another U.S. singer, Coles Whalen, found Cassidy’s recordings when she was trying to shed a vocal quality skillfully honed from years in a youth choir in which she had toured the world. Listening to Cassidy inspired her to develop a solo voice; one that changes voice registers and dynamics within a phrase. Whalen’s writing style makes use of these techniques. After three self-produced albums she stands with national recognition within her reach.
It is commonplace for musicians to study and copy musical styles. For Eva Cassidy, an artist who is still largely unrecognized in the United States, the greatest legacy is the deeply felt creative spark her music evokes that allows musicians to make the connection with her work. There are moments when I think the influence of her music has waned but the opposite seems to be happening as more artists discover her music and the inspiration it bestows.
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