Holli Ross is proud to belong to the generation that helped to legitimize vocal jazz at the college level. During her freshman year at New England Conservatory she began to have second thoughts about her major in bassoon. Since it took little time for her to be recognized by trombonist-band leader, Phil Wilson, she fit right in to the NEC jazz band as one of their vocalists and began finding work in Boston. Only classical vocal training existed at that time, so Holli approached NEC president, Gunther Schuller with her proposal to study vocal jazz while working toward a jazz degree. But change takes time and NEC could approve no such program yet. Having already received extensive bel canto training, Holli did not wish to pursue a classical voice performance degree. Holli moved back to New York to finish her bassoon degree in a city that most definitely would have the resources for a vocalist to study jazz. While at Mannes School of Music (where she completed her bassoon degree), she was accepted into an experimental jazz performance course by pianist, Jack Reilly where she was treated and did her best to behave like an instrumentalist.
“Eventually singers must stop listening to singers and listen to instrumentalists. I’ve noticed over the years that many horn players consider a compliment of the highest order to be when you call them lyrical. I strive for the compliment, ‘Man, she sounds like a horn’.” Holli bases much of her teaching approach today on those successful early years. Along with her peers (some of the finest working jazz vocalists today), Holli has helped to develop and form many of the major vocal jazz programs in the country.
Holli holds the following academic positions:
Holli’s approach when working with jazz vocal students is to address the whole musician. Healthy vocal production, postural awareness, and supportive breathing get you out of the gate. Scales and chordal exercises (including jazz scales and harmony) drill intonation and vocal dexterity. Starting with repertoire from the Great American Songbook, you address learning to choose the correct keys, lyric interpretation, phrasing, and improvisation. Ear training, sight singing, and theory along with lead sheet and chart writing is an integral part of Holli’s teaching approach. “There’s no excuse for an illiterate singer these days,” says Ross. Students are encouraged to learn a chordal instrument so that they can develop rudimentary accompaniment skills. Holli accompanies all her students on guitar.
Holli conducts clinics and seminars nationally and abroad. She has taken her programs to the Svebian Art Summer program in Germany, the San Jose Student Jazz Competition where she was also part of the adjudication panel, Niagara High School, The Lucy Moses Center, and many local public schools throughout the tri-state area.
The Song Is You (jazz performance workshop) – students will sing a song of their choice with a full rhythm section and receive a constructive critique addressing their presentation, interpretation, and communication. An in-depth explanation will offer the student performing and interpretive options to help develop their “own voice” and to think outside the traditional box. With these comments the student is then invited to try and put his or her new ideas into effect for a second rendition.
Jazz Master Classes – Holli will discuss and perform a variety of songs that exemplify the well paced set as she would normally present them at a concert or club. This valuable information addresses the flow from song to song where keys, tempos, and grooves (styles) are taken into consideration to offer the listener the fullest musical experience.
Band Etiquette – What every singer should know in order to communicate their musical needs on and off the bandstand. In this program Holli will drive home the objective to create and become part of an ensemble while maintaining leadership. Levels of preparedness, traditional descriptive terms, accompaniment terms, and social aspects are all addressed to help the singer make music and make a good first impression with her accompanying band.
The Bossa Nova Challenge – Here, Holli distributes some music by the great Brazilian composer, Antonio Carlos Jobim and teaches the students the basic rhythms of the bossa nova sound. After they have learned the basic patterns and can sing a Jobim song or two, each is given “The Challenge” to choose a non-Brazilian style song and try to sing it in the newly learned bossa nova style. This is most rewarding when students begin to sway and swoon with this intoxicating rhythm. A good time is had by all.
Jazz Vocal Ensemble Training – Have Holli do a workshop with your vocal group of any age and watch her bring greater awareness to students as they learn to listen to their singing neighbors and blend. Vowel and consonant production are addressed as are some of the traditional jazz inflections that are the keystones to swing phrasing. Holli will either work the material your ensemble is presently developing, or she will hand out a simple jazz arrangement certain to whet the appetite of any fledgling jazz singer.