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Melissa Walker On Piano Jazz

Melissa Walker.
Courtesy of the artist
Melissa Walker.

Marian McPartland recalls meeting singer Melissa Walker for the first time in the "powder room" at Birdland. McPartland was immediately taken with the young singer's glowing personality — and she probably heard hints of Walker's warm and rich vocals in the few words they exchanged that night.

"She's got such a wonderful voice," recalls McPartland. "The tunes she did aren't heard too often, they were very well done though. I enjoyed that session."

The Edmonton, Alberta, native began her musical journey at an early age. Though she attended Brown University with the full intent of becoming a lawyer, music remained prominent in her extracurricular life. A move to Washington, D.C., for law-related work experience actually led to jazz lessons and gigs around town. Then Walker made the big move to New York in 1993 to pursue jazz full-time.

A regular listener to Piano Jazz, Walker brought along a few tunes she hadn't heard performed on the show in a while. Bassist Gary Mazzaroppi joined McPartland and Walker in "The More I See You" and a haunting version of Earle Hagen's "Harlem Nocturne" — which, as a sung tune, may be a first for the program.

In an interview with McPartland, Walker talks about the non-profit organization that she founded, Jazz House Kids, an enrichment program to introduce inner-city kids to jazz. She also tells McPartland about the slightly adversarial beginning to her relationship with the man who is now her husband, jazz bassist Christian McBride.

Walker's version of "On a Clear Day" is one of the highlights of the show. Her swing on that tune recalls Carmen McRae, an artist she cites as an important influence. Walker's talent as a songwriter is also on display when she sings her own tune, "Love Is." The trio ends the hour with the bluesy standard "Just in Time."

Originally recorded March 6, 2006. Originally broadcast Nov. 21, 2006.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

David Lyon