- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 24, 2002

There's a strange sort of symbiosis between vocalist and instrumentalist that can result in either a pretty hefty rivalry or an unparalleled connection between words and music. This week, three venues provide the opportunity to explore the interplay between the two in the hands of artists well versed in both instrument and voice.

At Blues Alley, jazz artist Dana DeRose debuts Tuesday night. A classically trained pianist who early on discovered the allure of jazz after listening to Art Tatum and Red Garland, Miss DeRose began to experience symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome that soon left her unable to play.

"I thought I wasn't practicing enough," says Miss DeRose, who had spent hours learning how to play in the improvisational style that is inherent in jazz music. "I kept thinking, 'I've got to get this music.' But my hand kept getting worse."

It was a rough period for the then-21-year-old musician, who hadn't contemplated any other career but music.

She finally ended up on the stage as a vocalist, coaxed on by her jazz piano teacher in her hometown of Binghamton, N.Y., who called her up to sing with his combo.

"I had never paid attention to the words before," Miss DeRose says, admitting that she spent those early sessions with a songbook in one hand and the microphone in the other. "I always thought the words were secondary to the music."

Two operations later, Miss DeRose, 35, now routinely receives critical acclaim both as pianist and as vocalist, performing with a surety and elegance that prompts comparisons to Ella Fitzgerald.

"Singing changed my playing," she says. "Knowing the words really gave me a sense of what the song is about."

Her latest CD, "Love's Holiday," released just last month, features her original instrumental tribute to legendary jazz pianist Marian McPartland. There are some fresh takes on old favorites as well, revealing a sense of timing and harmony that pushes the limit of the unexpected.

And that, she says, is just what she was looking for in the first place and then some.

"There's a creativity to jazz and a warmth to the music that attracts whether you are playing or singing," she says. "Singing gives me a new way of seeing the song."

For those musicians who are still working out the issues between the singer and the song, Randy Sharp's workshop on singing and songwriting Saturday at Bangkok Blues may be just the ticket. Not familiar with Randy Sharp? If you've heard Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, Maura O'Connell, or the Dixie Chicks perform, you've probably encountered one of his songs. In fact, the Nashville songwriter has had six No. 1 country hits.

Last month, he released his first solo album project in more than 15 years. Entitled "The Connection," and produced by Mr. Sharp and his daughter Maia, the album features some new material as well as a few old standbys.

The Randy Sharp workshop is hosted jointly by the Washington Area Music Association and the Songwriters' Association of Washington. For more information, Call WAMA at 202/338-1134 or SAW at 301/654-8434.

At the Barns at Wolf Trap, the Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar Fest, which concludes this evening, features the song stylings and instrumental artistry of Ledward Ka'apana and Princess Owana Salazar, two musicians closely associated with the genre.

Slack key, or ki ho'alu (which literally means "loosen the key"), comes from the practice of loosening or slackening the strings of the guitar in a departure from standard tunings. A constant bass line is played with the thumb, while the fingers pick out the melody.

The roots of the music are in the 1830s, when cowboys and vaqueros who came to Hawaii to help control the burgeoning cattle population left their guitars behind them but not the secret of how to tune them.

"Families developed their own tunings," says Miss Salazar, whose new CD, "Wahine Slack 'n Steel," features the two great traditions of Hawaiian guitar. "I've used some of the traditional tunings and given them a more contemporary sound."

For Miss Salazar, that might include adding jazz or other rhythms to traditional melodies, or in one case, fusing the traditional tune "Hi'ilawe" with Jimi Hendrix's "Waterfall."

Slack key master Ledward Ka'apana remembers being surrounded by musician relatives when he was growing up in the small town of Kampana, on the Big Island of Hawaii, in the 1950s.

"Everyone played," he recalls. "There was music all the time"

Beginning in the late 1980s, New Age musical guru George Winston put out a number of slack key recordings on his Dancing Cat label, preferring to concentrate on the instrumental line, which traditionally had served merely to back up the voice. But the connection between voice and instrument is an important one, says Mr. Ka'apana.

"Slack key really supports the voice," he says. "The way I learned to play is that you sing from the heart and what is in the music goes out to the people."

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