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Melissa Morgan

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Biography

Not to be confused with either harpist Melissa Morgan or R&B singer Meli'sa Morgan (best known for her hit 1986 remake of Prince's "Do Me, Baby"), the Melissa Morgan profiled in this bio is a jazz vocalist with a bluesy, soulful, R&B-tinged approach. Morgan, however, isn't a belter or a shouter of the Ernestine Anderson variety, and she isn't bluesy, soulful, and R&B-tinged in an aggressive or forceful way. Rather, she favors a more laid-back and relaxed sort of grit, drawing on influences that include Dinah Washington, Nancy Wilson (the Nancy Wilson who sang with Cannonball Adderley, not Nancy Wilson of the hard rock group Heart), Billie Holiday and Shirley Horn. But Morgan is more improvisation-minded and jazz-oriented than Wilson, who has often favored jazz-influenced traditional pop and jazz-influenced R&B over straight-ahead vocal jazz. Morgan has also cited Sarah Vaughan as an influence. Morgan was born in New York City in 1980 and grew up not far away in Teaneck, NJ (a town that musicologists still associate with the Isley Brothers, who named their label T-Neck Records back in 1969). Morgan had a lot of musical training when she was growing up; she started taking piano lessons at the age of four, and she studied classical singing and opera as a child. One person who did a great deal to encourage the singer's interest in both jazz and classical music was her grandmother, who had been a classical singer in the 1930s and had a lot of jazz LPs in her record collection. Morgan continued to study music in high school, and she was only 16 when she went on a seven-country tour of Europe as a performer with the United States Youth Chorale. Despite all her classical training, Morgan ended up making jazz, not classical, her primary direction -- and she studied jazz extensively as a young adult when she attended the Purchase College Conservatory of Music (also known as the SUNY Purchase Conservatory of Music) in Purchase, NY from 1998-2002. At Purchase, her teachers included, among others, singer Roseanna Vitro and trumpeter Jon Faddis. After graduating, Morgan performed around New York City in the early 2000s and had a regular Sunday-night gig at an Upper West Side jazz club called Smoke, where she crossed paths with well-known improvisers such as tenor saxophonist George Coleman, trumpeter Eddie Henderson and acoustic pianists Harold Mabern and Cedar Walton. Then, in 2004, Morgan became a semi-finalist in the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition in Washington, D.C.; the judges included veteran producer Quincy Jones as well as singers Jimmy Scott, Al Jarreau, Flora Purim, Kurt Elling, and Dee Dee Bridgewater. But Morgan didn't stay on the East Coast; she moved to Los Angeles in 2006 -- and she had been performing jazz on the West Coast for two years when she landed a deal with Telarc International in 2008. Morgan's debut album, Until I Met You, was released by Telarc in April 2009. ~ Alex Henderson

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