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May 20, 2005

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Friday, May 20, 2005

The act of singing The act of singing (May 20, 2005)

Kay Andreas finds common ground between acting and singing jazz

by Daniel Grujic

T he temperature seems to elevate just a few degrees when you approach the singer of the Black Olive Jazz ensemble.

In the band's promotional photographs Kay Andreas (aka Kay Kostopoulos Amarotico) exudes a playful sexuality while lying on a hardwood floor, but tempers that air with the deep gaze of one acutely aware of both how the image is presented, and how it is perceived.

She knows exactly what she's doing.

After many prolific years as an actress, Andreas has recently reinvented herself as a jazz singer. Her ensemble is a collaboration with guitarist and arranger Lenny Carlson and a group of rotating musicians. They usually perform twice a week, with occasional gigs at Cafˇ Fino in Palo Alto.

Jazz provides a strong dose of the heartfelt lyrics and genuine performances that current pop artists lack, she said. Andreas values the personal connection between artist and audience, adding that she tends to concentrate on the roots of jazz.

"I am interested in the 1920s to the 1940s; they are my strongest repertoire," she said.

Andreas can do the 1950s and on, but she gravitates towards the earlier decades -- partly because of her strong familiarity with them. "I knew a lot of the songs when I was little. Mother and Grandmother used to listen to them. The lyrics of that era seem very close to the heart," she said.

Her theater background helps her bring those lyrics to life. "Acting definitely improves the performance. It's all about interpreting the text and feeling, being present with it. It is also about breath, it's all about breath."

Andreas has been acting since she was a young girl in Baltimore, Md. She still has the videotape her father made of her on the front porch, under a stage curtain made out of a blanket, singing "The Good Ship Lollipop" and tap dancing. Her interest in performing grew from there, but singing is something she did not actively pursue.

"I got more interested in classical theater ... so I've done lots of Shakespeare as a stage actress, and that takes so much energy and so much focus. (Jazz) was something that I started doing later in life and I really enjoy it," she said.

Andreas received her B.A. in English, with a minor in modern dance, from the University of Maryland. She then attained her Master of Fine Arts in acting from the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco. After taking on a variety of roles in theatrical productions, she began to teach.

Andreas currently holds the positions of undergraduate acting instructor, graduate lecturer and Continuing Studies Program lecturer at Stanford University. She will also appear in July in Harold Pinter's "The Lover" and "Night" at Stanford Summer Theatre.

It is easy for Andreas to connect her acting background to her singing, because she always blurred the line between the two arts.

"Shakespeare is very musical to me and it always has been. In fact, whenever I memorize it I always think of it in terms of the iambic rhythm; I think of the sounds and the vowels, and that's the same with singing. They really feed one another."

But Andreas' singing voice has received only sporadic professional exercise since the grand performance of "The Good Ship Lollipop."

"I've had roles that required me to sing, but I haven't been in anything like a musical" she said.

Andreas gravitated to singing when studying jazz improvisation and music theory at San Francisco City College in 2000. At the time she was honing her skills as a bass guitarist when her instructor heard her sing. He halted her progress with the bass by telling her: "You are a singer, not a bassist."

Following that, she "did everything the musicians had to do: studying melodies and scales, and practicing improvisation. Her first time as a singer in class made her "very nervous." There were not many singers in her class, which contributed to the pressure. But Andreas found support for her pursuits among the musicians she met in San Francisco.

Improvisation is now something she very much enjoys. Andreas said that jazz is a strong antithesis to the contemporary music we are exposed to on shows like "American Idol," where "everything is for the result."

"[The music] is so general that I think there is a disconnect between the performer and the audience. Everything is manufactured," she said.

It is nearly impossible, Andreas added, to observe a genuine performance in these "Idol" acts, because they have their songs written for them, their melodies planned out, and their every movement choreographed.

An actress who is trying her hand at singing may not be as novel today when so many people in Hollywood seem to do both. However Andreas' love of the text, subtlety of word, and appreciation for the audience promise a performance as deep as those big, dark eyes starring right back at you.
For more information about upcoming Black Olive Jazz performances please visit www.blackolivejazz.com or call Cafe Fino at (650) 326-6082.


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