Yvette Norwood Tiger: Open Mind and an Open Heart
by Susan Frances
Singer-songwriter Yvette Norwood-Tiger is known by her audiences as a woman with a golden voice. But her talents don’t stop there. She is also recognized for being able to survive a debilitating brain tumor and the rippling effects after surgery and chemotherapy. She also possesses a third gift. A precious one that enables her to have an open mind and an open heart.
Her love of music has inspired her to enjoy all types of music from jazz to pop, from symphonies to classic rock, from soothing spirituals to Latin dance, and from Broadway musicals to the R&B/soul melodies of Motown. Her open nature allows her to be free to enjoy the multiple breeds of music.
“My love for music crosses many genres of music,” she discovered. “One of the things that I love about music is that I can do another one of my favorite things — travel just by listening to or performing songs from other cultures and genres. I enjoy taking the audience on adventure with me. I also see performing songs as performing works of art and theater, which I believe I acquired from going to see operas and musicals.”
Shades of all of these flavors of the above-mentioned music can be found on her new CD Love Is from Sweet Serenity Records. She examines why she chose to record Love Is, and what led her to come up with the title.
“It had been two years since I recorded and released my last CD, A’LA ELLA!,” she notes, “and wanted to do a recording that included some of my original music. At this time, I also decided to start my own jazz festival, the Palm Beach International Jazz Festival, which sort of delayed doing my third CD for a few months. One night while sleeping, a vision of the CD cover came to me with ‘LOVE IS’ as the title. I then had something to build my song selections with, and I selected songs that represented some of the aspects of love, including ‘Song For My Father’.”
Horace Silver’s composition “Song For My Father” is given lyrics by Ellen May Shashoyan. To quote from the song, “A human being so true he could live like a king because he knew / the real pleasure / of life / to be devoted to / and always stand by me / so I’ll be unafraid / and free / if there was ever a man who was generous, gracious and good / that is my dad / the man.”
Lyrics that reveal human vulnerability is a part of Tiger’s open nature, honestly showing one’s emotions in song. True to her open nature, Tiger enjoys singing in various languages, some of which are: French, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, and the South African native dialect of Xhosa.
She reveals about herself, “I love to seek out the different aspects of everything that God has created including people and the differences within each of us. Therefore, I am enthralled by hearing different languages and guessing the emotions behind the words. Although, I sing in six languages, I am unfortunately fluent in speaking only one language. However, I enjoy learning the lyrics as well as the emotion behind the lyrics, which connects me to the singer and the story”
Tiger’s moving rendition of Irving Berlin’s timeless tune “Blues Skies” on Love Is demonstrates her ability to connect to the story being told. Her expressive voice gives the song relevance in a modern age. She observes, “Of course, we all experience many ups and downs in our life and ‘Blue Skies,’ to me, celebrates those up times in life when it seems as though everything is going my way. I wrote the lyrics for the intro, which is the melody of one of my favorite jazz concert orchestrations – ‘Rhapsody In Blue’ by George Gershwin.”
Accompanying Tiger on the recording are: Ken Burkhart on piano, Joshua Ewers on contrabass, Michael Mackey on trumpet, and Jose Roman Duque on drums. The sequence of events that led to her meeting her band mates involved what an outsider would call divine intervention.
She recollects, “Towards the end of my recovery from the treatment of the brain tumor, I was contacted by a restaurant owner who saw me two years prior at a jam session. He booked me to perform at his establishment on a weekly basis. I needed a keyboardist to accompany me and I found Ken Burkhart on Craigslist. Ken also performed regularly with another jazz band, which hired me as their vocalist and that is how I met the drummer, Jose Roman Duque.”
“I met Michael Mackey and Joshua Ewers,” she recalls, “at a local jazz jam. At that time, they both were juniors in high school, and I was so enthralled by their level of skill for their age and I felt that the future of jazz was promising with musicians like them. They are now college students majoring in music and are still gigging in their spare time.”
“Time Is A Wrecking Ball” is the only track on the recording where just her pianist could join her. Tiger made the decision to bring in guest bassist Phil McArthur to play on the song. The result is a memorable treatment of her original composition that puts the song on par with the fine works of the Great American Songbook.
She recounts, “My original plan with ‘Time Is A Wrecking Ball’ was to record it in a slightly faster tempo and with a piano, contrabass, trumpet, and drums. Ironically, I ran out of time. I had a deadline that I wanted to meet to release the CD and that time was quickly approaching. Michael and Joshua were busy with their college finals and my drummer Jose couldn’t get the time off from his teaching job to make it to the recording session. So I decided rather than scratch the song from the CD, I would record it with just Ken on keys. After listening back to the recording, I felt the element of jazz was missing and I thought having bassist Phil McArthur add his base line to the song would help to give it a jazz feel.”
Embracing different styles of music has brought her to this place of freedom. Free to make choices that are good for her music. She credits her parents and her faith for bringing her to this place.
She imparts, “Two of the top things that I thank my mom and dad for are introducing me to the love of God and giving me the love for music. My parents played their instruments as hobbies and in their church. Although, I expressed an interest in learning both instruments, including the piano, which we also had in our house, I didn’t have the patience needed to learn the instruments. I truly loved the freedom of using my voice in song then and now.”
She reflects, “Although, my parents enjoyed performing music, they did it as a hobby. They both worked for an automotive manufacturing company in Michigan. As a young child, I thought about becoming a songwriter, but I didn’t think my parents would allow me to pursue music as a career.”
Growing up in Detroit, Michigan exposed Tiger to influences that she would take with her into her adulthood. She reminisces, “I grew up with five older sisters who were in their early teens when Motown became popular. So, I was definitely influenced by the soulful sounds of Motown artists whose records my sisters would play on the record player. Those artists included Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, The Supremes, Smokey Robinson, The Temptations, and later on the Jackson Five.”
Music had an influence on her as did films, which she remarks about, “I also enjoyed watching old movies and musicals where jazz was featured on film. The actor Jerry Lewis had great jazz artists performing in his movies including Count Basie and his orchestra, which Jerry Lewis featured in one of my favorite Jerry Lewis movies — Cinderfella.”
“My love for classical music,” she cites, “came from a field trip in elementary school to see the Detroit Symphony Orchestra perform, which if my memory is correct, was the music of Tchaikovsky. I then became mesmerized by the live sounds of musical instruments.”
She shares, “I also remember riding in the car with my mom many times and if she wasn’t playing a news channel, she had on what I now call classic rock music like Blood, Sweat & Tears – singing one of my favorites, ‘You Make Me So Very Happy,’ and other classic rock love songs. The Beatles were also a favorite band of mine.”
She regards, “Being raised in the church and listening to the records my family would play, I grew up listening to gospel and Christian music from artists such as The Mighty Clouds of Joy, James Cleveland, Mahalia Jackson, and Andre Crouch to name a few.”
“In my teens and early twenties,” she muses, “there was a wonderful jazz station in Detroit — WJZZ, which played different aspects of jazz music including standards, bebop, and smooth jazz and beyond. During this time is when I fell in love with the music of Al Jarreau, Minnie Riperton, and Tania Maria, to name just a few.”
Her journey from Michigan to South Florida where she and her husband reside today, involved many twists and turns. She chronicles, “I worked as a mechanical engineering technician for the Department of Defense – Army Tank Automotive Command in Warren, Michigan. After a few years there, I decided that I wanted to move from working behind the desk and wanted to work in the public sector.”
She details, “I was hired to be a technical service representative/paint engineer at a chemical company, which supplies automotive coatings and services to car companies. While at this job, I met my husband when I went on vacation with a girlfriend to celebrate her birthday. My husband lived in New Jersey and after a couple of years of commuting back and forth from Michigan to New Jersey, we got married and I moved to New Jersey.”
Moving forward, she recognizes, “At this time, I decided to pursue interior design which was something that I was interested to do since I was a child growing up. I was also influenced by my mother who also had a love and knack for design. During the first couple of years of living in New Jersey, my husband and I would go every Friday to a local art gallery called El Lobo Negro in Asbury Park, New Jersey to hear jazz bands perform. The gallery owners would also add a jam session to end the night.”
“When the owners found out from my husband that I liked to sing,” she looks back fondly, “they would physically get me on stage to sing. This was due to my extreme shyness of singing in public. After a couple of years, I became comfortable enough to thoroughly enjoy being on the stage. The gallery owners hired me for my first professional gig (on) September 9, 2005.”
“My husband and I moved to Florida in 2010, and I continued to do interior design as my profession, and I continued to sing as a hobby.” At this stage in her life, Tiger was following her parents path, viewing her music as a hobby.
“In September of 2012, I began to experience numbness and tingling in my extremities, along with other symptoms that I could not explain,” she describes. “Then one day, after working out, I fainted, which I have never done before. At this time, my husband strongly suggested that I go to the hospital. After three days, my doctors diagnosed me with a brain tumor. Although it was benign, the size of it posed an imminent threat to some very important functions and most of all, my carotid artery.”
“Although I went on to have surgery and radiation to reduce it,” she remembers, “the doctors could not remove it all and they told my husband I could die at any second or suffer a stroke. I had quite a physical and spiritual battle during this time. My hearing was severely affected to the point where I could not stand to hear noises let alone sit and listen to music. After recovery, I realized that singing as well as writing music is my purpose in this world, and I decided to pursue it as my profession and no longer as a hobby.”
She purports, “I truly know that God has kept me here for His purpose, and I give my testimony to my audience to encourage them if they are going through something that seems impossible for them to bear. I also included my testimony on my newest CD, Love Is, at the beginning of a jazz song written by Horace Silver and lyrics by Ellen May Shashoyan, titled ‘Song For My Father’.”
Her testimony about overcoming the brain tumor in “Song For My Father” allowed her to open up about her ordeal to audiences. She proclaims, “If it was not for my faith and trust in God, I would not have been able to overcome the physical and mental trauma that resulted from being treated for a brain tumor. The numbness in my limbs went away almost immediately after surgery. The side effects of the medications caused me great stress with my hearing to the point that I thought that I would not be able to perform again or even listen to music.”
“Eventually over time,” she enthuses, “I regained normal hearing and the ringing in my ears subsided. Again, I credit my healing to my faith. I feel that God kept me here for a purpose which is to give others encouragement in their trials.”
She and her husband’s relocation to South Florida made sense to them as she admits, “Although, I was born in a state that has very cold and long winters, the older I got the less I wanted to tolerate the winter months. Fortunately, my husband Stephen felt the same way. His dream since he was a child was to live in south Florida. We were fortunate to be able to relocate from New Jersey to Florida in 2010. It is definitely the weather that keeps us here but we’re also blessed with a wonderful community of jazz musicians both young and older, which helps to continue my career in the industry of music.”
South Florida has provided her with many opportunities to perform live but Tiger has also been furnished with opportunities to perform outside her provincial perimeters. She has played at such international venues as the Royal Albert Hall in London, England, the Muizenberg Jazz Festival in Cape Town, South Africa, and the B-Flat Jazz Club in Berlin, Germany.
She illustrates, “I have been blessed to perform on stages that were once graced by great jazz musicians and vocalists, which includes Royal Albert Hall in London, England, Birdland in New York City, the Cotton Club in Harlem, Palais des Beaux-Arts (Bozar) in Brussels, and others.”
When asked if there are venues that she would like to play and haven’t, she doesn’t hold back. “In the near future,” she proposes, “I would like to perform at Dizzy’s Club at Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, and the Sydney Opera House, to name a few. I respect the history of those famous places and would love to add my story to it.”
Desiring to play venues outside of her local area is a surprise to her as she has always known herself to be quiet and shy. “I am probably one of the quietest people you would ever meet when I am off the stage,” she unveils about herself. “However, when I’m on the stage, I am at home and it’s like I am telling a story through song to visitors to my home. I also receive great energy from my audience. Sharing my testimony to someone who may be in need of an encouraging word also makes it my purpose to be there.”
She praises, “I thank God for the gifts that He has given me and I live to share them.”
True to her humble roots, she raves, “I would like to thank Modern Jazz Today for expressing an interest in my music background. I truly appreciate the wonderful and well thought out questions.”
Having an open mind and an open heart has enabled Yvette Norwood-Tiger to appreciate different styles of music, different languages, and people of different cultures. Her open nature has enabled her to not let such trials like a debilitating brain tumor stop her from living. And living she is, recording and performing live steadily, and enjoying every moment of it. She is living Ellen May Shashoyan’s words in Silver’s “Song For My Father” day after day, being “unafraid and free.”
About Susan Frances:
Born in Brooklyn, New York and raised in eastern Long Island, I always enjoyed writing and made several contributions to my high school literary magazine, The Lion’s Pen. Influenced by writers of epic novels including Colleen McCullough and James Clavell, I gravitated to creative writing. After graduating from New York University with a BA in Liberal Arts, I tried my hand at conventional jobs but always returned to creative writing. Since 1998, I have been a freelance writer and have over three thousand articles to various e-zines including: Jazz Times, Blogcritics, Yahoo Voices, Goodreads.com, Authors and Books (books.wiseto.com), TheReadingRoom.com, Amazon.com, Epinions.com, Fictiondb.com, LibraryThing.com, BTS emag, BarnesandNoble.com, RomanticHistoricalReviews.com, AReCafe.com, Hybrid Magazine, and BookDepository.com. In 2013 and 2014, I was a judge in the Orange Rose Writing Competition sponsored by the Orange County chapter of the Romance Writers of America located in Brea, California.