The Center for the Performing Arts at Penn State will kick off its 2018-19 season Sept. 20 with jazz vocalist Veronica Swift with The Emmet Cohen Trio. This season’s theme is “I Am Woman” and includes a wide array of female performers of every age, culture and genre.
Swift’s stellar career is impressive for her young age. Born into what she calls “jazz royalty,” her parents were jazz singer and educator Stephanie Nakasian and the late jazz pianist Hod O’Brien.
“I really had bebop coursing through my veins as a child,” she said. “I was the kid who was at the back of the bar while my parents were playing, coloring in my coloring book, or I was in the green room hanging out with Jon Hendricks at a young age. Being around this music at that age is like picking up a language. You don’t really notice how you pick it up, but you do. For me, there wasn’t really a point of, this is what I want to do, or a passion, it was a way of life. That’s why I do what I do.”
The Virginia native attended the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music, graduating in 2016 before moving to New York City in pursuit of her jazz career. Her experience as a young musician in the city influenced her 2017 recording, “Let’s Sail Away,” and the set list for her upcoming shows.
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“Everything is about the story,” she said about the songs audience members can expect to hear. “Music or not, we’re storytellers. The story is how I moved to New York and things were really crazy emotionally. (I was) in a new place and I started touring all the time and I started really missing home. ... I have a lot of songs in there about home and the importance of feeling connected to your roots, which is a story that everyone has been through.”
It’s relatable stories and themes like these that make Swift’s music appealing to all demographics. She’s performed around the world, for audiences of all ages and cultures.
“It’s amazing to see, even people who aren’t jazz fans love what I do because it’s not just the music, it’s the story that people gravitate toward. It’s the kind of music that brings all these people together to share their stories and feel their story is being shared through what I do,” she said.
This universal appeal is evident when you look around the audience at one of Swift’s shows.
“Jazz is not dead,” she said. “It’s older music and it’s not mainstream, but that doesn’t mean it’s irrelevant. ... This music is still connecting to people and catching people of all age groups, races and whatnot. ... These lyrics are universal, timeless and connect to people of all corners of the world.”
Swift hopes that everyone who attends the Sept. 20 concert walks away feeling like they’ve been given a place to share their story and be present while Swift and the Emmet Cohen Trio shares theirs.
If you go
What: Veronica Swift
When: 7:30 p.m. Sept. 20
Where: Schwab Auditorium, University Park