“Judith sings like no one sings anymore except on the great vinyls from back in the day.” - Nice Matin (France)
Time was “I’m a jazz singer” used to have a significantly much more sophisticated ring to it. In a time when the term jazz singer implies anything that has a tinge of improvisation or even mild scatting nowadays, JUDITH LORICK radiates gloriously as jazz singer in the truest sense of the title. She has been living the notion as well as musically proclaiming the sound of lyricism, sophistication, touching story-telling, clever syncopation, warm phrasing, and the essence of swing.
It is no surprise that Lorick hails from Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love and musical soul, where music has been a bastion of inspiration and solace. “My mother was my real musical mentor. She played music every minute of every day, and she had a gorgeous voice,” Judith remembers.
At the tender age of four, she won a talent contest, and in high school, she was part of an opera workshop, but it wasn’t until she entered Swarthmore College that jazz became fully imbued in her singing. Her mother was a fan of jazz vocalists, including Billy Eckstine, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Nancy Wilson, et al., so, “By the time I finally started singing jazz, I had three hundred songs in my head – all the melodies and lyrics, because that’s what I grew up hearing,” she explains.
Garnering notice throughout college, word got out to Stan Kenton, who invited Judith to perform at the Villanova Intercollegiate Jazz Festival in 1966, prompting one reviewer to remark, “Miss Judy Lorick represents Swarthmore College. Her style of singing is exciting and interestingly different.” Soon after, she would find herself in the company of the father of jazz piano, Earl “Fatha” Hines, and The Young-Holt Unlimited (formerly of the Ramsey Lewis Trio.) Not realizing what an enviable position this was for a young unknown singer, Judith remarks, “At the time, I was not thinking of music as a career; it was my soul more than an occupational goal.”
After graduating from Swarthmore, and still with music mainly in her soul and a B.A. in her back pocket, Judith moved to Boston to begin her climb up the corporate ladder, with “this highly idealistic notion that I never wanted music to be a ‘job’, because that’s when I’ll hate it. I eventually realized though performing music is a job, you can manage it, and still be blessed enough to earn a living at your passion.” It stands to reason that the word “passion” comes from the Latin root which means “to suffer” – something which became apparent as the result of an incident that thwarted Lorick’s singing endeavors for thirteen years. “Fresh out of college, I auditioned for this club owner, and I really connected with the trio that was playing – I mean, the feeling was hot! But, the owner was so engrossed in a conversation, he didn’t even hear me sing!” Judith recounts. Young and full of rage, she stormed out of the club, leaving the music world for good – or so she thought. Little did Judith realize that this would be only one of the first of many seismic shifts on the road to her glorious present.
On a New Year’s Eve blind date, Judith met Artie, the man that would eventually come to exemplify the wonder and miracle of second chances in her life. With razor-sharp recall, Judith declares, “Our connection was immediate and intense, but brief, as Artie was in army intelligence and four months after we met, he was transferred to Vietnam. He came back a year later a broken man. I moved to D.C. to be close to him, but he was no longer the person I knew.” Relocating to Boston for work, Judith figured she’d never see Artie again and picked up the pieces, to transition into the next chapter of her story – 3,000 miles west.
Transferring to California, Judith embarked upon a fresh perspective, realizing that singing was no longer a choice, but a must. Networking with local musicians in the Orange County area led to a long-term engagement, which also found her juggling a corporate career and motherhood, all of which was done with aplomb. She was so outstanding in her field, Lorick found herself on a fast track to becoming the first woman of color to be offered a corporate VP position. As enticing as this was, “I knew if I kept climbing that corporate ladder, it would pull me in forever, so I quit and started to sing full-time,” Judith reasoned.
An equally bold move found Judith ignoring the advice of skeptics and emigrating to Mougins in the south of France (near Cannes) to follow her dream. Her impetus was, “After traveling to Europe several times, I’d always felt at home in France; I’d always felt welcomed.” This stands to reason, as the night she arrived, her colleagues took her to dinner in Cannes, and insisted she sing right there at the restaurant. The response was electric, and she was offered a steady engagement during the French Riviera’s summer season. For the next decade, Lorick toured all over Europe singing in jazz clubs and festivals, including Nice and Marciac, to which she quips, “I’m an optimist; things happen when they’re supposed to happen.” But, her son Sergio was older and beginning to embark upon his own life story, which included a career as a dancer and choreographer. In the effort to support him, Judith fell back on her experience in the business world, consulting and coaching in the areas of leadership and team development. Careful this time to keep music within close proximity, she reasoned, “I didn’t want to look up at age seventy and say, ‘If only I had done that. I didn’t want to regret not doing something.”
The mid-1990s was a fecund time for jazz music and musicians, clubs, and festivals. Out of the current crop of superb young performers of the time, and fresh out of the Wynton Marsalis Septet, pianist, composer, and arranger Eric Reed emerged as a leading force in his generation. While performing at an after-hours jam session during the Juan-Les-Pins Jazz Festival in Antibes, Judith made another immediate and intense connection, this time with Eric, when they performed the classic You Don’t Know What Love Is. Judith fondly recalls, “It was a magical experience. There was such spiritual symbiosis; quickly we found we were breathing together. I hadn’t experienced that in years. It may sound strange, but when that happens, it’s like making musical love.” They would have to wait over twenty years before the magic happened not only again, but with beauty and wisdom added.
Life contains a series of events that shape and teach. As the years go by, eventually one discovers that many losses are redeemed over time. In Judith’s case, a second time came around in a way that would jolt her life unexpectedly, shockingly, and wonderfully. Only love could do something like that. Love is the main reason that poets muse, songwriters compose, and vocalists sing – even in the pain of lost love. Except, in this case, love came, went, and came back when her beloved Artie found her – after forty-four years! In 2014, Judith went to NYC’s Lincoln Center to attend her son Sergio’s performance there. During this trip, she reconnected with Artie, and with some gentle nudging from Sergio, they revived their relationship. A couple of years into their renewal, Judith grew weary of the transatlantic trek, and she returned to America, where yet another reconnection was soon to manifest.
Judith discovered that Eric Reed was going to be performing at Dizzy’s in NYC, so she and Artie decided to attend the performance. Reed remembered her immediately and magic began to burble, when he insisted, “I’m helping you; you’re too good not to be in the mix.” Judith had only released one album in her career, Songs for My Mother, in 1998, which garnered much notice by the French public. It consists of her mother’s favorite songs, and as she tells it, “I felt compelled to perform this material because it was my mother who ‘gave me voice’.”
Making good on his promise to assist her, Reed commissioned Judith to create an exhaustive list of all her favorite songs, and then whittle down to about a dozen songs to record what would become her second project. Surprisingly, what took shape was a list of ballads, “which I was reluctant to do, but Eric was unwavering because he knew that there was an intense passion where ballads were concerned, convincing me that other people would be passionate about it as well.” Through more rehearsal sessions and song assemblage, Judith realized that “the songs I chose told my own story. Eric and I are both storytellers. Singing ballads comes naturally, because it comes from my soul; that’s where I live.”
Reed coalesced a diverse and sympathetic team of musicians in trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, drummer McClenty Hunter, bassist Kiyoshi Kitagawa and newcomer Chris Lewis on tenor saxophone. “I trusted Eric implicitly to create a supportive and safe environment to tell these stories through songs, some of which are little known to many listeners.” Judith shares. “Of course I love to sing the songs everyone has done, but I tend to do songs that people don’t know because I feel part of my job is educating people about the beautiful songs that are out there.”
To dismiss The Second Time Around as a clichéd title or phrase would be missing the point. Eric reveals, “Judith and I were committed to telling these stories in a creative way, but not so much that we would obfuscate the context or destroy the melodic architecture of these beautiful songs as they pertain to her story. Because she’s such a profound melodist, I could take some chances with the chord passages, but sometimes, it was best to keep it simple; every arrangement didn’t need to be an assignment in chordal reharmonizations.” There are so many chapters in Judith’s story that outline a life and career full of second chances, and opportunities knocking twice. At this time in Judith’s life, while she appreciates the dynamic of executive coaching, “Music is my focus now and forever. My earlier attempts at pursuing music consistently were interrupted by other life events that took precedence. After living twenty-eight years in Europe, I need to reacquaint myself with the American audience now that I’m living here, and I have a second more opportune chance to do so with this project. I’m moving forward because this is who I am.” This is the stuff of legend: a second chance at profound and glorious love, a reconnection with brilliant artistry, and a second album. This is a story of beauty, trials, and triumph.