For Derr, jazz provides
a challenge and a release
by Matt Kelly
singer Lori Derr performed recently at Keswick Hall.
By Matt Kelly
Derr commands the stage at Keswick Hall. Her face reflects shifting
emotions as she weaves through jazz standards and classics, a
raven-tressed singer with talent, passion and a microphone.
expresses and restores herself through music, drawing strength
from it for a day job that requires a lot of energy. As a cognitive
rehabilitation therapist at the Kluge
Childrens Rehabilitation Center, Derr works with children
who have had devastating accidents, as well as their families.
She said the job requires a lot of compassionate energy.
see and absorb a lot of difficult things here, she says.
The music helps me process some of that, regenerate my own
in Elkhart, Ind., Derr started out as a special education teacher
but became more interested in diagnosing ailments as she worked
with people who developed learning problems after suffering head
injuries. She currently performs diagnostic testing and cognitive
in psychology at Earlham College in Richmond, Ind., Derr was finishing
graduate school at the College of William & Mary 11 years
ago when offered a job at the Kluge Center, where she has been
has always had music around her. She sang in choruses, trained
for the opera and played the violin for nearly 20 years. But she
felt confined by classical music.
I didnt think I could sing off the page, she
said. In classical music, you dont make anything up.
after all of her classical training, she was lured and seduced
by a looser and more creative art form.
I was interested in jazz and the creative exchange. There is more
creativity per performance.
the transition wasnt as simple as loosening the reins. I
was so self-conscious, Derr said of her singing in the beginning.
I was conflicted. It was more the classical world versus
the creative jazz world.
took jazz vocal lessons from Dawn Thompson, a voice teacher at
the McIntire Department of Music, who in turn introduced Derr
to George Turner, a guitar player who teaches and performs locally.
He has been mentoring her ever since.
is the point man of the George Turner Trio and has incorporated
Derrs talent into some of his shows. The musician, who has
released a compact disc, SLIP DOnt fall, with
his trio, said her background in classi
music gives her a good sense of timing and knowing where she is
in a song.
Derr has also worked with Stephanie Nakasian, a jazz singer who
teaches at U.Va., and learned to be looser with her timing and
still struggling with being in front of people, she said.
Im focused on getting better.
the beginning, Derr sang eight to 10 songs per performance, but
as she got better and more comfortable, she upped that to 30 tunes
a night. She rests while the band performs instrumentals. Some
nights just Derr and Turner perform together, producing a more
intimate sound that Turner says makes her more comfortable.
dont rehearse together, Derr said of Turners
loosely knit band. Each one rehearses his or her own parts,
so when we get together its like a musical conversation,
with more opportunity for creativity.
has a very beautiful, pure tone that is very expressive,
Turner said. She sings ballads beautifully as well as Brazilian
music, like bossa nova.
cited as influences Diana Reeves, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan,
Diana Krall, Nat King Cole, Anita ODay, Chris Connor and
Joni Mitchell, who, like Derr, also draws and paints. She also
listens frequently to musicians like Wes Montgomery, Jimmy Smith,
Tal Farlow and Miles Davis.
want my ears to get fine-tuned, she said.
her workdays can be long and arduous, Derr said music can bring
out feelings of compassion, change the mood of the listener, calm,
comfort and offer something positive.
not without effort. You have to take a risk, Derr
said. If you dont, then you dont get the full
experience of the jazz world. Im always nervous, because
singing is a very naked thing. The musicians can hide behind their
instruments, but the singer is very revealed. Its a dangerous
is a good band leader, she said. He has a way of managing
all that goes on. He supported me and got me non-threatening gigs
once he saw what I could do.
has performed at a variety of venues, including Millers,
the Moondance Café, Keswick Hall and Boars Head.
Out of town, she has worked in Blacksburg, Lynchburg, Harrisonburg,
Staunton and Ocracoke, N.C.
much of what Derr sings are standards, she and Turner have worked
together at crafting their own songs. Derr is also picking up
the violin again, after a roughly nine-year layoff, and trying
jazz improvisations with it.
a big leap for me, she said. Im trying to decrease
the hold of structure on me and approach it in a different way.
Derr is also preparing for another big leap. She and Turner are
engaged to be married.