Veronica Swift in the Fast Lane

She may be just 22 years of age, but jazz singer Veronica Swift is no novice.

The daughter of veteran jazz pianist Hod O’Brien and vocalist Stephanie Nakasian, Swift’s professional career began at age nine when she began touring with her parents.

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The family act appeared at the Jazz Standard in New York City, the Blues Alley Jazz Club in Washington, D.C. and for the New Jersey and Hilton Head jazz societies.

Such solid experience—along with some decidedly dynamic genes—has turned her into a powerhouse vocalist with remarkable range both musically and emotionally.

Listen to her unusually uptempo version of the 1941 standard, “You Don’t Know What Love Is.” Delivered in a scolding, scorning, sarcastic tone, the melodious lyrics give way to a lengthy carefree scat climaxing in a falsetto finale.

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Then—accompanied only by piano—Swift does justice to “Lonely Woman,” written by Benny Carter and popularized in 1955 by June Christy and Stan Kenton. Singing with conviction, Swift steers the ballad from whisper to wail before her higher range suddenly dips into baritone musing, revealing a depth of feeling that belies her youthful beauty and innocence.

“Men spurn and shun me,” she sings. “Please send someone to love me to take my loneliness from me.”

Her repertoire leans toward bop on tunes such as “Tunisia,” “Just in Time” and “Yardbird Suite,” but she also interprets the Great American Songbook with numbers like Jimmy Van Heusen and Eddie DeLange’s “Darn that Dream.” Meanwhile, Swift remains a passionate devotee of 1920s and ’30s music and has sung with Brooklyn bandleader Vince Giordano and Philadelphia pianist Drew Nugent.

Swift’s clearly driving in the fast lane.

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Last fall, she took second place at the Thelonious Monk Jazz Competition, behind Jazzmeia Horn, the vocal phenom from Dallas, Texas. In March Swift was featured at Manhattan’s Tribeca Performing Arts Center, and the following month, she guested with Michael Feinstein at Jazz at Lincoln Center with the Tedd Firth Big Band along with Marilyn Maye and Freda Payne. This summer, Swift performed at the Telluride Jazz Festival in Colorado—her 10th appearance there—but first as a headliner.

Her first appearance at Jazz at Lincoln Center was at age eleven for a “Women in Jazz” series at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola. She returns there at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 13, as part of the Flip-Flop sessions, sharing the stage with vocalist Charles Turner. Her senior recital at the Frost School of Music at University of Miami is scheduled for 8 pm December 6, at Gusman Hall, 1314 Miller Drive, in Coral Gables, Fla.

Swift recorded two CDs as a child—one at age nine with Richie Cole, her mom and her dad’s rhythm section, and one at age thirteen with saxman Harry Allen. Her latest recording project, Lonely Woman, is due out this year, and features an impressive posse of sideman including pianist Emmet Cohen, trumpeter Benny Bennack III, bassist Daryl Johns, keyboardist Matt Wigler, and drummer Scott Lowrie

After her graduation from the Frost School, Swift plans to return to the Big Apple to continue her performing career. Find her online at veronicaswift.com.

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Photo Essay: Veronica Swift Swings the Rochester Jazz Fest

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