By Shaun Brady
The journey that brought V. Shayne Frederick to Philadelphia is the same one traveled by many jazz greats before him. Frederick’s paternal family had moved from North Carolina to Philly before he was born, following the path that had already brought such icons as Dizzy Gillespie, John Coltrane and the Heath Brothers to the city during the Great Migration. As he split his childhood between his native North Carolina and Philly, Frederick was unaware of that history; as he discovered it later, he realized the legacy that was represented in his own music.
“When you start to learn about how music moves along that path,” he says, “you see how culture travels. When I found out that John Coltrane was from High Point, or Nina Simone was from Tryon, I thought that was dope; I came from a little nothing town, too.”
More than just shared origins, Frederick unearthed shared roots in the ways that his music echoed elements of his predecessors’. He traces those commonalities to the church, where much of his own musical voice was honed. His mother was a self-taught pianist and singer, and her influence was the strongest on him growing up. Raised on a sonic diet of gospel and contemporary R&B, he discovered jazz in his early teens. It wasn’t singers that captivated him at first, but instrumentalists – something that comes across vividly in his horn-like approach to a melody.
“I never endeavored to be someone who sounded like another vocalist,” he explains. “I was mostly listening to Charles Mingus, Miles, Monk, Herbie. That was my stuff.”
Frederick studied not music but Business Administration, first at Dartmouth and later at Peirce College, but began taking music classes at the Community College of Philadelphia, where he sang with ensembles led by the late organ master Trudy Pitts and crossed paths with tenor sax giant Larry McKenna. Both became key mentors and ushered Frederick into the Philly jazz scene, where he became a regular at the famed (and lamented) Ortliebs jam sessions.
Frederick is enthusiastic about the group of gifted peers with whom he collaborates, praising a local scene that includes pianists Adam Faulk and Tim Brey, bassists Nimrod Speaks and Justin Sekelewski, and drummer Khary Abdul-Shaheed, all of whom appear on his 2019 debut album, Lovesome. A fluid reimagining of classic standards, the album was one of three projects released that year, along with the single “Gleaming” and the Christmas EP Evergreen, providing ample evidence of the vocalist’s supple versatility.
“I probably would not be able to develop and perform as much as I have been on the same level anywhere else,” Frederick says. “Philadelphia is a great incubator for talent. It has the venues, the culture, the people with musical knowhow, the musical history, and it all works together.”