“Apart from my advocacy for women in music, creatively my focus is instrumental approach to vocal improvisation by paying special attention to rhythms, phrasing, and articulation. I try to emulate the Betty Carter-style of singing but with my own individual artistry,” says up-and-coming Philadelphia vocalist and composer Lora Sherrodd.
Sherrodd grew up listening to Carter, as well as Nancy King and Carmen McRae. Her mother is a bass guitarist, and Sherrodd began singing, dancing, performing and studying music from a young age in her hometown of Laramie, Wyoming. Sherrodd studied jazz voice under the direction of Ben Markley at the University of Wyoming, earning a Bachelor of Arts in Music with an emphasis in jazz. As an undergraduate, Sherrodd was the featured vocalist in the Wyoming Jazz Ensemble and appeared on a number of recordings, including the university’s “Winds of the Snowy’s” as well as “All In” by John May.
In 2019, she earned a grant to record her debut album, “287,” which earned her the 2020 Downbeat Magazine Student Music Award for outstanding jazz vocal solo. Sherrodd has sought out additional opportunities to refine her craft, studying privately with pianist Bruce Barth and vocalists Hailey Brinnel and Jenna McLean. She is now currently based in Philadelphia where she continues to compose and perform at historic venues such as Chris’ Jazz Cafe.
“My vision for myself is to be a successful performer and composer and to financially support myself by doing so. There are not very many female jazz vocalists in the mainstream media that also compose and arrange and I would like to fill this niche,” says Sherrodd. “Many of my compositions surround the subject of women in music and women in society. Jazz music is an art form that stems from a place of oppression and the oppression of women is a subject that is rarely discussed within the genre. My hope is that writing this music will spark conversation about the current situation of women so that we can begin to create spaces for women in music.”
Creating those spaces and cultivating a new culture is something that Sherrod has her eye on as she moves through the CORE Cooperative program at Jazz Philadelphia as one of its inaugural cohort of musicians. She says she wanted to participate in the program for more professional guidance. “I am from a small town in Wyoming and although I do not feel behind musically since moving to Philadelphia, I feel behind professionally because I have not been immersed in a large music population for most of my life,” she says. “I have very few connections in the jazz world just by fault of growing up in a state with the smallest population in the US and I am hoping that the Core Program will be an opportunity to grow my musical reach, meet more people within the community, and learn from successful mentors.”
The work is tough, but Sherrod says that she’s up for the challenge, and that you have to keep perspective on progress. “When things get hard, to stay motivated I try to keep in mind that progress isn’t linear. There will always be something that derails your path and it is important for me to take a step back and think if I would have given up then, then I wouldn’t be where I am today,” says Sherrodd. I try to keep in mind that it is okay to take a break and that you don’t have to be constantly working on something to feel important.”
One of her obstacles, she says, is the lack of female representation in the jazz scene. “I am hoping to grow my audience in order to help create spaces for women in music. The Core Program will be an outlet to have more women representation for jazz in the city of Philadelphia and this is a movement I would like to be a part of,” she explains. “There is a lot of misogyny and sexism still present within the community and my hope is that this will be dissolved in some way. For instance, I know a lot of my female cohorts do not feel comfortable going to jam sessions because they are late at night and extremely male dominated.”
“There is a lot of misogyny and sexism still present within the community and my hope is that this will be dissolved in some way. For instance, I know a lot of my female cohorts do not feel comfortable going to jam sessions because they are late at night and extremely male dominated.”
She also mentions that co-creating a more fertile place for female musicians to ply their craft means sometimes we just have to say aloud that certain behavior isn’t acceptable, and hold people to account. “I encourage people to call your peers out on their behavior and to not to continue to play with people or hire them solely on the premise that they are a good player,” says Sherrodd. “Let’s begin creating spaces where women feel respected and safe within the community and hold each other accountable.”
“Let’s begin creating spaces where women feel respected and safe within the community and hold each other accountable.”
Ultimately, she says, “My vision for Philadelphia as a jazz city is to create a sense of community and inclusivity within the jazz population all while promoting a rich culture in jazz.”
Building and stretching seems to be rooted in the way Sherrodd views music, which is essential for a jazz musician. She says that one of the most rewarding projects she has been working on is with Olivier Mayman on their “Voice and Vibes Project” collaboration. “In the vibraphone’s short 100-year history, this combination has been practically nonexistent, or used more as a novelty sound when used at all. Our aim with the project is to reinvent the traditional roles that these two instruments play, with the voice acting more as an instrumentalist, improvisatory and interactive, and the vibes more as an accompanist, fully capable of assuming every responsibility the piano normally holds,” says Sherrodd. “On a personal note, Oliver Mayman is such a joy to work with because he is just as invested in you as you are in yourself and that is what makes this project so special.”
Promoting collaborative work, admitting mistakes, and being ambitious while treating others as you might want to be treated are all hallmarks of how Sherrodd thinks about and models leadership, an approach that will surely bring more people into her orbit. Relationships are something that she wants to keep working on as part of building her career.
“A community is a network of people who engage with each other and support one another. The amazing thing about being a musician is that you will always have a friend no matter where you go. There will always be someone who has the same struggles and goals as you.”
You can connect with her on lorasherroddmusic.com
Jazz Philadelphia is proud to have Lora Sherrodd in the inaugural cohort of the CORE Cooperative, an entrepreneurship, leadership, and wellness program for jazz artists and advocates. For more information, visit Jazz Philadelphia.
“The amazing thing about being a musician is that you will always have a friend no matter where you go. There will always be someone who has the same struggles and goals as you.”