She has made performance homes in New York and California, toured around the world and recorded with some of the most prestigious names in jazz and pop. But talk to Gail Wynters today and she will be quick to tell you she is more than happy to be singing on home turf.
“I’m still so connected in the heart and soul of all my friends in New York,” said Wynters, who will perform Saturday as part of the Origins Jazz Series.
“But I can think of no other place I’d rather be now than here. This is it. I love being close to my family. My sisters and I are all from Ashland. Three of us are here now because all of our kids are either in Lexington or Irvine. So we all moved closer to be with our grandkids and hang out with our children. Now we’re a couple of miles of each other in Nicholasville. I have three sisters. Two are here and one is still in Naples, Fla. We’re trying to get her to come here, too.”
Now maintaining, by her own description, a “semi-retired” life, Wynters’ relocation back to Central Kentucky follows a career where her potent, gospel-bred vocals, which she began exercising professionally as a child, started to roar in such celebrated New York venues as the Rainbow Room, the Blue Note and the long-demised Village Gate.
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The repertoire she will bring to this weekend’s Origins show at Tee Dee’s Bluegrass Progressive Club will center on a series of arrangements by pianist Tamir Hendelman of tunes penned or popularized by, among others, George Gershwin, Cole Porter and Antonio Carlos Jobim.
What will likely distinguish the show, though, will be the notable Central Kentucky company supporting her — specifically pianist Keith McCutchen, bassist Danny Cecil and her son, drummer/percussionist Tripp Bratton.
“Obviously, every time Tripp is onstage with me, it’s family. But we just include other members to the family. It’s just the best. Tripp is a wonderful human being and a great musician. He always has been. I’m the luckiest person in the world in that area.”
Challenges, of course, present themselves in forging ahead with a jazz career in Central Kentucky. Some of the venues where Wynters has performed Sunday brunch concerts (most notably, Willie’s Locally Known) have closed. Also, the simple maintenance of a singing voice over time has been demanding at times.
“My range is more limited now, mainly from singing in the middle keys for all these years. That’s kind of taken away my highs.” With a laugh, she added, “Of course, age and smoking have nothing to do with it.”
One thing that hasn’t changed has been Wynters’ love of jazz itself. Whether it was through recording projects from decades past with such luminaries as Dr. John, Michael Brecker and Richie Havens or performing locally with friends and family, the music’s unwavering flow of creativity continues to excite her.
“Arnie Lawrence, an incredible saxophonist who started the New School of Jazz in New York (where Wynters served on the faculty), said jazz was spiritual music. It really is. You kind of search within yourself to bring out this music. Some of that you do because it’s fun, especially with the lyrics and the rhythmic parts of the songs. But it’s also poetry. It’s singing poetry that provides the ability to go anywhere you want to in order to express it.
“Pop pretty much stays the same, but jazz almost never repeats. You can do the same song 10 or 20 times, but it’s always changing because you’re feeling differently in the moment. I find it to be a heart, soul, mind connection. It’s a kind of freedom of expression. Hopefully, as an artist, you know a certain level of craft. But everything above that ... that’s kind of what you live for.”
If you go
When: 7 and 9:15 p.m. Jan. 12
Where: Tee Dee’s Bluegrass Progressive Club, 266 E. 2nd
Cost: $17.50 for each performance, $30 for both shows