Our second Faculty Interview this week highlights a key faculty member of the Vocal Jazz Program at the Rutgers Summer Jazz Institute: jazz singer, pianist, and band leader, Champian Fulton! One of the preeminent jazz performers working today, Fulton will be returning this summer to the Extension Division this summer to teach and coach students in jazz singing!
Born in Oklahoma, Champian Fulton grew up with music in the home; her mother and father (Jazz trumpeter and educator Stephen Fulton) recognized her fascination with music at an early age. The presence of her father’s musician friends, including Clark Terry and Major Holley, inspired her focus on jazz. Her first paid musical engagement was with her own band at Clark Terry’s 75th birthday party; she was 10 years old. Since then, her piano and voice skills have been recognized by peers and critics as distinctive and sophisticated.
A mainstay on the vibrant New York jazz scene, she has performed with such luminaries such as Lou Donaldson, Frank Wess, Eric Alexander, Buster Williams, and Louis Hayes. Fulton’s heroes include Bud Powell, Red Garland, Erroll Garner, Count Basie, Sarah Vaughan, and Dinah Washington.
TJS: What initially inspired you to go into the arts?
CF: My father, Stephen Fulton, is a jazz musician. So when I was a young girl I was surrounded by his friends, such as Clark Terry and Joe Williams, and being able to see them perform and get to know them made me want to be a jazz musician, too. I began performing when I was 12 years old.
TJS: Was there a teacher who made an impact upon your development as an artist? How did they impact your own work as a teacher?
CF: Clark Terry was a great inspiration to me from an early age. Being able to learn about this music from someone who was directly influenced by Duke Ellington was an amazing experience. Clark was all about making people feel good and spreading the joy of this music, which is something that is very important to me. I loved watching Clark interact with his students; he was always able to communicate information in a clear manner and to make the student feel inspired.
TJS: What is the most rewarding part of teaching for you?
CF: Being able to share this wonderful music with younger generations means the world to me. I want people to experience the joy and happiness that can come from hearing Art Blakey or Count Basie, and I love seeing the students’ faces after they have heard something truly swinging.
TJS: As a jazz vocalist and pianist, what have been your favorite jazz standards to perform and why?
CF: I’m always drawn to different songs at different periods of my life, but some songs I come back to over and over again. My favorite thing to play is definitely the blues, whether it’s fast or slow or in whatever key. One of my favorite songs to sing is probably “He’s Funny That Way.”
TJS: As a band leader, how do you program a performance? Do you improvise or do you plan ahead?
CF: I never make a set list. I prefer to go on stage and see what songs come to mind. I think when you do this, you are able to pick up on the vibe of the audience and play what they want to hear.
TJS: What can you tell us about the Vocal Jazz program at the Rutgers Summer Jazz Institute? What do you hope to teach this year?
CF: I am really excited to return to Rutgers for the third year in a row. The vocal program is all about individuality – every student will sing by themselves and in an ensemble. We will learn about the legacy of jazz singing and do a lot of listening as well. But the greatest thing about being in the jazz vocal program is that it gives young singers a chance to be in a band and interact with other musicians!
Thanks for speaking to us, Champian!
For more information about the Vocal Jazz Program at the Rutgers Summer Jazz Institute, please visit the Rutgers Summer Jazz Institute website, located here!
The 2016 Rutgers Summer Jazz Institute is ideal for young instrumentalists and vocalists, ages 13–18, interested in improving their jazz improvisation, small group, and large ensemble skills. Students will work intensively in daily rehearsals with the internationally renowned, award-winning jazz faculty of Rutgers University’s Mason Gross School of the Arts.