One singer’s education: Dara Tucker learned from her parents and the Great American Songbook

Dara Tucker will perform Saturday at the Durham Jazz Workshop/Sharp 9 Gallery.
Dara Tucker will perform Saturday at the Durham Jazz Workshop/Sharp 9 Gallery. Submitted

Vocalist and songwriter Dara Tucker grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma, but she “grew up musically” in Nashville, where she moved in 2004 after going to school in Switzerland.

While living in Switzerland, Tucker saw an interview with Wynonna Judd, who expressed a desire to find more songs from different composers. Tucker moved to Nashville with the idea of writing songs for other artists. Bass player Greg Bryant, a member of her band, suggested that she should work in front of the microphone. “Rather than writing for other people, I’ve been writing for myself,” Tucker said in a phone interview.

Her releases, with Bryant’s label Watchman Music, are titled “Soul Said Yes,” “All Right Now,” “The Sun Season” and soon-to-be-released “Oklahoma Rain.” Tucker and her band — Matt Endahl on piano, Derrek Phillips on drums and Bryant on bass — will perform Saturday at the Durham Jazz Workshop/Sharp 9 Gallery. The concert will include songs from “Oklahoma Rain,” some material she has not yet recorded, and several songs from the Great American Songbook.

Tucker’s love for song standards began clandestinely. Her father was a minister of music who did not allow secular music in the house. Tucker did hear Michael Jackson and other popular singers outside her home, but attending a private Christian school where most students’ parents also wanted them to hear primarily sacred music kept her somewhat sheltered, she said. “You cannot help being exposed to certain things. The way we got exposed to secular music was through awards shows and musicals. My mother loved ‘Seven Brides for Seven Brothers’” and other musicals, Tucker said.

Her mother also introduced her to the singer-songwriters of the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s, whom they heard on the radio, “and when my dad found out, he made us switch to the classical station,” Tucker laughed.

She remembers her first true introduction to the Great American Songbook -- an infomercial for a compilation of Dean Martin recordings. “He was like my first introduction” to standards, Tucker said. She began listening to Rosemary Clooney, Andy Williams and other singers who sang standards. “This was a sound I hadn’t quite heard before. I would sneak my radio under my pillow and listen very quietly to them at night and learn a lot of the Great American Songbook at 11, 12, 13 years old.”

Tucker’s parents were both musicians and gave her and her six siblings a good foundation in ear training. Tucker describes her musical education as “on the job training.” Her father “lined us up at church like the Von Trapps,” she said. Her mother also taught Tucker and her brothers and sisters harmony, and Tucker soon became adept at picking out chord parts.

She remembers her mom taught them the song “God is So Good,” the first song they sang in harmony. Her father would always play music in the car. “I remember sitting in the back seat and picking out harmony parts,” Tucker said. Tucker also perfected her skills by listening to the vocal harmonies of groups like Take Six, the Four Freshmen and the Manhattan Transfer.

“Oklahoma Rain” reflects her eclectic style, with gospel, jazz and other influences. She lost her parents in 2014, and she describes the songs as “a reflection on loss.” After her parents’ death, “I got into a big creative tear after that.” Recording the album and writing the songs was “a real cathartic exercise for me. A lot of those songs are the result of that experience.”

Like many singers, Tucker has had to sing for dinner audiences whose first interest is not the music. But Nashville “has undergone a transformation in terms of places to play jazz,” she said. The city has the Nashville Jazz Workshop, and a venue called Rudy’s Jazz Room is being built, both places where music fans can listen.

“There’s nothing wrong in doing those kind of gigs and cutting your teeth,” Tucker said of playing in restaurants. “It’s not good to do too much of that because it makes you a little bit dull.” She is now consciously turning down some dates, and taking more gigs where the listeners are “open to that symbiosis that should be happening with an audience.”

Listening rooms like Durham Jazz Workshop/Sharp 9 Gallery, she said, “are not easy to run. We’re very grateful for people who can invest in the arts like that.”

Go and Do

WHAT: Dara Tucker Band

WHERE: Durham Jazz Workshop/Sharp 9 Gallery, 4608L Industry Lane, Durham

WHEN: Saturday, 8 p.m.

ADMISSION: General admission tickets are $20. To purchase, visit www.durhamjazzworkshop.org.