Jazz vocalist Charenée Wade is not your average performer. Her love of music runs so deep that she not only sings professionally, but is also an educator. Wade teaches workshops at the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College, as well as the City College of New York, and she also lends her skills to the Jazzmobile Workshop Program and a charter school. She is constantly immersed in the music world even when not doing gigs. This balancing act of performing and teaching helps her be a better performer herself because she is constantly trying to apply the lessons she teaches her students to her own body of work.
"I talk a lot with my college students about how important storytelling is in music," Wade says. "How do I get them to tell a greater story? Well, I have to ask myself how I tell a story. What is the method for telling a story, musically? So, having to do that self-analysis helps me teach better and then vice versa, because if I tell them to do that, I can't forget to do it myself when I'm performing."
Wade's journey into the jazz world started in her childhood where she grew up listening to Sarah Vaughan and singing in the school choir. She took on jazz numbers solo in junior high, and though she could not be a jazz major at LaGuardia High School — classical music was the only official option — her teachers allowed her to do rehearsals with the school's jazz band, which she performed with a handful of times. After a brief stint at Goucher College in Maryland, Wade came back to New York City and enrolled at the Manhattan School of Music where she majored in jazz.
Over the years, Wade has parlayed her drive and passion for jazz into a steady career. In addition to playing gigs around the world, Wade has been the first runner-up at Jazzmobile and Thelonious Monk International vocal competitions, was selected for the Dianne Reeves Young Artist Workshop at Carnegie Hall, and has participated in both the Betty Carter Jazz Ahead Program and the JAS Academy's summer sessions. Add to this the fact that she has played at legendary jazz clubs like Smalls and Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola, and it is fair to say she has made an impression in jazz circles. Undoubtedly one of the reasons why people are drawn to Wade's performances is because she treats each one with great respect.
"I really care about the music, so I get nervous [before a show] because I want to do a good job," she admits. "'Am I going to do a good job? Are they going to enjoy it? What kind of vibe do they like?' So yeah, I get nervous. But I try to walk into every situation and be as authentically myself as I possibly can be. If I am interested in what I am doing, then hopefully the audience will be too."
And her audiences have proven to be interested indeed. After years of people asking if she had a CD available, Wade finally was able to release her first — Love Walked In — in 2010. A collection of 12 covers that showcase her love of everyone from Cole Porter ("You'd Be so Nice to Come Home to") to Thelonious Monk ("Ruby, My Dear"), Love offered fans the satisfaction they were looking for while also allowing Wade to announce herself to the jazz community at large. The piano ballad "Day Dream" is one of the album's finest moments as Wade stuns with her often subtle, soulful delivery — something she does well throughout the course of the record — while still showing considerable range in being able to hit higher notes with ease and grace. The album truly whets the appetite for fans of vocal jazz, and it's a good thing too because there is more to come.
"I have another record coming out," Wade says. "It's a Gil Scott-Heron tribute record. The sound is a little different from what I would normally do, but I took up a challenge, this opportunity to stretch out in a different way. So that record's hopefully coming out next spring. After that, I'll be working on an album of originals."
Wade is especially interested to see how people will respond to the album of original material. Interested, and a little scared.
"Composing is a much more intimate thing," she says. "You know how people write a hundred songs before they release one? It's kind of like that. It's going to be a second before I put out the originals record because it's going to be very exposing. I'm actually nervous about that one, but I'm going to do it."
One suspects that as long as Wade continues to be herself, people will love that record just fine.