Claire Dickson
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Claire Dickson

Medford, Massachusetts, United States

Medford, Massachusetts, United States
Band Jazz Jazz


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You won’t find Beyonce or Lady Gaga on 12-year-old Claire Dickson’s iPod, only Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Louis Armstrong and more Ella Fitzgerald.

Not exactly your typical seventh-grader’s playlist. But Dickson isn’t a typical seventh-grader. - Boston Herald

The remarkably gifted, locally based 13-year-old singer just won the Downbeat Magazine Student Jazz Award for Junior High School jazz vocals. She'll celebrate the win with this performance, accompanied by her trio of pianist Michael McLaughlin, bassist Greg Loughman, and drummer Eric Rosenthal. Just wait till you hear her scat! -- Kevin Lowenthal, Globe Correspondent - Boston Globe

While other 13-year-olds wander the hallways humming the latest Miley Cyrus creation, Medford middle schooler Claire Dickson is creating music of her own in a genre largely unappreciated by the 'tween pop generation.

Dickson said she became infatuated with jazz after listening to songs by Ella Fitzgerald at the age of 12.

“That was it, I did not want to stop,” she said in an interview.

Dickson went on to listen to other jazz artists and incorporated the style into her own singing during performances at Boston-area music venues. Her ability to scat and reinterpret classical jazz, bop, and post-bop material caught the attention of the local music scene, as well as national jazz publication Downbeat Magazine, which proclaimed Dickson the winner of the Student Jazz Award for junior high school vocals last month.

“My parents told me about it,” Dickson said of the nationwide contest. “I certainly hoped to win, and I was so excited when I did.”

To celebrate, Dickson will be putting on a concert at Ryles Jazz Club in Cambridge on Tuesday, June 1 at 8:30 p.m. Listeners can expect standard jazz numbers mixed with bebop classics, and Dickson said she'll be scat singing as well.

“Ryles is a friendly place with good food and a dance floor,” she said. “People can expect great performances from my trio and a good time.”

For music scouts, tonight's event is also a chance to see Dickson perform in the early stages of what some say is a promising career.

Jazz pianist and chair of the Harmony Department at Berklee College of Music Joe Mullholland said he looked forward to watching Dickson develop as a musician.

"Claire is a young lady with a natural affinity for improvisation and an unspoiled joy in her music making,” he said. -

Legendary singer Bing Crosby once said of Ella Fitzgerald, “To say she’s talented beyond her years would be a monumental understatement.” Crosby’s words could just as easily apply to Medford’s Claire Dickson, whose love of jazz, and of Fitzgerald in particular, are obvious to anyone who has ever heard her sing.

It’s not every day a 13-year-old jazz singer comes along, especially one with Dickson’s precise diction, polished technique and penchant for classic performers. As her father, clarinetist Glenn Dickson, describes it, her success is nothing new.

“Folks have always been amazed by Claire’s voice, her ability to sing on pitch, her self-confidence on stage and her commanding stage presence,” Glenn said. “She has also always been attracted to really good voices, so when she got hooked on Ella Fitzgerald I wasn’t surprised.”

Claire performed at the Lily Pad in Cambridge this week, where she will continue to make her own mark on the local music scene. She performed at the Cambridge Street venue last May, showing off her ability to scat and reinterpret classic jazz, bop and post-bop material.

“I always thought she would become a classical singer, so when she started improvising I was really surprised and delighted,” Glenn said. “ I just love to listen to her. She has an innate gift for re-interpreting melodies and improvising.”

Claire first heard Ella Fitzgerald sing after listening to a recording her father played for her, and then began to study the artist’s work in detail.

“I started out listening to the stuff she recorded with Chick Webb and then I moved on to the songbook series and other Verve recordings, and then her older stuff, like with Joe Pass,” Claire said. “I’ve kind of listened to it in the order she recorded it.”

She added she was leery about jazz at first, but soon warmed up to it.

“I had never sung jazz before, so I did not really think it was my thing,” she said. “Then at a party, family friend and pianist Dean Brunel convinced me to try singing a couple songs with him. I was not very thrilled at first, but when I finally did try it, it was really fun.”

For Claire to perform jazz is a continuance of a family tradition, and she has benefited from being a part of such a musical upbringing.

“It has been great to be surrounded by so much music,” she said. “It was especially great when I started singing jazz, because it wasn’t like ‘I like to sing this kind of music. Now what do I do?’ I had parents who could take me to jams, introduce me to the musicians, and play with me.”

Glenn is a member of the Shirim Klezmer Orchestra and the jazz/klezmer band Naftule’s Dream. Claire’s brother, Eric McDonald, also performs in area folk bands. Her immersion in music as a child included theater and stage performances, including the Reagle Players production of “The Sound of Music” and her portrayal of Tiny Tim in the New Repertory Theatre production of “Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.”

One of the musical collaborations Claire has developed from her childhood is with South Medford resident, Michael McLaughlin, of Tufts University, who has performed with her father in Shirim and Naftule’s Dream for several years. He has seen Claire mature as a musician for just as long.

“Claire’s diverse background of theater and music, in both professional and community settings, is one of the factors that allows Claire to be so fluid and diverse in her vocal delivery,” said McLaughlin, who is also her piano teacher and who joined her on stage at the Lily Pad on Feb. 15. “My belief is that jazz performance is about taking one’s accumulated experiences and using them as tools to express the moment. Because Claire has been a performer in so many levels for so long, she has a lot to draw from.”

McLaughlin added Claire’s musical ability goes beyond simply knowing how to sing and perform.

“She also is fearless, something that is so important for an artist to be,” he said. “This is all built on a remarkable musical instinct that I and other’s have witnessed since she was a toddler.”

It is that level of fearlessness that has allowed Claire to succeed at jazz scatting and improvising, types of music that can be daunting for performers of any age. She said she learned the technique by listening to Fitzgerald.

“Scatting is definitely one of the hardest parts of singing jazz,” she said. “I started by learning all of Ella’s solos, and copying her. When I started to try improvising myself, it did not work so well. But I kept on trying it, and I finally got comfortable with it.”

Claire said practice and repetition is the key to learning the technique, and she is eager to show off her skills in Cambridge.

“I am so excited for my 13th birthday concert at the Lily Pad,” she said. “The last concert I had there was good, but this is going to be better. I feel like I have learned a lot since last May. I also feel like I have gotten a lot tighter on my improvising.”

In addition to McLaughlin, Claire shared the stage at the Lily Pad with drummer Eric Rosenthal and bassist Greg Loughman.

And looking even further down the road, Claire has no plans to slow down.

“I would love to keep singing, if people keep listening and enjoying,” she said.
- Medford Transcript

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February 15, 2010
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Many 13-year-old girls adore Miley and Britney, but it’s all about Ella Fitzgerald for Claire Dickson. At 11, the up-and-coming local jazz vocalist started listening to all things Ella and fell in love with the jazz great’s style and technique, including scat. To celebrate her 13th birthday, Dickson (below) and her trio (how many 13-year-old singers have a trio?) will perform classics by Porter, Ellington, Mercer, Arlen, selections from “Porgy & Bess,’’ and more. 7 p.m. $10, $5 kids. Lily Pad, 1353 Cambridge St., Inman Square, Cambridge. - Boston Globe


Still working on that hot first release.



13-year-old Claire Dickson's love for singing showed itself early on. When she was six months old, she could be heard humming strands of "Happy Birthday." At 18 months, it was the Brylcreem jingle, which she picked up from a play her older siblings were performing in. She went on to sing in several choruses, and did her first public solo at the age of three. At five, she opened for the Von Trapp Children at the venerable Club Passim, performing "Zip-a-dee-doo-dah," "Over the Rainbow," and singer-songwriter Oen Kennedy's "Loon Song." At eight, she appeared in the Reagle Players' "Sound of Music" alongside Sarah Pfisterer and John Davidson. She followed that up with a role as the very first Tiny Tim in New Repertory Theatre's production of "A Christmas Carol," receiving media raves for her performance of "A Child in the Snow," specially composed by director Rick Lombardo for the show. She is a member of Revels Repertory Company and has performed in several Christmas Revels -- at age nine she filled Cambridge's Sanders Theater with a pure version of "Stille Nacht," sung from the balcony. Claire's love for music runs in the family. Brother Eric McDonald is active in the New England folk scene, singing and playing mandolin and guitar in bands including Jaded Mandolin, the Dave Rowe Trio, and Matching Orange. She's the daughter of Glenn Dickson, clarinetist/bandleader for Shirim and Naftule's Dream. In late 2008, he loaded an Ella Fitzgerald CD a neighbor was getting rid of onto the family MP3 player. Claire became instantly enamored of Fitzgerald's voice and style. In February of 2009, she began singing jazz. She can be seen on some Tuesdays at the Amazing Things jazz jam in Framingham, and playing weddings or parties with her dad. She's performed full jazz concerts at the Lily Pad and Ryles Jazz Club, and is the 2010 recipient of Downbeat Magazine's Student Music Award for jazz vocalist, junior high category. Claire thanks her teachers, fellow jazz singer Aubrey Johnson, for valuable guidance and inspiration and Dan Fox for his wonderful ensembles. Claire also thanks the great musicians who played on her recording:drummer Eric Rosenthal, bassist Greg Loughman, and pianist Michael McLaughlin, who taught her everything but singing and math.