By Rachel Dunphy
Alicia Phelps, 21, of Shelburne has been studying and performing as a jazz vocalist and pianist for nearly five years and will graduate next year with a degree in Jazz Studies and Music Education from the University of Southern Maine.
She will be performing in her first local showcase at 5pm at the Richmond Free Library Aug. 21.
A perfectionist from an early age, she was attracted to the challenges of collaboration and improvisation in jazz. “It’s been very scary and very liberating,” she said of the form’s freedom.
Phelps’ bandmates for the showcase, Art Dequasie and Carl Recchia, were both her teachers until a few years ago, the former through the Vermont Youth Orchestra and the latter as her choral director of four years at CVU. Still, they both speak of her as an equal and stress that this showcase is completely of her design.
“We’re side men,” Dequasie said.
Recchia, Phelps’ close mentor and friend for many years, has been amazed at her growth. “She has it all figured out, and she is very collaborative,” he said, “The reality is it’s an honor to play for her and with her.”
Stressing the importance of cohesion between band mates, especially in jazz, Phelps similarly praised her company and their support for her vision of the showcase.
“This showcase is in many ways the product of my search for female presence and the female fingerprint in historical and modern jazz music,” Phelps said. “It felt all of a sudden very weird to me to be pursuing jazz as a vocalist and as a female and not properly understanding the large impact that females have had on this genre.”
Hardworking and perpetually prepared from a young age, Phelps is very aware of discrimination in her field and combats it every day.
“I definitely recognize a stereotype and a stigma surrounding not only females but vocalists, and especially female vocalists, and part of that actually fueled my inspiration for this program,” she said, “But certainly I’ve encountered people that embody this stereotype and people that don’t, and I made the decision early on, in my perfectionist way, that I refused to have any cards stacked against me that I didn’t need.”
Phelps, who also composes original music, is an exceptional performer, diligent and practiced as well as collaborative and free. Her first dream is to teach music to a new generation, but she plans to keep performing professionally for the rest of her life.
Alicia Phelps performs regularly in Burlington and in Portland, Maine. You can find a full list of her upcoming events or contact her for private functions at aliciamariephelps.com