On a cool autumn Saturday afternoon in Brooklyn, jazz vocalist Tulivu “Donna” Cumberbatch warmed the hearts and conjured up loving memories of days gone by at the historical Siloam Presbyterian Church’s annual Women’s Day celebration.
For this last day of September, one of the songs sung by Tulivu was a very appropriate “Autumn Leaves”, accompanied by guitarist Eddie Bourjolly, whom we’ll surely hear more from in the future.
Little doubt was left as to Tulivu’s versatility when she sung “Useless Landscape” in Portuguese. It was very well received, even though most of the audience didn’t know what the lyrics were saying. Tuliva could make a dog’s bark sound great.
Giving a nod to our past in the church which was once a stop on the Underground Railroad, Tuliva sung the mournful spiritual, “I Want Jesus to Walk With Me.”
During the intermission before the next group (the Salisbury Brothers) took the stage, we had an opportunity to talk with Tulivu about her musical family and performers who influenced her.
First, she was asked if she had a favorite ensemble. Tulivu thought for a few minutes, and said, “big band arrangements with the horns and trumpets screaming at you…I mean really playing such beautiful music…but the trio is much more intimate. I like the smaller settings because it’s more intimate and you get a chance to express yourself and “stretch out” a little more as the musicians say. You get a chance to interact with the audience as versus the orchestra with so many pieces.”
Tulivu’s parents had a great impact on her musical career. She said, “Even though my father was the professional musician, my mother influenced me just as much. As a matter of fact, she wanted to be a professional, but my grandmother wouldn’t allow it at that time. My mother sung to me all the Sarah Vaughn and Billie Holiday songs when I was 3 or 4 years old. She also sung in the church and still sings in the Siloam choir. So between my mother and father, they both influenced me.”
Both parents loved jazz and her mother’s favorite artist was Billie Holiday.
She continued reminiscing about her dad. “My father played baritone saxophone. He started out as an alto and switched to baritone. He played with Lionel Hampton and the Count Basie band…he freelanced with a lot of musicians. He traveled all over the U.S.”
As mentioned earlier, Tulivu’s favorite artists were Sarah Vaughn, Billie Holiday and Carman McCrae. She spoke about Carman at length and gave an example of her great
versatility when she performed her improvised version of Elvin Presley’s “Love Me Tender.” In one of her shows, they did a tribute to Carman McCrae.
Currently Tulivu is promoting her last CD with strings. And, she added, “I’ve been working with the Jazz Foundation for the past few months and they give us at least one or two gigs a month working with children. The Jazz Foundation sponsors us. We’ve been doing schools all over the five boroughs. That’s a plus because our kids need to know this music.” Contact Will Glass of the Jazz Foundation if you’d like Tulivu to visit your school.
Catch this truly great jazz songbird in concert – it’s an experience you’ll long remember.