La Verne Butler Interview

A school teacher by day, a singer at night. That's the life of LaVerne Butler. But — she's not complaining. Far from it; she loves it, and is having the time of her life!!

Born in New Orleans with a love of jazz that just won't quit, LaVerne now calls New York home.

We spoke to LaVerne recently about what it takes to make it in the Big Apple.

Q. LaVerne, you've been getting up at 6:30 a.m. and going to sleep some 20-21 hours later at 2 a.m. How long, realistically, can you keep up a schedule like that?
A. (Laughs) Not long. I didn't, actually. That was last year. Really, it was the beginning of last year, January, February, and March. It ended around the end of March. I was working at The Supper Club, which was then the new hot spot for Big Bands, and dinner dancing, and that sort of thing. It was a beautiful replica of the '40's. There was a Big Band that played there regularly and they would rotate singers, and create the whole image of the '40's and the Swing Era. So, it was a lot of fun, but I'm also a school teacher. So it was very draining. As badly as my heart wanted to continue doing it, I'm pretty glad that it came to an end when it did. It was beginning to take a toll on my health.

Q. You were maintaining that schedule 4-5 days a week?
A. Yeah. As a matter of fact, at one point I was doing two weeks in a row per month. There was one month when I actually did three weeks, I did two weeks in a row, and turned around and did another week. The hours varied, but were pretty much the same every night. I would get there about 9 p.m. and wouldn't leave until about 1:30 a.m.

Q. Wasn't that a strain on your voice?
A. At first I didn't mind it. It was a wonderful gig. It was a singer's dream come true. The band was really good, and I got a chance to meet a lot of celebrities. There were a lot of Who's Who coming in there. It was great. It was a great place to be at the time. During January and February, a lot of musicians are not working, and I was working constantly. The money wasn't bad. But, I think the most important thing for me was that I was singing. I was doing the kind of music I really liked to do. So I was kind of on a natural high. It kind of kept me going.

Q. Were you expecting to get a recording contract from your gig at The Supper Club?
A. No. Absolutely not. The recording contract was very sudden to me. When my friend approached me with the news, I was hesitant and not that enthusiastic. I was happy that the possibility was there, but I wasn't ready to believe that anything was actually gonna go down.

Q. So, what label are you on?
A. I'm on Chesky, which is a small jazz label.

Q. Who else is on the label?
A. Some better known jazz people, Joe Henderson has recorded for them, Red Rodney, who was in Charlie Parker's original band in the '40's. Peggy Lee just recorded an album with them. They have several other musicians who may or may not be as well known. But, those are the most well known names I can throw out to you in the jazz world.

Q. Would this be a long term contract with Chesky?
A. Oh, sure. I guess you could say its long term. Its three to five years. It's enough time to me to get comfortable with a company and get a chance to know them. I think they want to get to know me. I know their whole attitude is, 'this first album is a first album. Big deal. No sweat. That's all it is. We're not interested in a one time shot deal with you. We're not interested in a big mega buck deal overnight. We're not interested in you making jazz history with this first album. We want you to be with us five years from now. We want your name to be out there 20 years from now.' To me that's wonderful.

Q. For the kind of singing you're doing, jazz, New Orleans is the heart of the jazz movement, isn't it? Why move to New York?
A. Well, New Orleans is a great place to start. I learned a lot there. I was working with Ellis Marsalis who, of course, is the father of Wynton and Branford. As a matter of fact, I don't even know Wynton that well. I know his father better than I know him. Just a whole bunch of great musicians came out of there. But, for somebody like me, who's young enough to have another 20 year career ahead of me, New Orleans is not the place to stay. It's the place to start. But, it's not a good place to stay. There's just a lot more that I want to see and do, with my music, that I think I would not have been able to do had I stayed in New Orleans.

Q. Have you ever wanted to be a rock 'n roll singer?
A. Absolutely not. (laughs) Not that I have anything against rock 'n roll, it's just that I know me well enough to know what's best for me, as a musician.

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