LA Jazz Scene: Tell me about your family, were they interested in music? Were you enthusiastic about music at a young age?
Lynn Keller: Yes, the year I was born my Dad, Art Depew was the 1st trumpet player on the Lawrence Welk TV show. He was on the show for 8 years in my early childhood. I was on the Welk Christmas show at 13 months with my Sister, Mother and of course in my Dad’s arms. In the following few years, I went with Dad annually to a special show Welk filmed at Harrah’s. I remember standing in the wings listening to the music and of course I was fascinated by the famous bubble machine. The wonderful Lennon Sisters were teenagers. They were my babysitters and taught me their singing routines. I really hero-worshiped them and vowed at the time that I would be a singer when I grew up.
Dad insisted that I take piano lessons which I did for 5 years and played piano in the school orchestra. I also sang in the church choir to practice reading music. At one point I was the youngest soloist in the choir. It was a lot of fun for me and I adored the sacred music just as much as I liked pop music.
During my teenage years, I went every summer with Dad to Disneyland to hear the big bands and of course enjoy the park. He played with Tex Beneke at Carnation Plaza. It seems that I was listening carefully to many of the female singers, because I have good recollection of many of the swing standards. I often went to other venues with Dad, the Palladium, Elementary schools where he lead an orchestra playing “The History of Jazz.” He would sing and direct the big band. Later Dad conducted the Harry James Orchestra for 18 years. I was often in the audience listening.
I worked a lot in College. During that time, I took classical singing lessons from an opera singer for 2 years. Then I took lessons from another teacher Margaret Rolfe. She had been a singer and manager of the Stan Kenton Orchestra. She taught me to sing standards. After college, I joined the CSUN Master chorale for 2 years. We did several classical performances. During these middle years, from about my 30’s to early 40’s I didn’t sing very much. In 2000, I quit my job to stay home with my 3 sons. Frankly, I got bored. I asked my Dad how to improve my singing skills. He recommended that I take lessons with Sue Raney which I have been doing ever since. I had no idea that I would accomplish as much as I have with my singing. I just kept putting one foot in front of other.
Sue is a wonderful and supportive teacher. She is also a master singer so I have learned a tremendous amount about singing from her. On the side, I took classes – how to arrange a set list, how to talk to the audiences, basically honing my stand-up skills. My first paying job was singing at a funeral, “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” I was really proud to be paid to sing. What a thrill after a few of these opportunities, I called myself a professional singer. It seemed to be an important milestone.
Dad continued to encourage me along. He took me to big band rehearsals about 12 years ago and I sang with Woody James Big Band at Valley College. This became a habit I did every week and I’m still singing with band. I’m doing Dad’s arrangements and have accumulated a large library
over 50 female vocals that I can perform. I have also sung with Pat Longo’s Hollywood Big Band, Larry Gillespie’s Big Band, and more recently with the Flight 584 Big Band under the direction of John Mitchell. I really enjoy the big band singing although it’s different than some of the other groups I perform with.
I was the featured Vocalist for 4 years with the 9-piece Jazz Band, Off the Record. The band had a weekly show so I had to learn a lot of material and keep my chops up. During these last 8 years, I have rarely said “no” to a job. I figured that the more I worked the better, so I did a lot of shows.
Dad was an alumni from the University of Auburn. For 4 years in a row we traveled to Alabama to perform in their annual “Auburn Knights” program. Dad or I would sing or we would do duets together with the big bands. This was an entire weekend. Each evening would have the alumni big bands from each decade since the music program began. It started with the 30’s, 40’s and went all the way up to the present band at the university. It was an amazing experience and so wonderful to hear the different sounds of each era.
In 2015 Dad and I started to produce an album together, the title is “Notes From My Father.” It’s a combination of big band arrangements (several of them my Dad’s) and combo selections. This was an amazing experience and was a labor of love for the two of us. I am very grateful that we did this together!
LA Jazz Scene: How and when did you join the Randy Van Horne Singers
Lynn: I wanted to improve my sight-singing skills. I talked to Dad about my interest. He recommended that I join the Randy Van Horne Singers. I have been with the group for least 10 years. Randy’s original group was formed in the 1950’s. It was comprised of many of the best singers in Hollywood, to name a few, Marilyn King, Marnie Nixon and Gene Merlino. The group did album recordings and were featured on a number of TV shows (Nat King Cole, Dean Martin and Mel Torme.)
Around the year 2000, Randy started the group up again. He called-upon professional singers. This is the group I joined. They were all great sight readers. I remember being somewhat shy during rehearsals. The music was difficult to read and many of the singers were excellent. They were also helpful and encouraging. I stuck with it and became quite comfortable with the music and the arrangements. In the beginning, I sang only 1st soprano. Now I sing 1st and 2nd soprano to challenge myself to improve my reading skills. We have also added arrangements from the wonderful conductor Anita Kerr. I obtained her big band arrangements for “Agua de Beber,” and “String of Pearls,” from Woody James’ bands. Randy’s singers have done these arrangements
with big band. This group does not sing in another language. However, just as a side note, I sing in Spanish and French. I learn songs in other languages if the situation warrants. I have sung in Italian, Turkish and Norwegian.
In 2016, I was regularly featured with bands at Viva Rancho Cantina. I got the idea to do a “Randy” show at Viva. I developed the theme for the show and compiled the set list. The shows are a combination of Randy music and solo singing from the many wonderful members of the group. We have done 5-6 shows each year since. Each show features Randy’s music, the music of Anita Kerr and soloists who select music based on the theme of the show. Each show is unique. The shows have been playing to “standing room only” crowds. This is a great way for Randy’s group to collect fans and be seen.
Alan Wilson conducts Randy’s singers. Franny McCartney is the treasurer. Ben Di Tosti and Marty Rosen accompany us on piano. They work tirelessly to help us put the programs together. I produce the shows at Viva Rancho Cantina. First I select a theme like “red, white and blues” for the 4th of July. I research songs and develop a possible song list for all the singers. I arrange the set lists deciding which of Randy’s songs will be done in the show. Then I build the rest of the show around the “Randy” songs we do. The soloists either select their own material or use my list as a resource. I book the room, develop the promotional materials and post the shows on social networks. I emcee the shows and work with the pianist to ensure that all the music is in order. I coordinate logistics like the sound engineer, the equipment for the job and put together material for fund-raising for each show.
LA Jazz Scene: What about the Woody James Band?
Lynn: Woody James is the conductor for his band on Friday afternoons at Viva. Ted Carmely fills in when Woody can’t make it. There are two featured singers for the band, myself and Dave Berges. Dave does the sound set-up and the band set-up. When a sub is required the members of the band are responsible for finding someone to take their place. This is a rehearsal band. The musicians have been there for some time so they know the drill.
Dave or I will emcee the show. One really beneficial element is that Woody has established a practice of encouraging arrangers to try their material out with the band. This encourages arrangers to stay with the band and gives the band new material to play – which helps them stay interested in coming each week.
LA Jazz Scene: What do I do to relax?
Lynn: I do yoga to relax. It also builds my core strength to improve my singing. My husband and I like to travel. We often go to the Pasadena Ballroom Dancing Association to improve our dancing skills and enjoy the live music.
I’d like to add that since I have been singing these last 18 years, it’s been an amazing experience. My personal motto is “do what you love and others will love what you do!” This is so true about
singing. I enjoy the feeling of touching an audience with a song. It’s all about sharing the beauty of the lyrics and the music. Now, I can’t imagine my life without music. It’s like I’m totally alive when I’m on stage and doing what I was meant to do! https://lynnkellersmusic.com