Summerlin cellist creates own musical niche

Where some musicians might be content to perform in a Cirque du Soleil show on the Strip, cellist and singer Shana Tucker uses her days off to appear around the country or work on her next release.

Her efforts have been fueled seemingly by coincidence — being the right person for the right project and in the right place at the right time.

The Summerlin resident’s songs are light, fun, sexy and, at times, sultry. Think of the type of jazz you might find at a trendy nightspot frequented by those in the know. She calls it ChamberSoul, and her next appearance is planned for 2 p.m. Jan. 16 at the Charleston Heights Arts Center, 800 S. Brush St.

Tucker writes much of the music she performs. Her first release, “SHiNE,” is 80 percent her own compositions. She said many songs come to her as she’s driving.

“I feel I’m more of a storyteller than a songwriter,” Tucker said. “They’re just stories about life, and people can relate.”

She came to local entertainer Clint Holmes‘ attention when he heard her perform at a composer’s showcase.

“What really struck me — I mean, obviously, she’s a wonderful musician and terrific jazz singer — but what really struck me was her writing,” Holmes said. “She writes from such an honest place. … That’s not always easy to do.”

He said he plans to feature her as a guest artist in his show this coming year.

Tucker’s journey to this point was unusual. She hails from Long Island, N.Y., and did not grow up in a musical family, but her grandmother obtained a piano and shared what she’d learned in her lessons with Tucker. That and mandatory participation in orchestra in the New York City public school system led Tucker to the cello.

Fast-forward to 2009, and Tucker’s life was disrupted by divorce. She followed her heart and turned to music to sustain herself and her son, Sebastian, now 13. She said she knew she was taking a chance.

“As an independent artist, you can’t rely on a check coming every two weeks,” she said. “… But the benefits are wonderful. You’re doing something different all the time.”

It appears to have been the correct choice. Since then, she’s been in the right place at the right time. One example: In 2011, she independently released her first album, “SHiNE.” An interview on National Public Radio was caught by a talent scout and led to an audition for Cirque du Soleil’s “Ka.”

She said the audition was intense. When she was told she got the part, Tucker said she was incredulous.

“I thought someone was playing a trick on me,” she said.

Besides her audition, she had the background for it, with musical studies completed at Howard University and Conservatory of Music at Brooklyn College. Her work as an arranger/composer brought further accolades and commissions for works performed at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.; the Joyce Theater in New York City; and the Wits Theatre in Johannesburg, South Africa.

The South Africa project was another example of her being in the right place at the right time.

“An associate who worked with the ballet knew they needed a musician … and connected me,” she said.

In 2014, she was awarded the Nevada Arts Council Artist Fellowship, as one of only three performing arts fellows in the state, for her work on stage and in the Las Vegas community. She also serves as a teaching artist with The Smith Center for Performing Arts Education and Outreach program.

“As a creative type, when a musical thought pops into your head, there’s an urge, something that says, ‘I must do this,’ ” she said. “For me, there’s always a need to have a musical and creative conversation when you’re working with a new artist or a new medium. … Working with symphonies or students, all that stuff is selfish, but it’s a good selfish. It feeds me. It feeds my soul.”

Tucker has opened for national/international talents such as Norah Jones, the Indigo Girls, the Blind Boys of Alabama and jazz saxophonists Hamiet Bluett and Javon Jackson.

The Norah Jones event was yet another of those “right time/right place” moments. Tucker had a friend who worked at the venue and told her that Jones was looking for an opener. Tucker got her songs before the well-known singer and was soon signed.

“It was in Durham (North Carolina) at the time. No one knew I even existed,” Tucker said. “To be associated with Norah Jones, it put me on the map.”

Tucker’s vocals have been featured on recordings by national artists, including The Foreign Exchange (“Better,” off of the album “Love In Flying Colors”); Jeanne Jolly (“Falling in Carolina” of off “Falling in Carolina”); and The Beast (“Loungin’ (The B-Side)” off of “Guru Legacy”).

She is working on her second, as-yet-untitled, full-length studio recording project on her independent label MamaGooch Music.

Tickets for the Jan. 16 show are $10 advance and $15 at the door. Visit shanatucker.com.

— To reach Summerlin Area View reporter Jan Hogan, email her at jhogan@viewnews.com or call 702-387-2949.

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