WENDY GILLES, a Washington native, has spent the last ten years in New York, carving out a niche for herself in two distinct areas of its music scene. As the featured vocalist of the renowned Gil Evans Project, her “sweet, declarative voice” (eJazzNews) and “infectious performances” (AllMusic) on their two GRAMMY Award-nominated albums, Centennial and Lines of Color, have been roundly praised by critics. Wendy has performed as a leader or featured vocalist in NYC at Carnegie Hall’s Zankel Hall, Jazz Standard, Cornelia Street Cafe, 55 Bar, and Shapeshifter Lab, and in many fine concert venues across the country. Wendy is also an in-demand church musician and choral singer, and sings with the finest professional ensembles in the city, including Voices of Ascension,the Concert Chorale of New York, Sacred Music in a Sacred Space, Vox Vocal Ensemble, and the New York Choral Artists. The Choral Artists perform regularly with the New York Philharmonic, and with them, Wendy has performed many of the major classical masterworks under the direction of such luminaries as Alan Gilbert, Gustavo Dudamel, Zubin Mehta, Michael Tilson Thomas, and shared the stage with Danny Elfman, Stephanie Blythe, Marion Cotillard, and Ingrid Michaelson.
When and how did you find your voice?
Early on. I was singing around the house with my mom around two years old, and singing in harmony with her by about three. I remember very clearly the first time I found my confidence as a soloist. It was my first feature solo in jazz choir, freshman year of high school. Just a few lines into the solo, for the first time, I really connected with the audience, saw and heard their enthusiastic response and pretty instantly, lost the nervous fluttery vibrato that had plagued all of my prior solo endeavors. To this day, jazz is the idiom where I feel I’m my most authentic self, musically and vocally.
Describe your voice/sound in five words.
Clean, warm, light, unassuming, versatile. I feel like I could be describing a bottle of wine.
What was the first choral piece you ever performed?
The first legit choral piece I recall was Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus in freshman choir.
What was your most memorable performance with VoA?
Probably Bach’s St. John Passion. It was my first time with that beautiful work, and the soloists were extraordinary.
What would be the theme song for your life?
Not sure, but I imagine it being arranged in the style of a Karen Carpenter tune.
Is there a particular choral work, text, or musical passage that never fails to move you emotionally?
There are many, but I’d say Durufle Requiem is near or at the top of that ever-lengthening list.
What is on the horizon for your work in the next year?
I’m trying to narrow down ideas for a recording project, and come up with the means to make it happen.
If I was to look at your phone right now, what five artists/songs would I see on your recently played list?
Nancy Wilson and Cannonball Adderley, Beck, Ben Folds Five, The Wailin’ Jennys, Joni Mitchell
In a parallel universe, if you weren’t a musician, what would you be doing?
Something with writing and editing. I do a little bit on the side, but if I weren’t singing, I’d be expressing myself in writing.
What was the last picture you took with your phone?
The perfect pumpkin pie I just baked. Before that, my cat.
Have you ever danced in the rain?
In tap shoes, on stage, at the local Catholic church’s Sausage Fest. (It’s a thing.)
What is your perfect pizza?
As of last night, a thin crust with tomato sauce, basil, and a generous dollop of house-made stracciatella cheese.
What is the best compliment you have ever received?
Some of the most meaningful compliments I’ve received have come from my peers--colleagues whose musicianship I admire and respect, and whose kind words have meant that much more.
What teacher in school made the most impact on you and why?
Dr. James D. Holloway taught me to strive for excellence and professionalism each day, and was a source of encouragement and support when I most needed it. Requiescat in pace
What is a skill you’d like to learn and why?
I need to learn how to play the guitar so I can accompany myself.