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Beaky Biography

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Beaky In-depth Biography

Chicago resident Regina Johnston, who goes by Beaky Johnston or simply Beaky on-stage, is among the many female jazz vocalists who has been active on the Windy City jazz scene in the '90s and 2000s. Beaky is not an abstract, cerebral, or avant-garde sort of vocalist. Emphasizing the Tin Pan Alley songbook, Beaky has favored a very clean, straightforward and accessible approach that owes a lot to the '40s and '50s; her primary influences have included Ella Fitzgerald, Anita O'Day, Peggy Lee, Dinah Washington, and Nancy Wilson (the Nancy Wilson who once sang with hard bop alto saxophonist Cannonball Adderley, not the Seattle native who is part of the hard rock/arena rock supergroup Heart). Beaky (who has been quoted as saying that she identifies with vocalists who "sing with clear voices and pay respect to the melodies and lyrics") is not from Chicago originally; the Midwesterner grew up in Detroit, which is where she was given the nickname Beaky as a child. The Motor City was also where Beaky acquired a strong appreciation of jazz thanks to her parents, both of whom were major fans of jazz as well as traditional pre-rock pop and the Tin Pan Alley songbook. Although Beaky did some jazz and pop singing when she was growing up, she didn't pursue a full-time career in music after graduating from high school; instead, she ended up studying finance and economics and having a successful career as a banker. Nonetheless, Beaky's interest in jazz singing remained -- and after she left Detroit and moved to Chicago, one of the people who encouraged her to perform live as much as possible was Windy City pianist Hunt Adams. The two of them started working together on a regular basis, and Adams became Beaky's musical director. Beaky didn't quit her day job -- she continued to earn a living in the banking industry -- but with Adams' help and encouragement, the vocalist became increasingly active on the Chicago jazz scene. In 2003, Beaky signed with Southport Records, an independent, jazz-oriented label based in the Windy City and run by acoustic pianist/producer Bradley Parker-Sparrow. Southport has a long history of documenting Chicago-based jazz vocalists -- Parker-Sparrow, in fact, is married to singer Joanie Pallatto -- and Beaky easily fits that description. In August 2004, Southport released Beaky's debut album, Speak Beak, which features Adams on piano and employs several Chi-Town musicians he selected (including tenor saxophonist Carl (Os) Coan, guitarist Michael King Ross, acoustic bassist Marc Piane, and drummer Tyrone Blair). ~ Alex Henderson, Rovi

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