Q&A with Jazz Vocalist Priya Carlberg ’18, ’20 MM: On “Lush Life”

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Priya Carlberg ’18, ’20 MM performed “Lush Life” with the NEC Jazz Orchestra and members of the NEC Philharmonia in a Jordan Hall concert celebrating the 100th anniversary of Nat King Cole’s birth.

Carlberg finished her Bachelor of Music at NEC in 2018 and is currently a master's voice student in NEC's Jazz Studies program.

Tell us about the process of preparing “Lush Life.”

“Lush Life” has always been one of my favorite songs to sing and hear, so naturally I was ecstatic to find out that I had the opportunity to sing it with the NEC Jazz Orchestra. The song itself offers many challenges—the chromatic melody, tough rubato sections and unusual harmony. It felt like a huge accomplishment to overcome these challenges with such a large ensemble.

Priya Carlberg sings as a soloist with the NEC Jazz Orchestra behind her.

One of the people who helped me prepare the song was Dominique Eade, one of my favorite teachers and a beautiful person to be around. She has been a huge influence and has played a huge role in my knowledge and love for singing jazz standards.  

How did your NEC experiences shape your artistic approach to the song?

I don’t even know where to start with this question. I arrived at NEC for my undergraduate degree at age 18 without a clear musical direction. Through my teachers and inspirational peers, the environment has done nothing but open up my mind and guide me through my path of self discovery. NEC has taught me how to embrace my individual voice and I am so grateful for this experience and education.

Looking back on the last school year, what were your biggest takeaways?

This past year was quite a challenge, as I threw myself into a bunch of musical worlds I had no prior experience in—I began studying classical composition with Stratis Minakakis this year, and also began writing and arranging for large ensembles/big bands with Ken Schaphorst in my studio lessons.  In my undergraduate career at NEC, I only worked on jazz performance so delving straight into the compositional aspect of things was a huge change for me.

In the moment, the school year felt like a blur of ups and downs. Now that I have a break with time to reflect on the year, I’ve started to realize how these different musical perspectives and experiences have positively impacted my growth and will continue to shape my artistic growth.

What are you looking forward to over the summer and in the coming year?

I’ve been planning as many recording and touring projects as I can.  The main project I’ve been working on recently is my rock band, Birthday Ass, which I formed at NEC three years ago. We just recorded our debut album a month ago, and a big chunk of my summer will be spent working on this project—mixing, mastering, and promotion.

In addition, I have been writing for many groups I’d like to play and record with this coming fall, including two other bands I play in, Piranha Pirada and Paper Dolls. I try to work towards the future as much as possible, keeping myself constantly busy and inspired.