CNY jazz singer returns home for performance

Tish Oney sings for students at Syracuse University. / Photograph by Matt Mulcahy.

Her voice is as crisp as her eyes are strikingly blue. A touch of a key on the Steinway and a snap of her fingers and her scatting begins. Dr. Tish Oney is in command singing a cappella. Her voice fills the rehearsal room with the sound becoming more familiar from her performances of the music of Peggy Lee.

Tish's connection to Peggy Lee started when she was eight years old living in the Jordan-Elbridge area here in Central New York. She recalls her mother waving her over to the television to watch a performance. Tish remembers taking to her right away. She ended up being one of her key influences as she became a young singer and musician. It was Peggy Lee, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughn with a little Olivia Newton-John thrown in during the "Let's Get Physical" era.

Before she was Dr. Oney she was a pre-med graduate of Cornell University, singing jazz to pay the college bills. When she auditioned for an opera role in Rome, Italy one summer and got it - she decided she must pursue music as a profession. She earned her Master's in Music from Ithaca College in voice performance. It was her search for a dissertation topic for her Ph.D. at the University of Southern California that connected her to Peggy Lee's legacy.

Tish met members of Peggy Lee's family and began to discover the extensive library of songs written by the jazz great which include familiar songs like "It's a Good Day", "Is That All There Is?" and "I'm Gonna Go Fishin'". She created the Peggy Lee Project. Now Tish tours the country playing her own arrangements of Peggy Lee's originals. She's even joined by Lee's former musical director John Chiodini at several stops including the one in Syracuse this Sunday afternoon.

I caught up with Tish this afternoon at the Setnor School of Music at Crouse College on the Syracuse University campus. Dr. Oney was there to teach a Master Class for Bill DiCosimo's group of aspiring jazz singers. The giant windows of the high ceilinged performance space provided a lovely backdrop of Syracuse as Tish went right to work listening to students and finding ways to improve their solo work. She put them at ease picking up a microphone alongside them and playing a little musical give and take. As the students stepped into new ground the educator suggested new routes to take.

Earlier we talked about the thrill of performance. "There's a moment when I'm not aware the audience is present," said Tish. "You strive to get to the point where you're relaxed enough to get to that point, you're prepared enough you can let down your guard and let the music happen and evolve right there." She sees the great appeal of jazz being "the opportunity to express myself in a way others who have performed the songs already have not expressed."

That's what she plans to do Sunday afternoon April 18th at 4:00 pm at Grant Auditorium (S.U. Law School). Call Schine Student Center at 443-4517 for advance tickets. Prices are $15 general public, $10 faculty/staff, $3 students.

Back on a campus where she taught and in a community where she grew up Tish Oney promises to get fingers snapping and toes tapping with her own brand of jazz and a smile that will leave the audience humming along.