Wendy Hayes sings Saturday in Blowing Rock
They're called standards, but there's something special about them, especially to jazz singer Wendy Hayes.
"I've always been attracted to (jazz singing), from a very young age," said Hayes, who will perform to young, old and all ages in between on Sunday, March 14, as part of the Blowing Rock Jazz Society's Second Sunday Concert Series.
Born in Steubenville, Ohio, home to legendary crooner Dean Martin, Hayes grew up with Martin's music, along with that of fellow Rat Pack alumni Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. The first song she learned was Martin's "That's Amore," followed by "Everybody Loves Somebody."
"It just resonated with me," she said, "being able to understand the words and the beautiful melodies, just so unique and unusual. I like all kinds of music, but as far as performing, I think this is my favorite genre, if you will."
At the age of 8, Hayes knew she wanted to sing. "But I was very shy and wouldn't do it, not in front of anyone or even in group singing," she said.
When her parents would go shopping, Hayes would play records and sing along, standing by the window to see when they'd return. "When I saw them coming, I'd turn off the record," she said.
It wasn't until her sophomore year at Appalachian State University when she mustered enough courage to sing in front of a friend, who promptly suggested Hayes should take voice lessons.
Hayes misinterpreted the advice and changed majors from flute to voice. "I don't expect I was very good," she admitted.
Hayes proved herself wrong, completing her undergraduate and graduate degrees, and then teaching voice for eight years at ASU. Realizing she'd rather perform than teach, she resigned and hit the road, as it were, traveling throughout the region, overseas and on the seas.
Hayes, though now based in Hendersonville, worked on various cruise ships as a production singer, dancer and headliner, and also at Tokyo Disney in Japan. "Some of us would get together and jam and sing at various clubs in Tokyo, music like I'm going to perform on Sunday night," she said.
She's also performed in her fair share of musical theater. In 2009, Hayes debuted her one-woman show, Everything is Rosie, a cabaret tribute to her favorite singer, Rosemary Clooney, which she presented last August at Lees-McRae College in Banner Elk.
"There's no better place to try material out than in the mountains, because the audience is so sophisticated, yet so supportive, so you get a nice combination," she said. "They can appreciate the journey, as well as the finished product."
Other self-produced cabarets include Swing It!, celebrating standards from names like George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Johnny Mercer, Duke Ellington, Irving Berlin and more, and Here's to the Ladies, a tribute to the female pioneers of pop music - Ella Fitzgerald, who won the first Grammy Award for Best Female Vocalist, eight-time Grammy winner Barbra Streisand, Peggy Lee, Patsy Cline and, of course, Clooney.
But it's the jazz standard she loves most.
"I've always been drawn to singers with clear, warm voices and lyrics I could understand," Hayes said.
In 2008, she visited Clooney's hometown of Maysville, Ky. With Maysville being a small town, residents wondered why Hayes was visiting, to which she replied, "I'm a fan of Rosemary Clooney."
A clever restaurant owner thought he'd test her trivia know-how and asked Hayes the name of Clooney's best friend. "Blanche Mae Chambers," she quickly replied.
To her delight, the restaurateur arranged for Hayes to meet Chambers the very next day.
"She invited me to her home, showed me pictures of Rosemary, we talked, and then she asked me to come back the very next day, which I gladly did," Hayes said.
Clooney and Chambers were childhood friends, something practically unheard of at the time, since Chambers was African-American.
"(Clooney) had an aunt who was reported as pretty uppity," Hayes said, "and she used to go to Rosemary's grandfather and say, 'What are they going to think when they see them running around and playing with each other?' He said, 'You know what they'll say? They'll think they're friends.' And they were friends until Rosemary died in 2002."
Chambers died on Jan. 11, 2009, while Hayes was performing on a cruise ship.
"She was a wonderful, intelligent lady, and I think you can learn a lot about someone based on the kinds of friends they have," Hayes said. "Blanche was intelligent, very, very wise."
With age comes experience, another reason Hayes enjoys the music of yesteryear. "I'd much rather listen to an older singer, because they can bring their life experiences and their struggles or joys or sorrows to the music," she said.
She hopes to deliver these experiences Sunday, promising standards from Gershwin, Porter, Ellington, Mercer and others, all favorites from the great American songbooks.
"I'm singing some the audience will know and love, and maybe some old gems they've forgotten about," Hayes said.
Joining her are Charles Goodwin (of the Charles Goodwin Big Band from Kingsport, Tenn.) on piano; his son, Fred Goodwin, on bass; area jazz guitarist and ASU instructor Andy Page; and area drummer and ASU instructor Rick Dilling.
"They know everything, and they've played so much together with other people, they can almost sense what everyone else is going to do," Hayes said.
At the same time, it remains personal, an intrinsic quality that Hayes adores, quoting legendary saxophonist Charlie Parker: "Music is your own experience, your own thoughts, your wisdom. If you don't live it, it won't come out of your horn. They teach you there's a boundary line to music, but man, there's no boundary line to art."
Hayes' Blowing Rock Jazz Society concert takes place at the Meadowbrook Inn in Blowing Rock on Sunday, March 14, at 7 p.m. General admission is $15 for nonmembers, $5 for students and free to members.
Membership to the Blowing Rock Jazz Society costs $75 per year. Concerts are held every second Sunday of almost every month at the Meadowbrook Inn restaurant.
The Meadowbrook Inn is located at 711 Main St. in Blowing Rock. For more information, call (828) 295-4300 or visit brjs.blogspot.com.