Janet Lawson (born Janet Polun; November 13, 1940 in Baltimore, Maryland) is a jazz singer and educator.
Lawson was born in Baltimore to a Jewish father and Catholic mother from Eastern Europe. Her father was a jazz drummer and her mother was a singer and lyricist who sometimes sang in her father's band. At home, they worked on songs together at the piano. Janet was performing on the radio at age three, and singing with jazz bands before her eighteenth birthday.
When she was eighteen, she moved to New York City and got a job as a secretary at Columbia Records. She lived across the street from Al Jeter, the head of Riverside Records, and made contacts when she attended parties at his penthouse apartment. She went to jazz clubs and was inspired by seeing Thelonious Monk. She made her debut at the Village Vanguard with Art Farmer.
During the 1970s, while in her thirties, Lawson discovered transcendental meditation and yoga, and she spent time in California, singing and studying theatre. Meanwhile, the flip side of a 1970 release of “Two Little Rooms,” a jazz tune called “Dindi,” had become a sleeper hit in England, and suddenly Lawson found herself in demand.
She started her own quintet in 1976 and became known as an inventive and expressive scat singer with a very wide range. One night whilst playing at Beefsteak Charlie’s on 13th and Fifth, they were spotted by New York Times critic John S. Wilson. The next day, Wilson’s New York Times piece loudly proclaimed, “Janet Lawson Has the Dream Jazz Voice.”
Engagements and recordings with artists like Eddie Jefferson, Ron Carter, Bob Dorough, Tommy Flanagan, Barry Harris, Milt Hinton, Barney Kessel, Dave Liebman, Joe Newman, Rufus Reid, Clark Terry, Ed Thigpen, Cedar Walton, Count Basie and Duke Ellington followed. There were more hit recordings (“So High,” “Shazam/Captain Marvel,” “Dreams Can Be”) and, in 1981, a Grammy Nomination.
She recorded two superb albums in 1980 and 1983 for Inner City and Omnisound. Lawson also appeared on records by Eddie Jefferson (1977) and David Lahm (1982).
She has taught voice at New York University and the late 1990’s the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music, given private lessons, taught elementary school children, and has made trips every year to Latvia to attend a youth music camp.
In the early 2000s, she was diagnosed with Lyme disease and Bell's palsy, suffering damage to her vocal cords. The illness stymied her career, and stripped her vocal chords of much of their power and flexibility. Her recovery has been slow, but steady, and that she’s continued to pursue her development as an artist and a human being throughout the often frustrating and maddening process of healing is a testament to her strength of character and spirit.
At present Janet is engaged in a health crisis and has left NYC to live with family in Baltimore.
Awards and honours: Grammy Award nomination, Best Jazz Vocal Performance, Female, 1982. Hall of Fame nomination, International Association for Jazz Education, 2007.
(Compiled and edited from Wikipedia, All About Jazz and Allegro (newsletter of the Associated Musicians of Greater New York)