Erin McDougald is a savvy, rhythmically jazz-rooted song-interpreter, who frequently records and performs with top instrumentalists among the jazz-elite from Chicago to the East Coast. Her ensemble-size varies from a duo to a big band orchestra, depending on the venue, but most typically, she incorporates the use of a rhythm section and often features a horn player.
An interview with Erin McDougald
March 29th, 2013
DK: Good day Erin! How are you doing today?
EM: Well, spring is crawling into the city just as some big career moves are on the horizon; so, I’m percolating with hopefulness, currently!
DK: Excellent, yeah, it feels like we’re all finally thawing out of this extended winter here. It just kept dragging on for too long, in my opinion.
Now, it has been quite some time since we last spoke to you, back in 2007, in fact. So, we have a lot of catching up to do here, right?
EM: Has it REALLY been that long?! Wow! Yes, a lot has happened, almost happened and is happening. [laughing]
DK: I’m sure and am glad we have this time now to catch up with you. So, you have a new album coming out soon entitled “Outside the Soiree.” Please tell us all about it.
EM: The new CD’s title is named after my original composition. It’s ironic how cyclical life can be; I penned the song in 2007, recorded it in 2010 and now, in 2013, I find that the meaning of the lyrics are more palpable than ever and the theme of the record was basically a foreshadowing for life events I had no idea about at the time of recording. Some of these events were wonderful and some have been extremely traumatic. When I listen to the title song now, I am almost overcome with irony.
Outside the Soiree, the album, in it’s entirety, was actually recorded and mixed almost three years ago already– which pains me to say. In the past, with my other albums, I have always released the recording within a few months of recording it, but, for a slew of reasons, this album has been tucked away. I’m chomping at the bit to record new material, as you can imagine, but with this project looming, I really want to release it with the attention it deserves. Scott Elias of Random Act Records is wanting very much to sign the project, but we are currently at a crossroads with negotiating percentages and what not. I am confident the album will be VERY well received and especially so once in his care. Tour dates are already undergoing the booking and promotion process, and the cities include Manhattan, Minneapolis, Cleveland, DC, Philadelphia, Boston and Detroit, with more to come.
DK: How does it differ from your earlier releases, Meeting Place and The Auburn Collection?
EM: Immediately, my impulse is to list the iconic jazz masters featured on this recording, but, to be fair, this album is the evolution of the ones predating it. As an artist, I’m more mature and as a woman, I have grown more into my physical voice as well. I think the raw emotionality of my personality and musical choices are easily identified in all of my recordings, however, there is a control that gets honed in delivering the emotion that has, for me, only been developed as a result of time and, hesitant as I am to say it, “age”. The new album, Outside the Soiree, like the other CD’s I produced, is conceptual regarding thematic approaches and choices in material, this time, it’s incorporating even more obscure tunes.
DK: Aside from Outside the Soiree, are there other original songs on the album as well?
EM: Not on this album. But the title is a play on words, essentially, for what the album is about, both metaphorically and lyrically– there are a lot of re-working standard forms and this CD gives “thinking out of the box” a whole new light. For that, more than anything, I’m very proud of what we cultivated in both a spontaneous sense while playing together (we all recorded TOGETHER, no overdubbing tracks except for one layered percussion track) and in the arranging process I had with Rob Block, who helped me greatly with some of the reharmonizations we came up with.
DK: On your album Meeting Place, you took Guns N Roses’ Sweet Child o’ Mine, and made it all wonderfully your own, will there be any songs like that on this album?
EM: Frankly, I define myself as a jazz artist to be someone who makes ALL songs I sing very much “all my own” by addressing them from a unique angle, either rhythmically or stylistically. Specifically, on this album, I am pleased with the outcome of “Midnight Sun” which alternates from 7/4 to 6/4 within each A section and then shifts to a fast swing on the bridge and 4/4 vamp on the last A section. The unusual breaks and the feel of the song are very divergent from anything else I’ve ever heard done with this standard, and yet, it’s very easy on the ears, if you will– while it was difficult to master initially, it isn’t complicated to listen to, it sounds very effortless, which, to me, is the point. Music should always SOUND effortless, even though, we know, making it so is typically not the case. At one point, Dave Liebman, during a run-through of the song, stopped and asked “Remind me… where is the merciful 4/4 section again?”, at which point Rob Block, the pianist and my long-time collaborator, just pointed sheepishly to me and said “Blame her, it’s her arrangement!”. We laughed; it was a really fun session.
DK: It sounds like it and it is great to see the arrangement worked out well! Specifically when and where was the album recorded?
EM: The album was recorded in October of 2010 at Bennett Studios in Englewood, New Jersey. Multiple Grammy winner, Dae Bennett (yes, Tony bennett’s son), was the chief recording and mixing engineer. He was wonderful to work with and hugely complimentary of my singing and musical choices, which meant a lot to me. He said he felt it was one of his favorite projects in quite a while.
DK: High praise indeed! If all goes well, this album will be your first release on the Random Act Records label, how would it make you feel to be added to their roster?
EM: Well, with all things, it’s a good feeling to know you are supported by a company that has the means to expand your audience exponentially. But, to be clear, the signing process is still underway and there are decisions to be made in terms of my representation that have yet to be announced. Scott Elias wants me to work with detailed, ambitious booking agents and while there is interest from very reputable music managers, finding the right booking agent is really crucial at this point. An album, these days, really only succeeds through concert dates. Jazz radio is wonderful but a minute portion of what reaches jazz fans now that everyone is so locked into their computers for live-streaming and music downloads. Even printing liner notes seems to be antiquated when faced with the cost versus the interest nowadays (I know, I am talking like I’m 75 years old, I’m not, I’m just astounded at how the record companies have vanished from power). The important part of releasing an album is generating interest in that album. The days of the hundred thousand dollar advance to the artist are long over –so are the days of tour support, in most cases. The artist, no matter what, really is on their own, particularly in the genre of jazz. A label gives cachet and helps with radio play, perhaps, and interviews/press set ups, but, at the end of the day, it is up to people to seek out the “niche market” of jazz artists and their struggle to be seen and heard amid the roar of Lady GaGa.
DK: I am sure we’re all wondering when the release date is set for and will there be any advance tracks released ahead of the album?
EM: The official release is set for late spring, but no date as of yet; I am trying to do an early release for the Chicago market through a large concert which is in the works and details will be provided to Chicago Music Guide when I am at liberty to do so. Here is Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most from the new album, I hope you like it!
DK: Thanks and yes, it is a great rendition! Will there be a big album release show to look forward to as well?
EM: I am in the process of setting things up with venues like City Winery, both in Chicago and New York City. I will be appearing at the Metropolitan Room in Manhattan for 4th of July weekend, on Saturday the 6th at 9:30pm. Tickets for the Metropolitan Room can be purchased now online http://metropolitanroom.com/show.cfm?id=97341&cart. Or call: (212) 206-0440
DK: Speaking of shows, what other appearances do you have lined up for the near future?
EM: As April is upon us, so too is convention season in Chicago; I’ve been booked to do numerous events for the restaurant/industry shows, as well as conventions for doctors, mediators, boating and tourist groups. I’ve also been hired to consult with a new jazz club opening this year. This has been extremely time consuming, but, exciting. When that opens, presumably by late fall, I have been secured a resident headlining spot and will oversee booking for the other nights.
DK: That is great to hear, congratulations Erin! Now if I may get a little more personal, it would seem in some of your recent blogs/posts that you are in a more contemplative or possibly a transitional place in your life right now, would that be an accurate assumption?
EM: Accurate, indeed! Those that know me personally could attest I have always been steeped into the analytics of human behavior and often probe even total strangers for insight of their own life choices and outlooks. But the last 18 months have been rigorous on my faith in humanity and relentless on my own self-awareness. Where some turn to religion, I have always turned to psychology and philosophy –the prescriptions and poetics of human behavior, you could say– to excavate enlightenment for how to change that which has been nothing but recycled issues. Everyone has them. I have learned you either make excuses or make real change; only the latter allows you to elude repetitious outcomes. Real change involves the decisions we generally fight like hell to avoid facing or making, though.
DK: And sometimes (for some people) it takes a long time to even recognize these repetitive behaviors before they’re able to make any efforts in correcting them too. In your blog from February 11th, of this year, entitled “Truth in Lyrics” you wrote “But often it (writing) sets me into a self analysis of my psychology –then and now.” You were referring in this blog to an abusive relationship you were in and how your lyrics at that time brought back the feelings of that time so strongly. In reflecting on that time of your life, how does it impact you and your writing today?
EM: Thank you for that excellent and deeply thoughtful question! Truly, very few music-oriented interviews care to delve beneath the emotional lithosphere of artists and being not just a vocalist or bandleader, but a lyricist, the voice that sings first is the voice within (the voice that often gets stifled); that’s where the silence in writing is so powerful. I write in complete silence– to block out distractions and to tune into my own thoughts, the ones beneath the surface of commonality… the thoughts and rhymes and images that no one else would pair together… those come from memories and the psychology of those moments that wrap us in this invisible… cellophane… of regret, shame or anger. And unfortunately, for me, in writing, I find it easier to ventilate pain oneirically, than to magnify simple happiness into a work of uncommon beauty. While utterly therapeutic, it can grow redundant to the listener who will start to associate your music with “songs to slit your wrists to” or something… So, now, currently, that is, I’m trying to find the resilience in my writing instead of acknowledging the pain of what I encountered and endured for so long. If you give the pain too much of your voice, you lose your power to it; the beauty must be found in the balance of things. I’m innately eccentric I guess and certainly extroverted, but the introversion of my core is what many people fail to recognize because of everything that gets piled onto the surface of people’s “personas”. Just as there is more to an abusive situation than the image of a man and his fist, there is more to this singer than her image in a slinky gown. Gregariousness or sex appeal really are surface. If you want to understand someone for who they are, read their words– those words generally come from a deeper place. This is why I’m such an advocate of literacy; if you cannot express your thoughts in writing, how are we supposed to express ourselves in speaking. The voice within is much more powerful than we give it credit for and finding the hidden melody for such expression is something I’m grateful for, and innately drawn to doing… It has greatly helped me through some very trying times in this life.
DK: Of these reflections, how have they sculpted you into the person you are today and how do you translate that into your music and music career in general?
EM: The person I am today is a survivor, now more than ever. Reflections are only useful if you know what you’re looking at and where you stand while looking “back”. The hardest part of sentimentality is releasing the mirage of it. I have to be careful not to get too lost in the lyrics of a ballad that stirs me, emotionally. Music is an extremely nostalgic force to reckon with; I try to connect with the intent of the song, reinterpret it with my own “voicing” and deliver it in a way that will equally touch and captivate an audience. When I write, I don’t think of the audience. I listen to my inner voice. When that voice becomes a song, I have to sing it to an audience, so it goes from being a meditation into a communication. Some things I have written will likely never see the light of day; not everything is fit for public consumption. Some writings are merely exercises in self awareness; a musical cleanse, you could say. My career is relative. I will always be a jazz singer –an artist. Do I have other passions? Absolutely! None as driving as making music, though. And my career is in flux at all points in time. I would like to think I will acquire more “fame” or monetary comfort as I develop my artistry, but, the way our culture views acoustic jazz? I shutter to guess where I will be in five years. I have hope. For a long time, my dreams were put on the back burner to tend to a narcissistic, abusive person. He even threw out a book of my new songs for a new album because he didn’t like what they said “about him”. It was devastating. Enraging. And enlightening. The onus of his existence in my past has fueled my tenacity for greater things. Someone once called me “irresistible… like a delicate flower”. Then he paused and said “but you’re strong, so much stronger than you look, like iron… You’re the iron flower!”. Perhaps my next album title.
DK: (laughs) I give you so much credit, Erin and am so impressed with how you handle your life and career and most importantly, how you build on these times (good and bad) in your life to lift yourself to a better place. That (to me) is really what defines a successful person. It is how you (anyone) respond to circumstances in and around you that defines the person you are, (this is what I believe anyway). Switching gears now a bit, do you have a manager or are you self managed?
EM: As of this minute, I am self-managed. I have had three different managers in the past. The next one must be light years better than I am (and the ones interested, certainly are in fact that), or I am simply not handing over 20% of my life earnings!
DK: I don’t blame you at all, money is money and time is money and no one has any of that to spare, right? I like how your new website design captures the many different sides of you as a person as do your beautiful photos, did you work closely with Montzka Web Design in how it was constructed?
EM: Of course [laughing]. Poor Eric [Montzka], I was like “Ok on THIS page, I want unicorns to fly into the person’s lap…” Kidding, but only a little. He did a PHENOMENAL job and while I gave him a myriad of details (and changed ideas), he was so exacting in finding the color schemes and flow of pages. I think he is great and I HIGHLY recommend him to any artist or company in town. He is the fastest web designer I ever worked with. A lot are skilled and creative, very few are efficient. Eric was all three! Oh… FYI… he is also my drummer. Patricia Barber lost him to me, I like to tell people. [Montzka was barber’s drummer for about a decade]. Don’t get me started on how much I love him as a drummer and how lucky we are to have such a beautiful working relationship.
DK: I am glad to hear that he has worked out well for you in more than one way. Not only then does he understand your needs from a Webmaster’s perspective, but also from the musician’s perspective from within your band as well. How do you market yourself?
EM: How don’t I market myself! Seriously, you have to be witty and creative when it comes to persuading people to get off the couch to go hear jazz at 10pm at night. Bribery often works. Just kidding. I think facebook is my best friend in terms of marketing capabilities.
DK: True enough; you really have to saturate yourself everywhere and in good balance in order to really be fully effective. Keeping a personal relationship (or simply keeping it personal) really goes a long way. Facebook (for us) allows for a lot of that, but for some reason, we don’t find our results are as effective on Facebook as they are with Twitter. But everyone’s results will invariably vary, of course. Where do you find you are getting the best results in your marketing campaigns?
EM: I do very well with Fandalism, Youtube and social networks like Facebook. Twitter has not done much for me, nor has Linked in. Google plus is interesting… I think staying in touch with your social network “followers” is key to building and maintaining your audience/fan base. Simply posting your gig on a site is not going to do it these days. I’m not about to give away my secrets!
DK: (laughs) Marketing (surprisingly) is really fascinating though as long as you have the time to do it right. Trying different methods and then monitoring them as you implement them is key as I’m sure you’ve already known. You recently did a benefit for Chicago Studio Club, how did that turn out and please share all the details about it too.
EM: Yes, I thought it was time to shed some light on a couple, Tracey and Fred Starr, who have done incredible work as far as grass-roots promotion for Chicagoland’s live music scene. They work on a donation basis and unfortunately, that means 90% of their efforts go unpaid and all too often, unthanked. They are good people, on disability, and I wanted to take advantage of the February month as a slow month for gigs, thinking it would draw a lot of working and non-working artists out to donate $10 each to ChicagoStudioClub. And in a nutshell, it worked. We held the event at my friend Fred Chamanara’s restaurant, Old Town Burger Saloon, on Wells Street, in Old Town. It was on a Monday night; late, so working musicians could attend after their gigs ended. We packed the venue to capacity and ran out of several liquors that night too so, I’d say it was a success. The bar made a lot of money, Tracey and Fred received a handsome chunk of cash and the various musical features were outstanding! I was really grateful so many people came through for the cause that night. I like to remind people that they can still donate by going to: www.ChicagoStudioClub.com and all your money goes directly to Tracey and Fred, who work day and night to promote live music venues.
DK: Excellent. I am so glad to hear it because I agree, they’re a very nice couple and it is great to give back to well deserving people. What have been the biggest challenges and accomplishments you’ve experienced in your career?
EM: The biggest challenges have been contending with integrity issues: I have felt the pressure, consistently; to pursue more commercialized genres of music. I have felt the pressure to succumb (years ago) due to the money and glory that was promised; but every time, I quickly backed away from the proposals. I don’t sing jazz because I am looking to get rich. I sing jazz because it is the challenge. Musically, more than anything. And challenging myself, musically, has also elevated my character and my ability to process things artistically, reflectively and without the influence of scandal or sensationalism. I sing jazz because it is my voice. And I don’t want to have anyone else’s voice but my own. Another endless challenge, is in making this choice, this decision, to be a jazz singer, I do have to hustle gigs more, I have to work harder for less money than if I signed with that big pop label all those years ago (presumably). And the challenge that is most infuriating, is the sexism and stereotypes I face every day, not necessarily because I’m a female in jazz, but because I am a female vocalist in jazz. It drains me to discuss it at this point, but, basically, most days, if I’m not being condescended or patronized, I’m being sized up from the legs up. This isn’t the case with musicians that know me and work regularly in my band ensembles, but it certainly is the case on the road or dealing with misogynistic players or club owners in and out of town. It’s an epidemic in jazz that is rarely discussed but commonly endured in the industry. For every bass player who ever told me “we [meaning the MALE musicians] make you look good”, I have rashly, at times, wanted to say “When I walk on stage, don’t kid yourself, no one knows you’re there”. [laughing] But neither position is right. Females have a diva complex -or stigma- and I resent that so many singers have created that vibe, that chasm between players and singers. Then again, there are plenty of “diva” males on stage! Once you see it as a side to be on, you lose the soul of the music. A jazz musician is someone that can creatively and technically produce and create spontaneous music working WITH others. Period. And whether you are a singer or a harp player, male or female, if you take a position of superiority on the bandstand, you have lost the point of the music. Jazz, as I see it, is inclusive, not exclusive. If you can complement one another musically, you will prove your musicianship that way. Attitudes just get in the way of music.
As far as personal accomplishments, winning the respect and praise of luminaries such as Dave Liebman, Tom Harrell, Wynton Marsallis, Lewis Nash, Christian McBride, Harold Maybern, Hank Jones, Gene Lees, Buddy Bregman and others of that ilk, has been very gratifying. A great paying concert with a full house is wonderful, but nothing beats the validation of a musical hero. it inspires me to keep on this path, too.
DK: What do you think are the (potential) roadblocks in your path you have yet to overcome to reach your personal goals?
EM: [Laughing]… Well, for me, it may not be a question of roadblocks but rather my tendency to pick up hitchhikers and their baggage along the way! [Laughing]
EM: Truthfully, I think my life can be traced to a pattern of decisions that lead me into another’s path for me instead of staying on course with my own path. I tend to prioritize love and romance over my own highly important goals, and it’s actually a pretty serious problem, because, when you place someone else’s definition of you or their idea of what you must be to them above what you aim to be regardless of them, you are essentially sacrificing your “voice” for theirs. I tend to see people for who they want to be more than what they show me they are. I make excuses for them. And that takes a lot of energy! I tend to get side-tracked from my goals by “deciding” to put more “energy” into someone else. It sounds romantic on the surface, but I think it boils down to a cowardice situation on my end– it’s like I convinced myself that being who I am and staying on my path would never be acceptable, so I must alter myself for anyone who claims to “love” me. It’s convoluted to explain this way… I guess, my obstacles, lie within, like anyone else. I can make excuses and blame outside influences, but, at the end of this life, I will be responsible for my journey. I’m the driver. I need to stay on the path of being true to myself and stop letting self-doubt deter me or detour me towards another’s plans for me– that also goes for professionally, not just personally.
DK: We all get side-tracked by one thing or another and while it might be a nice way to package this kind of situation, we cannot beat ourselves up over our human nature. As you said, we have our priorities, but we live in a world of diversions and we definitely need to remember to just try our best for the time we have and keep moving forward as best we can. What makes being a Jazz artist rewarding for you?
EM: Knowing I did “this”, whatever it is day to day, on my own and against the odds.
DK: “I did it my way,” right? (laughs)
DK: How does Chicago compare to other cities you’ve performed in?
EM: I perform all over the country and I have performed in other countries, yes. It’s funny; I think I am more appreciated even in New York City than in Chicago sometimes. Chicago takes for granted the vast pool of amazing jazz talent here. Don’t get me wrong, I have a huge following here and very loyal fans at that, but work always picks up -in any city- after you have performed for a bit in another town. [Laughing]. The chase… I swear… people want you most when another has you. I love Chicago, always have, always will. I have flirted with the idea of living in Manhattan or Paris. But, truth be told, I have a fabulous condo in Chicago and I’m just not ready to say goodbye to it. Flying to other cities (like New York), is really fun and inspiring– when I work out of town, I get rejuvenated. It’s nice to be reminded how many jazz lovers really do exist in this big world!
DK: Of the musicians you’ve worked with, how do their talents influence you as a vocalist?
EM: There isn’t enough time in the day, Dennis! [Laughing] To name one, I fear would be to slight another, so I tread carefully here… But, Larry Gray is an inspiration to me on many levels, personally and professionally: He is virtually self-taught later-in-life on the bass and plays a gaggle of other instruments –all, stupendously, and… he is always genuinely excited to be a part of musical collaborating on stage. I learn a lot just by listening to his approach and I secretly try to store it up and recreate certain nuances of his in later performances. I must fail sizably because I doubt this is something he has noticed in me [laughing loudly]! Rob Block, of course, is my closest collaborator; he is a brilliant guitarist and also plays some really incredible piano to boot. He is my favorite person to try new things with (wait that sounds wrong…) I mean musically [laughing]… Some people shy away from stretching out when a vocalist is leading the band, but, I like to proactively lead the players down that path and Rob is really gifted at going with the moment. Different players bring out different aspects of my “voice”; I’m a reactive musician, meaning, I don’t pre-set my delivery of a song. The song, like the moment, evolves. If I’m fortunate enough to be working with a reactive band on any given stage, nothing makes me happier.
DK: Looking back on your earlier days in your career, how do you rate your growth today as a vocalist?
EM: [Laughing]… Wow, um… You mean from “Oh my god what is she doing to that song, somebody take that little girl off the stage!” to “You’re pretty good for a chick”? [Rolling eyes]… Growth in my eyes or growth in popular opinion? Sometimes it’s hard to differentiate it. Seriously, though, when I started, I was as green as they get, but a lot of ego-bruising encounters on stage, (years of them), being in over my head, and some serious shedding… Time has helped me to develop my natural singing voice into a skilled jazz stylist. Experience is the best teacher and listening is the best secret weapon. That probably goes for most things in life, not just jazz! But, I think there is no comparison to when I was barely a teenager jumping up and mimicking Natalie Cole’s “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” and now… when I just mimic horn players, like Clifford Brown’s phrasing, instead (harder to catch the forgery that way)! [Laughing]
DK: Looking forward now from today, where do you project yourself say, another 5-10 years into the future?
EM: I wouldn’t dare jinx it!
DK: I hear you, and with how drastically life can change in sometimes short bits of time, who can say for sure, right? Now, how can people come to learn more about you these days?
EM: [Deep sigh] Let’s rattle off the social network thing… ready? Ok, here goes:
Follow me on:
My website: www.FlapperGirlSings.com
My blog: Flapper Girl Blogs/Jazz Vocalist Erin McDougald on blogspot.com
and finally… Youtube: My channel is www.youtube.com/FGPjazz
DK: Where can people see you live and what can they expect from your shows?
EM: My Crimson Lounge gig is on hiatus right now during convention season, but you can find public gigs listed on my website and Facebook. I’m not sure what to tell you what to expect, except… If I see you talking on your cell phone? Kiss your loved ones goodbye. [Laughing].
EM: I generally work in a “listening environment”, so there will never be televisions on or pinball games happening in the corner. Some of the venues are intimate, upscale clubs, some are restaurants or wine bars, some are little music dives, some are concert halls. Hopefully you can expect a night of exquisite musicianship and unique interpretations of jazz tunes.
DK: That all sounds wonderful to me. I recall the fun we had the last time I saw you many years ago now, unfortunately, but hopefully very soon, I’ll be able to make up for that lost time and then some! Thank you so much Erin for your time and I wish all the best to you in your career!!
EM: Thank YOU, Dennis! And I’m excited about filming our music performance with you…
DK: Yes, as the live performance details solidify for us, we’d love to have you perform and capture it on video for you, it would be an honor. Thanks again Erin!
Erin McDougald Biography:
Born in Columbus, Ohio and raised by her parents and also her live-in Grandfather in the small town of Delaware, Erin McDougald was the oldest of two girls. Attending parochial schools from first grade through senior year of high school, Erin was a performer from her first breath of life, it would seem. Committed to dancing from the age of three and up into her twenties, Erin studied and performed countless shows with the Shirley Jennings Academy of Dance for 14 years, before transferring to the Dance Reach company in Powell, Ohio. In her youth, she rode horses, attempted tennis, loved to swim, but always found her interests guiding her back to the performing arts. By the sixth grade, McDougald was taking voice lessons with the popular local songstress Sue Mogan Mattison, where she was introduced to Traditional Folk and Celtic genres, as well as Art Songs and the occasional pop styling, which resulted in numerous “mall studio recordings”. By high school, McDougald was referred to Michele Horsefield, an elderly, reputable cabaret singer in Central Ohio. It wasn’t long before Erin was called upon to sing for weddings, banquets and special events, including, the prestigious honor of singing at the National Cathedral in Washington DC during a school field trip. Earlier that year, a chance encounter and opportunity to guest-sing at a summertime lobbyist convention (in DC) resulted in Erin meeting President Bill Clinton. Receiving numerous acceptances and scholarship offers to music schools across the country, Erin decided to pursue a musical theater major at the University of Cincinnati, where she was accepted not in the theatre program, but in the dance division. After her first year and failed second attempt to be accepted into the theatre program –being told she had neither “the look” nor the “star power” to ever make it on Broadway, McDougald transferred to Chicago, a long-time favorite city of hers since childhood. She continued her college education and received her degree in music performance from the highly respected performing arts school, Columbia College.
The Jazz Bug:
While in Chicago, studying musical theater at Columbia, Erin was also advised to study under the legendary Jazz Composer and Director of The Chicago Jazz Ensemble, William Russo. He taught a class with co-professor and Chicago jazz singer Bobbi Wilsyn called “Exploring the Art of Music”, which both terrified and fascinated Erin’s thirst to be a better performer. Although Erin was immediately cast into a memorable, principle role in Sondheim’s A Little Night Music in the theater school, she began to pursue voice lessons outside of theater to “stretch her abilities”– this included increasing enrollment in jazz-oriented courses and simultaneously engaging a three year commitment to Classical Vocal Study with the revered concert singer Carol LoVerde, who was the head of Columbia’s music administration at the time. As Erin acclimated to the Windy City life, far from the small-town foresty-culdesac she grew up on, she was drawn in by the notion of “Chicago jazz”. It seemed to be the pulse of her surroundings. While continuing to be cast in school musicals, rock and roll revues and concert performances, McDougald auditioned for local cruise ship gigs and cabaret club work. She was accepted into everything she auditioned, to her surprise, and was quickly working steady gigs, on contract, and constantly! As her cabaret femme fatale persona emerged, her decision to edge out of theatrical pieces and into the jazz idiom was encouraged by Bill Russo and German pianist and musical director Thomas Gunther. During this time, Erin was headlining the very popular club Yvette’s and a chic supper-club in the Loop, The Plaza Tavern. One Monday night she was asked to sit in at Toulouse on the Park by the owner Bob Djahngeri. She was singing with the great Johnny Frigo on violin, and as he introduced her, a man in the crowd insisted she keep singing. That man being Jackie Mason. By the next week, Erin was the new Wednesday night headliner at Toulouse. Meanwhile, Erin’s Grandfather’s alzheimer disease was percipitously gaining upon him. She found her visits in Ohio with him to be bittersweet as she felt the pride he showed towards her embracing jazz as her music of choice. And as she learned the songs he knew as a young man, bringing back his lucidity (-however fleeting), there fortified an already unbreakable bond between them… and she knew her calling was to sing jazz.