Refreshing & Ravishing Vocalist April Varner Reveals Her Vernal New Album April, Composed Of Originals & Standards Around Her Namesake Month

Out June 28 via Cellar Music, April Features Pianist Caelan Cardello, Guitarist Russell Malone, Bassist Reuben Rogers, Drummer Miguel Russell, Trumpeter/Vocalist Benny Benack III, & Saxophonist Dayna Stephens – Produced by Ulysses Owens Jr.

Just in time for the big bloom, award-winning jazz vocalist and composer April Varner has announced her intimate, imaginative debut album, April, due out June 28 via Cellar Music. A cleverly curated and totally cohesive opening statement, April offers a banquet of standards and rock-era classics — all with “April” in the title — bookended by two succulent originals: “April Blues” and “Who Let April Back Into My Dreams?”

The New York City Jazz Record has hailed the 26-year-old dynamo as a “direct, authentic singer…”, who demonstrates “vocal dynamism… authentic jazz phrasing… electrifying numbers” and possesses a “profound command of deep scat and vocalese.” Varner has amassed several viral videos of her challenging solo transcriptions, cleverly crafted vocalizes, and acapella renditions of the Great American Songbook. A graduate of the Manhattan School of Music who has studied with jazz luminaries like Tierney Sutton, Russell Malone, Sachal Vasandani, Jane Monheit, Kurt Elling, and others, Varner garnered much attention last year as the winner of the 2023 International Ella Fitzgerald Jazz Vocal Competition.

April is produced by famed drummer-producer Ulysses Owens Jr., who was first introduced to the singer via Theo Bleckmann. “She’s one of the most dynamic and studious musicians I have encountered in many years,” Owens Jr. reflects. “I have worked with a lot of talented artists, but not many that possess the work ethic and ambition that April encompasses, coupled with her incredible talent. She can sing anything and can morph into whatever the style is.” Working together was a natural step, and the two went to work in April. 

The result is a vibrant and cohesive album guided by self-reflection. “I wanted it to be like a letter to myself, and how far I’ve grown as an artist,” the singer says. “I want the world to see who April is and what that name invokes. It’s a reflection of both my personality and the many feelings associated with the season of Spring. My goal was to showcase different emotional layers that people could resonate with.”

April features pianist Caelan Cardello (who also is the album arranger), guitarist Russell Malone, bassist Reuben Rogers, drummer Miguel Russell, trumpeter and vocalist Benny Benack III, and tenor and soprano saxophonist Dayna Stephens. When choosing the band, Varner wanted to include musicians who had inspired her. Varner’s years-long history with Cardello and Russell particularly is displayed by their discernible interplay and tight musical connection. In selecting the guests, Owens Jr. played a significant role, in shaping the bandstand by suggesting players that would best complement the vocalist. 

As mentioned, April kicks off with the spare and spine-tingling “April Blues,” with a delivery beyond her years, and supple phrasings that dance in sync with bassist Rodger’s beat.

From there, Varner and company swing straight into “I’ll Remember April,” where she trades improvised vocaleses with Benack with conversational ease and aplomb. This leads into Pat Metheny’s spectacular “Joy of April,” followed by a jaw-dropping take on Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel’s melancholic classic “April Come She Will,” alone with guitarist Malone.

Varner takes “April Give Me One More Day” on a spin through a medium-slow arrangement, with a distinctly Anita O’Day flair to her balladeering. “April Again” features an unforgettable solo by Dayna Stephens on soprano sax, and Cardello on simmering piano and organ.

Sometimes it Snows in April” is a Prince and the Revolution classic from their 1986 album Parade; much like “April Come She Will,” Varner makes this non-jazz chestnut utterly her own. She continues in this vein with Frank Ocean’s hymnal “Dear April,” where Varner’s penchant for short endings and long phrases is on winning display. This track, which is the album’s second single, was produced by her former Manhattan School of Music professor, Theo Bleckmann. “The time spent with him was invaluable to say the least. He has taught me so much about myself and about my music so I knew I wanted to include him in some way on this project,” she says. “His skill set in layering his voice into lush harmonies and the use of effects made this track truly something incredible.” 

What jazz album of April songs could fly without “April in Paris”? Here, it’s a swinging duo with pianist Cardello, who takes big swings with phrasing and style to keep the vibe vividly modern. She follows this with a slow, simmering take on “Lost April,” with an especially haunting precision to Russell’s drumming.

It all concludes majestically with the other Varner-written bookend, “Who Let April Back in My Dreams?”, which further displays her chops as a skillful crafter of original music. March came in like a lion, and out like a lamb — but Varner has just arrived, as a bona fide lion on the jazz-vocal circuit. And unlike the month, this April is bound to stay awhile.

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Track Listing:

  1. April Blues
  2. I’ll Remember April
  3. Joy of April
  4. April Come She Will
  5. April Give Me One More Day
  6. April Again
  7. Sometimes It Snows In April
  8. Dear April
  9. April In Paris
  10. Lost April
  11. Who Let April Back Into My Dreams?

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