Entertainment » Vol. 1

An Interview with Linda Dagnello

By Robyn Lee

Lisa Dagnello on stage

Linda Dagnello on stage

Our cover girl Mary DeFeudis isn’t the only one adding to the cultural vibrancy of the city and beyond. Multitalented Linda Dagnello, a NH native who has called Worcester home for many years, has a host of artistic “titles” to her credit: jazz vocalist (known to beautifully channel the exquisite Billie Holiday herself), arranger (many of us have thrilled over the years to her live performances at venues like Mechanics Hall and the former Union Blues and to her CDs ~ which gets quite a bit of airplay on WICN 90.5), visual artist (her work was featured this past summer in ARTSWorcester’s A Cool Breeze exhibit and, as part of Community Arts Advocates, Inc., she’s been a Guest Artist at the Harriet Tubman Gallery in Boston for The Worcester/Boston Connection), graphic designer. Linda was kind enough to agree to be) part of our launch issue of Vitality, and we couldn’t be happier to say to her, “Welcome!”

Your repertoire includes everything from ballads to swing to Latin tunes ~ is there one style that speaks to you more than the others?

Depending on the day and my mood it changes quite a bit, but the common thread that catches my ear is a song in a minor key with interesting chord voicings. Many find the sound of minor chords melancholy or depressing, but I find it beautiful and it brings me pure joy.

Linda, I must admit that finding out that you are a graphic artist was a lovely surprise. For our readers who are familiar with your painting and singing…where might we find your graphic art?

Often times in your mailbox. Brochures, annual reports, alumni magazines, newsletters, logos and letterhead designs, fundraising appeals, etc. that come from the city‘s non-profit organizations.

Have you designed your own CD covers, or do you step aside and allow other designers to present their visions of the music within?

Yes, I did the designs of both my cd covers. Partially for the fun of it, and partially because I’m a bit of a control freak! The inspiration, however, was based on some great photography by Stephen DiRado on “Fever” and my step-daughter Rita Lombardi and son John Dagnello on “Written in the Stars.”

We mentioned the beautiful renditions you do of Billie Holiday songs. Is she one of your inspirations? Are there other artists ~ musicians, painters, sculptors ~ who have inspired you?

Billie Holiday was certainly an early influence, learning from her tendency to sing behind the beat and her incredible phrasing; but an infinate number of other vocalists as well as instrumentalists have left an imprint on my approach. Hopefully I have reached a point after (50+)! years of listening and studying, that although influenced by many, my sound has matured to be more original and less imitative.

Artistically, I’m constantly inspired by just about everything visual. Other people’s art, from the masters to two year olds, by the effects of light, human interaction, an interesting face, color, nature—it never ends—it’s everywhere.

You’ve played many benefit concerts in your career. Would you be willing to talk a bit about the causes that are near and dear to your heart?

A good deal of my benefit work is done together with WPI’s stage band under the direction of Professor Rich Falco. We do an annual fund raising concert for the New England Center for Children, an agency for Autism. I feel that the agency does great work and I feel very dedicated to supporting Rich’s continual efforts to teach his students the importance of doing as much community service as possible. Nearest to my heart are the causes that give children a chance to improve their lives—culturally, emotionally, educationally—because cliché or not, I truly believe that “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” I also feel strongly about adult literacy as well as my husband Vince Lombardi’s work with the blind through Audio Journal. (Of course now he’ll be expecting a benefit concert!)
As a parent, you must have strong opinions about art/music in the classroom…

I do. I’m outraged at these being the first disciplines to be cut from school curriculums. The arts allow kids to shine in areas beyond academics and sports, building self-esteem and confidence that in turn affect all aspects of school and life. Even if a child never chooses to pursue an art medium of there own, they will have gained an appreciation and understanding of this culture that will undoubtedly brighten each of their lives.

How does experience of performing solo compare to performing as part of a group?

Nancy's Chair - oil on canvas

Nancy's Chair - oil on canvas

Well most of my solo performances are in the shower, and we all sound great in there! But professionally, I thoroughly enjoy the option of different accompaniment. A duo with either guitar or piano is like a quiet and intimate conversation, trading subtleties and improvisation. My preference is most often a quintet with a full rhythm section and solo horn player. There is a structural pattern to the music that enables an anchor among the musicians. But this is a jumping off point from which improvisation can increase, arrangements can be altered on the spot by the musician‘s individual ideas. The intensity can vary greatly and be very exciting. Then there is big band work, with that hugh sound driving the song and its tight, predictable, arrangements. They don’t lend themslves to as much wiggle room for the vocals, but I love the nostalgic quality, and the polished, well rehearsed sound. It’s all good!

At what age(s) did you realize that you wanted/needed to pursue the various art forms you practice today?

I’ve adored both art and music since early childhood. My parents taught me my appreciation for music. My father and I did a lot of singing and harmonizing, and he had a killer record collection. My Aunt Connie, a sculptor herself, taught me how to draw and gave me my first art books. I fell into graphic design in my thirties, first at a sign carving company and then an ad agency, before going freelance; giddy with the realization that commercial art enabled me to be creative AND make a living.

Did you ever have any interest in acting? Is there one artistic medium that you prefer?

Not since high school when playing Dorothy in The Wizard of OZ was my brief claim to fame. But I have enormous respect for actors, and love going to the theatre or watching a great indie or foreign film.

I am continually and equally inspired by the all the arts that I’m involved with. A natural flow of energy surges will often have me focus more intently on one area at a time. Joni Mitchell’s term, “crop rotation” is a great way to describe it; taking turns while allowing the others to rest and rejuvenate. Of course life doesn’t always tie things up in such a neat little package, but even then, chaotic as it may be, it’s too hard to let go of any of it.

You’re a very familiar face in the yoga community ~ how long have you practiced yoga…and have its effects made a difference in your singing?

I’ve been practicing yoga for six years. Fern’s classes at Wellness Works are my happy addiction. Yoga is great for singing for the breath control, to loosen and relax muscles, and to generally strengthen and center myself emotionally and physically.

What are your wishes for Worcester’s future?
To see Worcester continue to rejuvinate its downtown area and smaller neighborhoods. We’re off to a good start, but there is so much more to do. I’d like to see an increase in respect for our city’s architecture, both in the renovation of exisiting buildings and in the construction of new ones. We need a skyline, guys! Maybe less dollar stores and one real non-outlet department store. And, of course, a great new jazz club. Worcester’s WICN radio is a fabulous jazz station, we need a venue for live jazz to complete the circle.

What’s next for you?

Continued learning and inspiration in my artist endeavors, more time with my incredible family and friends, an honest attempt to earn my keep in society, and HOPEFULLY to gain the wisdom of my years!

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