Champian Fulton’s fine vocals would better be described as a purr than a roar.
That didn’t prevent the Norman-based vocalist and pianist’s recording of “Tenderly” from being included in a recent Sirius XM Real Jazz radio program titled “The Young Lionesses.” The artist doesn’t mind being compared to royalty of the animal kingdom by the New York City broadcasting company.
“I like that,” Fulton said with a chuckle. “A lioness would be a good strong animal to be associated with.”
Since launching her musician career approximately 20 years ago in Norman, Fulton’s associations have been many. She relocated to jazz mecca New York City for several years. From there she was booked to perform at jazz festivals and concerts around the world.
Even in this era of live performance drought, Fulton continues to receive international recognition. She’s recently been invited into an alliance with Yamaha Corporation, the Japanese manufacturer of pianos Fulton prefers to play.
“I became a Yamaha Artist this year,” Fulton said. “They saw one of my ‘Live from Lockdown’ programs last spring. I have two Yamaha upright pianos that I use at home.”
Yamaha invited her into the cooperative agreement, which gives Fulton access to a New York City studio.
“I can record there or have concerts,” she said. “They’ll also supply me with the Yamaha piano of my choosing for concerts or recordings. We haven’t got to do that yet with touring on pause, but hopefully soon we’ll be able to make that happen.”
That arrangement is a pianist’s dream come true, because occasionally, the instruments at gigs are less than ideal. The live streaming show that the Yamaha folks heard continues.
“Live from Lockdown is every Sunday on Facebook and Youtube at 4 p.m. Central,” Fulton said. “It’s a live show where I play, sometimes with special guests, and interact with the audience. It’s been a lot of fun, and it’s kept me motivated to keep learning music in this year when I haven’t been performing much.”
The popularity of “Live from Lockdown” spurred Fulton to make a studio record based on the show that will be released later this year. It will be the artist’s first LP pressed in vinyl. In August 2020, Fulton released an album titled “Birdsong,” which was met by critical acclaim from around the world.
“The record is a celebration of Charlie Parker and the centennial of his birth,” Fulton said. “He would have been 100 in 2020. I am so influenced by his music and being from the Midwest like myself. I wanted to make a tribute to him and play these songs.”
Fulton’s long-time band of Fukushi Tainaka on drums, bassist Hide Tanaka and Stephen Fulton on trumpet/flugelhorn performed with her on Birdsong.
“My band has the same passion for Charlie Parker, and we brought in special guest and my good friend Scott Hamilton, the great tenor saxophone player,” Fulton said.
Birdsong is titled in reference to Charlie Parker’s nickname “Yardbird.” The platter received absolutely rave reviews from media jazz critics around the world. Fulton sings tunes associated with Parker including “My Old Flame,” “Star Eyes” and “Quasimodo” on the 11-track LP.
She’s been playing with her regular band since 2004, and their virtuosity together is magnificent.
“The longer you play with someone the relationship becomes stronger, and being together for so long has allowed me to grow with them,” Fulton said.
It helps that trumpeter Stephen Fulton is her father and jazz mentor who even played Charlie Parker’s recordings for Champian while she was still gestating in her mother’s womb.
“It’s wonderful to have a group of people you can try your artistic ideas out with,” Fulton said. “It’s wonderful to have the band there for working through arrangements and sharing the creativity.”
Fulton established herself on the New York City jazz scene, then internationally, but has always valued her roots in this part of the world.
One of the formative jazz concerts she attended as a youth was by Jay McShann (1916-2006) performing at the Deep Deuce Jazz Festival in Oklahoma City circa 1999. McShann was Charlie Parker’s band leader back in the day.
“People don’t think of music in a regional way anymore,” she said. “Just New York or maybe New Orleans, but there’s a strong legacy from this part of the country between Kansas City, Oklahoma City and Texas. I feel very Oklahoman. I love the land here, grew up playing music and feel very connected to the area. It swings in a different way here from New York City.”
Fulton has dates to play gigs in San Francisco, New York and the Parfum de Jazz Festival in Buis-les-Baronnies, France later this year.