Background in hymns primes singer for jazz

Posted Feb. 25, 2010, at 7:35 p.m.

If you’ve seen Kristen Burkholder perform, you’ve more than likely witnessed a silken-voiced chanteuse crooning standards or belting out modern jazz takes on a variety of songs. Unless you knew her when she was a kid growing up in Pennsylvania. Then you saw her in a completely different setting.

“My father was a minister, so we were in the public eye, anyway. We were performers on top of that,” said Burkholder, who sings in two Belfast-based jazz groups, Tango and Luna Madidas. “It was a really interesting way to grow up. We were like the Von Trapp family. My dad would play guitar, and my sisters and mother and I would sing. It was a very sweet kind of education.”

With her family band days firmly behind her, Burkholder has pursued her creative muse across several states before landing in Maine. With Luna Madidas, who will perform tonight at the Aarhus Gallery in Belfast, she gets to explore her experimental side. With Tango, who will play on March 26 at Rock City Books & Coffee in Rockland, she gets to bring a little bit of the ’40s and ’50s to the 21st century. It’s a far cry from hymns and folk songs.

Burkholder moved to Maine nearly 10 years ago, with romantic notions of lobster boats and quaint villages in her head. The reality, as any Mainer knows, is quite different. But the reality was fine too, as she settled in the Belfast area, which has rapidly turned into a coastal arts mecca. She also met her longtime partner Nathan Raleigh, himself a musician in local band Class Machine. After several years of acting with the Penobscot Theatre in Bangor and with the Belfast Maskers, Burkholder began to feel the urge to sing again.

“I think my theatrical background, as well as my background singing with my family, made it so much easier for me to express a song effectively,” said Burkholder. “It’s tricky to deliver a song correctly. Too much, and it’s really loungy and campy. Too little, and it’s boring. It’s a balancing act. It’s very fun.”

Five years ago, she and fellow Belfast Masker Martin Gottlieb, a pianist, began to get together to sing songs from the Great American Songbook. What started as a passing hobby turned into a regular gig. Burkholder and Gottlieb now perform as Tango (because it takes two to tango) in venues all over the midcoast.

“We had such an affection for Cole Porter and George Gershwin. We wanted to focus on that classic songbook, but we were very selective,” said Burkholder. “We wanted to do the songs that we really loved. Martin and I work incredibly well together. We’re a great team.”

Aside from singing standards with Tango, Burkholder has another musical venture with Luna Madidas, who were originally known as Agharta Jazz. Luna Madidas is made up of Burkholder, Tom Luther on piano, Mike Whitehead on trumpet, Doug Kennedy on bass and Jeff Densmore on drums. As opposed to the languid, laid back nature of Tango, Luna is straight up jazz.

“Tom is an arranger and a composer and a bloody genius,” said Burkholder, of her piano-playing bandmate. “He’s rearranged everything from David Bowie to Gustav Mahler, into the jazz idiom. It’s really, really interesting stuff, and I love doing it. We’re doing some originals now, too.”

As if that wasn’t enough, this Saturday, Burkholder will join her friends Ando Anderson, Peter Conant, Jenny Tibbetts and a host of actors, dancers, poets and musicians for the one-night-only 2010 edition of the New Vaudeville Revue. A live-action, old-time radio play, the Revue goes up at 7 p.m. Saturday, at the American Legion Hall. She’s a busy lady, to say the least.

“I love Belfast. The community is really supportive of the arts here,” she said. “You might be able to get away with the kind of thing we have here in other parts of Maine, but not many. There’s a really fantastic group of creative people.”

Luna Madidas will play at 7:30 tonight at the Aarhus Gallery on Main Street in Belfast. A $10 donation is suggested. Tango will perform at 5 p.m. Friday, March 26, at Rock City Books & Coffee on Main Street in Rockland. For information, visit www.myspace.com/thelovelymissburkholder.

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