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Pipes, timing and taste: She's got it all

You Taught My Heart to Sing
You Taught My Heart to Sing
By Kirsten Gustafson

Atlantic Records: 1992

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This review first appeared in the May 15, 1992 issue of the North County Blade-Citizen (now North County Times).

While everyone's going ga-ga over Harry Connick Jr., one can only hope they're not missing perhaps the finest jazz singer in a generation. Young Kirsten Gustafson has a sense of timing and overall feel for the music not seen since Ella Fitzgerald's prime.

Her debut, "You Taught My Heart to Sing," on Atlantic, displays musical talent with a sense of maturity one would usually associate with an artist in their middle years.

Whether singing a standard such as Billie Holiday's "Now or Never" or "Is You Is or Is You Ain't My Baby?" or a Sammy Cahn original for this album (the title track), Gustafson's handling of the song cannot help but remind one of the golden age of jazz, when seemingly every torch singer knew how to caress the audience through song.

Backed by a tight band, Gustafson lingers over each song the way a gourmet lingers over a soufflee. Her voice is husky, like Fitzgerald's, with a sexiness reminescent of Teresa Brewer.

But more than her voice, what truly impresses is the say she uses it. Like Fitzgerald or Brewer, Gustafson does not have a great voice – what she has is a combination of innate rhythm and musical empathy that makes her voice an instrument.

Listening to Gustafson sing, one can hear all the greats who went before – the Sarah Vaughns, Holidays, Fitzgeralds, Helen Humes; she's nothing short of remarkable.

If you need further proof of her talent before plunking down the money for a CD, call one of the local jazz stations and ask to hear her cover of Nat Adderley's "Sermonette." It's as close to a perfect jazz performance as you'll ever hear.