Singer/Musician of American Jazz,
East Indian Classical and JazzRaga Fusion:
The Journey of a Catholic American Jazz Singer
world of Classical Hindu/Muslim Classical Music and Back Again
Lee Torchia was born in Buffalo, New York to a military family. She lived in the Azores Islands in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean when she was a young girl. There she spent hours on the lava rocks amongst the crashing waves. These meditations on sound were preparing her for the music of the East. Today, Lee accompanies herself with the tambura, the drone instrument with many harmonic overtones which is often compared to the composite waveform sound of the ocean.
North Indian Classical Music was developed by mystics living in the ancient forests who meditated on the 24-hour cycle of nature, observing the movements of the sun, moon, sky, trees, water and wind. These sadhus (holy men and women) discovered special sounds that were connected to the passing moments of time, and they developed modal scales (using 22 notes in one octave), and created Ragas (compositions). When sung at the proper time, the raga evokes and reflects the natural atmosphere and mood of the morning, night, or seasons*.
Lee studied Drama, Voice and Dance at the University of Maryland. In 1975 she moved to New York City to pursue acting.
When she arrived in New York, Lee met North Indian Classical Raga Vocalist, Pandit Pran Nath. For the next twenty years, Lee studied classical Indian music privately with him, eventually being formally initiated as one of his few American Disciples. After her Guru's death in 1996, she continued to study with his Disciples, La Monte Young, Marian Zazeela and Terry Riley. They are among the highest authorities of the American Minimalistand Microtonaltradition. She went to India four times with this select group of musicians for extended visits in order to study, travel and absorb the culture and traditions.
Giving up Drama, Lee was naturally drawn into the New York jazz community, she joined Barry Harris' workshop in 1978, studied privately with Helen Merrill, and performed with many of the top jazz musicians including Walter Bishop, Jr., Doc Cheatham, Jackie Williams, Ray Mantilla, Slide Hampton and Muhal Richard Abrams. In December of 1985 she assembled an all-star rhythm section and recorded the CD: Loverman, A Tribute to Billie Holiday. This album features the composer, Ram Ramirez on Piano, Milt Hinton on Bass, Mel Lewis on Drums, and Ricky Ford on Sax, and is available on the web at CD Baby or ITUNES.
In 1996 Lee assisted her Guru, Pandit Pran Nath in workshops in India and and Paris, which culminated in a "Coming Out" performance with him in Paris, France. She continues solo Hindustani Classical Vocalist concerts in the traditional Indian style. She has given a Master Class and taught Raga as adjunct faculty at the New School University Jazz Department in New York City.Her live performances include the Bruno Walter Auditorium at Lincoln Center, Pace University, Pratt Institute, Penn State Scranton and Schuylkill, and many other universities as well as meditational environments.
Lee is a Music Fellowship Recipient from The National Endowment for the Arts. She has composed several pop tunes in the blues and country genre. Yet it is her work in Jazz/Indian fusion which has put her on the "cutting edge" of jazz. She has premiered fusion performances of Monk compositions "Round Midnight" and "Straight No Chaser" at the Village Gate and the West End Gate. The spiritual "Amazing Grace" was premiered at St. Peter's Jazz Church, and "All Blues" by Miles Davis was premiered in August of 2009 at the Memorial service for her friend, Lawrence "Larry" Lucie, Duke Ellington's guitarist.
Lee has chronicled her performances on video as a band leader, composer, singer, teacher and producer, and continues to present them on Manhattan Cable TV for the New York community and the worldwide web. Her jazz CD, "Loverman" is available onCDBaby, or onITUNES. Her CD, "Meditations on Morning Ragas", is currently in process.
*La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela MELA FOUNDATION have written extensively on Raga.
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