UArts singer Alita Moses wins Montreux singing competition

Alita Moses (left) took first place in the Shure Montreaux Jazz Voice Competition.
Alita Moses (left) took first place in the Shure Montreaux Jazz Voice Competition. (DAMIEN RICHARD)
Posted: August 01, 2014

Alita Moses has come a long way from singing tunes from The Little Mermaid (and songs of her own invention) in the bath as a child.

But she grew up with a Broadway performer for a mother and a music professor/singer for a father, so it's not surprising that Moses, 20, found her way to the spotlight.

"I've honestly been surrounded by music my entire life," said Moses, a senior at the University of the Arts majoring in vocal jazz studies.

In Philadelphia, Moses has performed with UArts music school director Marc Dicciani's salsa ensemble and the Z Big Band, another group affiliated with the university. She has also gigged with local folk, indie, pop, and R&B bands at venues including Chris' Jazz Café and the Grape Room. When not onstage, she writes songs, which she's been doing since middle school.

"She is always prepared and has incredible stage presence, no matter what style she sings in," said jazz studies program director Jeffrey Kern, who has taught Moses in English diction, ear training, and piano courses and has coached her for special showcases.

Moses' biggest break to date, though, is placing first in the prestigious Shure Montreux Jazz Voice Competition in Montreux, Switzerland, on Lake Geneva.

The event, founded in 2003, took place July 11-12 as part of the 48th annual Montreux Jazz Festival - the world's second-largest fest of its kind.

"We've been training singers for many decades," Dicciani said. "She's definitely the first to place in the finals."

When he found out about Moses' win, he immediately sent her an e-mail expressing the department's pride and his congratulations.

"I know the university is planning to do a showcase for her this year," he said.

Moses' parents - Janelle Robinson, who originated the role of Mrs. Corry in Mary Poppins, and the late Fredric "Fritz" Moses, who taught at the University of Hartford's Hartt School - influenced her musical growth. She said she'd sit in on her father's classes and recalled watching her mother perform in tours of musicals such as Showboat.

It also helped that Moses grew up in the "very musical town" of West Hartford, Conn., where she attended William H. Hall High School. The school boasts a nationally recognized jazz program and has sent students (including Moses) to the Essentially Ellington Jazz Competition at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York. "Instead of musicals, we did a jazz show every year," Moses said. "Being in that environment opened my eyes to the world of jazz."

Moses decided to apply for Montreux after researching jazz competitions online. She said her mother was pressing her to participate in festivals, and after reading Montreux's rules - the competition is for professional singers 35 and under - she decided to try out.

The audition process involved submitting a recording of two songs, one from a preselected list of standards and one of the singer's choice. Her audition pieces were Duke Ellington's "Don't Get Around Much Anymore" and Esperanza Spalding's "Precious." Spalding is among her favorite jazz performers, along with Ella Fitzgerald, Nancy Wilson, and Chet Baker.

Out of nearly 100 artists who sent in audition CDs, Moses was among 10 vocalists from around the world to make the cut. She was also the youngest.

During the semifinals, she was nervous, thinking of the festival as a competition rather than a show. Just before the final, when she was up against two other singers, she shifted her attitude.

"Five minutes before I went on stage, I thought, 'This is a performance,' " Moses said. "I treated it as that and had so much fun. It was easy to give everything I had in the moment. I was just honest onstage."

And perform she did, with renditions of "Amour T'es Là" by Brooklyn fusion band Snarky Puppy, and George Gershwin's "Someone to Watch Over Me" - one of her go-to standards.

Moses hopes to participate in other festivals. She's also in recording an EP with UArts grad and bass player Scott Ziegler.

"I would love to compete again," she said. "It would be fun. There is the Sarah Vaughan vocal competition held at NJPAC [New Jersey Performing Arts Center] . . . For now, I'll absolutely be focusing on gigging around the area, be it at home, in New York, in Philly, or wherever."


zmiller@phillynews.com

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