Jazz Profile: Elise Pratt

Elise Pratt  Photo: Ashley Gillett
Elise Pratt Photo: Ashley Gillett

by Eddie LeShure

“Elise has a voice that’s as beautiful as her smile and she finds a way of bringing a child-like sense of discovery to old faithful favorites from the American songbook. While carving out a niche for herself in the Asheville music scene, she also makes plenty of time to try and cultivate new music venues for local musicians, as well as special guest artists from out of town. We are truly blessed to have such a talent with us.” ~ Bassist Mike Holstein

Born in California, Elise attended college in Missouri and Oklahoma, studied French abroad and used those skills as a Pan Am flight attendant to travel around the world, work as a graphic artist at the French Embassy in NYC, and design album covers for Reader Digest’s recorded music division. This led her to becoming co-owner of the Greenwich Village jazz spot, Syncopation, in the 1970s.

“We featured people like Sonny Stitt, Cedar Walton, Chico Hamilton, Slide Hampton and Randy Weston. Bill Cosby supported our venture in spirit by letting us add ‘Bill Cosby’s Hangout’ to our awning. I had no time to work on singing myself, but I listened to some very high level jazz and wouldn’t trade that experience for anything!

“Our small record label, Finite Records, produced several albums including one for Sonny. I met Milt Jackson, Papa Jo Jones, Cecil Taylor, Jimmy Rowles, Charles Mingus, Hank Jones, Tommy Flanagan, Max Roach… they all came in. It was a wonderful time.”

Elise then moved to St. Simons Island, Georgia, where, in 1995, she first sang jazz in public and got married in 2001. “My husband Bobby and I eventually made Hendersonville our home and he passed from Parkinson’s disease in 2008. I started singing and studying with Mike Holstein and Bill Gerhardt at Sharon LaMotte’s vocal workshops a few years ago, and Mike and I have done quite a bit of duo gigging together over the past two years. There is no greater thrill than that magical musical conversation in which you say things you didn’t even know you knew.”

“Elise Pratt has a most wonderful enthusiasm for this music… the kind of energy necessary to be involved in jazz on multiple levels as she is. Whether it’s one of her own duo performances or a concert she’s organized, the intention and motivation is a pure love of jazz. The audience is always left feeling good.” ~ Pianist Bill Gerhardt

“My singing repertoire comes from the American songbook – jazz songs dating from the 20’s, the swing era of the 40’s, musical theater tunes and bebop. It reflects influences from my father, a jazz sax player from the University of Mississippi who played with the Glenn Grey Orchestra in early Big Band days. He instilled a love for great music, from jazz to classical.

“My favorite singers include Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, Carmen McRae, Anita O’Day, Julie London, Morgana King, Blossom Dearie, Frank Sinatra, and Mel Torme.”

Elise has appeared at numerous venues with not only Holstein and Gerhardt, but Jonathan Pearlman, Michael Jefry Stevens, Pavel Wlosok, Geary Moore, Marc Yaxley, Aaron Coffin, Patrick Boland, and Jason DeCristofaro.

“I also enjoy singing at retirement homes, especially at Spring Arbor where my very lively 99 year old mother lives in nearby Laurel Park. I love bringing WNC area jazz performers to venues like Tooley’s, the Green Room in Hendersonville, The Horse Shoe Café, and the Sunset Jazz Concert Series at The Cummings Cove Golf and Country Club.”

Elise donated a Perzina Grand Piano to The Cummings Memorial United Methodist Church where she had two benefit concerts, with a third featuring Pavel Wlosok coming up on March 29. She also created The Art of Jazz In-Home Concert Series to make jazz available to audiences by bringing it into people’s homes.

“Elise Pratt embodies the jazz aesthetic in every aspect. My favorite thing above all about her though is her tireless dedication towards studying the artistic process of jazz. She is always about the music first, which is apparent in her promotion of jazz throughout Western North Carolina.” ~ Percussionist Jason Decristofa​ro