Carmen Bradford SFCM RJAM Voice Faculty
  1. Faculty

Carmen Bradford

Roots, Jazz, and American Music | Jazz Voice

"Singer Carmen Bradford, hired by Basie in 1982, effortlessly dominated the evening. A superior stylist with a beautiful stage presence. Bradford brought the house down twice: first with a brilliant version of Fitzgerald's Mr. Paganini; and again with a heartwarming version of Louis Armstrong's big hit What A Wonderful World." —The Australian

Courses Taught

  • Applied Lessons


  • Count Basie and his Orchestra
  • The Count Basie Orchestra
  • Doc Severinsen and his Orchestra

Awards and Distinctions

  • 2016 Black Women in Jazz and the Arts, Legendary Lady of Jazz Award

What is your hometown?

Altadena, CA

What is your favorite recording?

Carmen Bradford: Honeysuckle Rose

What are you passionate about outside of music?

Interior design.

Who were your major teachers?

Jazz vocalist Melba Joyce, professor Edward Boatner, and Tony Bennett.

What is a favorite quote that you repeatedly tell students?

“Go to the source, don't get the idea from someone who's searching like you are."
“Jump in the deep end of the pool, you'll float.”
"Don't shame your family."

What question do you wish students would ask sooner rather than later?

“Why do I have to learn so many standards?”

What was the defining moment when you decided to pursue music as a career?

My father took me and my brothers to hear our mother sing at a jazz club. I was four years old, and my mother was touring with Louis Armstrong. She had on a fabulous beaded gown, and her voice just blew me away, along with her phrasing, which was incredible! A true storyteller! I knew at four years old what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, and had tunnel vision about singing, and I still do! It takes unbelievable dedication and practice.

What was a turning point in your career?

I've had several turning points in my career. Being hired by Count Basie and having that kind of exposure that only comes from performing with legendary musicians. Recording with the Count Basie Orchestra, George Benson, Benny Carter, with symphony orchestras around the world, with these incredible composers and arrangers writing for me… For example, Frank Foster, Thad Jones, John Clayton, Shelly Berg—these are career changing experiences, however, the passing of Ms. Ella Fitzgerald was a true turning point for me. She was always very kind to me each time I saw her and opened the show for her while singing with the Count Basie Orchestra. I was in her home after she'd passed away and went into her bedroom. Of course the room was pretty empty, but on her bedside table, my CD jewel case sat next to a tiny CD player, and inside the player was my CD! She'd been listening to me at the end of her life. This was huge for me! My dedication to singing jazz was immediately elevated. I began to take more risk with my music choices, challenging myself to experiment more with the melody and with improvisation. So many experiences working with wonderful jazz musicians—it's been a fantastic ride!

If you weren't a musician or teacher, what do you think you would be doing now?

I love interior design! I'm sure I'd be designing kitchens and living rooms around the country!

What is your daily practice routine?

Several glasses of water and singing along with three of my favorite albums, some Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett, and my own CDs!

If you could play only three composers for the rest of your life, who would they be?

The Gershwins, Cole Porter, and Stevie Wonder.

From a music history perspective, what year and city are most important to you?

Too difficult to choose a particular year: the 1940s-1960s, New York City. Jazz music was on fire during these years, and some of my favorite composers and musicians had written and performed some groundbreaking music!

What are your most important collaborations?

My recordings with the Count Basie Orchestra, the show written for me by conductor Jeff Tyzik, and every performance I do with jazz pianist Tyrone Jackson.

Who are three students you have had the privilege of teaching?

Gretchen Parlato, Sara Gazarek, and Laura Harrison.

What recordings can we hear you on?

"All About That Basie" - Concord Records
"Home With You, Carmen Bradford & Shelly Berg" - Azika Records
"Big Boss Band, George Benson" - Warner Brothers Records
"With Respect, Carmen Bradford" - Evidence Records
"Finally Yours, Carmen Bradford" - Evidence Records