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On Center: Jazz vocalist Veronica Swift makes a quick ascent up the career ladder

by on May 31, 2018 2:36 PM

Although Veronica Swift earned a bachelor’s degree in jazz vocal performance in 2016, the diploma seems like more of a footnote than a milestone on her impressive resume.

Before graduating from the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music, the Charlottesville, Virginia, native had already taken second place (2015) in the influential Thelonious Monk Jazz Competition. She also had previously recorded three albums (two by age 13), headlined the Telluride Jazz Festival, and performed in Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola at Lincoln Center.

Swift, who moved to New York City after college, sings most Saturday nights at the renowned Birdland jazz club. Come September 20, she’ll be fronting her trio at Schwab Auditorium to open the Center for the Performing Arts at Penn State 2018-19 season.

“She performs jazz standards with an accomplished style that belies her age and has an engaging presence with the audience,” says Center for the Performing Arts Director George Trudeau, who attended a concert by the singer at Birdland earlier this year. “I first heard of her when trumpeter Chris Botti invited her to join him in performing at the Chautauqua Institution last summer, and several of our jazz patrons heard her perform and got in touch with me.”

Her repertoire is built on the Great American Songbook, plus bebop and vocalese classics, but she is also passionate about music from the 1920s and 1930s.

Swift’s affinity for jazz is bundled in her DNA. Her parents, jazz singer and educator Stephanie Nakasian and the late jazz pianist Hod O’Brien, took her on tour when she was a child. She sang with her family at Blues Alley in Washington, D.C., the Jazz Standard in New York City, The Great Waters Music Festival in New Hampshire, and other venues.

She also has appeared on stage with Jon Hendricks, Esperanza Spalding, Joe Lovano, Danilo Perez, and others.

“It’s not often you hear one so young interpret the sounds of a seasoned jazz performer and make everything she touches her own,” writes a reviewer for Variety. “That’s Veronica Swift.”

The vocalist is “an adept lyrical interpreter” who puts on “a master class on space and dynamics,” according to a Jazz Times writer.

Swift’s 2015 album, Lonely Woman, features some of the hottest young players in jazz, including Emmet Cohen, Benny Bennack III, Daryl Johns, Matt Wigler, and Scott Lowrie. Let’s Sail Away, her 2017 recording with saxophonist Jeff Rupert, includes a mix of originals and standards.

More recently, Swift has performed with jazz pianist Benny Green and his trio. A recording with the ensemble is in the works.


Tickets for the Swift concert and most other Center for the Performing Arts 2018-19 presentations go on sale June 7 to center members, June 11 to Choice buyers (tickets to four or more eligible events purchased in one transaction at a 10-percent discount), and June 18 to everyone. For details, go to or phone (814) 863-0255.

John Mark Rafacz is the editorial manager of the Center for the Performing Arts.




John Mark Rafacz is the editorial manager of the Center for the Performing Arts at Penn State.
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