One of them is Camille Thurman, who channeled the jazz icon in an all-Coltrane program at Jazz at Lincoln Center last June for the final concert of JLCO’s virtual spring season. Playing the master’s legendary suite, arranged for big band by Marsalis, she found a way to convey Coltrane’s intensity and spirituality without imitating, her full-bodied sound and inspired improvisations embodying Coltrane’s deep immersion in the blues and unpretentious commitment to achieving higher consciousness through music.

Her appearance as guest soloist for the Coltrane tribute was an outgrowth of Thurman’s glass-ceiling-shattering two years (2018–’20) of playing with the saxophone section of the JLCO. She was the first woman to tour and perform full time with JLCO in the orchestra’s 30-year history.

But the 35-year-old’s saxophone prowess is just half the story. The other half is her talent as a scat-happy vocalist. She first caught the jazz world’s attention in 2013 after placing third in the Sarah Vaughan Vocal Competition. She could have become a major force on the strength of either her voice or her tenor saxophone. She can belt a high-energy chorus of a standard like Harold Arlen’s “My Shining Hour,” then, with the slightest of pauses, put the tenor to her mouth and blow like the veteran instrumentalist she has now become. It’s a killer effect, almost as if Sarah Vaughan played tenor saxophone like Dexter Gordon.

Not that the humble Thurman would embrace such comparisons with two of her idols. Her journey from St. Albans, Queens, New York, to playing with jazz aristocracy on international stages is a story about overcoming crippling self-doubt through perseverance, hard work and a surpassing love of the music.

“She’s like a little sister to me,” says alto saxophonist Tia Fuller, one of Thurman’s mentors. “I’m so proud of her. … She has cultivated her own sound and now uses both instruments [saxophone and vocals] as her own voice. It feels like the same voice. The freedom she was approaching when I first heard her sing, I’m now hearing that in her sax playing.”

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