From Norman to NYC, Champian Fulton is back for a string of shows

A good jazz singer is a luxury, like an extra olive in a vodka martini.

It's an extravagance that only comes with a little seasoning and hours propped against or at the bench of a black Steinway. That's where Champian Fulton comes in.

The Norman native has been on a six-year sojourn through the jazz clubs of New York City, but this week, she returns to her home base in Bricktown for a series of low-key performances at two restaurants.

Those who venture to Maker's Cigar Bar & Lounge Friday, Saturday, or Tuesday can expect to hear a voice with more twang and dust than Fulton's 23 years would suggest. She holds forth with more dynamic thrust than the airy Sarah Vaughan and less smoky force than Nina Simone.

Above all, "expect it to swing," Fulton said. Her itinerary also includes an Aug. 7 show at Mickey Mantle's Steakhouse.

Fulton has brushed off some of the more modern iterations of jazz in recent years and has harkened back to Count Basie-ruled stage days.

"I like things that swing," she said. "I'm a bebopper at heart."

Her local dates will include mostly arrangements from her recently released "Sometimes I'm Happy," along with other standards.

Fulton has been playing music since she was 5 years old, under the watchful eye of her father, Stephen Fulton, a jazz trumpeter and drummer who will play alongside his daughter at these summer gigs. Monte Butts will join the duo on bass.

She led off her young career with performances under the summer sky at Norman's Jazz in June festival and other large music events across the country. In 2003, she played nearly every weekend at Maker's as she prepared for the move to New York City. Anxious to start her career as a full-time jazz singer, she completed her degree at SUNY-Purchase in just three years. She had already made her face known in the jazz scene as a student and parlayed that into a steady gig at legendary NYC jazz club Birdland when she graduated in 2006.

She played regular gigs with her New York trio at the club, named after Charlie "Bird" Parker, which inspired the eponymous Weather Report song. After closing down for years, the club reopened with a steep admission fee and steeper cocktail prices.

Fulton said Birdland provided a base and influence. She had the chance to brush shoulders with iconic jazz pianist Oscar Peterson and bassist Buster Williams, among others.

Eager to release an album in her first year after college, she took a shot leading an album with David Berger and the Sultans of Swing.

"I think New York sort of has a way of thinning the herd, because it's a very tough city and very hard," she said. "Being in New York has made me more assertive."

Champian Fulton performs at 9 p.m. Friday-Saturday and 8 p.m. Tuesday at Maker's Cigar Bar & Lounge. "Grant Slater

  • or