All that jazz

Doctor hits the high note as a hobby

All eyes are on the dynamic man on stage. We’re at the renowned Los Angeles showplace, The World Stage, and the singer is belting out a rousing rendition of “Little Sunflower,” a Freddie Hubbard classic. The vocalist flows effortlessly from one jazz tune to another, before closing with the melancholy ballad “Willow Weep for Me.” The lights come up and the audience jumps to its feet.

The man of the hour is Dr. Bill J. Releford Jr., a podiatric surgeon who sings only as a hobby. By day, Releford operates the Diabetic Foot Institute, which he founded in 1990. The institute specializes in limb salvage-helping diabetics avoid amputation, which is a common hazard of the disease. Although most of his time is spent battling diabetes and educating people about the illness, he’s always had a song in his heart, and says, “I’m a total jazz enthusiast. Even when I’m in surgery, I have jazz playing.”

Releford didn’t unveil his talent until seven years ago. Up until then, his performances were limited to the shower. However, he’d often sit in on a local jazz workshop conducted by Phyllis Battle of the group The 5th Dimension. “One day she heard me sing,” recalls Releford. Impressed by his raw talent, Battle started giving him voice lessons-a must for singers on the professional or amateur level, notes Bob Robinson of the production team Tim & Bob, who has worked with Tamia, Jon B., and Sisqo.

Releford continues to take lessons at least twice weekly. He says these sessions can cost anywhere from $25 to $75 per hour. Other expenses for the singing medic include having arrangements done in his key, which costs him about $50 an hour; hiring a band, which ranges from $50 to $75 per performance; and buying a good microphone, which can run anywhere from $200 to $1,500. In total, Releford spends about $3,500 annually on his hobby.

For wannabe singers, Robinson advises them to start small. “You don’t want to be overwhelmed when you first start performing,” he says.

Pursue your passion for singing

  • Take voice lessons. Check with a performing arts school or the continuing education department at your local college. For example, the Stanford Jazz Workshop (650-856-4155; www.stanfordjazz.org), conducts a three-week course in the summer which costs $670. Also, the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston (617-585-1130; www.newenglandconservatory.edu) offers individual lessons for $64 per hour, or a semester of group lessons for $235, in its continuing education department.
  • Do your research. Check out the various resources on singing. Try Basics of Singing, by Jan Schmidt (Wadsworth Publishing Co., $38.95), or an instructional tape or video, such as Learn to Sing Overnight (www.schoolroom.com; 888-724-6654; $24.98).
  • Listen to other singers to study different techniques. “Anyone interested in singing should listen to music in all genres. Take note of vocal techniques used in gospel, pop, jazz, and R&B,” advises Robinson.
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