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    Liz Tobias brings jazz chops to New England Conservatory

    Vadim Kozhin

    Age: Turning 31 on Jan. 23, “but I’ve been saying I’m 25 for the last five years,” Tobias joked.

    Hometown: Adelaide, Australia, but calls Jamaica Plain home now.

    Think of: A contemporary Aussie spin on classic jazz. Although she’s quick to note it sounds cliche, Tobias models herself after Ella Fitzgerald. “Hearing her scatting and her improvisation, that was my bread all the way through my undergrad,” Tobias said. “The reason I got into jazz was because a teacher in school gave me a cassette tape of Ella Fitzgerald and I took it home, and in a weekend I had learned everything from that cassette tape and I burnt the ribbon out.”


    What caught our eye: Tobias, a first-year jazz voice student pursuing her doctorate in musical arts at the New England Conservatory, earned first place in Europe’s Jazz Voices Competition held in Lithuania last month.

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    Light bulb moment: “At 12 I knew that I was going to be a musician for the rest of my life, but I didn’t know what style or what type or what way, and I figured maybe a music teacher, and I didn’t realize you could do all of it,” Tobias said. “You don’t have to choose just one. And then when I was 14 or 15 or 13 I got introduced to jazz, and at 16 I knew I wanted to be a jazz musician. There was no doubt.”

    Biggest thrill: “Definitely moving to the United States, where I was like, Hey, I’m on my own now. I have to do this for myself,” Tobias reflected. “I think for anyone who’s ever moved country, they’ll understand that it’s a big deal. Your whole life stops and starts again. All the momentum that I had in Australia and all the comfort I had around me, all of that left, and I had to build from the start again. . . . That was the best move I ever did. It made me grow and strengthened me.”

    Inspired by: “I’m inspired by a few of my teachers,” Tobias noted, calling them world class and second to none. “Dominique Eade and Fred Hersch — they’re both incredible — I learn from them each week,” Tobias said. “They give me insight, and they kind of direct me a bit and help me find my compass in my music.” She noted that listening to the work of other musicians, some of her other teachers included, fuels her as a musician.

    Aspires to: The scholar in Tobias aims to excel in research and writing papers. Right now, she is writing about equality in the jazz world. The teacher in her hopes to be a professor at a conservatory . Lastly, the artist in her wants to “continue traveling and eating great food and meeting great people and singing around the world.”


    For good luck: “I make sure that I’m well rested and that I’ve drunk a lot of water, and I make sure that I get away from any nervous energy,” Tobias said. “If there’s any singers at a competition or any performers who are nervous, I just get away from them. I pretend in my head that this isn’t even happening and I’m just on holiday, and there’s nothing going on and that I’m not nervous.”

    What people should know: “If I wasn’t going to be a singer, I think I would have been a chef,” Tobias said. “I love to cook and I love to feed people. My mantra, my philosophy for my whole career, is that I sing so that I can travel, and I travel so that I can eat.”

    Coming soon: “I’m going to try out for Montreux in Switzerland again. I did it in 2011, and I had such a fun time at the festival that I want to go back again,” Tobias said. She also plans to record and launch an album sometime in the next two years.

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    Emily Wright can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @MissEmilyWright.