Just after 7:30 on Saturday evenings, light jazz starts humming in Laportas jazz room, courtesy of the Sharon Clark trio, minus the actual singer Sharon Clark, setting the tone that caters to conversation.
When Clark joins the group a few songs later, seats turn toward the stage and she becomes the center of attention, singing about love and hope, mixing in a little scat and a dose of Louis Armstrong that keeps the jazz room full and conversations still flowing.
Clarks song list is dominated by love songs, and she puts the emotion in the songs, whether its something in her life now or a romance of the past.
If it doesnt bring out any emotion in you, its going to be flat as a board, she said. Her emotionally fueled performance has been her reputation for the past nine years at Laportas. Youve got to live it, she said.
Other big names in jazz besides Armstrong influence her, but she doesnt try to replicate their sound.
Over the years Ive listened to jazz and developed my own, she said, adding some personal spice. Shirley Horn is a favorite singer of Clarks, and a big part of her new CD, Do It Again, due to be released in late October. Horn is one of the coolest singers youll ever hear, nobody can do it like Shirley, Clark said.
In the beginning
Sharon Clark got her start singing duets with her twin sister as children in Alexandria, and then at Fort Hunt High School, playing in the Coca-Cola Bottling Caps singing group at one time.
We promoted Coca-Cola through the high schools, she said. Her first CD, Finally, was released in 1996, and shortly after she was invited to play at the Democratic National Committee for President Bill Clinton, and the Smithsonian Jazz Masters for the Voice of America radio station.
In March 2007, Clark won first prize at the American Traditional Vocal Competition, and won another first prize this past July in the Billy Holiday Competition in South Carolina, which is a big deal in the jazz world. I look at my medal every day, she said.
At Laportas, Clark stands up in the small stage in front of the window looking out to Duke Street with Eric Glazier on the stand-up bass and Peter Edelman on the grand piano. The crowd at Laportas is appreciative. James Slonena and Cathy Huff are regulars on Saturday night, even though there is jazz at Laportas on other nights, too.
Saturday is by far my favorite, Slonena said. Sharons sister Tina, comes in now and then. She built this room, Tina said. Bartender Kathryn Prescott noted that people call to find out when Clarks playing. Shes got a beautiful voice like youve never heard, Prescott said.
Phil Laporta called her singing classic jazz with an Ella Fitzgerald style.
She has a very good draw, and has great stage presence, he said.
When Clark is not playing jazz, she greets the residents at Lincoln Towers in Arlington, an apartment owned by Archstone-Smith. That job is steady income and has the benefits, but Clark knows its the jazz that keeps the fire burning in her heart.
If I didnt have this, I would probably lose it, she said.