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Dramatic debut 

Kemba Cofield delivers the future of jazz

Acting is an integral part of singer Kemba Cofield's live shows. Instead of simply standing still, intoning standards, she gets into every performance.

"I don't just consider myself a vocalist," she says. "If I'm talking about love, I show that to the audience."

Cofield, who has been teaching music classes by day and singing in Atlanta clubs by night for the past nine years, recently won the Future of Jazz showdown in the straight-ahead vocal category. Her prize? A chance to sing on the main stage during the Atlanta Jazz Festival.

She had participated in the competition before, and in 2006, she was included on Future of Jazz: Live in Atlanta for the Arts, Volume 1, a CD chronicling the contest. Though she wasn't picked to perform at the jazz festival her first time out, she learned from the experience. Her adjustment for this year's competition included singing four self-penned tunes, one a number inspired by Chris Tucker's performance in the movie Friday.

"I am usually a sidewoman," she says. "Once people see you in that capacity, it's very difficult for them to see you as an artist by yourself. When I did the Future of Jazz, I wanted my own opportunity to use my own music."

Cofield is currently busy with a follow-up to her 2005 debut, Shades of Kemba. The album highlights a voice shaped by numerous influences but steeped in jazz history. She's also working on Jazz Is, a documentary that will explore the relationship between Atlanta's musicians and the area's diehard jazz buffs.

"There are a bunch of people that really enjoy jazz," she says, "but they stay in and listen to their records."

The film will premiere at the 2009 Atlanta Jazz Festival, and Cofield's CD should hit stores early next year. In the meantime, she's preparing for her first shot at singing on the jazz festival stage. Just don't expect her to stay in one place.

"You could catch me jumping off the stage, or something like that," she says. "I really want to do one of those nose dives. That would be so hot."

Catch Kemba Cofield at the 2008 Atlanta Jazz Festival Memorial Day weekend at Woodruff Park.

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