“My dad was my greatest champion and severest critic.”
Says Benny Carter: “She feels what the composer felt and is true to that in her singing and playing”
Artie Shaw says: “A first-rate singer/musician.”
Selected to sing on three of his own Arbors recordings, Ruby Braff describes Daryl: “An excellent performer -musician with great feeling for everything she sings.”
And Dick Hyman: “All you could ask for! Right-on-the-nose performance…with impeccable style and intonation…(a repertoire) she has mined and made her own.”
Pretty heady stuff. But not so unusual when you realize that her father is Sammy Sherman, former jazz trombonist in New York City during the big band era. While raising his family in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, he continued to head, part-time, a trio or quartet. Music was part of the Sherman household, and the road that Daryl was to follow was already paved by Sherman footprints. That is, provided she had the talent to fill those footprints, and she has.
By the time she was five, Daryl was picking out tunes on the keyboard. Even before that, she was singing. She could sing before she could talk, says family legend, and in fact, Daryl herself can remember singing, “On Top of Old ‘Mokie,” when she was just a tot. “Ever since I can remember, I’ve been around musicians and encouraged to sing.”
Her parents were both native New Yorkers, but Sammy’s father’s family had moved early on to Rhode Island, where he grew up. After the war, when Sammy was playing a gig in the Catskills, (in a band that included another young musician named Cy Coleman), he met Shirley, a young Hunter College student working as a waitress. A relationship developed, and Sammy and Shirley married and made their home in Rhode Island, raising four children.
Daryl is eldest of the children. She is not the only full-time musician, since her sister, Abbe Morrongiello, plays piano, sings and teaches in Franklin, MA.
“As a kid I was the one who embraced the music of my Dad, which was the standards and jazz. I was the kid who was awakened at two in the morning when my dad would come back from a music job.”
At age 6 or so, Daryl began formal lessons, but it was her father who formed her base of musical knowledge. Besides recordings, radio, television, and visiting musicians, there was always a keyboard in the house on which Sammy taught Daryl to form three-note chords. “That was probably the most useful tool I could ever have because it got me to do accompaniments on the piano.”
Although she studied classical piano for many years, Daryl’s love, like her dad’s, was jazz and the standards. She loved finding interesting songs to play, popular songs, show tunes. Early favorite show scores included Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals, particularly, The King and I, the first Broadway show she saw and still a favorite.
“I still cry when the king dies.”
Daryl recalls studying the subscription music series, “Tune Dex,” that featured pop songs and standards with a melody line written out and chord symbols. Later she would pour through “fake books” for new songs and arrangements to learn.
As she grew older, her father let her come to the clubs and listen to his group, usually made up of guitar, trombone, drums, and piano or accordian. They played light jazz and dance sets.
“It was really there that I got my education and love for that kind of music.”
Because Daryl’s musicianship was unusually sharp, her father finally began featuring her singing on his local engagements,
“I think the first thing I sang when my dad actually let me sit in with the band was, ‘Over the Rainbow.’ I was about twelve.”
While recognizing and encouraging his daughter’s talent, Sammy was also a stern taskmaster. He urged Daryl to learn her music well and not approach it flippantly. He stressed the musical terms and discussed phrasing.
When she entered high school, Daryl was active in everything musical, including the band and theater, and outside of school, she got jobs playing at events like New Years Eve parties.
“One of my first gigs was in a neighborhood restaurant/bar, where they had some kind of a top-40 band. The little piano sat above the bar. My job was to play when the band took a break. I played things like, ‘Misty,’ Beatles songs, show tunes. I got $20 for that.”
Moving from Woonsocket to the University of Rhode Island, she majored in Spanish, but always knew she would have a musical career. She took as many music courses as possible, performing in the chorus and jazz band and studying piano.
“Playing the piano was a tool to accompany myself singing.”
She listened to jazz musicians like Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, and another Rhode Island pianist, Dave McKenna. All influenced her musical tastes, but when she heard Mildred Bailey’s smooth easy style, she found a favorite.
“I have a jazz feel to what I do, but I just love songs that are melodic. I love Julie Andrews, Doris Day, as well as Lady Day, Rosemary Clooney, and Joe Williams.. I love music from all over the spectrum.”
But admittedly, Daryl’s approach to music is more improvisational and instrumental than a cabaret singer’s treatment would be. As for her father, to whom she remains close,
“My dad’s tastes were more modern and contemporary than mine. I’m more into someone like Jack Teagarden, who goes back a couple of generations.” -Elizabeth Ahlfors