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Her niche

Hittin' the books with singer-songwriter Rebecca Windham

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The Atlanta music scene is a practical example of art imitating life. Where nature abhors a vacuum and will rush to fill it with activity, so local musicians seek out a niche in which they can practice their art and be compensated for it.

Bookstore cafes offer one such venue, and it is here that vocalist Rebecca Windham has found her niche, for the moment at least, with frequent appearances at various Borders Books & Music locations.

"Borders is a nice little laid-back venue, a nice outlet for songwriters, people who want to do their original material," says Windham, who performs Fri., May 18, at the Dunwoody Borders location with the G-Force Jazz Trio, which features Greg McLean on trumpet and Geoff Haydon on keyboards. She also has upcoming Borders dates in Snellville on Fri., June 1, and in Duluth on Fri., June 8, with her primary group, the Rebecca Windham Quartet.

It might sound like small potatoes, but for listeners, the bookstore gig has much to recommend it. It's smoke-free, and has no cover charge or drink minimums. It's a child-friendly setting, too, and one that also allows the performer to spend a little extra time educating listeners about the history of the music or the particulars of a song.

Windham has been playing at the bookstore's various locations for more than two years, she says, initially in a duo with guitarist Steve Cunningham. Gradually, she began to mix her own original material into the duo's repertoire of jazz standards, and eventually added bassist Adam Nitti and drummer Forrest Robinson to the lineup.

Windham doesn't consider the bookstore circuit a final destination. Her quartet recently played at Sambuca Jazz Café and she expects to play there again in July. The musician is seeking other club work as well. The bookstore, however, does fit her musical style, she says. "Some people say my stuff's kind of mellow. I don't really see it that way, but it's not real in-your- face music."

The quieter setting also is compatible with her songwriting. Lyrically, her work is less reflective of the jazz milieu than of singer-songwriter influences, in which often-introspective lyrics need to be heard clearly to be effective.

Among Windham's influences is singer-songwriter Dan Fogelberg. "I grew up listening to his music," she says. "My brother exposed me to a lot of different kinds of music, and Dan Fogelberg was one that he and I both liked." Windham also cites the impact of Bonnie Raitt and Earth, Wind & Fire, which preceded her more recent fascination with jazz.

Last year, Windham and her quartet released To a Warmer Heart, a CD of 10 original tracks, which she wrote or co-wrote. The CD, as well as her gigs at Borders and elsewhere, are a means toward a greater objective, which involves bringing her songs to a larger audience, either in her own performance or in having other artists record them.

Meanwhile, like other Atlanta-based jazz musicians, Windham also found a niche as a music teacher, offering private voice and piano instruction. Some musicians gripe about teaching in order to pay the bills, complaining when gig opportunities are not enough to sustain them, but Windham has no problem with it, particularly since it spares her from the dreaded non-musical day job.

"When I teach, that's another outlet for me to do music," she says. "I get to share it with others in a one-on-one setting, and as long as I remain excited about it, it's a real personal joy. The enthusiasm and the energy I give off, it gets picked up by my [students], and then to watch them excel and grow, that's been very rewarding."

Rebecca Windham and the G-Force Jazz Trio perform at Borders Books & Music in Dunwoody Fri., May 18, from 8-10 p.m. For information, call 770-396-0004 or visit www.rebeccawindham .cjb.net.

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