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Remembering Cynthia Layne

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On Sunday, January 18, the jazz community in and extending beyond Indianapolis lost a dear friend. Cynthia Layne, a contemporary jazz vocalist, lost her battle with cancer at the age of 51.

Layne was an in-demand performer around the city, appearing at venues including The Jazz Kitchen, The Chatterbox, Sullivan's Steakhouse and Vito Provolone's. She had released three albums -- In Due Time (2001), Reality (2004) and Beautiful Soul (2008) -- which were released by her label, Owl Studios (now The Owl Music Group). She performed often with saxophonist Rob Dixon, keyboardist Reggie Bishop and drummer Kenny Phelps. She also shared a stage on more than one occasion with electric violinist Cathy Morris.

Layne's performance "just came off to me as a gift," says frequent collaborator Cathy Morris.  - MARK SHELDON
  • Mark Sheldon
  • Layne's performance "just came off to me as a gift," says frequent collaborator Cathy Morris.

"I had a couple connections with Cynthia just being women in music," Morris says. "It was a sisterhood unlike any other. She was such a beautiful soul, such a beautiful spirit. She really made an impact wherever she performed."

Morris remarks on a picture of the two onstage at White River State Park a couple years ago. In the photo, Morris' back was to the crowd, but says there is a clear view of the joy on Layne's face. Despite the performers' positions, the shot tells the complete story of their interaction. "We were so engaged ... so involved," Morris says wistfully.

Layne's neo-soul vocal stylings were compared to those of singers such as Jill Scott and Sade, but neither description really capture's Layne's silky sound. In the video for "We" from Beautiful Soul, Layne's alto is a smooth groove that brings to mind a rainy evening and a slow dance in one's living room.It's also possible to imagine listening to Layne in a piano bar, singing softly in a candlelit room to a rapt audience.

The assertion isn't far from the mark. John Stanley, general manager of Sullivan's Steakhouse, says, "We never had so much positive feedback than when she performed." Layne was a fixture at the Northside dining establishment, performing with accompanists on piano and drums. Stanley's words are certainly a compliment, especially when he shares that Sullivan's is "known for our music."

Cathy Morris would invite Layne onstage to "showcase her incredible talent." Layne wasn't a person to appear nervous in front of the crowd. Morris says, "[Her performance] just came off to me as a gift. [Music] is a different kind of intimacy. To be connected through music is so different than any other kind of connection."

Diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012, Layne's treatment was initially successful, but the disease returned last year. During her experience, Layne became involved with organizations such as the Little Red Door Cancer Agency.

Her support for breast cancer awareness and prevention groups also introduced her to people like Indy race car driver Pippa Mann, who met Layne when both appeared at the Pink Presser, a luncheon and news conference sponsored by the Susan G. Komen Foundation. On her Facebook page, Mann said, "[Layne's] incredible voice, her vibrant personality and her braveness in battle were an inspiration."

Layne will be missed by family, friends and fans far and wide. She is survived by her 17-year-old daughter Nina, her parents and brother. Funeral services will be held at Crown Hill Cemetery and Funeral Home this Saturday, Jan 24th. For details on arrangements and a tentatively mentioned jazz tribute performance (reported by the Indianapolis Star), please contact Crown Hill Cemetery directly.

Layne's music can be found on sites such as Spotify and for purchase on Amazon.

Of her longtime collaborator and friend, Cathy Morris pays tribute to Layne by saying, "She was just a beautiful woman inside and out."

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