Phister sisters bring jazz stylings to festival

Published 12:37 am Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Natchez — How do you like your jazz? Sweet? Hot? Big band sound? Swing? Dixieland? Tight harmonies? The Pfister Sisters have it all, and so much more.

Sparkling, veteran performers at the New Orleans’ Jazz and Heritage Fest, the Marigany Brasserie and The French Quarter Festival, the Pfister Sisters are one of few remaining tight vocal harmony acts in the country. The Pfisters’ specialty, the recreation of the harmonies of New Orleans’ own Boswell Sisters, occupies an important place in the history and evolution of New Orleans and American music.

The Boswells, in the 20s and 30s, invented close harmony jazz singing which spawned a host of “sister” harmony acts, including the Andrews Sisters, famous in the forties.

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“To say they sound like someone else doesn’t do them justice,” said Diana Glaze, a fan and Natchez resident who drives to New Orleans and beyond to hear them perform. “They really bring the house down with their own energy,” she said.

The Pfister Sisters have delighted audiences with their sweet hot jazz harmonies since 1979. They were singled out as early as 1981 by Variety magazine as one of the best new acts of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, and this year’s Jazz Fest appearance was noticed by BBC News and the Associated Press.

Despite the challenges of Hurricane Katrina, the Pfisters — Holley Bendtsen, Debbie Davis, Yvette Voelker — who are not sisters or even related, all committed to returning to New Orleans while performing in the Bush/Clinton Relief Fund Tour in 2005.

Although their stage presence is that of three gals, these women are accomplished musical artists. Holley Bendtsen, founding member, studied piano, clarinet and singing. She is also known as a songwriter of several musical revues and is co-founder of the New Orleans Songwriters’ workshop.

The daughter of two opera singers, Debbie Davis spent most of her childhood performing in musical theater, then studied at the prestigious Manhattan School of Music in New York. The jazz in New Orleans drew her south after spending several years performing with rock and roll bands in New Jersey.

Yvette Voelker came to the Pfister Sisters by way of church choirs and musical theater. She met Holley almost 28 years ago, and has been singing jazz vocal harmony ever since.

“We’ll do a mix of our signature music that shows off our fantastic band,” Voelker said. “We’ll also do ‘Moonlight Serenade’ by a Glenn Miller, who transcripted horn parts from vocals sung by the Boswell Sisters.”

Glenn Miller, the most popular band leader and composer of the swing band era, likely integrated their music harmonies into his big band sound.

The Pfister’s musical director and pianist Amasa Miller also plays with Charmaine Neville, as does the drummer, Gerald French, a third generation New Orleans musician. Bassist Jim Markway, has played with the group for over 10 years. Add three horn players, Richard Scott, Earl Bonie and Matt Rhody and the band is complete.

Last month, their newest and fifth CD, “Puttin’ It On,” was released with mention in USA Today.

“We recorded this CD around a single analog microphone, hearkening back to the original recordings of the Boswell Sisters,” Voelker said.

The Pfisters Sisters have sung with the Neville Brothers, Linda Rondstadt, Jimmy Buffet and Maxene Andrews of the Andrews Sisters.

They are equally at home fronting a large orchestra as they are in an intimate cabaret setting, regaling audiences with the stories behind the music they lovingly bring to life.

This effervescent group performs at 8 p.m. on Friday at the Margaret Martin Performing Arts Center, 64 Homochitto St. in Natchez.

For tickets and information go to or call 601-445-6103 or toll free at 1-800-647-6724.

After the performance, join friends at Center City Bistro, Magnolia Grill, The Castle Pub and the Monmouth Plantation patio, where lite fare menu will be available for up to 30 minutes after the show.