By Geoff Gehman ’80
Viktorija Gecyte ’08 is filling the already filled-to-the-gills Lafayette Bar with a dusky, roomy, easy voice that seems to come from nowhere and go everywhere. Supported by a supple trio of bass, drums and piano, she sails through the slipstream of “That Old Black Magic,” “That Old Devil Moon,” and other stardust standards. Long before the beer-sign clocks strike midnight, she turns a saloon into a salon.
The Easton gig was a homecoming last summer for Gecyte, who lives in Paris and hails from Vilnius, Lithuania. In the audience is former Lafayette tennis coach Barbara Young, Gecyte’s honorary adoptive parent and American-culture tutor. In the band is keyboardist Sean Gough ’09, who helped Gecyte make Lafayette a hotter hot spot for inspired improvisation.
Gough traces the depth of Gecyte’s musicality to the depth of her personality. Her singing expresses her friendly integrity; her skill at improvisation is rooted in her skill at adjusting to life in two foreign countries.
A mathematics-economics and French graduate, Gecyte’s keen communication skill comes in handy as project/operations manager for EuroBusiness Media, which produces online videos for financial institutions. She manages client accounts, supervises projects, trains interns, edits video, and writes copy.
“My academic background enables me to understand my clients, who are usually CEOs, CFOs, or asset managers,” she says. “The topics of our videos are almost entirely financial. My understanding of economic and financial terms enables me to edit and spot mistakes. On top of that, we’re all bilingual at EBM, which in France is a big advantage.”
A bonus is that her bosses support her second career as a musician; in fact, one of them plays jazz bass. For two years she’s also been guiding Lafayette students studying in Paris.
A self-described “in-between person,” Gecyte is at a career crossroads. She sings in Paris clubs with her boyfriend, jazz pianist Julien Coriatt. She plans to make her first recording. She wants to be a better musician and a better bandleader. One of her role models is Gene Perla, a veteran bassist for the likes of Sarah Vaughan and Sonny Rollins, who plays bass with far less experienced players simply because he loves to play. She first met him at Cosmic Cup, a coffee shop adjacent to Lafayette’s campus. At the time he was a recent transplant to the Lehigh Valley; now he leads Gecyte’s Go Trio.
“I like playing with different people because you can just go anywhere,” says Gecyte. “To me, a good musician always knows what comes next. What I’m really aiming for is to be present, from beginning to end, for everybody. Everything to me is fresh because I don’t know the rules.”
The stage has long been Gecyte’s home away from home. She premiered in public at age 5, singing in a disco in Lithuania with her voice teacher. She performed a song about a father so convincingly, some listeners thought her instructor was her dad.
Gecyte’s fondness for jazz does come from her father, an advertising/banking official who played in several bands. Her love of singing comes from her mother, a chef who comes from a long line of passionate female vocalists.
“They knew all the songs, even if they didn’t know how to sing,” says Gecyte. “That’s why, to me, singing is very natural. That’s why I never call myself a ‘professional singer.’ Singing is not hard work; it’s a pleasure.”
During high school, Gecyte schooled herself in global jazz, hitchhiking to music festivals around Lithuania. After a year at a Latvian university that specializes in finance, she arrived at Lafayette to continue pursuing her interests in economics and music.
She was part of a Technology Clinic that prepared an economic development plan for the Route 611 and 512 corridors in the Slate Belt and researched the European Union with former French professor Christian Reyns-Chikuma. She also studied for a year in France, where she interned at DFD Select Group investment firm and spent a summer interning at GILD Bankers investment firm in Lithuania.
Her extracurricular education was facilitated by Tomas Bielskis ’07, her high school classmate. He brought her to his host family, Barbara Young and husband, Jim, who happen to be jazz fans with a Lithuanian bloodline.
The Youngs quickly became Gecyte’s American ambassadors. They took her to concerts, exhibits, and a United Nations of restaurants, and helped her pass her driver’s test.
Gecyte discovered much more of America during a 2006 cross-country bike trip sponsored by a human-rights organization. She helped fund her cycling odyssey with proceeds from a jazz concert she helped book in an Easton church, one of several local venues.
She sang in Lafayette’s Jazz Ensemble and Jazz Combo. She formed another combo with pianist Gough, bassist Pat Kelley ’09, drummer John O’Keefe ’96, and Jack Furlong ’05, the baritone saxophonist with a knack for arranging James Bond film themes. The musicians jammed at Cosmic Cup.
Gecyte helped rechristen the Lafayette Bar as a jazz club. She debuted there with her Lafayette combo in 2006. The proprietor, Anthony “Tunsie” Jabbour, was so impressed that he gave her a monthly gig. In fact, she inspired him to start booking jazz acts regularly. Today, the bar attracts such luminaries as pianist David Leonhardt, a former accompanist for vocalist Jon Hendricks, and soprano saxophonist Dave Liebman, a former Miles Davis partner. Gecyte has played there every year since she graduated from Lafayette.
Located in downtown Easton, the room has a tin ceiling, walls festooned with beer memorabilia, and a high-voltage bar that serves affordable beers with unusual names. The diverse, casually cosmopolitan crowd is shepherded by Jabbour, a music aficionado who wears a fez, speaks jive, and greets everyone as a long-lost relative.
The Lafayette Bar was part of her short August tour that included Easton, Philadelphia, and Manhattan. Before the show she glided around the room, greeting everyone as if they were long-lost relatives.
For Gecyte, singing is nothing less, and nothing more, than musical conversation.
“I like preparing to be comfortable, so I can respond to everybody and anything,” she says. “I find singing very emotional and sensual. It’s almost like flirting, especially when it’s swinging.”
Gough, who teaches jazz piano at Lafayette, says, “There’s also enormous fun and sweetness and vulnerability for those who know her well. It’s always there in the music. Sometimes it makes us cry.”