March 26, 2024

Andrea Wolper ’95: Showcasing Her Creative Spirit

Andrea Wolper ’95 still remembers how unnerving it was, singing at New York City jam sessions and open mics after several years away from performing. But there was something about it that she loved, and she refused to give up. “I was scared, but I wanted to do it, so I kept going back,” she says. “I think I can say objectively that nobody who heard me then would have thought this person had a career ahead of them. I didn’t know I had a career ahead of me.”  

Today, Wolper is a seasoned jazz vocalist, composer, arranger, and teacher who performs regularly in New York and tours in the U.S. and abroad. Next month, she will release her fourth album, “Wanderlust,” which has been described as “a showcase for her creative spirit.”

Like the name of her album, her journey to and within jazz has not been a straight line. “The title also refers to how I don’t stay in one lane,” she says. “I started out singing jazz standards, but the more I explored, the more I was drawn to various avenues of improvisational music. I embrace all of it.”

A Meandering Journey

Wolper grew up in San Carlos, CA, and attended the University of California, starting at the Davis campus, then transferring to Berkeley. She left after her junior year to move to New York City, where she went to the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre. “Then I was doing what actors do: auditioning, taking classes, and occasionally acting,” she says. “I was working in offices and waiting tables, thinking about what else I could do to make money. The only thing I knew how to do was write, so as crazy as it sounds, I decided to try freelance writing to support my acting.”

Wolper began writing feature articles for “Back Stage,” then expanded to other publications including “The Sun,” “On the Issues,” and “New York Woman.” Her articles focused primarily on performing arts and another passion, human rights. She also wrote “The Actor’s City Sourcebook: A Comparative Guide to America’s Best Places to Work and Live as a Performing Artist” (Back Stage Books), and co-edited “Women’s Rights, Human Rights: International Feminist Perspectives” (Routledge), the first international collection on women’s human rights.

Despite her success as a writer, it troubled Wolper that she didn’t have a college degree. Then she heard about Empire State University. “It was a really good fit for me,” she says.

She no longer wanted a degree in theatre but kept the credits from UC that she did want and got additional credits for her writing and human rights work. Wolper graduated with a bachelor’s degree in social theory, structure, and change. She also did a double concentration in writing and in human rights with an emphasis on women’s human rights.

Returning to Music

Still, Wolper missed singing and found herself drawn more and more to jazz; in fact, while at SUNY Empire, she had the opportunity to take a jazz history class taught by Professor Emeritus Joe Washington. She began to seriously study jazz singing, harmony, and improvisation. “I discovered there was an improvising musician inside of me,” she says. “I learned that the more I was willing to take chances, to go out on a limb, the better I got, and the more exhilarating it was to make music.”

Wolper became a regular presence on the New York City jazz scene, performing in clubs like the Blue Note, Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, the 55 Bar, Mezzrow, and many others. She also began doing tours and appearing in concerts and on recordings of other jazz artists including William Parker, the Heavenly Big Band, Bob Gluck, and Jay Clayton. Among her favorite collaborators is the bassist Ken Filiano, who is also her husband of 20 years.

Wolper’s debut album, “Andrea Wolper,” came out in 1998, followed by “The Small Hours” (2005) and “Parallel Lives” (2011). Like many professional musicians, she also teaches —from singing lessons in her private studio, to classes and workshops in jazz vocals, songwriting, and improvisation at various institutions.

Through it all, Wolper has maintained her lifelong interest in human rights. She remains an active member of Amnesty International, stays on top of politics, and assists with voter drives. She still writes the occasional article, and co-writes a column titled “Out and About: The Super Fans” for

Looking back, Wolper realizes much of her life has been a series of surprises. “My plan was to be an actor, so writing at a professional level was a surprise, and writing books an even bigger surprise,” she says. “And even though I’d always been a singer, a career as an improvising vocal musician and songwriter/composer was perhaps the biggest surprise.”

The lesson is that things don’t always turn out as expected. “The question is how we meet the unexpected,” she says. “This comes up in improvised music all the time. It’s a great metaphor for life.”