How are you these days Jacqui?
Things are great. So many of my dreams are coming true as we have the opportunity to play for more people across the nation and throughout the world.That is really what it comes down to for me … connecting with the audience either through the recordings or in person. I have a great team of business people working on my behalf and a wonderfully talented band that support me creatively. Life is sweet!
You have been performing and recording for a few years now, how did you get your start in music and what about it made it a career choice for you?
I always loved to sing as a kid and definitely drove my sisters crazy by singing along endlessly to our player piano. I was not raised however to think that was a suitable career and so always just thought of it more as a hobby until college. I was getting my degree in marketing at SFSU but studying acting on the side at ACT. We had to do a musical and the teachers said they felt I could sing well and perhaps that might be a good focus and that I should get a show tune together. They recommended a vocal teacher (Faith Winthrop) for me and after singing a show tune for her she said, "How good of an actress are you? I think you should forget the show tune and just be a singer."
I was not a very good actress. After years of studying with Faith she asked me if I would do a gig she could not take which I suspect was not the truth. I told her I did not perform in public and it was just a hobby but she really encouraged me and the rest is history. I felt like I found a certain center in myself that had been missing. Shortly after that, I left my marketing position at my job in pursuit of a music career. I really thank Faith for her insight and encouragement.
How much formal vocal training have you had and how do you feel that it has helped you as a performer?
I received almost 10 years of formal training and I continue to study whenever I can. In short, I don't think I would even be a performer without the training and support from people like Faith Winthrop, Shirley Calloway, The Peabody and more. I really feel that training has not only taught me how to sing and perform but has helped me to bring more of who I am to all that I do. I think good training has been important but the individuals who taught me instilled the encouragement of my creativity and belief in myself that goes well beyond the training and even my choice to be a singer.
East/West is a pretty ambitious live album. Where did the idea for this record come from originally?
I'll start by saying that the whole concept of recording Live East/West was not my idea. Michael Romanowski, my mastering engineer, suggested recording the Birdland show about one month before the gig. I thought he was nuts since he would have to coordinate everything from California then implement and supervise the project. Well, he is amazing and I agreed but did not give it much more thought and let him do his thing. When we listened to the tracks, we were really impressed with the sonic quality of the recording, especially in an older club and not a lot of setup time.
Michael had clearly done his homework, brought all the right microphones and equipment and new exactly how to place everything so we could do and sound our best. The following month Michael suggested we record at Yoshi's and make a double album called Live East West. I happily agreed and started the ball rolling for the new release.
This being my first experience with your music, do you feel the live material better represents you than the studio work does?
I would not say better but I would say "differently." One thing I love about performing live or recording is creating a sense of intimacy and a story. In some ways, I think a studio setting can make that easier to get across but we have really struggled to make sure we carry that off in a live performance as well. I think we were able to do that successfully on East/West but differently because the intimacy and story come not just from a pristine and secluded environment but an open, living, breathing room. It becomes more of a dialogue that gets captured between the musicians themselves and between the band and the audience. I think the solos, patter and audience response to our music says a lot that would not be said on a studio recording.
In what ways does your approach differ to each of them?
I try not to approach them differently. They are both a snapshot of me in time and that is going to be whatever it is. I always strive to create and order a studio CD like it was a live set so that the listener is drawn in to our world for a bit. That world is always changing so I try not to approach it with too much weight though that hardly ever works and I still stress about wanting it to be as good as it can be. In both studio and live, great musicians, instruments and engineers always help put my mind at ease and quickly forget my worries, reminding me to have fun and enjoy the music. I like to find talented people and let them do what they do and that is an awesome thing to experience under any circumstances.
I'm impressed by how many styles you touch on throughout the live CDs. Do you find any particular style more comfortable than others?
No not really. I think I approach everything with a jazz ear and everything is sort of rooted in that for me in terms of the way I do a song. Also, whether it is an original, a standard or a cover, I think being genuine is most important to me so that hopefully I come across more than the genre on any particular tune. Thinking this way gives me a lot of freedom.
How would you describe your music to someone who has never heard any of your work?
Always challenging. I'd say I am a singer-songwriter with jazz roots. It seems like anything I would come up with would only be a half-truth so that seems the best. Otherwise I'd have to say jazz/folk/hip-hop/rock-soul and that is just too darn wordy and silly.
Another very noticeable thing on your live CDs is that you do a moderate amount of cover songs. Is that normal for a Jacqui Naylor set or something you did specifically for the CDs?
Yes that is true though until more recently, the covers were always standards. In fact my first two recordings were almost entirely standards save a couple songs by Bill Withers and Barry White. It was not until about a year before my last CD, Shelter, was released that I began writing and performing my own songs. Since that time, the sets are usually about half originals, a quarter jazz standards and a quarter rock or smashed tunes. I think East/West is fairly well balanced like this as well.
What do you feel is the best part of a Jacqui Naylor live show?
I think it is clear that we are having a great time on stage and it seems that is often contagious to the audience. That moment when we all realize at the same time that this is different than any other night and is a special little experience in time for all of us there. That's the best part.
Do you ever find yourself referring to yourself in the third person when performing? Just curious.
Definitely not. I think that would be really arrogant and weird. Perhaps funny though like "Jacqui Naylor does not like it when you talk during the solos." We also do a version "The Bitch is Back" but I don't think that counts.
Is there a particular song or moment on East/West that you feel best represents who you are as an artist?
Two. "City By The Bay" because it represents the appreciation I have for my life and "One in a Lifetime" because Art Khu was able to smash it with "Birdland" at Birdland which blows my mind. Life can blow our mind and be bigger and better than we imagine. I want everyone to feel that sense of hope…"water is flowing and water is moving and there is water though it might seem once in a lifetime."
Thank you so much for your time. Do you have any parting thoughts you'd like to leave our readers with?
Thank you. Great questions and indeed a pleasure.