Sunday, March 29, 2015

Chicago jazz vocalist Keri Johnsrud releases sophomore album, will perform April 13 at The Green Mill


Chicago jazz vocalist Keri Johnsrud has been captivating local audiences for the last 15 years.

She will likely gain many more fans with the release of her sophomore album, "This Side of Morning," her first all original album, with music written by Johnsrud and pianist Kevin Bales.

Johnsrud will celebrate the release of the album by performing April 13 at The Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway St., Chicago. The show starts at 9 p.m. and there is a $6 cover charge.

I had the chance to talk to Johnsrud about the new album.

Q - Great talking to you. In sitting down to make "This Side of Morning," what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them?

Actually, the original goal was just to have fun and write music that felt organic and true. Only when we (Kevin Bales and I) realized that we had written enough tunes for an album, did the idea of recording them as a unit come into play.

We didn't necessarily set out to record an album from the get-go. So, yes, I would say we definitely accomplished our goals.

Is there a meaning behind the album's title? Actually, the word 'Morning' in the title is a double entendre, for both 'morning' and 'mourning'. Most of these tunes speak with a hint of sadness or loss, but also with a significant amount of hope.

No matter what punches life may throw your way or how rough it can be, there will always be the proverbial 'light at the end of the tunnel'. 

Q - You wrote the music with pianist Kevin Bales. Why do you think you collaborate well together?

I did! I think we work well because we are honest and respectful with each other throughout the writing process. Neither one of us takes it personally if the other isn't feeling an idea the other puts on the table.

We roll with what happens to come out and see if it goes anywhere. We really do care about the integrity of the message of the song, both melodically and lyrically. 

Q - I understand that you grew up listening to big band swing and jazz. Was it inevitable that you became a jazz singer? 
What do you try to bring to the genre?

I'm not sure if it was inevitable, but listening to that music while growing up certainly planted the seed. I like all kinds of music, but singing that particular genre just really resonated with me and made me happy.

What do you try to bring to the genre? Hmm…good question. I suppose what I bring to the genre might not be so unique in the grand scheme of things.

I try to stay true to myself via my own experiences and perspective when writing or performing; however, I also allow myself to think outside the box. Hopefully, that comes through a bit in the music.

Q - Who are your biggest musical influences and how do you think they have impacted your music?

Personally, I would say my oldest brother Mike. He introduced me to a variety of jazz artists growing up (Chuck Mangione, Billie Holiday, etc), but also to appreciate good music…no matter the genre.

I think this exposure to such a diverse range of artists and styles at a young age, definitely influences my writing, today.

Musically, I absolutely love Shirley Horn and her use of space. Listening to her music continues to remind me that one doesn't need to play or sing every note in existence to get a point across.

Sometimes less is definitely more. Also, when she sings, it's very conversational; like you're sitting across the table from her and she's telling you a story…her story. 

Q - What do you think of the Chicago jazz scene and how do you think you think you fit into the scene?

I think the scene has changed a bit over the past 15 to 16 years, whether it's the number/types of places to perform or musically. When I first moved to town, back in 1999, it was about seeking out the cats who had been on the scene for quite some time and observing and learning from them.

You still have that today, but I feel there is such an influx of really great young musicians performing in this town. I think I probably fit somewhere in the middle.

I'm constantly learning from those who have paved the way, but I'm also hearing great ideas coming from those who are newer on the scene.

Also, in my opinion, I feel the Chicago jazz scene is unique from a lot of other cities in that there is a sense of community and support among the musicians. On any given night, you may find a handful of vocalists out to hear another vocalist performing.

The same is true for any other instrumentalist. It's a really cool thing.

Q - What are your short-term and long-term goals?

A somewhat obvious short-term goal would be to get the word out about the new album and hopefully folks will enjoy what they hear. 

Long-term, I would love to keep writing, in addition to performing more nationally and internationally. Most importantly, I want to enjoy what this life has to offer and continue to love what I'm doing.