Monday, January 23, 2017

Chicago pianist brings joy with new album, will perform at Jazz Showcase


In deciding to name her latest album, "Bring Joy," Chicago pianist Jo Ann Daugherty hopes the album will do just that.

Daugherty will celebrate the release of the album by performing at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. Jan. 31 at Jazz Showcase, 806 S. Plymouth Court, Chicago. The free show is part of the monthly WDCB Night at The Jazz Showcase.

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

Q - Great talking to you. Of course, you have a new album, "Bring Joy." What were your goals for the album and do you think you accomplished them? Is there a meaning behind the album's name?

Thanks for your questions! Yes, the title, "Bring Joy," really does reflect the musical goal of the album.

I set out to make a collection of tunes that invites hanging out and listening - you know, music that just feels really good. In that respect, I think we’ve met that particular goal.

Q - You've also been involved in Broadway shows such as "Seussical," "Dreamgirls" and "Billy Elliot" as well as music-directing and arranging PBS concert specials. What did those experiences teach you? Do you feel you need to be involved with such projects rather than just writing and performing on your own?

My time with both “Jersey Boys” and “Motown: The Musical” probably got even more deeply into my head, as my involvement  with those two was much more extensive. Those experiences with major productions taught me more than I’ll ever fit in a paragraph!

As a musician, these kind of shows in general involve a very specific kind of preparation and attention to detail. Conducting and music directing both exercise a very different part detail-oriented of my brain and ears, which I greatly enjoy.

Probably the biggest lesson, though, was this: seeing 1,000 people enter the theater every night with the weight of the world on their shoulders and leave transformed by the experience was a big reminder in how music can really touch people’s hearts.

I feel enormously lucky to be involved in so many types of music and work. It’s not so much that I feel a “need” to be involved there—I just kind of follow my heart and go where opportunities take me.

Q - You were previously part of the Kansas City jazz scene. How does the scene there compare to the Chicago jazz scene?

The Kansas City jazz scene was an amazing place for me to get started. The world class players were very accessible to the up-and-comers, so I got to learn from some wonderful players.

Musically, the tradition there really focuses on swinging, what a gift.  It was also a great place to get my skills together in terms of being a working musician. At the time I left in 1998, I was seeking to be part of a bigger community and ended up in Chicago, which has been great for me.

But Kansas City will always hold a special place in my heart. And their scene now, since Bobby Watson has been attracting and nurturing lots of talent through the jazz program at UMKC, is pretty amazing.

As for Chicago—I continue to be blown away by how many great players in different genres are in this city.

Q - What do you think you have brought to the jazz scene? What did you learn from people like Kansas City musician Tommy Ruskin?

I love that these two questions are together. What I learned from Tommy Ruskin pretty much lines up with what I hope to bring to any scene: solid musical skills, a great attitude, and a willingness to work hard and get better.

Q - You are a founding member of the Chicago Jazz Composers Collective. I know the collective has put on concerts over the years. What made you want to form the collective? Do you think it has helped bring the music to more people?

We were inspired by similar groups elsewhere to present a series of original music - both to provide a platform for performing original music, and to facilitate exchange of ideas among local composers. Going out on the road eventually took me out of involvement with the group, but they’re still putting on concerts 15 years later.

So I definitely think they’re reaching people! And thanks for the reminder to reach out to them again. My life of roaming through different types of music and work makes it too easy for me to lose touch sometimes.

Q - Who would you consider your main influences and how have they influenced your music?

Herbie Hancock, Stevie Wonder, Wynton Kelly, Keith Jarrett, Abdullah Ibrahim, Pat Metheny, Earth Wind and Fire…I could go on and on, and the list would just start to look stranger. The thread in all of this is that “joy” thing again.

I’m really drawn to music that has energy and buoyancy, even (or especially) in the pieces that aren’t especially joyful. I’m not looking for one constant note of happy optimism, but I am definitely drawn to a particular sort of energy.

Q - You started studying music when you were five years old. Do you think that is easier to learn music at a young age? What advice would you have for a budding musician?

I was so lucky my parents were willing to take me to lessons. We were out in the country, so everything was far away and required some effort.

They put in that effort and expense over so many years, and for that I’m deeply grateful. Sure, music is easier to learn at a young age, but I’m still learning now too.

For a budding musician I would say: learn your craft deeply, be flexible in what you can play and do, and be a kind human. All of these things have helped me greatly on my path.

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

Short term goals include sharing the music from this new album with a wider audience and starting on another one soon. Long term goals are to take my own advice to budding musicians: continue to learn my craft deeply, be flexible in what I can play and do, and be a kind human.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Chicago band The Sweet Maries expands musical horizons on latest album


On its latest release, "Tall Trees & Riverbeds," Chicago area duo The Sweet Maries builds on the harmonious relationship between musical soulmates Amy Shoemaker and Susie Lofton.

The band will perform material from the new album during a CD release party from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. Jan. 19 at The Rock House, 1742 Glenview Road, Glenview. 

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

Q - Great talking to you. Of course, you released "Tall Trees & Riverbeds" last year. In sitting down to make the album, what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them?

The Sweet Maries - Our goals were to broaden the sound a bit by adding drums, and create a more indigenous inspired and rootsy feel. We believe we did. 

We also hired producer Jeffrey Wood to bring his expertise and vast experience into the studio, to help shape and mold our vision…and it worked.

Q - You have been working together since 2011. How did you come to work together? 

The Sweet Maries - We met thru a colorful and quirky mutual acquaintance who thought we might connect musically. We did. 

Q - How would you describe your collaboration? Do you both contribute equally to the writing process? 

Susie Lofton - This album has the first co-write for us, "Box Canyon Blues," however most of the previous album’s material is Amy’s writing and my contribution has been the harmony voicing and percussive accompaniment. 

Since then, however we’ve added a song or two to our repertoire that I wrote.  We spend a lot of time together and are always discovering new colors in the writing process.

Amy Shoemaker - We were both hungry to find a partner who would listen, and focus and be supportive of one another AND a good communicator. 

We found each other and it just clicked! 

Q - How would you say your voices blend together? 

The Sweet Maries - We think we have a unique harmony to our voices. All together heavenly. 

Q - Susie, I know you have worked in other genres of music. What drew you to the folk/Americana genre? 

Susie Lofton - It's true, I have become very eclectic in my tastes in music and largely attribute that to the many voices I hear running thru my head! The genre I find myself in now is a return to the early days of my exploration at The Old Town School of Folk Music. 

I was so smitten by the singer songwriter style. The art of the story. The beauty of harmony. 

I love the intimate space it allows for that I haven’t too often found in other genres.

Q - It seems like there has been a growing interest in the folk/Americana genre in the past few years. Why do you think there is a renewed interest in the folk/Americana genre? 

The Sweet Maries - It's all about the singer. Truthful colorful storytelling about real life. 

Real feelings. Real people. There always has been and always will be singer/songwriters. 

Music trends ebb and flow, but singer /songwriters are a constant in American music. Whether it's folk, gospel, blues or rock, it’s the story of America.

Q - What do you think of the Chicago music scene and how do you see yourselves fitting into it? 

The Sweet Maries - Chicago has a rich history of holding its own in the singer /songwriter genre. We like to think we’re part of that tradition. 

We’re grateful for the family of singer / songwriters that we’ve found here in Chicago, and we’re gonna keep going - 'til we make Americana Great Again! (wink!)