If Allison Adams Tucker’s new album, April In Paris, radiates a certain international chic, it’s because the San Diego vocalist recorded her second solo album in the City of Love with a cast of international musicians and arrangers — on UNESCO’s first International Jazz Day. The multi-lingual jazz artist (she can sing in six languages) was also on her last leg of a major European tour.
Since its June 3 release, April In Paris has been good to Tucker, hitting No. 102 on the JazzWeek charts, well into week seven. She continues to celebrate songs of spring, new beginnings, and that certain je ne sais quoi in her international music on a major tour that started off strong with a pre-release, sold-out concert in San Diego, April 26 — the anniversary date of her Paris recording, and the official CD release concert June 13 at L.A.’s Upstairs at Vitello’s.
The “April In Paris” tour brings her to Seattle for the first time professionally for two shows: Bellingham’s Jazz Project-Summer Jazz in the Garden, Boundary Bay, August 19, 7 p.m., and Rainier’s Royal Room, August 20, 8 p.m. She will perform with Brazilian pianist/saxophonist Jovino Santos Neto’s trio, with bassist Chuck Deardorf and drummer Mark Ivester. The Seattle-based, three-time-Latin-Grammy-nominated Neto also happens to be one of Tucker’s arrangers on April In Paris.
On April In Paris, Tucker loves the music with a voice that’s as soft as twilight and as enchanting as twinkling stars. She’s embodies the uncomplicated, faraway romance of the City of Lights in “Le Temps du Muguet (Moscow Nights),” as a recorded sample drops in the intro of a busy café, huddled figures, animated, foreign voices rich in luxurious occasion. Lou Fanucchi’s accordion hustle clearly sets the stage overseas in redolent textures on this and the “April In Paris” tracks, as Mirko Guerrini’s saxophone completely transports the listener into Pierre-August Renoir’s impressionist painting of “Luncheon of the Boating Party.” Tucker’s vocals come into brighter focus, tossing splashes of lyrical density and airy articulation, as a virgin globetrotter tasting of exotic fruits, in the blindingly buoyant cover, “Here Comes The Sun.” Her intrinsic warmth enfolds throughout “Seasons Of Song,” which she contributed, settling in comfortably amidst swatches of delicately contoured piano and accordion notes.
Allison Adams Tucker sings with a conviction and ease around gentle, light sentiment, and layered music touched from other countries, in several different languages, French, English, Italian, and Portuguese here. Ever since her debut album, Come With Me, shook up the international music scene, and earned lots of radio airplay in 18 countries, as well as a “Best Jazz Album 2009” nomination at the San Diego Music Awards, Tucker’s looked to more inspiration. She may have found it with April In Paris. The jazz vocalist generously gave AXS access into her world, this past Friday.
AXS: What inspired you to make your second record in Paris, with all the languages you are fluent in?
Allison Adams Tucker: I scheduled a European tour with nine concerts throughout Italy, and starting/ending in Paris. When it all happened in the month of April and ended in Paris, recording April In Paris seemed too perfect an opportunity to miss.
What about Paris drew you to these songs of springtime and this particularly embracing vocal style, where you’re fairly savoring every morsel of the lyrics?
The very nature of Paris (and working with Parisian musicians, being there, breathing in its essence) naturally brings out certain qualities and emotions that I wouldn’t have anticipated. It has done this through the ages and has drawn artists of all media from around the world to work and be inspired there. Something ancient, distinctly metropolitan, and embodying the essence of beauty and artistic expression happen when you’re there. Throw spring into the mix, and you have magic!
What was the vision for April In Paris?
It was meant to be a musical memoir of my touring experience with this special European group, and to capture the international flavor of the songs and stories we shared live in the cities leading up to our recording in Paris. There was no intention for it to be a perfectly produced project, but rather to capture the raw nuances that happened that April. In fact, my voice was exhausted after nine days of intense traveling and singing back-to-back, not to mention the fact that I caught a horrible flu bug the first day we arrived in Venice and lost my voice almost completely for the first several concerts. Fortunately, my voice came back in full force just in time for the recording.
I want to know more about you as an artist. What got you into the study of languages and then tying that in to vocal jazz?
My mom was (and is) the reason I started singing — a classically trained singer herself. My dad got me fascinated with languages starting in Kindergarten when he gave me a Spanish language book. Growing up in San Diego next to Mexico, I was surrounded by Spanish speakers and naturally became hooked. It wasn’t until university that I started studying other languages — Spanish, Portuguese, and French with a linguistics major. (I wanted to be a spontaneous interpreter for the UN [smiles].) Then in my early 20s, I began studying Japanese on my own and ended up living there for a number of years. That led to others – Korean, Malay, and most recently, I began studying Italian in order to organize touring there and communicate with fans and festival producers. I completed an A.A. degree in Italian when I ran out of classes to take at the local community college. When I transitioned back into my music career in late 2005, it seemed only natural to incorporate my languages and the cultural experiences they represented in my life; to bring together all the music and people I have come to love in my travels. Jazz in particular is the perfect avenue for this melting pot of international influences. It’s the ultimate American art form that has permeated the music scene around the world in a significant way, and each global jazz community has its own distinct flavor. I love it!
Your interest in a variety of musical genres is impressive. How did jazz enter the picture? 2005 is fairly recent. What does jazz do for you?
I found myself working in the corporate world as a teacher and education administrator for a number of years, and the overwhelming workload in the end made it impossible for me to do my music. I was miserable and nearing a meltdown. On Thanksgiving 2005, I resigned from my job and decided to delve headfirst back into my music career. When considering what type of music I wanted to do, I gravitated toward the freedom that jazz offered and the familiarity of the standards I had grown up listening to. It all seemed to match my vocal style and the lifestyle I wanted to continue in: healthy, group-oriented (yet very individual), creative, improvisational, and world-friendly. The natural landing place.
Knowing how tough it is to break into this business, what made you want to pursue a jazz vocal career anyway?
I decided I was going to pursue what made me happiest regardless of the statistics. We all ask ourselves the question: “What would you do for free, if money wasn’t an issue?” This was (and is) it.
How do you stand out as a jazz vocalist? How would you characterize your unique vocal style?
Adjectives that have been used for my voice include: clear, bright, classic, soothing, emotional. My classical and technical training seem to come through in my diction and vocal style. I don’t have one of those modern, edgy, textured voices, even if I tried. My (over) awareness of language and the communication experience come through as well. What makes me unique? I think my ability to bring authenticity to each language and culture set while still holding a lilting “Disney-esque” quality. Not that I’m going for Disney – it’s just the sound that comes out (and perhaps all those Disney movies as a child…).
You can sing in six languages. Let’s have them.
I sing jazz in six languages: English, Spanish, Japanese, Italian, French, Portuguese. (There’s not much call for jazz in Latin and German.)
Do you sing or feel differently when you sing in another language?
Yes. Each language brings its own personality, memories, mood, intonation, vocal stylings. Spanish renders feelings of my home life with my dad and Puerto Rican stepmom with her family, food, music… The rhythms and cadence in each language transport me — and hopefully my listeners.
What are your favorite styles of music to sing and why?
Anything Brazilian — I can’t get enough of these rhythms and love the people, culture… Boleros — they bring me home to my neighborhood and memories. Odd time signatures/straight ahead — I love the intellectual, mathematical aspects and feelings I have when bending the beat around, especially as I interact and sometimes collide with the other musicians [grins]. I could go on and on.
You were recognized at the San Diego Music Awards with a nomination for “Best Jazz Album 2009.” What did this award mean to you?
This award came as a total surprise, and it inspired me to take greater strides in my career; an affirmation that I was on the right path and that following my passion was good.
How is April In Paris different from your debut, Come With Me?
April in Paris is a very eclectic mix of music. Nine tracks (many unfamiliar) in various styles with a distinctly European essence. It’s more raw and simplistic, and I feel carries the heart of my travels and perhaps difficulties that go along with them. Come With Me has 12 tracks of familiar standard global songs. Just like April in Paris, it was meant to be a journey of music, but doesn’t show the grit of the journey. Clean, thoughtfully planned, and I believe it shows my newness to the genre. I’m very happy with what it has accomplished though.
You’re currently on a tour to promote your new album. How has it been? What have been the highlights?
The April in Paris tour has been a wonderful adventure. My hometown release show at the Loft UCSD in La Jolla was to a sold-out audience and tons of energy in the air. Vitello’s in L.A. was an amazing night of music with Josh Nelson and friends (including my San Diego inspiration, Peter Sprague and talented San Diego drummer Julien Cantelm). I always love returning to the Bay Area, and working with acclaimed Brazilian pianist Marcos Silva is such an inspiration. Can't wait to go back next week! And then there’s NYC… Jazz mecca. I had a killer group (Romain Collin, Luques Curtis, Mauricio Zottarelli, and Steve Wilson), and the relationships I made during my days there were path-altering. I feel so blessed.
What makes the upcoming Bellingham and Seattle shows special for you?
This will be my debut in Washington, and I’ve been looking forward to making this happen for a few years now. It’s particularly special to me for two reasons: I lived in Washington State when I was young and haven’t been back there in years. Also, I’ll finally get the chance to perform live with one of the arrangers on my April in Paris project whom I hold in the highest regard, Jovino Santos Neto. We’ve tried to organize tour dates together both in Seattle and in Southern California a few times over the past couple years, and it’s finally coming together!
What drives you as an artist?
My love for the music and for sharing it with people is the driving force. I’ve always loved being onstage, watching the faces of people, and the interaction that happens in live performance between the players, the audience, the room. I love talking to people about what the music does for each of us. I love being in the studio and experiencing the organic nature of the music at the methodical, detailed level. If you were to ask my family and friends, they would undoubtedly describe me as a driven (and possibly obsessed) person in all I do. I credit (or is that blame?) my parents, both who are Type A personalities. It’s definitely the type needed to make a career in music possible in this day and age.
Describe the moment onstage when you feel the most happy.
Those indescribable moments when something magical happens and that feeling of contentment comes. It could be a sweet solo that inspires back and forth improv between me and another musician, or emotion that floods me in the middle of a phrase causing me to do this funny little trick I’ve devised to stop the tears. It could be just the look on the face of a couple people in the audience that feeds the air around me. You never know when happiness will hit. Thankfully.