"Some people speak of dreaming in color. I’d say I dream in jazz and wake the next morning with lyrics and arrangements in my head. Here – in front of microphone and behind a pen sharing those dreams with others – is where I belong and where I feel very at home.”
Although Eugenie Jones (pronounced “u-gee-nee”) had been a member of the Friendship Baptist Church choir that her father, Eugene Jones, directed while she was growing up in Morgantown, West Virginia, she never gave much thought to singing after becoming an adult. She had always left the singing to her mother, the late Tommie Parker.
“She had an incredibly beautiful voice,” Jones says. “Even when she wasn’t in church and she was cooking and doing things around the house, she was always singing.”
Mrs. Parker spent her final years living with Jones and her two sons in Bremerton, Washington. It wasn’t until after her death from cancer five years ago that Eugenie decided to take up singing herself.
“I really missed my mom,” Jones explains. “She was just a presence all the time. I missed hearing her voice around the house. I think that was what drove me to pursue it.”
Jones made her professional debut as a jazz singer only two years ago and has since drawn a devoted following to her unique musical artistry at venues throughout the Seattle area and as far south as Portland. Although she is a relative newcomer to performing, she reveals herself to be a remarkably mature, refreshingly different artist on her first recording, Black Lace Blue Tears, both as a song stylist and as a songwriter. Nine of the 11 selections on the CD are original compositions that offer new insights into a variety of emotions and situations, from joy and sorrow to dancing, drinking Tequila, and partying on a Saturday night.
Writing in The Stranger, Seattle’s weekly arts-and-culture newspaper, Charles Mundede observed that Jones “has a voice that covers words like pieces of silk covering precious stones. But she never overdoes it, never overflows with emotion, never goes too high or too low, but always sings with a restraint that’s cosmopolitan, yet not soulless…”
Another critic likened Jones to Nina Simone, as has Greta Matassa, the noted Seattle jazz vocalist with whom Jones studied. There is something of a similarity in Jones’s and Simone’s use of vibrato, but Jones employs vibrato less frequently and, when she does, her resonant alto pipes flutter more delicately.
Jones is empathetically supported throughout Black Lace Blue Tears by three of Seattle’s most gifted and sought-after jazz instrumentalists: pianist Bill Anschell, bassist Clipper Anderson, and drummer Mark Ivester. Guitarist Michael Powers joins them on three numbers.
“I worked with some of the most brilliant and creative musicians in Seattle,” she says of her accompanists, who also collaborated with her on several of the arrangements. “They really helped me bring to life these original tunes that had previously only existed in my head and heart.”
Jones has been writing poetry since she was in high school, and for 19 years she wrote a weekly wellness column for Bremerton’s Kitsap Sun that was often picked up by the national Scripps-Howard newspaper chain. She didn’t try her hand at writing songs until just a year before Black Lace Blues Tears was recorded.
“I kind of felt my way through a paradigm that seemed to work for me,” she says of her songwriting process. “It typically begins with my getting a phrase in my head, singing it over and over and adding a bit more each time until I reach a point where I feel I have a complete story—beginning, middle, end—fitting within the intended song form.
“I’m really just trying to capture an emotion when I’m writing,” she adds.
Jones imaginatively captures a wide array of emotions on Black Lace Blue Tears. The disc opens with the joyous, lightly swinging “A Good Day.” “I was feeling really, really good,” she explains. “I was driving, and I caught a glimpse of the snow-capped mountains and the clear-blue sky.” It’s followed by the inviting “Can You Dance?,” on which Anderson, Ivester, and Anschell are all given space to shine. The tune, Jones says, was designed “to pull people out of their chairs.”
“Take Five,” one of two non-original songs in the set, finds Jones playfully singing Dave and Iola Brubeck’s lyrics to the Paul Desmond classic before scatting and finally delivering some words of her own on the vamp.
The mood turns somber with “All the King’s Men,” Jones’s heartbreaking ballad about an ill-fated love that alludes to the Humpty Dumpty nursery rhyme. While singing the line “I felt myself falling in love where no love can be found,” she brilliantly dissects the world “falling” into a descending string of syllables. The tempo then picks up for “So Hard to Find,” which the singer describes as “one of those first date and never see him again songs.” Jones says the CD’s provocative title song, which she wrote shortly before going into the studio, is about “wanting to be with someone and it’s not the right someone.”
“I’m not perfect, but I’m perfect for you,” Jones sings on the gently swinging, self-affirming “Perfect.” The tune highlights a sweet, playful call-and-answer arrangement between Jones and bassist Anderson. The next track on the CD, “I Want One” about looking for Mister Right, has been a favorite of women in her audiences. “It describes the lamenting that you go through in waiting for the ideal mate for yourself,” she explains. “The things that are important to women are pretty much enumerated through that song.”
The groove becomes funky for “In a Shot of Tequila or Two,” which opens with Jones singing in Spanish and later spotlights her percussive vocal prowess and Powers’s fleet-fingered fretwork. Then the tempo slows as she gives the Rodgers and Hart standard “My Funny Valentine” a particularly impassioned reading. Tequila again flows during the set-ending “Sat’day Night Blues,” a fun-filled party song that Jones calls “way cool.”
The divorced mother of two teenage boys, Jones holds a bachelor’s degree in business and marketing as well as an MBA and has many years’ experience as a business owner, consultant, and marketing specialist. Currently she manages to balance her budding career as a jazz singer with a full-time position in community relations and fund development for a private nonprofit.
Jones also has a reputation as a challenging trainer at the YMCA in Silverdale, Washington, where she teaches a weekly fitness class. Physical activity has been her passion since she was 13. She ran track and played basketball in junior high school; currently she jogs three to five miles at least three days per week and weight-trains at her favorite gym.
“I’ve always had multiple irons in the fire,” she says. “I’m one of those people who feels that something is strangely wrong or being overlooked when they’re not busy. I also organize and promote jazz events, and if I can’t find a gig, I do what I can to make a venue for myself and the folks that perform with me.
“I absolutely love jazz,” adds Jones. “Some people speak of dreaming in color. I’d say I dream in jazz and wake the next morning with lyrics and arrangements in my head. This—in front of the microphone, sharing my dreams with others—is where I belong and where I feel so at home.”
Jones presently performs regularly at Seattle’s historic Sorrento Hotel, the Sip Wine Bar & Restaurant in Issaquah, and Amici Bistro in Mukilteo, among other engagements. When appearing in Seattle, she takes a 50-minute ferry ride between her home and her gig and then repeats the commute to return to her sons, whom she characterizes as “the quivers in my bow.”
With the self-produced release of Black Lace Blue Tears on Open Mic Records, the rising Seattle-area singer-songwriter has entered the next phase of her career in jazz. She may be relatively new to the game, but with a voice and a pen that are so remarkably fresh and emotionally satisfying, Eugenie Jones is more than ready to reach unlimited heights. •
Eugenie Jones: Black Lace Blue Tears
(Open Mic Records)
Street Date: May 28, 2013
Web Site: www.eugeniejones.com