E U G E N I E J O N E S / Biography
With her lavishly praised 2013 debut album Black Lace Blue Tears, late-blooming jazz vocalist and composer Eugenie Jones immediately faced questions about whether she was a one-hit wonder or a real contender. Sure, she displayed quick rhythmic reflexes, a silken tone, and real songwriting savvy, but did Jones have what it takes to go the distance, to sustain a career in jazz’s cruelly competitive ring. Her even more impressive second album, Come Out Swingin’, makes a persuasive case for Jones’s status as a heavyweight talent. Seasoned by several years of steady work following the release of Black Lace, the Seattle-area singer displays the rhythmic authority, emotional insight, and melodic invention of an artist who can hold her own in any company.
“With Black Lace Blue Tears behind me I wondered, was that a fluke? Do I really have a gift, can I continue? Almost immediately I started writing again,” says Jones, “and put those questions to rest. This CD was a deliberate attempt to continue to grow and progress. I set that desire for improvement as a bull’s-eye to shoot for and kept that focus through each step of this project.”
For starters, Jones possesses the wisdom to keep essentially the same battle-tested band in her corner, most importantly the incisive and consummately supportive pianist/arranger Bill Anschell. Veteran bassist Clipper Anderson, whose credits include recordings with world-class vocalists Greta Matassa, Gail Pettis, and Janis Mann, and versatile guitarist Michael Powers also returned to action. Two new faces joined Jones’ line up this round. Seattle native, multi-instrumentalist horn man extraordinaire: Jay Thomas; and drummer D’Vonne Lewis, a rising force on the Seattle scene who plays with tremendous poise and spirit.
“I was looking for quality musicians and personalities that would mesh with my own,” Jones says. “Already having had great experiences with the other musicians, I added Jay for his enormous talent and newcomer D’Vonne Lewis for his smooth, yet intense playing ability.”
In this high-energy swing project, it doesn’t take long for the musicians’ combustible chemistry to ignite. Like her first album, Come Out Swingin’ focuses on Jones’s original songs. She announces her rhythmic agenda with the first track, “Swing Me,” a self-possessed celebration of unbridled desire. Her brief, exciting version of the standard “All of Me,” almost serves as a thematic preamble to her slinky “A Way About You,” a song that could easily be mistaken for a sophisticated piece of Bacharach/David.
Jones cast a wide net when it comes to finding inspiration as a composer. She takes the smoldering up a notch with “Sweet Summer Love,” a song that emerged after watching Marvin Ritt’s moody and sweat-streaked 1958 film The Long Hot Summer, a kind of mashup of Faulkner and Tennessee Williams. Her love of cinema returns on “Rain Rain Don’t Go Away,” a seductive song about self-comfort that never lapses into self-pity. She’s at her most sleek and self-assured on “I’m Alright,” a soulful declaration of independence propelled by some tasty D’Vonne Lewis samba-fused trap work.
With a tinge of sweet sass, Jones’s “24/7” brings contemporary sexuality into the discussion while her “I Could Get Lost in Your Eyes” is a beautifully crafted ballad. The final original tune, “Run Devil Run,” opens with an anachronistic needle-drop, then spins a tale of relationship reckoning while veteran guitarist Michael Powers sets a cool swinging tempo throughout.
By closing the album with a searing version of James Brown’s 1966 chart-topping R&B hit “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” Jones leaves listeners wondering just what else she’s got up her sleeve. Belting R&B with such authority after her sultry jazz vocals, Jones seems to promise more revelations in the future.
“Black Lace was a look into my personality, and begins a story,” she says. “Come Out Swingin’ continues that story. And of course the more you tell a story, the deeper you go. That’s what’s happening here in terms of lyrics and songs.”
Jones’s journey deeper into the music got a relatively late start. Growing up in Morgantown, West Virginia, Jones was bathed in music. She listened as her father led the Friendship Baptist Church choir and her mother sang lead. At home, Jones reveled in the lustrous soprano of her mother, Tommie Parker (to whose memory the album is dedicated). Parker moved in with Jones and her two teenage sons in Bremerton, Washington toward the end of her life, and Jones was once again exposed on a daily basis to the beauty of her mother’s singing. When that voice was stilled, Jones gradually found herself seeking to fill the gathering silence with her own sound.
“The best way to describe it is a yearning that you’re trying to figure out. What’s that feeling I’m having?” Jones says. “It took me a while to identify what I was missing. I just missed hearing my mom’s voice around the house. And that’s what drew me to singing. I’m also a person who likes to be challenged. I want to feel that I’m something more today than I was yesterday, and music offered that challenge and fulfillment.”
She began by singing as a member of her church’s worship team, but her love of jazz led her to start looking around for local jam sessions to get her feet wet. Early advice from veteran horn player and vocalist Bernie Jacobs, a featured soloist with the Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra, pointed her to some good open mics and workshops and Jones gradually honed her skills and gained confidence. Before long she landed several regular gigs, including a long running spot at Amici Bistro in Mukilteo, an affluent community on the shore of Puget Sound.
“As a fledgling performer the most important thing to do is perform,” Jones says. “Even if it’s inconvenient and difficult to pull off. Getting over to the Amici Bistro could be an ordeal, but it’s a small, intimate restaurant and the owner was very kind and encouraging. I got to interact with an audience and really develop my repertoire.”
Music writers started to take note. The Stranger, Seattle’s invaluable and perennially hip alt-weekly, proclaimed that Jones “has a voice that covers words like pieces of silk covering precious stones. But she never overdoes it, never overflows with emotion…but always sings with a restraint that’s cosmopolitan.”
She also started writing her own songs, displaying a real gift for turning a phrase and crafting a melodic line. Between a love of writing poetry dating back to high school and her two-decade run as a wellness columnist for Bremerton’s Kitsap Sun (a weekly column often picked up by the Scripps-Howard newspaper chain), Jones is well versed in distilling a thought or feeling in a line of text.
“I really love words,” she says. “When I hear a phrase that’s unique and provocative, I latch on and write it down. They get buried in your subconscious, and you never know where they might turn up in a song.”
With a bachelor’s degree in business and marketing and an MBA, Jones has catapulted herself onto the national jazz scene while leading what can euphemistically be called a full life. While raising two teenage boys, she holds down a full-time position in community relations and fund development at a private nonprofit.
She teaches a 5am fitness classes at her local YMCA, and serves as her own booking agent. She’s also an adjunct faculty member at Western Washington University, where she teaches a freshman-level marketing course. Clearly, the poise and self-confidence that suffuses her music reflects Jones’s reality.
“I grew up around strong women,” Jones says. “A no-nonsense mother whose life exemplified hard work. Four older sisters. An aunt who coached me and volunteered me for oratorical contest. I can still hear her saying, ‘Genie K, stand up straight and pull your shoulders back.’
“I am a multi-interest, multi-gifted person, and as a result I have a lot of things constantly going on in my life. People always say I don’t know how you do it all, but my interests and drive have served me well.”
With Come Out Swingin’ Eugenie Jones delivers a knock-out punch. This is one jazz artist who’s ready to take on and enrapture all listeners seeking a singer who floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee. •
Eugenie Jones: Come Out Swingin’
(Open Mic Records)
Street Date: May 12, 2015
Web Site: www.eugeniejones.com
Media Contact: Terri Hinte, 510-234-8781, email@example.com