Jo West’s musical career started inauspiciously during naptime in pre-school, when she, clutching her favorite cloth diaper to her chest as she lay on her cot, sang her signature rendition of “ABC” (using the groundbreaking technique of using only the letter “E”) and was promptly shushed by the school marm as not to disturb her unappreciative classmates.
Undismayed, she took it indoors, where she would rock herself back and forth in bed and sing merrily at top volume right before she went to sleep, much to the amusement of her family and to the dismay of her worrying grandmother.
Music figured very prominently all throughout Jo’s early life. Instilled with a deep musical appreciation by her jazz-loving uncle and encouraged by her parents, she enrolled in classical piano lessons at age 6 and would often sing Police duets with her older sister Carole around the family’s upright piano.
Not content to keep her talent confined to family performances, she enrolled in a variety of summer school singing performance courses and choir classes all throughout her school days and performed in an array of community theater musicals in her hometown of Sunnyvale, CA. She quickly caught the attention of her teachers and classmates and would regularly be chosen for solo pieces, firming her resolve to one day “take it on the road”.
Which Jo promptly did with her move east in 2001 to the big city, her Mecca, the big apple: New York City. She had no job, no plans, no proper accommodations save an air mattress on the floor of a flat in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, but she did have one thing: a lifelong dream to become a singer in NYC.
Her first break was the result of a mistake, really, when she told new friend Lael Llaverias, the then-band leader from the indie rock group Supermodel Stalker, that she could “totally play keys for them”, and when she got to the rehearsal and was asked to show her stuff, she gulped, tried to remember some riffs from some Chopin she had played years ago, and came up empty. When asked if she could sing some backup vocals, she tra la la'ed some riffs, and soonafter she found herself at Coyote Studios in Brooklyn, recording on an album for the first time.
She was addicted. Jo did whatever she could do to soak up the scene from there on out…she tended bar at the famous all-hours jazz club Small’s to connect to the major players and learn the craft from the inside out, and also performed at various open mics around the city, including the Harlem birthplace of bebop, Minton’s Playhouse, sit-in performances at her longtime local haunt Rue B, and regular stints at The Nuyorican Poet’s Café and various local, colorful beer halls and restaurants in the East Village and Queens.
Teaming up with good friend and fellow singer Jami Brenman, who had fronted her own band Burgundy Jones in Los Angeles, Jo formed one-half of the sassy, sultry, playful jazz duo “The Bella Donnas”, and through that partnership, she met and started her collaboration with jazz ivory-ticklers Alex Mack and Jesse Elder.
One thing led to another, and synchronicity brought together all the crucial pieces to result in the creation of “XOXO”, her first jazz EP, recorded at Hard Luck Studios in Red Hook, Brooklyn, under the careful direction of studio co-owner, producer and engineer Jason Spittle.
The result is her homage to the rich history of jazz and the groundbreaking female vocalists, past and present, who shaped it in their own indeliable way: Sarah Vaughn, Ella Fitzgerald, Etta James, Peggy Lee, Lena Horne, Dorothy Dandridge, Billie Holiday, Eartha Kitt, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Ann Hampton Calloway, Nina Simone, Pink Martini, June Christy (one of her father’s favorite singers), Marilyn Monroe, and Marlene Dietrich.
She cites as her additional musical influences Aretha Franklin, Basement Jaxx, Bebel Gilberto, Edith Piaf, Erykah Badu, Fugazi, G Love and the Special Sauce, Goldfrapp, Gwen Stefani and No Doubt, Jane’s Addiction, Janis Joplin, Jamiroquai, Julee Cruise and Angelo Badalamenti, k.d. lang, Lady Miss Kier and Deee-Lite, LTJ Bukem, Mike Patton and Mr. Bungle, Miles Davis, Morcheeba, Neko Case, Northern State, Patsy Cline, Pulp, The Roots, Rufus Wainwright, Stevie Wonder, and Supreme Beings of Leisure.