Recently I wrote, for a magazine, a lengthy feature article on female jazz vocalists from around the world, not so much the famous ones but good ones, many of them up and coming. Writing the article entailed, in part, contacting record companies in America and abroad and encouraging them to send me all the CDs they had by jazz singers. I ended up with piles of them. There were plenty of rejects, but the ones I liked best I ended up recommending.
It strikes me that it would make sense to do something similar in Cincinnati—and if I do it, my A-list will include Andrea Cefalo, who I’ve seen several times at different venues around town. It’s been a while, though, and it was nice to catch up during a phone conversation today. Andrea will be performing at the Blue Wisp this Sunday, July 29, from 7:30 pm to 11:30 pm, as part of a quartet that includes Brian Cashwell on piano, Don Aren (who you may know from the Faux Frenchmen), and Napoleon Maddox (from IsWhat?!) on beatbox and vocals.
I’ve seen you a bunch of times, but I think at least a couple years have passed since the last time I saw you perform. So fill me in: have you been playing out as much, or have I been staying in more?
I have been gigging as much as I used to. I played a lot at the Meritage Restaurant in Glendale. And recently I had a couple dates at the Blue Wisp; the Wisp really is special for me.
What kind of music are playing these days?
For the most part a lot of jazz standards and Brazilian standards—and then, depending on whom I’m working with, as many originals as possible. When I work with Billy Larkin I tend to do a lot of originals. One of my favorite Brazilian tunes to do is “Agua de Beber,” that and “Once I Loved.” Plus I do Leonard Cohen tunes like “Here it Is;” I do a bossa nova version of that. “Dance Me to the End of Love” is another one.
Any other examples of songs that you put your own spin on?
Billy Larkin and I do a version of Hank Williams “Cold Cold Heart” that’s kind of like a tango/hip hop version. I do try to make a song my own. Working with creative and talented musicians makes it easier.
You have a talent for surrounding yourself with great musicians.
That is my big secret, actually.
Napoleon Maddox brings something unusual to the lineup, but he blends in perfectly, and in fact it’s like he adds a special ingredient to the recipe. But how did you ever think to try him in the lineup?
Napoleon is one of my favorite people in the whole world and we’ve known each since the late nineties. We’re almost exactly the same age; we’re a week apart. If he’s around I will always try to use him. He can do much, and he’s so fluid. And he’s a sweet spirit for sure.
In interviews I always ask people to talk about their favorite concert ever, but sometimes it’s hard to pull it up just like that. Anything come to mind?
I can tell you, and I’ve seen many incredible shows. The most recent one that was incredible was Esperanza Spaulding in Ann Arbor. The best ever for me so far was New York City Town Hall. It was Ali Farka Toure, and it was my birthday and it was wonderful. He’s a very bluesy African player; Ry Cooder did some stuff with him. I flew there for the show. It was a small enough venue, and I remember being able to feel his energy. It was a spiritual experience and someone I admired so much.
Anything I left out that you’d like to add?
This will be the first time that this particular group of musicians worked together. I don’t know that the musicians have worked with each other much, and I’m looking forward to the synergy of that.