Performing with a vocalist isn’t something the Tacoma Concert Band usually does — but for the season’s final concert Saturday in the Pantages, director Bob Musser wanted to do things a little different. The soloist is Eugenie Jones, a singer just named Seattle’s Earshot Jazz Vocalist of the Year, while the program ranges from big-band standards to Ella Fitzgerald songs and even one of Jones’ originals.
“It’s going to be exciting for me,” says Jones. “It’s my first time at the Pantages and my first time singing with such a big band.”
A regular performer on the Seattle jazz club scene for the past few years, Jones had actually reached out to a Tacoma Concert Band member on Facebook, saying she’d love to sing with the group. Musser went to Seattle to hear her sing and came away impressed.
“She sings in the style of Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald,” he says.
I was impressed....She sings in the style of Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald.”
Bob Musser, Tacoma Concert Band director
With a round, intimate voice that’s rich up high and husky down low, Jones has been called “an empowered storyteller” with a “smooth and assured voice” (Nick Bewsey, ICON magazine). She also usually sings with a small combo of four or five musicians. But so far, putting her in front of a 60-piece band is working well, Musser says, with standards such as “Embraceable You” and “You Can’t Take That Away From Me.”
There’s also an arrangement made for Ella Fitzgerald of “I Only Have Eyes for You,” adapted from the original by Musser.
Jones writes many of her own songs — one of the few African-American jazz vocalists to do so, points out jazz critic Curtis Davenport, who calls her an “intelligent, thoughtful composer” — and has one of her original songs on the Tacoma Concert Band program, “I Could Get Lost in Your Eyes.” Arranging it for big band was prohibitive, so Musser is pulling out a smaller ensemble of two clarinets, two saxes, trumpet, trombone and bass to back up Jones.
“It’s challenging to get charts arranged for orchestra,” says Jones. “But this is a lot more engaging, and I’m happy with how it turned out.”
The rest of the band’s program includes Duke Ellington numbers, Latin dance pieces and Shostakovich’s “Jazz Suite.”
Jones also has an MBA in marketing and works a day job in community relations and development.
But the whole reason Jones is even singing jazz is her mother. With a master’s degree in marketing, she’s had a fine career in the nonprofit world and still keeps that day job. She liked singing, but hadn’t taken it seriously: “I was not one of those artists who started singing at 4 years old,” she says. As she grew up in West Virginia, her father directed the church choir and loved jazz and blues, but Jones was always on the periphery — until her mother, who loved singing herself, died of cancer seven years ago.
I missed (my mother) and her singing. Singing was cathartic for me.”
Eugenie Jones, jazz vocalist
“I missed her and her singing,” said Jones. “(Singing myself) was cathartic for me.”
It was also surprisingly successful.
“I had people saying to me, ‘I didn’t know you could do that!’ ” says the singer, who was the first vocalist to win Earshot’s 2013 Northwest Jazz Recording of the Year with her debut album “Black Lace, Blue Tears.” “Well, I didn’t know I could do it, until I did it.”
Not that it’s been an easy road.
“The music industry is hard,” Jones says bluntly. “For every yes you have many no’s. You have to have tenacity and belief in yourself going in. To begin, (my singing) was just for personal reasons. But I’m the sort of person that has to keep getting better. So that kept pushing me through.”