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Jessy J - In Conversation

Smooth jazz sax-player Jessica Spinella (aka Jessy J) was born in Portland, Oregon and with her sizzling new album, 'Hot Sauce', is really covering all the bases. It finds Jessy embracing her Latin heritage with tracks such as 'Meant To Be' but also includes Will Young's pop hit 'Leave Right Now' and Duke Ellington's 'In Sentimental Mood'. All in all 'Hot Sauce' is a fine amalgam of spicy jazz seasoned with zesty Latin rhythms. 

Jazzreview: Tell us about yourself, your background and your playing. 

Jessy J: I was born in Portland Oregon and have been studying music for most of my life. I began piano lessons at age four I enjoyed my first time in the spotlight, my first performance, when I was five. The feeling of expressing my soul through the beauty of music got me hooked at a young age. My real musical journeys began as a competitive pianist and, as an in-demand touring musician, have brought me all around the world. As an accomplished singer and dancer I have had the opportunity to sing background vocals for Michael Bolton, play with the Henry Mancini Jazz Orchestra and perform in the off-Broadway production of Blast! I've also done studio work with Michael Bublé, Seal, the Temptations, Jessica Simpson, Michael Bolton, Mexico's pop diva Gloria Trevi and Latin superstar Cristian Castro.

Jazzreview: Who were your musical influences? 

Jessy J: George Gershwin, Sergio Mendes, Cannonball Adderely, Coltrane, Bird, Leonard Bernstein and Stanley Turrentine. 

Jazzreview: From where do you draw your inspiration? 

Jessy J: I am inspired by my rich Latin culture that celebrates dance, music, food and family. My parents have been a huge inspiration to me and have always encouraged me to pursue my dreams, even when it was difficult to see the the prize at the end of the rainbow. 

Jazz Review: 'Hot Sauce' is a tremendous album and I know you are very satisfied with the way it turned out, especially with the great heavy hitters who joined you on it. 

Jessy J: Thank you, working with piano legend Joe Sample was one of the highlights of my musical career so far. During the prep work for the album Joe became a great mentor to me. We would spend hours arranging, writing together and talking about music. Joe was very generous in his knowledge about the mechanics of singing and it was wonderful to hear his stories about the radical 60's and, in those times, what it was like to create music. 

Jazzreview: Your performance on 'Hot Sauce' is wonderful. For me, a couple of real standout songs are 'Leave Right Now' and 'Last Night'. Can you tell us about these songs? 

Jessy J:'Hot Sauce' is all about being a spicy Latina. The caliente, or the hot, comes from Latinas being both hot tempered and passionate. The sauce is the jazz flowing from my saxophone. The lyrics to 'Leave Right Now' really stood out to me as something that I might tell someone, "I better leave right now,.....before I fall any deeper"... It's all about being careful in making decisions about love. It was a dynamic addition to the other songs on the album and represents the instrumentally 'cool' side of 'Hot Sauce'. 

One of my favorite Joe Sample stories is about his early career, back when his main goal was to keep the groove, so that people in the club where he was playing would keep on dancing. That's exactly what we had in mind when we recorded and wrote 'Last Night' together. Originally the song was over 15 minutes long! There was so much funky grooving going on! In the end, to get it onto the album, we had to edit out almost 7 minutes of it. 

Jazzreview: You have recorded other jazz albums so what was new about this recording experience? 

Jessy J: On this album I co-produced the tracks and was very precise on the sound that I wanted to create. We were going for 'soulful, sweet and sensitive' on some of the songs and a contrasting pulsating intensity on the Latin songs such as 'Meant To Be' and 'Hot Sauce'. Paul Brown and I have been working together for about 5 years now and it seems to get easier every time we collaborate. On this album we stretched out a bit more. It was a tremendous experience. 

From the beginning I knew I wanted to work with Joe Sample, Harvey Mason and Ray Parker Jr. I knew there was going to be a lot of prep work, making sure we were all in the same place at the same time. 

Jazzreview : When you are composing your music, is the approach conceptual, accidental or inspirational? 

Jessy J: Music is constantly all around us. I am open to writing at anytime. That might be on a plane, during a walk, looking at pictures or simply remembering 'the night'. The focus of 'Rio Grande' was to touch on the energies that are being discussed with regards to the new immigration laws. My dad is from Sinaloa, Mexico and my mom is from Texas. I feel strongly that people shouldn't be profiled based on their appearance. I believe that we should all have a pathway to citizenship. 

The inspiration for 'Rainbow Gold' was to do something has hasn't been done before. We had a tango section, a hard hitting solo section, a groove and a sexy melody, all within the context of a sensual jazz piece. There were a few songs, like 'Till You Make Up Your Mind', that were created simply to be beautiful melodies. 

Jazzreview: When you get time to listen to music and, when you do, who or what are you listening to? 

Jessy J: Currently I am a fan of Adele's latest album '21'. I think she is one of the few real artists of our time. She writes, arranges, performs and creates music that connects with people all over the world. 

I am consistently supporting and listening to my peers and colleagues, performers such as Gretchen Parlato, Esperanza Spalding, Saunders Sermons, Christian Scott and Tia Fuller. When I hear their music I feel like we are having similar experiences on tour, recording, and representing the younger generation of jazz musicians. That is very inspiring for me. 

Jazzreview: What is the one piece of advice you would give to a young person graduating from high school, considering studying music in college or entering the music industry? 

Jessy J: Be sure to practice everyday. Make it part of your routine. Keep a journal of your practice logs, what you're working on and set high goals. For example a big goal might be to record an album. Start with a simple goal, maybe writing a verse, the melody for a song, then the bridge, the chorus, the intro and so on. Once you have reached the goals, little or big, then celebrate them! I always celebrate reaching my goal in a healthy way, by going out with friends, having a fancy dinner or a little shopping present! 

Jazzreview: Where do you see your music going during the next five years, both in planned projects and general direction? 

Jessy J : I have already started working on my next project and am very excited about the direction that it is taking. I am hoping it will become a masterpiece, a classic, sophisticated and daring. I am also looking forward to sharing the stage with artists from all over the world. For example, this Fall, I already have dates scheduled with Latin mega-star Cristian Castro. 

Jazzreview:Thank you, Jessy J

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Jessy J
  • Interview Date: September 2011
  • Subtitle: Hot Sauce
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