On her latest CD, "The Art Of Intimacy" (Apria Records), pop and jazz fuse together in a seamless fashion to create a disc of languid tranquility.
Martell, a native New Yorker, spoke with us about the making of her new album, her musical influences and, oh, yes, about holding the title of Ms. Fitness.
JazzReview: Your latest album, "The Art of Intimacy" is really quite wonderful and the title of the CD is perfect. How did you achieve the art of intimacy when recording this disc? Do you have a favorite album or singer that inspired you?
Veronica Martell: Well, I have a lot of different influences. There’s the Diana Krall influence she gets that real warm intimate vocal sound. But my voice is very influenced by pop and R&B. On one of the ballads I can remember I was kind of referring back to a Sarah McLachlan tune, "Angel," because it had this real warm reverb on the vocal. And I was listening to a lot of pop at the time. There wasn’t a particular album that came to mind, it was more like I would pull songs from here and there which I liked the sound of and tried and catch that feeling in the mix.
JazzReview: Your varied musical influences really come through on this recording. I love what you do with Fleetwood Mac’s "Dreams." It really works well as the opening track on your album it perfectly sets the mood.
Veronica Martell: Oh, thank you! That’s great to hear because I was a little apprehensive about putting it as the lead track because it’s a cover and it’s Fleetwood Mac and Stevie Nicks but I’m glad you like it there. That was recorded several years ago and then we went back and polished it up: we did some guitar over-dubs, and I did a new vocal on it.
JazzReview: How long did it take to record the entire album?
Veronica Martell: This whole CD has kind of been evolving over time. It took us from start to finish, maybe a year and a half because we started with the thought that we would follow up "Lucky" [Veronica’s 2001 swing album] with another big band record and we kind of went off in a whole new direction (laughs).
JazzReview: Did it surprise you to go off in such a different direction?
Veronica Martell: It didn’t. I always felt that I wanted to. I want to expand and show growth as an artist and I that’s what I think we accomplished in the end. I knew it was going to take a while to find the exact right tunes. And when you’re writing tunes, you go through re-write after re-write after re-write, so I anticipated it taking that long.
JazzReview: What is it about a song that appeals to you?
Veronica Martell: As far as original songs, nine times out of ten it hits me immediately. When I heard the track "Blind" by my friend John Smatia, it hit me immediately. It was such a strong hook, it was kind of simple, but yet melodically it really spoke to me. When I’m looking for a cover, I try to find unique things that haven’t been done many times over. On this particular project, I wanted to find a strong pop tune and obviously "Dreams" came to mind. "Dreams" was a song that I kind of grew up with. It was on "Rumors" one of the first albums I ever bought. It was something imbedded in my childhood and I thought, ‘Let’s try it and do something interesting with it.’ So I try to find unique and different covers. Even when I was doing my standard records, I would try to find one or two really unique ballads that hadn’t been done many times and incorporate them into the mix.
JazzReview: Do you have a favorite track on this album and why?
Veronica Martell: A lot of them are personal like the three I wrote ["Better With Time," "So Different Now," & "Eleven Seventeen"] are personal so they’re kind of special to me. But, I love "Blind." That really spoke to me. I love "Dreams." But as for my favorite, I might have to say, "Why Do People Fall in Love?"
JazzReview: What is that song so special to you?
Veronica Martell: Well, from a production standpoint, getting to sing with that string section and Allen’s [Farnham] incredible arrangement. It’s a Linda Eder tune, and Allen just took that arrangement and took it to the next level and I just think it’s really beautiful. I love singing that song and I think it’s a nice match for my voice that’s one of my favorites if I HAD to pick a favorite (laughs)!
JazzReview: What do you hope the listener will feel after listening to your album?
Veronica Martell: Well, what I think I was aiming for was a calmness and peacefulness. I think it’s a very relaxing CD. I know a lot of people would talk about the Nora Jones record and say, ‘You know when I’m driving home in my car after work or after a long day or when I’m really stressed out, I pop in that CD.’ I think I was trying to achieve that same sort of vibe where someone would put it in the car stereo on their way home from work or late at night and just have that peaceful/calm feeling.
JazzReview: Well, you definitely achieved that.
Veronica Martell: Thank you. I have people say to me, ‘I had friends over for dinner and we put the CD on and everybody thought it was really cool and they love "Dreams" and that it’s so mellow and yet there are a couple of tracks on there that you can really groove to.’ So that was what we were trying to achieve.
JazzReview: How did you become associated with Apria Records?
Veronica Martell: Actually, through Dave Bennett at Bennett Studios. Steve Wilkinson, the owner of Apria Records, was recording saxophonist, Ada Rovatti and they introduced us and we started talking and I told him about my project and I gave him a copy of it. It’s funny, he didn’t listen to it for a while, maybe for a month or so And then, like I just said to you, he was coming from somewhere one night and popped it in his CD player in his car and then he gave me a call the very next day and said, ‘I want to work with you.’
JazzReview: Since it took him a while to get back to you after you gave him your demo, did you think he didn’t like your music?
Veronica Martell: I just kind of figured that it was just another one of those ‘Here’s my CD give me a call’, type of thing. I’ve been through rounds with different labels, and you know they have it for months and they say they’re going to listen. But it’s funny because Steve did exactly what we were hoping someone would do with it.
JazzReview: How did you discover the world of jazz singing?
Veronica Martell: I started singing jazz because my parents were the original "Swing Kids" -- they were of that generation, so I grew up with that type of music and I always had a love for it. So when I started singing jazz my voice and the music were a pretty good marriage. Also, it is just of my basic love for the music of Ella and Louis Armstrong and Miles. I just started to listen to this stuff when I was young, so even though I grew up listening to pop music, which I loved, it just kind of evolved the way it has. My passion for music comes from within I just feel it’s what I do and it’s what I am and I just think it’s probably the only thing I’m any good at (laughs).
JazzReview: Well, that’s actually great to be doing something you are good at and have passion for. Now looking at your bio, you also had a passion for working out you were named, Ms. Fitness in 1997. How did that happen?
Veronica Martell: I’ve always been into fitness. I started working out when I was probably twenty twenty-one. Then I just got into it a little heavier and then someone approached me and said, ‘You know, you should consider doing these fitness competitions.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah.’ And then I went down and saw one and because I have stage presence from performing, I guess that kind of helped me in the competition. They’re kind of fitness/beauty contests. There are these different rounds ‘evening gown round,’ ‘swimsuit round,’ ‘fitness round.’ It was kind of a whole separate entity from my life as a vocalist, but it was a fun and I was in much better shape at the time (laughs). I’m not as insane about working now!
JazzReview: Do you think being physically fit helps you stay strong as a singer?
Veronica Martell: Oh, I think it definitely does.
JazzReview: You are still quite young but has your voice changed over the years?
Veronica Martell: I think I’ve grown stylistically. I think there’s definitely a maturity that’s in my voice that I didn’t have ten years ago. Of course, my music sensibility has grown and that has changed how I approach songs. But as far as range and things like that, I think I’m still in the same place that I was ten years ago.
JazzReview: How would you describe your phrasing?
Veronica Martell: You know, I don’t consider myself a "jazz singer." I think I have many influences. I love pop music and R&B as well. Sometimes people will come up to me and say, ‘You’re an R&B singer singing jazz!’ or ‘You’re a pop singer singing jazz!’ And I think that’s true because I do have those influences. My first record was a ‘neo-swing’ record, my second record was pretty much a straight-ahead jazz record and I think my phrasing evolved from singing that type of music and getting to play with the rhythm and making the lyrics swing. I think my phrasing comes from a combination of styles.
JazzReview: You have a four octave range does your voice ever surprise you?
Veronica Martell: Yeah some days it frustrates me and other days it surprises me.
JazzReview: How does it frustrate you?
Veronica Martell: You know some days I wish I could sing like Chaka Khan. If I could come back as anyone it would be her. It can be frustrating that your voice is limited by physical restrictions it’s not like a guitar or a piano. And it can be frustrating when you have to turn off your phones because you need to give your voice a rest that kind of thing. But then there are those times when it surprises me, when I do something and I go, ‘That really felt good.’ But I’m a perfectionist so those times are few and far between (laughs).
JazzReview: What’s the best advice anyone has ever given you about being a singer?
Veronica Martell: Well, I think the best advice, is to be true to yourself. And I think the best advice I’ve ever heard no one ever gave me this advice directly was to read the reviews, but don’t take the great ones too seriously and don’t take the bad ones too seriously. People will say wonderful things to you and you say ‘Thank you so much’ and then go to work and do what you do. That’s kind of how I approach it. You just have to believe in yourself and do the best that you can. There’s going to be people who think you’re wonderful and then there are people who think you’re not you just have to go straight ahead. That’s kind of my motto. You have to keep trying to grow as an artist and create good music.