Jessy J: Balancing Serious Skills and Sexy Image
JJ: I was really persistent. I knew I wanted to work with him so I kept up the correspondence. I invited him to my performances and tried to catch his shows. Eventually, he said, "Why don't you come play in my band...you'd be a great addition to what we're doing...you can sing on this one song and play sax on the other...it'll be fun."
We had our first show together in 2006 and after that he said, "Let's work together. I want to produce you." It's been a fantastic relationship musically. We're both on the same page. He likes to write and I like to write and together we come up with some really cool stuff. We just go for it. There are not really any borders.
AAJ: How many songs on Tequila Moon did you write?
JJ: Six [out of eleven tracks].
AAJ: Is there a song that has a particular meaning for you that you can say, "I'm glad I got this one on the album?"
JJ: One of my favorites is "Fiesta Velada," because it's a party song. It means "all night party" and it reminds me of my childhood and family, growing up with big parties at my house. Those were the only times we were allowed to stay up past nine. It was a fun time and that song captures that. That makes it special to me.
AAJ: Your Latin heritage is very much in evidence on the album. This is not just a R&B, pseudo-funk rehash.
JJ: There's a Latin undertone to every song throughout this album and I was very pleased with that. It's like a story. I think that's going to be the concept to me as an artist since that is such a big part of me.
AAJ: When you do a song like Sergio Mendes's "Mas Que Nada" how do you decide you want to sing it, but not play?
JJ: I think music is just one big part of me as far as playing alto sax versus flute versus piano versus guitar versus singing. It's all the same thing. I grew up playing a lot of instruments. When they asked me to sing on the album, I had done backup singing before, but lead vocals are a whole other story. I studied a lot. I listened to the original by Sergio Mendes and takes by Jorge Ben and Marc Antoine. Then I came up with my own.
The song is in Portuguese. I'm fluent in Spanish and Portuguese is very similar. I listened to the pronunciation of the words and tried to think of the meaning of the song. It's about a girl who wants to dance. I tried to capture the spirit of the song. The band came up with an awesome arrangement. Gregg Karukas thought up that cool keyboard sound at the very beginning.
AAJ: How did you decide to cover Phoebe Snow's "Poetry Man," which is another classic written long before you were born.
JJ: I actually go the chance to meet her last year and perform with her. She's a fantastic woman. I got to tell her, "Hey, I recorded your song and it's a pleasure meeting you." The words to that song are very touching. Paul [Brown] selected that piece. He thought it would add a great dimension to the album. We have Latin. We have organic. We have a few covers. Paul thought it would be a great song especially for a female to perform.
AAJ: Why did you choose to play, but not sing the song?
JJ: It was actually one of the first songs we recorded and we had the idea to play it on the soprano. Adding vocals never came up, but I have been thinking about doing it live.
JJ: That does happen sometimes, but it's usually with a different crowd. Usually the smooth jazz crowd knows better because they're familiar with Mindi Abair, Candy Dulfer and Pamela Williams. I think those women are really comfortable with who they are and they out there doing their thing and what they do, but I'm just trying to do the best I can by being myself.
I'm a young female. I'm not ashamed of what I can do or how I look. I feel really comfortable in my skin. Unfortunately, there will probably be some people who downplay the music because of the image. To those people I invite them to come hear me because I can really play.
AAJ: When I first heard "Tequila Moon" I had no clue if Jessy J. was a guy or a gal. It just sounded good to me.
JJ: Yeah, when I met Pat Prescott (from KTWV 94.7 the Wave in Los Angeles ) she thought I was a boy until she saw me. When that happens it makes me feel better because I know people are just listening to the music and know that it's good. I try to focus on the positive aspects and I have to be me. It would change the music if I tried to downplay any aspect of who I am.
AAJ: Being yourself seems to be working for you
JJ: I started writing for my next project. It's going to be a little different from Tequila Moon. Maybe a little more singing. I was also nominated by the International Jazz Awards for Best New Artist and I'm looking forward to that.
I'm just really thankful to be a working musician and get a chance to do the things I love to do.
Jessy J, Tequila Moon (Peak Records, 2008)
Jess J, Jessy J (Self Produced, 2007)
Photos courtesy of Jessy J