Over and over, critics remark how she draws the "bare essence out of a lyric by singing the notes with unadorned sincerity, making her songs fresh and full-faced, as if each were important news. She brings emotion, intelligence and ultra-high standards to the music, and has that rare quality of letting you in on the little secret she seems to be keeping.
All About Jazz: Besides being born into a family of musicians that played standards and took you to jazz clubs, what was the main thing that turned you to jazz?
Calabria Foti: I turned to jazz because of the expression it allows. I am also a classically trained violinist in addition to being a vocalist, but it's the ability to improvise and to bend notes, rhythms, melodies and changes that I find really interesting and fun.
AAJ: Your first instruments were jazz guitar and bass, and then violin. At what point did you decide you were going to be a singer?
CF: Oh, I've always been a singer. I was a singer long before I ever picked up an instrument. I was writing songs on my guitar as a little kid and singing for my classmates and in the community from an early age. Being able to express my emotions, what's in my soul, is the highest joy for me, and being a vocalist allows that more than any other instrument for me. But, I love to do bothplaying and singing. I could never make a choice to do one or the other. It's all musical expression, and I must express it, no matter how.
AAJ: Who were your first influences?
CF: Well, my parents were my first influences. Then they introduced me to all kinds of music and artists. I was able to hear legit and jazz musicians on a regular basis, so music was always in my head in one way or another. I think, as singers, I really loved hearing Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Sammy Davis, Tony Bennett, Nancy Wilson and Barbra Streisand. Those singers put so much emotion into their songs, made something really special out of them, really owned the song.
AAJ: How much of those influences do you still keep in your own singing?
CF: Oh, I don't know. . . I don't think about it consciously. I just feel the music and try to express what the writer and lyricist wanted and get into the music and the story. If I feel like scatting on a tune, I do. It's all just communicating with the audience and the other musicians. I don't think about emulating anyone else, I just let go and do it.
AAJ: You have been collecting good reviews from the most demanding people in the music industry, and I mean songwriters like Johnny Mandel and arrangers like Sammy Nestico. Where are you aiming in your career?
CF: I am incredibly grateful to Johnny Mandel, Sammy Nestico, Jorge Calandrelli, Johnny Mathis, Chris Botti and Dave Koz, people whose musicianship and accomplishments I admire so much, for being in my corner. I am very touched by their kindness and generosity. I would like very much for the CD to receive the recognition it deserves. It's a very special record as it crosses over from really great jazz playing to Broadway show tunes to the Great American Songbook, so it can be enjoyed by a lot of different people, and my wish is that everyone gets to hear it.
It's very hip and very commercial at the same time. I really want Bob McChesney to receive all the recognition he deserves as the producer, string arranger and trombonist extraordinaire. As for me, I want to keep growing as a musician and continue recording high quality music with great musicians, and keep receiving good notices from the industry and the public. That's it!
AAJ: Let's talk about your new CD, A Lovely Way to Spend an Evening. What can people expect from it?
CF: I like making records that can be enjoyed on many different levels. And, as I've said, this CD has a lot of musical depth. It's a concept album about spending a romantic evening with that "special someone, and it's full of wonderful songs to enjoy, perhaps while you're by the fireside with a cup of cocoa or a glass of wine. You may even fall in love! The music is quite heavenly, from the standpoint of bringing out certain emotions and taking you places, but ultimately it brings you home at the end of the evening.
AAJ: This CD is all about standards. How did you select the songs?
CF: I did a great deal of searching to find just the right mix of songs that are designed to "put you in the mood. As someone who likes to do themes, each of the songs had to continue the arc of a romantic evening, so it becomes one seamless piece. Also, I wanted to find songs that hadn't been overly done. Then I did a lot of rearranging and reharmonizing with Matt [Harris] and Bob [McChesney] to make these great old tunes sound fresh and modern.
AAJ: Some people say that standards are like a dead end. I think you fully disagree...