Samara Joy's meteoric rise since graduating from High School has been well documented. As a college junior, she filmed herself singing Ella Fitzgerald
's "Take Love Easy" accompanied by one of her professors, pianist Pete Malinverni
. The video went viral, garnering over one million views. She then put up a GoFundMe page, quickly reaching the $8,000 goal to record her debut album Samara Joy
(Whirlwind, 2021). A year later, Verve Records announced her signing and the release of her label debut Linger Awhile
(Verve, 2022). Two months after the record was released, she was nominated for two Grammys, Best New Artist and Best Jazz Vocal Album. The album eventually topped both the Billboard US Jazz Album and the UK Jazz & Blues charts, hitting number two in France.
Before the Grammys, various online betting sites had Joy listed ninth in the field of ten nominees at odds of 25-1. After all, the Grammys were not known for rewarding a mainstream jazz vocalist in these days of pop supremacy. However, this was one of the rare times the voters could not ignore the sheer depth and virtuosity of her singing, winning both awards.
To celebrate and capitalize on her achievements and her growing popularity, Verve decided to release Linger Awhile [Deluxe Edition]
. It includes the original ten tracks along with eight new recordings (plus one more on the Amazon version).
"I Can't Get Out Of This Mood" opened the original release. The band lays down a swinging groove before Joy enters. The first thing one notices is her rich, warm and buttery voice along with a mature and confident sound. "Guess Who I Saw Today" slows things down, with pianist Ben Patterson
providing solo accompaniment before the band enters. The power and control Joy can convey when singing softly are remarkable.
This is a straight-ahead, mainstream throwback of a vocal album which harks back to the small combo albums released in the '60s and '70s by Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan
and Carmen McRae
. Her band here also includes bassist David Wong
and Kenny Washington
on drums, who accompany her wonderfully, but the secret weapon is guitarist Pasquale Grasso
whose stylistic underpinnings give an extra warmth to the proceedings. The collection of standards chosen is diverse, ranging from less well-known tunes to the old warhorses which every singer has to tackle at some point in their career.
The first warhorse is "Misty" (see YouTube video below). Vaughan's version on Live In Japan
(Mainstream, 1973) has always been a touchstone version. Listening to Joy's approach is a revelation. The ease with which her voice moves, her ability to sing with and without vibrato, and without any hint of gratuitous vocal gymnastics is rare, especially considering she was 22 years old at the time. Her phrasing is always spot-on. Every one of the selections rendered here gives Joy a chance to show these abilities, getting inside the lyric as if she is singing to an audience of one.
"I'm Confessin'" is done in a vocalese style, based on a Lester Young
solo with lyrics she wrote. Her voice here is reminiscent of Fitzgerald's playful sound. Similary, "Nostalgia" is a lyric she wrote based on a Fats Navarro
solo as well as performing "Social Call" with lyrics written by vocalese pioneer Jon Hendricks
On "Round Midnight," Joy also sings lyrics that were written by Jon Hendricks
, which she explained she had only ever heard on a vintage television performance by McRae. It is the only song on the album to include a horn section.
The original album closer "Someone To Watch Over Me" is a duet with Pasquale. It brings to mind the several duo albums Fitzgerald did with Joe Pass
. The yearning Joy sings with is palpable.
These ten tracks comprise the album that won Joy two Grammys. With the release of the Deluxe version, as the old late-night TV infomercials would say, "But wait...there's more" Added to the original ten tracks, another eight songs are included, nine counting "Lush Life," included only on the Amazon edition.
The additional tracks are more forays into the Great American Songbook. The band behind Joy complements her perfectly. Pasquale in particular plays everything with touch and taste along with interesting and thoughtful solos.
Interesting aspects of the bonus tracks are two more versions of "Guess Who I Saw Today." The differences are subtle but definite. The first bonus one is slower, with more of a Vaughan feeling to it, while the final version is a piano duet. It is more whimsical and free-flowing, ending with a stunning run leading to a long falsetto single note. Her range, while not quite as great as Minnie Ripperton's, is in that ballpark. Taken together these three versions of the same song show the mastery of her voice and the soulful ability to figure out how best to interpret a song to make it her own. There are a few other reworked songs included as bonus tracks, two as piano duets and one as a trio. These serve again to show her versatility and willingness to try different approaches.
The Amazon edition closes with a stunning rendition of "Lush Life." Her debt to Vaughan is apparent, but there is so much more to her style. Like "Round Midnight," the arrangement here includes a horn section. It hints at an exciting future possibility of Joy recording a full album with a big band.
Samara Joy is the real deal. She is a multi-generational talent, with the potential to be the greatest mainstream female jazz singer since Vaughan, McRae and Betty Carter
. That is high praise and is not made lightly. It is not meant to slight more recent singers such as Dianne Reeves
and Cassandra Wilson
or others who are absolutely great. Joy just has that special something that cannot be defined. You just know it when you hear it. The fact she was 22 years old when recording this album, and had only been singing jazz for four years, is mind-blowing.
The original release won a Grammy and deservedly so. Linger Awhile [Deluxe Edition]
adds almost another album's worth of material, making it an absolutely essential recording that should be in the music collection of jazz-vocal lovers everywhere.
Can't Get Out of This Mood; Guess Who I Saw Today; Nostalgia (The Day I Knew); Sweet Pumpkin; Misty; Social Call; I'm Confessin'
That I Love You; Linger Awhile; 'Round Midnight; Someone to Watch Over Me; I Miss You So; Sometimes Today Seems Like Yesterday;
I’m Gonna Lock My Heart (And Throw Away The Key); I’m Afraid (Of Loving You Too Much); Guess Who I Saw Today (New Trio
Version); Can’t Get Out Of This Mood (Duo Version); Sweet Pumpkin (Duo Version); Guess Who I Saw Today (Duo Version); Lush Life.