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Vocalist Jackie Ryan Honors Her Late Mother With Classics From The Latin American Songbook On 'Recuerdos De Mi Madre,' Set For October 7 Release

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Something happens to me when I sing in Spanish. Latino people don't mind talking about sad things. My aunts and my cousins, their emotions are on their sleeves.
—Jackie Ryan
Having established her mastery of the Great American Songbook, San Francisco Bay Area vocalist Jackie Ryan sets her sights on the Latin American Songbook with Recuerdos de mi Madre, set for an October 7 release on the OpenArt Productions label. The album’s ten tracks are all Spanish-language standards—the backbone of Latin American popular music—performed with a core band that includes pianist/trumpeter Marco Diaz, bassist Saúl Sierra, and percussionists Carlos Caro and Louie Romero. It also features a number of special guests, foremost among them the legendary Cuban clarinetist/saxophonist Paquito D'Rivera.

The youngest child of a Mexican-born mother and Irish-American father, Ryan recalls Latin music as the first she heard, and has always included at least one Latin song on each of her albums as a marker of that heritage. “Something happens to me when I sing in Spanish,” Ryan says. “Latino people don’t mind talking about sad things. My aunts and my cousins, their emotions are on their sleeves.”

These songs let Ryan channel that same passion. When she incorporated them into her live set, she recalls, “People would come up and say, ‘Do you have a Latin album?’”

Recuerdos de mi Madre is the answer to that frequent request. It is also, true to its title (“Memories of My Mother”), a tribute to her late parent who introduced her to the songs she sings here. (Soledad Garcia Ryan passed away when her daughter was 15.)

The record bears out Ryan’s belief that singing in Spanish enhances her expressiveness. The emotion she pours into “Noche de Ronda,” “Perfidia," and “Sabor A Mí” is as exquisite as her technique. The songs also provide a spotlight for her marvelous rhythmic chops: She glides along the contours of “Maria Elena” and “Siboney” with great precision and a gorgeous time feel.

Ryan is not alone in bringing these songs to life. In addition to playing piano and trumpet (and occasional backing vocals), Diaz serves as the album’s musical director and provides impeccable arrangements for nine of the 10 tracks. The rhythm section of Sierra, Caro, and/or Romero is sensitive, even mesmerizing, and occasional guests Seth Asarnow (bandoneon), Hugo Wainzinger (guitar), Braulio Barrera (cajon), Jeremy Cohen or Carlos Reyes (violin), and Steffen Kuehn (trumpet) add depth and color to whatever they touch.

D’Rivera, of course, brings the proceedings to another level. His clarinet playing is surpassingly sweet on “El Día Que Me Quieras” and both lively and ponderous on “Perfidia”; his alto saxophone on “Quizás, Quizás, Quizás” is sly and soulful. “I’ve loved his music for many years,” Ryan says in the liner notes to Recuerdos de mi Madre. “Paquito exudes joy, both musically and personally…. To me, he is music incarnate!”

Born and raised in San Rafael, California, just north of San Francisco, Jackie Ryan spenther childhood listening to the Spanish classical music and Latin American popular songs that her mother played and sang for her. She was 15 years old when she took her first professional singing job in an R&B dance band. After she blew out her voice on the road, she spent two years healing, doing speech therapy and falling in love with jazz.

Reinventing herself as a jazz singer, she went back out on the road, spending some time in Hawaii and in Los Angeles as she honed her chops, studied Portuguese, and gained experience with Sergio Mendes’s original rhythm section and Sarah Vaughan’s onetime pianist George Gaffney before returning to the Bay Area in the 1990s.

That link with Sarah Vaughan served Ryan in good stead. Her 2001 debut album For Heaven’s Sakefeatured a trio led by another former Vaughan accompanist, Mike Wofford; her third, 2003’s This Heart of Mine, featured two Vaughan associates in pianist Jon Mayer and drummer Omar Clay. That was only one of Ryan’s many artistic dimensions, however. She also built a multilingual repertoire of songs in English, Spanish, and Brazilian Portuguese, which she demonstrated on 2002’s Passion Flower. The next three records (2007’s You and the Night and the Music, 2009’s DOOZY, and 2012’s Listen Here) confirmed her ability to stand toe-to-toe with legendary figures like Jeff Hamilton, Cyrus Chestnut, and John Clayton, respectively. With 2022’s Recuerdos de mi Madre she brings all those skills to bear in paying a long-imagined tribute to her mother, the first person to nurture her artistry.

Jackie Ryan will be performing a CD release show at Freight & Salvage, 2020 Addison Street, Berkeley, on Friday 10/28 at 8pm.

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