Music for Purchase
Almost from the beginning, jazz has given us songwriters who sing – such as Hoagy Carmichael (“Stardust” and “Georgia On My Mind”) – and singers who write: Billie Holiday co-composed some of her best material, including “Don’t Explain” and “God Bless The Child.” But despite a few such examples, the idea of the “singer-songwriter” never really took root in jazz – at least not in the sense that the term connotes in folk and rock music. In those genres, “singer-songwriter” conjures emotional revelation bordering on confession, giving us songs less concerned with rhyming “June” and “swoon” than with delving deeper into romance, with observing the fine details, with probing the life of the mind.
Then the Chicago pianist Patricia Barber started writing her own songs: dark vibrant poetry, served in the chilled cocktail tumbler of her vocals, washing over the rocks of unique melodies and covering subjects long abandoned to pop and rock. Next came Norah Jones, who simplified the whole process but gave rise to a new generation of jazz-based artists – Melody Gardot, Rebecca Martin, Gretchen Parlato – writing and singing a new generation of jazz-based songs. With melodies informed by but not restrained to jazz – and lyrics that exist light-years from the charming antiquities of the Great American Songbook – these artists have pulled the art of the jazz song into a new century.
Now comes Keri Johnsrud.
She writes her own lyrics, which have character and intrigue, and sings them in a voice warm and pure, precisely suited to the stories she tells. Some of those tales are mysterious, some hip, and others as guileless as a saint. But in every case, they slice through the jokey irony of pop culture to frame modern insights in fresh new music. She has done her homework; she’s thought things through. And she has crafted songs that will get into your ears and under your skin. She and her co-writer, pianist Kevin Bales, have sculpted and polished each “aha” moment, and a crackerjack group of improvisers, attuned to her message, rounds out the package.
Have you heard anything quite like “From Here,” the opening track? Probably not; the melody bobs and weaves in ways that have nothing to do with traditional jazz writing. Will “Everything’s Okay” find its way into pop cover versions? It certainly should. And wouldn’t any bossa-nova singer benefit from adding the lilt and license of “If And When” to her repertoire?
Johnsrud’s voice is an instrument of tempered silver; in fact, Shawn Maxwell, a Chicago saxophonist, has employed it accordingly, casting her as an orchestral element in arrangements for his band Alliance. On those tracks, she sings beautifully, but without words. She more than makes up for that here.
- NEIL TESSER
In her long-awaited debut album, 'All Blue', Keri Johnsrud creates a cool, indigo feeling; a mood of jazz and cocktails, city lights and smokey cafes. This exciting new singer brings us an eclectic assortment of songs, each humming with an urban pulse, dynamic and fresh, yet tinged with a world-weary sophistication. As a third-generation musician, born to a musical family in rural Iowa, Keri draws inspiration from her small town roots while communicating a finesse cultivated in Chicago clubs and lounges.
With her subtle, casual delivery, Keri celebrates the universal nature and freedom of jazz by saluting well-known standards and re-imagining classic country and modern classical works. Supported by a superb group of versatile and talented musicians, she contributes her distinct and honest voice to the vibrant future of this music.