Jazz au naturel

US-born vocalist Stacey Kent is back in Israel for the fourth time, to promote her first album recorded entirely in French.

Stacey Kent 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Stacey Kent 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Stacey Kent could not be accused of trying to carry coals to Newcastle, in fact she has taken her artistic wares in the opposite direction. The US-born jazz vocalist has spent almost her entire professional life away from the art form’s birthplace, after moving to London around 20 years ago. She now spends most of her time on the global circuit and will be back in Israel for the fourth time, to perform at the Zappa clubs in Herzliyah and Tel Aviv, today and tomorrow respectively.
In fact, as a tiny tot Kent had a more than fair idea of where she’d be living – or not be living – when she grew up. “When I was a little girl, I didn’t know I was going to be a singer,” she recalls. “But I had a real attraction to be part of the world. I read books from other countries, like Thomas Hardy and French literature.” The latter was inspired by Kent’s ancestral roots. “My grandfather was a Russian who lived in France before moving to the US,” explains the singer. “He kept his passion for his cultural ties in the States. He loved the words and he taught me French poetry.”
Playing from the heart
The Shin’s long and winding road
That all goes a long way to explaining why Kent latest album, Raconte-moi (Tell Me), is, as the CD blurb has it, “a delicious collection of great classics from France’s musical heritage and original songs penned especially for her.
”French was a huge part of my life,” she says. “The new album is not just a whim. I have a profound link with that culture. I share the same sensibilities as my granddad.”
Kent’s connection with the world out there led to her to take a degree in comparative literature, and she speaks fluent French, German and Portuguese. The pull of the world across the other side of the Pond was strong throughout.
“When I was a kid I had this wanderlust. If I hadn’t become a musician I would have lived outside the US anyway. I always felt there was so much more to the world than just the States. I attended my college degree ceremony and, literally, the next day I was on a plane to London,” she says, and things just snowballed exponentially from there.
SHE HAPPENED to hear some people talking about auditioning for the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, decided to go for it herself and was duly accepted. She did the odd low key gig and the word soon got out that a talented young American-born singer was emerging onto the scene and the bookings started flying in. There was a considerable and enduring fringe benefit to Kent’s Guidlhall studies. It is there that she ran into a like-minded jazz saxophonist by the name of Jim Tomlinson. They married in 1991 and have been performing and recording together for over 20 years.
Kent’s career has followed a meteoric trajectory. Her first album, Close Your Eyes, came out in 1997 and Raconte-moi is her fifteenth release to date. Kent’s francophilia has also brought her an impressive award,the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (National Order of Arts and Letters), which she received from French Culture Minister Christine Albanel last year in recognition of her contribution to the arts. “It was a great day and honor,” says the singer. “My love of French is part of my life. The minister thanked me for spreading the culture around the world. I was sorry my grandfather wasn’t there. At the time he was just trying to keep his passion for the culture alive, but he gave me a huge gift.”
Kent’s previous release, Breakfast on the Morning Train, was a hit the world over, selling in excess of a quarter of a million copies. Raconte-moi has also been enthusiastically received, which Kent finds particularly gratifying.
“I knew from the beginning I would make this album. It took a long time to get the songs together. I spent two years listening to French music and I handpicked every single song. It is the most personal project I have ever done.”
That, no doubt, will be abundantly clear at Kent’s gigs here later this month.
For more information: www.zappa-club.co.il