Singing it like it is

Stacey Kent is as erudite in everyday conversation as she is in her professional capacity.

Stacey Kent 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Stacey Kent 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Stacey Kent is as erudite in everyday conversation as she is in her professional capacity. Sometimes you come across artists who, while they find it relatively easy to express themselves through their work, verbal eloquence is not quite their forte. Not so with Ms. Kent, who will perform with her quintet at the Einav Center in Tel Aviv. The New Jersey-born, UK-based jazz vocalist has been churning out quality recordings with high frequency since her debut release Close Your Eyes in 1997, and her sixth album, Breakfast on the Morning Tram, is currently garnering kudos by the hatful, not to mention impressive sales. Perhaps Kent's clarity of spoken expression feeds off her single mindedness and a clear picture of who she is and where she is going. "I and my band have a very strong sense of who we are," she states simply in a telephone conversation from her London home which she shares with husband-band member-saxophonist-flutist Jim Tomlinson who also produced Breakfast on the Morning Tram. Kent also believes that her professional colleagues' training makes them good at getting their ideas across off stage too. "Jazz musicians are great with language, and time - not just musically. We could all be stand up comedians, because we have great timing and, of course, we have a good ear. You also find musicians are generally so funny and have an off the cuffness to them." Mind you, when it comes to the spoken word Kent may have an advantage over most. "I was a language student in New York, I did a BA in comparative literature," she explains. "I am a lover of language, of words, and I have strong desire to tell stories." After completing her first degree, Kent crossed "the pond" to Europe, to study French, Italian and German. It was while she was at Oxford that she ran into Tomlinson and their love of music eventually set them on the road to a shared career path - and a shared life. If you speak to any jazz teacher they will tell you that, after their students hone their playing and/or singing skills, the next important stage is "to find their own voice," to carve out their own niche in the jazz firmament and develop their own style. For vocalists that can be harder than for most. While critics and jazz fans in general may identify influences in - say - contemporary saxophonists of greats like John Coltrane or Charlie Parker, or find traces of Miles or Dizzy Gillespie in current day trumpeters, female vocalists are generally likened to one or more of the divas of the art form, such as Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan or Ella Fitzgerald. Unlike some of her professional sisters, Kent has no problem with that. "People always categorize you. You must never never feel hard done by if people compare you to someone who you feel may not have influenced you. People may miss the mark, but that's their prerogative. I was a comparative literature student, so I know about comparisons." In fact 40-year-old Kent's influences are about as wide ranging as you'd like. "I listened to ['70s rock and pop stars] Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Carole King, Joni Mitchell and Cat Stevens when I was growing up. And [country music legend] Willie Nelson was one of my biggest influences. [Opera icon] Maria Callas was the first person who made me cry." Kent will muster her emotional reserves, and highly individual delivery, at next week's concerts that will cover some of the material from Breakfast on the Morning Tram, which is possibly her most adventurous recording to date. "Jim [Tomlinson] did a wonderful job on the production and it was great to use lyrics by [British-based Japanese-born writer] Kazuo Ishiguro. His words are so beautiful and so powerful." At the end of the day, for Kent it is largely about teamwork. "We have this wonderful chemistry between us. That's when the magic starts." Stacey Kent will perform at Einav Center on May 29 (6:45 p.m. and 10:15 p.m.) and at the Zappa Club on May 30 (7:15 p.m. and 10:15 p.m.) and May 31 (6:45 p.m. and 9:45 p.m.). Ticket information: Einav Center (03) 604-5000, Zappa (03) 767-4646.