As Pentimento put a jazzy new twist on popular songs of the 1920s and 1930s, now Jessica sashays into the 1950s with a collection inspired by the song styling of Peggy Lee and her own guitarist husband Dave Barbour.
JazzReview: Your album "A Good Day" is incredibly beautiful and it contains a lot of harmony and anesthetics. It is natural and open and this openness, which is clearly felt in the song "All the Cats Join In," cannot leave a listener indifferent.
JazzReview: How did you manage to preserve such a rare quality of sincerity and openness in your music?
Jessica Molaskey: Well, first of all thank you for those kind words. We set out to make a clean, bright and swinging CD. I think as a whole, I prefer to take the "less is more" routes. I think there is power in singing in time, hopefully in tune, and I like to sing the melody. I know that Gershwin was a better writer than I will ever be, so if I’m singing one of the songs, I would rather sing his melody than a variation that I come up with. It surprises me how many wonderful singers won’t even establish the melody before they start "riffing" on it. Perhaps that is what you mean by sincerity. I don’t know, maybe because I have been an actor for so many years and because I have gotten to work with the greatest living writers, I have learned to honor them first. For instance, if you are working on a show with Stephen Sondheim and he is standing there next to you by the piano, you pray that you are singing the notes that he wrote.
JazzReview: Can you tell us more about how did you find the ideas for creating "A Good Day?" And in particular, how was this album was created?
Jessica Molaskey: I was always drawn to my family’s collection of "girl singers" by the hi-fi. Peggy Lee was the master of all those things that I just spoke about as was Rosie Clooney. I loved the songs that she wrote with her guitar-playing husband Dave Barbour and being married to a guitar player myself, with whom I also write songs, it seemed like a perfect fit.
JazzReview: What does music mean to you?
Jessica Molaskey: At the risk of sounding dramatic it means everything. I don’t know if I would be here if it weren’t for music. It has saved me.
JazzReview: Who were the original sources of inspiration and influence as far as improvisation, etc. And do you take it as a "route" or as a direction?
Jessica Molaskey: Joni Mitchell is my hero. She is simply a genius and we are only starting to see how her songs have contributed to The American Popular Songbook. Stephen Sondheim changed the course of my life and I would go as far as to say his influence saved my life. When I fist heard Barbara Cook sing, I knew that I had to sing. She isn’t a jazz singer, but she started a new way of singing soprano(which I am). Rosie Clooney told me to " Just keep telling the truth." She was a singer who couldn’t tell a lie. John Pizzarelli and the whole family have taught me so much more than I can ever speak about in an interview. John is a post-modern vaudevillian, a virtuosi musician who makes it look so easy that he gives you the hubris to think that you can actually do it yourself...hence my recording career!
JazzReview: You have featured on your album an array of jazz greats. How important is it when you’re selecting a particular musician? Do you mind them bringing unexpected influences to the recording?
Jessica Molaskey: Oh my goodness, I welcome it. I still can’t believe that these overwhelming talents still keep showing up to my record dates. I think that, aside from my family, the greatest gift of my life is the proximity to brilliant people. Sometimes I have to pinch myself at the Christmas parties. It’s like tennis, play with good guys and you play well, play with bad guys, you stink! It is as simple as that.
JazzReview: You are a theatre actress and a jazz vocalist. How do you balance both careers?
Jessica Molaskey: I feel extremely lucky I have been able to do both. I think that they inform each other. They are both art forms that I champion collaboration and being "in the moment." The theater is more like practice. It is almost sacred. . .rehearsals, the daily rituals, the repetition, and the eight shows a week, 12 months a year sometimes. Jazz is fast and messy and flying by the seat of your pants. I love it. No matter what, I can never really leave the theater. It is my home. I try to work on at least one show a year. Last year I did a play at Lincoln Center and I just got back from working at Sundance on a piece.
JazzReview: What in general, are the goals of your creative work? What are you going to achieve?
Jessica Molaskey: I use to think I knew what my goals were. Now I feel extremely lucky if: 1) I wake up in the morning 2) I have a beautiful family around me, and 3) I get to sing for my supper. I don’t really care if it is Carnegie Hall or a field in Connecticut. That is for a higher authority to decide. It is just my job to SING.
JazzReview: The music of Peggy Lee was one of the sources of your creative work in this album? What else can we expect from you?
Jessica Molaskey: I am presently working on a new CD of theater songs. A sort of 42nd Street meets 52nd Street, if you will. And I have written some originals with the "New Guard" of theater composers. You would be surprised how brilliant these new guys are.
JazzReview: You’ve been touring a lot. What type of performance do you prefer?
Jessica Molaskey: I feel very at home in the opera houses that we play, but put me in a small club and I am petrified! Carnegie Hall is fine, but Birdland is scary. I am used to playing a character and all of a sudden it is just me up there. No wigs, no makeup...it feels like I’m not wearing any clothes.
JazzReview: After hearing the vocal duel of "With Plenty of Money and You" and the bouncy "We’re in the Money"( John Pizzarelli), you have left the listener hoping to hear other duets on your future albums. Is this something we can expect?
Jessica Molaskey: I am here with John and he has just informed me that his price has gone up and I probably won’t be able to afford him. Ah well, maybe I’ll give Peter Cincotti a call!!!