When in 2008 sax player Jessica Spinella, aka Jessy J, released her debut CD ‘Tequila Moon’ a range of factors combined to make it one of the most hyped events of the year. Produced by Paul Brown, who also provided a significant writing input, the album merged smooth jazz with Latin sensibilities in a way that had rarely been done before. A little more than a year later she was back with her sophomore effort ‘True Love’ which moved Jessy J closer yet to her Latin heritage and again drew heavily on Paul Brown’s talents as a writer, producer and performer. When recently I talked with Jessy the discussion touched on what was coming next and her hectic tour schedule. Indeed I was aware that until recently she had been the touring sax player for Michael Bolton and I speculated on what that must have been like.
"Playing with Michael and travelling with him world wide has been an amazing experience" Jessy told me. "He is due to start another international tour early next year but I had to make a decision and have opted, for now, to pursue my own solo career. Not that I expect life to be less hectic" she added. "I have been touring virtually non-stop for more than two years but then again I have been mostly on the road since the time I graduated from USC."
Of course in recent times her schedule has brought her to the United Kingdom with ever increasing frequency. Performances at the famed Pizza Express jazz club with both Mindi Abair and the duet pairing of Paul Brown and Marc Antoine have been interspersed by an appearance with Michael Bolton at the Royal Albert Hall. I guessed she must be getting to like London.
"I love it" she confirmed. "Being a regular visitor I have some great friends there now. Then there is the shopping and of course the food. I really like the Indian cuisine that is so readily available and the pizzas but I have to thank Jazz FM Deejay Steve Quirk for turning me onto fish, chips and mushy peas. More than that," Jessy said, "I enjoy the passion of the English fans. They approach every event like it’s an occasion. That makes it special for everyone."
In terms of capacity there can be no greater contrast than the vastness of the Royal Albert Hall and the intimate atmosphere of the Pizza Express. I wondered how Jessy had handled that transition. "I value every audience for whom I play" she explained. "I approach every performance with the same integrity and the same optimism. It’s about the musical connection not the size of the venue."
It seemed to me that the key musical alliance in Jessy’s career thus far has been that made with Paul Brown and I was curious to know more about the creative process which comes into play when the two of them work together.
"Paul has been one of my biggest mentors and it was such a thrill when he agreed to produce my first album. He has the knack of involving the most talented musicians and the way we work together now is a real partnership. In fact we are back in the studio right now working on my latest project which should be out in the early summer of 2011."
I continued by asking what we can expect from the new album. "Well," Jessy confided, "We already have six of the tracks in the can and hope to complete two more this month. I am looking to do a few different things and to weave in a little Brazilian jazz funk. We will also be featuring some guest artists which will, for me, be a first."
One of the things that make the music of Jessy J different is its rich blend of jazz and Latin influences. I was eager to learn if this was part of her music persona that she would like to expand on. "All my musical inspirations come from my Mexican-American heritage" she shared. "My father was born in Mexico and he and my mother filled the family home with festive, live Latin music. We spoke Spanish at home and ate Mexican food. Sure I listened to artists like Michael Jackson but I was also intrigued by that famous collaboration between Sergio Mendez and Cannonball Adderley. That kind of put a marker down for me."
Going back to that intensive tour schedule, I had noted that Jessy J is due back in London in the run up to New Years Eve. "Yes" she confirmed. "I’m back at the Pizza Express where this time I will be playing with G Funk."
I knew G Funk to be the collaboration of Acoustic Alchemy regulars Miles Gilderdale Fred White Gary Grainger and Greg Grainger so was curious to know how she had become connected with them. "In two ways" she divulged. "I first met up with the Acoustic Alchemy guys in 2007 when we were all playing at the Catalina Island Jazz Festival. We hit it off right away but then things have sort of come full circle. My new Manager is Stewart Coxhead who has managed Acoustic Alchemy for many years so that’s another connection. In fact it was just after I had split with my previous Manager. I was in London at the Pizza Express and Stewart had come along to see the show. We got talking after the gig and here we are."
I queried what this change in management might herald. "Stewart is hugely experienced and totally attuned to the contemporary jazz scene. He knows just how to succeed in it. The new CD is a great example of that. He has been heavily involved in lining up the right guest artists and taking care of merchandising aspects. We are already giving thought to what the 2011 tour itinerary might look like. Of course we will be getting out there to promote the new album. We also want to take in the Far East and are considering a new kind of touring concept. This year I have been part of Norman Brown’s Summer Storm series and we would like to do something similar but use two sax players and one guitarist instead. Right now it’s still in the works."
It is a clear indication of the break neck speed at which Jessy J lives her life that we conducted our interview while she was being driven down I-15 to a business meeting in San Diego, CA. Not only does this energy and love for what she does shine through in her music, it also raises anticipation for the next phase of what is proving to be an incredible career.