Hailing from Atlanta, Georgia, Kayla Taylor is a southern gal who, when it comes to torch songs and jazz standards, can sing with the best and surpass them. Her new CD 'You'd Be Surprised' is the follow up to her 2005 release 'A Night at Pacific & Vine' and features a sophisticated array of classic tunes that she delivers with the warmth of a nightingale and the intimacy of a soul singer.
Singing came naturally to Taylor. She recalls, "Two things happened that motivated me to be a singer. First, personally, I thought I was going to be the next Liberace. I played piano my entire childhood. I was visiting a cousin in Memphis with my family and I was playing a song for her that I had been working on, 'Rainbow Connection'. She said, 'Wow that's great but there's lyrics there. How come you aren't singing?' I didn't have a good reason so I sang and played the song and she ran down the hallway of her house shouting 'Mamma come quick! Kayla can sing! Kayla can sing!' That was a really cool experience. Second, I was playing flute in the middle school band. I loved playing the flute and was really good at it. On the last day of school this guy in my class asked if he could see my flute so I let him. He was kind of a 'bad seed', always getting into trouble, but I figured what's the harm? Well, when I got home and opened my flute case so that I could practice, the mouthpiece was missing. That boy had stolen the mouthpiece to my flute and my sweet parents didn't have enough money to buy me a new one. So I told my parents 'From now on I'm going to sing because no one can steal that from me!' There weren't any calculated moves that motivated me to be a solo artist over a backup singer. It just sort of happened that way. At the age of fourteen I started getting hired to sing at weddings and funerals and it took off from there. My dream gig, though? I would love to be one of Bette Midler's back-up singers."
She cites her musical influences as an 'eclectic clan of singers' which she lists as Patsy Cline, Sheena Easton, Pat Benatar, Linda Ronstadt, Ella Fitzgerald, Etta James, Peggy Lee, Julie London, Bette Midler, Barbara Streisand, and Carole King. "The thing each one of these singers has in common" she says "is that when they sing a song, it feels to me that they are singing from all the way down in their toes and giving you everything that they've got. They are full of soul and passion and it made me want to pull out all my soul and passion too."
For 'You'd Be Surprised' she is again in tandem with her long-time collaborator and guitarist Steve Moore with whom she also recorded her 2008 release 'The Christmas Album', the 2005 project 'A Night at Pacific & Vine' and 'Cross the Bridge' in 2001. "I met Steve Moore when I answered an ad in the Creative Loafing" she reveals. "That was 19 years ago. The band he was in back then was looking for a female vocalist. I went to the audition and got the job. It was an original rock project which gave me an opportunity to perform, write, play and record with other musicians. So what attracted me to Steve is that he and the other musicians wanted 'ME' to be their lead vocalist. We worked together in that band for several years and then spun off into our own projects which eventually led us to studying and performing jazz and standards."
Recording and producing the new album with Mooreserved to strengthen their partnership. "Steve and I have worked together for so long" she reflects "that we can finish each others sentences. That kind of relationship makes all the difference in the world. I trust Steve and I trust his judgment so when he suggests a tune or an arrangement of a tune then I'm completely open minded to it. He has the same trust in me. Now, don't get me wrong, we have had our share of butting heads but we always come up with a compromise that works for both of us. The thing about both of us is that we are both solution oriented. Here's the problem but what's the solution? The focus is always more on the solution than the problem. We worked on the arrangements prior to going into the studio and that cut down on a lot of down time. Steve knows if I'm holding back on a vocal take and he'll point it out. He also knows when I've gotten the take and keeps me from overextending myself when it's clear the take I just did is going to be the best."
"We both decided on the final selection of songs" she explains. "We both have to love it or it's just not going to make it onto the album. We tried to find things that were familiar but maybe not as often heard or recorded. Several tunes such as 'I Only Have Eyes For You', 'Good Morning Heartache' and 'Blues Stay Away From Me' were requests from our audience. Steve came across 'You're Driving Me Crazy' and 'Treat Me Rough'. He thought they were perfect tunes for me to sing and I agreed. I heard the tune 'You'd Be Surprised' when I was just a young girl watching a Marilyn Monroe movie and the song just stayed in my mind and spun around in there. It was cute and catchy and no one ever performs it so we thought it'd be great to throw into the mix. I love to hear Marilyn Monroe sing. I find her voice endearingly sexy."
A number of songs such as 'It's De-Lovely' and 'Good Morning Heartache' had been previously recorded by other artists and this, for Kayla, served to set the bar high. As she explains, "When I start working on a tune, I love to listen to as many versions of the tune as I can find. I like to study all the different approaches to the song and then come up with my own spin for the tune. So I think I'm definitely influenced by other vocalists that recorded 'It's De-Lovely' because I really 'crammed for that tune but feel that I made it my own and gave it my own thumbprint."
She beams about the song selection on her new recording. "I love the American Standards" she exudes, "the lyrics and the melodies. I love how with a lot of the standards there is a dramatic verse to introduce the song. The verse on 'Treat Me Rough' really sets the tune up for the listener. I love the romance, charm and nostalgia of the lyrics. I also love the really campy, tongue in cheek tunes. If I have to pick one thing that attracts me to the American Standards it's that the lyrics are so completely clever. Every song we perform, I wish that I wrote. The American Standards really mean the most to me of any era of tunes, because of the nostalgia that it evokes in me, and how they reach out to every person that sits in our audience, whether they are 3 or 103."
Her previous recording, 'A Night at Pacific & Vine' was recorded live at a restaurant called Pacific & Vine. "It was our first steady gig as a jazz combo" she says. "Folks immediately started asking us for a CD that they could purchase. We were gigging so much so quickly that we didn't have time to go into the studio on the weekend and start cutting a record so we brought the studio to the restaurant and recorded it in the middle of the dinner rush. The audience that showed up to Pacific & Vine every time we played were so onboard with what we were doing that we really wanted them to be part of the CD and be in the mix with us. That's exactly what we got. What we did different with 'You'd Be Surprised' is actually book time in the studio. Live albums are fun but there's a lot to be said for the controlled environment of the studio. One thing that was a problem on 'A Night At Pacific & Vine' came from my performance. When I perform I am all over the stage or the club or the restaurant because I'm wireless. I can go sing to anyone in almost any part of the venue. I didn't want to compromise what folks had gotten used to seeing when they came out so I did a regular performance and it made a lot of the vocals bouncy and unusable. One thing I constantly have to remind myself of in the vocal booth at a studio is to stop snapping my fingers and stop dancing in the booth so I can get a smooth vocal take."
Talking of how she prepares herself before a concert Kayla shares "I try to stay as busy as possible before a show so I don't think too much about what I'm about to do. If I think too much about what I'm about to do then I'll get too hung up on it. I do some vocal exercises on the way to the show. I have dinner with the band or just Steve if it's a duo gig and we talk about whatever is on our minds. I want to be who I am in front of the audience and I never want to be contrived. I appreciate sincere performances and I want to always be that kind of performer. If I ever feel that I'm just going through the motions I'll probably just stop performing. I'm a fun, approachable, zany kind of girl and I love people. That's what I want an audience to feel. Every audience is different. I try my best to read each audience and see what I can give them. In a showcase situation, where folks have intentionally come out to see you, they are already there with you. In a restaurant you have to understand that not everyone expected to walk into the middle of a show. You have to respect the patrons and be there to entertain them but not expect that you will be the 'show'. Nine times out of ten the restaurant patrons hear what you do, stop their conversations, purchase CDs and put money in the tip jar. It's an extra gift when you can get their attention because you know that somehow you've touched them."
Outlining her ambitions she muses that "I'd like to do some touring of America, Europe or Asia, anywhere an audience might be receptive. I'd love to go there and perform for them. Love to give 'em the 'ooo la la'!"
Kayla Taylor's southern hospitality follows her from the recording studio to performing live in dinner clubs and ballrooms. Her new CD 'You'd Be Surprised' is a stellar recording comprising a selection of jazz standards and torch songs that she delivers with soul and passion felt from the tips of her toes to the crown of her head. There are few like Kayla Taylor and it's to jazz music's good fortune that she found her voice.