Sometimes the greatest challenge for a singer is taking the leap into making a debut album. The exposure opens them up to receive public scrutiny and global adulation. For the artist, it is always impossible to predict how the public will react. Luckily for singer-songwriter Kelley Suttenfield, she has the vocal chops to attract hordes of people, the charisma to make a lasting impression on their minds, and a passionate delivery that can penetrate their hearts.
Suttenfield’s mix of intimate jazz and classic smooth swing is striking as she demonstrates her multi-faceted vocalese on her debut album Where Is Love? The choice to make the recording was a natural decision as she expresses, "The need to release a CD at this time was borne out of several things. For starters people had been asking one for quite awhile and I was running out of things to tell them. But also, there was a personal need to document what I was doing musically as well as to experience the kind of growth and development that recording a project brings. I learned a lot from the process, and I continue to learn more and more each day."
The tracks chosen for the album include many tunes which were personal favorites for Suttenfield. "The song selection," she exposes, "was mostly my choice, derived from tunes played in gigs, or tunes I wished I could do with a full band. However, I did solicit some opinions on narrowing down the scope a bit. Hedging my bets, I started out with a plan to record 14-16 songs with 12-14 as an end result, and that’s exactly what happened. The final CD has 12 songs in total. The others might surface as ‘lost tracks’ one day, or not!"
One of her favorite jazz tunes, "Nature Boy" by Eden Abbez, proved to showcase Suttenfield’s gorgeous vocalese. She indicates, "The development of this song began with a specific image in mind, and I did have some personal experiences that informed its delivery. But I’d also have to acknowledge that the arrangement played a big role in the ‘story‘. I decided early on that this song required special treatment, if I was going to have something special to say. And it was while studying Carnatic, [that is] South Indian vocal music with Shobana Raghavan that I started to transpose those vocal patterns onto the melody."
She assesses, "Shobana helped me to connect my ideas in an original, yet, not inauthentic way. Another source of inspiration was the music itself that unfolded in the moment. This is one song that entered rehearsal ‘uncooked‘, but emerged as a collaborative, rapturous fusion in the studio. And finally, the refrain of the song is simple yet powerful, and continues to be a source of personal inspiration," as she cites, "’The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love, and be loved in return‘. May we all be so fortunate as to experience its true meaning once in a lifetime."
Another favorite tune of hers, "Charade" by Henri Mancini, was a benchmark moment on the album. She admits, "’Charade’ is one of those films I could watch over and over. I always loved the look and feel of the Technicolor productions of the ‘60s and was fascinated watching Audrey Hepburn onscreen. For me, it represents a special time in history, as well as in my own development, both tinged with nostalgia and wonder. The message," she perceives is, "bittersweet. Composed by Mancini, the theme is timeless and permanently etched in memory. The words, I never really knew, but was delighted to discover that they are still relevant today. I decided to put my own stamp on it by changing the meter to 5, and adding the motifs at the beginning and end. It was one of those things that just came together very quickly. I’ve noticed that the ones drawn from my childhood experiences often do."
Adhering to the principle that if you don’t like your work, no one else will either, Suttenfield made choices that she liked for the recording including her decision to co-produce the record with esteemed singer-songwriter Andrea Wolper whom she concedes, "I never could have achieved this result without Andrea’s involvement. Andrea is a talented singer, composer, teacher, and recording artist. I identified with her sound from the first time I saw her perform, and have been a fan ever since. So in that respect, I think it helped tremendously that we happened to be on the same page about a lot of the choices to be made."
"However," she stipulates, "vital to this project was her recommendation of Katherine Miller as recording engineer. For other challenging decisions, she helped create a vision for some things that I just could not see, or perhaps was not ready to see. And beyond that end, she was extremely generous and gracious with her time and of her self. I would love to work with her again in any regard, if the opportunity arises."
For the recording of Where Is Love?, Suttenfield called upon a talented cast of musicians which comprised of pianist Michael Cabe, electric guitarist Jesse Lewis, acoustic guitarist Tony Romano, bassist Matt Aronoff, and drummer Brian Adler. It is a cast that she is very proud of to have on her first outing as she praises, "They are all super-talented musicians that I’ve been fortunate to have worked with over the past few years. Much of the music on the CD came out of trying out ideas on gigs with them. I have known Matt Aronoff [on bass] the longest, and he introduced me early on to Michael Cabe [on piano] and later to Brian Adler [on drums]. Jesse Lewis [on electric guitar] was also well-known in those circles, and he soon came on board, followed by Tony Romano [on acoustic guitar], who perfectly completes the ensemble. They all have their own music projects going, and I encourage folks to check them out!"
As for going on tour to support the release, she furnishes, "There is a plan in the works for a tour next year, but its much too early to comment. I’ll be sure to let folks know, and they can always check the website for updates. I have to say I'm looking forward to it. Recording is one form of the art, but performing live is transportive. When I’m with the band, and I’m really ‘in the music‘, I reach a place that is not attainable by any other means. If I can share that with others, it’s been a good day."
Suttenfield is no stranger to singing live. She recalls, "From childhood, I was always singing in group settings such as choirs, musical theatre productions, and I was often a featured soloist. I toyed with the idea of undergraduate studies in music, but priorities were different at that time."
She comments, "It would be hard to pinpoint that at any identifiable age," when she began singing. "I do have recollections of singing in church at a very young age. My family encouraged another musical pursuit instead. When I was six, I began classical piano training, and did quite well at that level. However, devoting oneself to an instrument can be quite isolating and, as I matured, I gravitated towards more communal experiences such as musical theatre and group vocal performance. But it wasn’t until I moved to New York City that I ‘rediscovered’ singing as a way to reconnect with myself."
She remarks, "I can’t say that I took any private voice lessons until I was an adult living in New York City," and outlines, "I have worked as a background vocalist, and I love to collaborate with other singers, but mostly it’s been just me, presenting the music. I’m grateful for so many things, but particularly for everyone’s patience and support. And that continues to this day."
She discerns that the biggest factor in prodding her into becoming a solo artist came from within herself. "I’d have to say the biggest challenge was keeping the faith. A project like this can be quite daunting and, for me, required a lot of preparation in order to feel like it was even possible. At some point, I just had to let that go and proceed as planned with the belief that everything would turn out alright in the end a good metaphor to adopt in general."
Assisting her in this endeavor has been the Internet as she asserts, "I would not have connected with the label Rhombus Records so quickly had it not been for the Internet. It’s a huge player in the music industry today, and there is an expectation for artists to have a solid Web presence. Just about every music publication has an online version that is able to connect to the audience in a way that a print version cannot. Many reviewers have their own web blogs these days. Radio stations, Web-based or not, broadcast over the Internet. Music is purchased and delivered over the Internet. We have a dedicated jazz portal site in All About Jazz. Social networking sites such as Myspace and Facebook bring people together in a unique way. Twitter! The possibilities are endless, yet so is the competition. If you’re not fully utilizing the Web, you are at a disadvantage these days."
Each song on Where Is Love? Is like a sheet taken from Kelley Suttenfield’s childhood with an intimate delivery that unveils their significance to her, and allows her to display the many shades of her vocalese. Her leap into recording a debut album makes the best of her efforts, and is a veritable crowd pleaser from start to finish. Suttenfield shows more than promise as a jazz artist, she sets a standard for vocalists to attain and one that is gratifying for the artist as well as for fans.