We had a quick chat with our latest addition to the JMI Faculty, Jess Spina!
We are so pleased to announce that Jess starts a new adventure with us as one of our Principal Study Vocal Teachers here at the Jazz Music Institute! Jess was kind enough to share a bit of her background and what she enjoys the most about teaching and performing jazz music.
Tell us a bit about you as a musician. Where did you learn jazz?
As a kid, I was always singing to the point where I’m sure it was annoying for my family and neighbours. However a huge turning point for me was when I started lessons with Nick Hollamby. I’d heard Ella Fitzgerald singing The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea on the radio and when I told Nick how much I loved it, he took my excitement and absolutely ran with it. Nick lent me CDs of iconic jazz singers, taught me loads of standards and had me performing Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most at the Jazz Singer’s Jam Night when I was nine years old. I was quite a shy kid at school and struggled to envision myself as a performer but something about jazz was so special that I stuck with it.
What is it that you love about jazz?
Even though studying jazz can be incredibly frustrating at times, listening to and performing jazz fills me with joy to my very core.
As an art form, jazz compels you to be present, to listen, to take risks, to be expressive and thoughtful, and to never stop learning.
It leaves space for everyone to tell their own story and develop their own voice. Mostly I love that jazz is a collaborative effort, but still leaves space for everyone to tell their own story.
What do you enjoy about teaching music?
My favourite thing about teaching is meeting people at different stages of their musical journey, taking the time to understand their interests and goals, then figuring out the best way to help them move forward. Any teacher can attest to the fulfilment that comes from working with a dedicated and driven student who is interested in your area of expertise. That’s why I am so excited to work with the JMI students and help them dive deep into the craft that I love, all the while maintaining my fundamental philosophy to make music a fun and safe outlet for everyone.
What do you love about singing?
At different moments throughout my life, singing has somehow been both my greatest source of comfort and my most intimidating pursuit. It’s so personal; literally an extension of yourself. Singing is one of the most exposing and vulnerable things a person can do and in the same vein, it’s one of the most beautiful and honest. I think everyone, musician or not, has something to gain from singing. It’s just so good for the soul!
Who are some of your favourite vocalists?
Icons like Sarah Vaughan, Nancy Wilson, Anita O’Day, Carmen McCrae, Betty Carter, Nat King Cole. And some more modern voices I love are Veronica Swift, Lucy Yeghiazaryan, Benny Bennack III, Cecille McLorin Salvant, Esparanza Spalding. To name a few!!!
Do you perform regularly in any bands?
Pretty much every gig of mine is with different musicians in a different setting which I absolutely love! Jazz is my specialty and most of my work as a bandleader is in jazz trio, quartet or quintet mode, either playing standards or my arrangements/re-workings of tunes. Outside of my own projects I’m lucky to have a large variety of gigs and bands that I play with often. I’ve had the pleasure of working and recording with lots of different groups from my fellow jazz musicians’ projects to prog/jazz/hip-hop band ‘Pending?, improvised percussion/electronic duo ‘Shugorei’, funk/soul/motown band ‘Tongue & Groove’ and lots of others.
What have you been listening to at the moment?
Lots of Count Basie. I revisit the April in Paris album every time I watch Al Jarreau’s live version of Shiny Stockings (which is often).
Also Michael Mayo! He’s an insane RnB/Soul singer who writes such complex and interesting music and ties it all together with one of the smoothest voices I’ve ever heard. I’m still making my way through his new album Bones (20/20 is one of my favourites).
What is some of the best advice you have ever received from a mentor, musical or otherwise?
Kristin Berardi gave me so much wonderful advice but something she said that was really important for me to hear (and that I think lots of singers would resonate with) was that you don’t need to force showmanship on stage.
Your voice and your musicality is your stage presence. Sing with emotional honesty and give your most authentic self.