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Steve Carter | Photo: Henrik Olund | January 9, 2014
Sultry, sensitive and seductive, Dallas jazz chanteuse Carolyn Lee Jones beguiles with her remarkable sophomore outing, The Performer.
Even before her voice makes its entrance, the smoldering sizzle of cymbal swells and electric piano set a moody sonic stage for Carolyn Lee Jones to sing you under her spell in “Small Day Tomorrow,” the lead cut from her newly released album, The Performer. Seducing the listener, the tune launches a 14-song journey of standards, sleepers and surprises, with Jones helming an all-star assembly of Dallas jazzers. Chestnuts like “Let’s Get Lost,” “Old Devil Moon” and “East of the Sun” are freshly reimagined; R&B nuggets like “Creepin’” and “Piano in the Dark” bask in a jazz pop glow; and when Jones illuminates obscurities like “The Performer” and “If You Were Shakespeare,” she makes them her own, so they ring out like harbingers of the soon-to-be-standard.
Although Jones started her professional life as a buyer for luxury retailers, she reveals that “music was always in the background since I was little—I’ve always wanted to be a singer.” That dream turned to reality in 2008, when she became a full-time songbird. Hailing from a musical family in Nebraska, Jones initially aligned with folk and pop genres, but her pianist mom introduced her to the Great American Songbook—hence, her range of early influences, from Tony Bennett and Judy Collins, to Peggy Lee and Grace Slick. “I had a little bit of all that swimming around in my head,” reveals Jones, who moved to Dallas after studying interior design in college. But even during her Big D retail years, music was her passion. “I’d sing in New York when work took me there,” she adds. “Singer Trudi Mann was my mentor in the city. She introduced me around to all the small jazz cabarets. I’d go up there once or twice a year and do a big show for all of my vendors, and that’s where I cut my teeth.” It was through Mann that Jones met bop legend Bob Dorough, who guested on her first album, Bon Appetit!, in 2008. Recorded live in New York, it was an auspicious debut.
Now, six years later, The Performer marks the next chapter in Jones’ odyssey. Featuring arrangements by Brad Williams, David Pierce, Roger Boykin, Paris Rutherford and Rich DeRosa, Dallas’ premier jazz players bring the songs to life with world-class élan. Williams and trombonist Pierce are joined by woodwind players Shelley Carol, Mario Cruz, Joyce Spencer and Paul Elder; bassist Jonathan Fisher; drummer Andrew Griffith; guitarist Todd Parsnow; percussionist Jorge Ginorio; and trombonist Tony Baker. Of the spectacular A-team, Jones enthuses, “What a cast; it was so much fun! And every song resonates differently, but really, in the end, it’s all about the story and getting that lyric across.”