Smitty: Well, I have the distinct pleasure of welcoming to JazzMonthly.com for the very first time a monster keyboard player and she has such a strong voice. Her latest record is called Introducing Kiki Ebsen. She has a wonderful, wonderful array of great songs. Not just this album, but all of her projects have been just stunning and inspiring. She has such an enduring style, a poetic style, and she’s purely exquisite. Please welcome the incredible and amazing Ms. Kiki Ebsen. Kiki, how are you?
Kiki Ebsen (KE): I’m great, how are you?
Smitty: I’m wonderful. It’s so great to talk to you.
KE: Great talking to you too.
Smitty: Thank you! You know, I remember seeing you on Maui a few years back.
Smitty: And I remember you were doing a beach gig on Maui.
Smitty: And we were all hanging out and just laying out and listening to you, and then this wind came up.
KE: (Laughs.) Yeah, it was that afternoon wind.
Smitty: Yeah, and it just blew all of you guys’ sheet music away and I remember sitting there saying “Okay, let’s just see how good they are now.” (Laughs.)
KE: Yeah, that was a special moment.
Smitty: Yeah, but you and your band nailed it. I mean, it was like nothing ever happened and it was just a beautiful afternoon.
KE: Oh, well, thank you.
Smitty: You guys were fantastic.
KE: That was fun.
Smitty: Yeah. But I did not really recollect just how strong you were until I started to listen to your music and it’s just overwhelming, the strength of your voice and how enduring and endearing it is to listen to the lyrics and just how you phrase so many wonderful things in your music.
KE: Oh, thank you, thank you. It’s pretty much me (both laugh) for better or for worse. It’s pretty unique to me. It’s just how I hear things and I feel like I’m the type of singer who—I sing my own music and if I’m gonna do a cover tune, I’m gonna Kiki-ize it somehow to fit into what I do.
Smitty: (Laughs.) I like that. Kiki-ize it, huh? (Both laugh.) Oh, well, let me tell you, you Kiki-ized it and you supersized it. (Both laugh.)
KE: That’s great.
Smitty: Talk to me about how you discovered your voice. I mean, you know, it’s something when we discover something that we love to do and we’re good at it, but I think it’s somewhat different when a person discovers that they’re able to sing because not everyone’s able to do that.
KE: Well, it was interesting for me because I never set out to be a singer. In fact, it just never occurred to me that I could sing. Growing up I always played piano and always played by ear and loved to write music and I loved playing with other musicians, so I figured I would just play in bands and that’s pretty much what I did until I was kind of forced into the spotlight on a dare, I think, to go and to play my own songs by a club owner that knew that I had a lot of songs and he just sort of said “Get out there and put a band together and sing,” and I was, of course, terrified, but had a lot of support, so that’s how that sort of came about, but it’s been a long journey just to feel comfortable with who I am and know that that’s enough because we’re artists and we’re so critical of our work. It’s sometimes unbearable, really. (Both laugh.) Good ideas. I mean, I don’t know any artist that doesn’t have a certain amount of self-criticism whether they want to admit it or not, but it’s hard sometimes to get out from underneath that.
Smitty: Mm, I can imagine. They say that one of the ten most fearful sings to do is to recite or to speak before an audience.
KE: Right. That is hard to do. I can sing in front of an audience a lot better than I can just talking. (Both laugh.)
Smitty: I understand.
KE: I have to talk in between songs. It’s kinda like okay, get to the next song. But I usually try to tell a story and people love to hear the background of the songs and things like that so…
Smitty: Yeah. Speaking of background. Now, you come from an entertainment background, but talk to me about how you first started to play the piano.
KE: Well, I did grow up with a family filled with actors, with my father [Buddy Ebsen] and my mother was an actress as well, and my mother also played piano and my sisters were in piano lessons so I, being the youngest of the girls, I just followed my sisters around and did whatever they did anyway, so while they were in lessons, after they were done, I was too young to be in the lessons, so I would just get up at the piano and start plucking out the melodies, and as a few of my siblings moved into the acting world, I stayed with the piano because it was less crowded. (Both laugh.) I found, actually, it was a great way for me to express myself, and since I heard so much music in my head, it just seemed natural for me to spend many hours plucking away melodies and things like that.
Smitty: How cool is that? Wow.
Smitty: When you did your first album, and by the way, I love all of your albums. Your album artwork is always so colorful and it just seems to have such great substance.
KE: Oh, thank you.
Smitty: Yeah, it’s always really cool.
KE: Well, I painted my first record cover. (Laughs.)
Smitty: Yeah, it’s cool and creative.
KE: The very first one, with the Red record, much to the record company’s chagrin. I think they wanted me to put my face on the cover in a low-cut gown (both laugh), but I insisted on putting this painting on the front, which I still love to this day, so it was a good choice.
Smitty: Yeah, there are some of my favorite songs on Red.
Smitty: Particularly the things you did with Boney James were just fantastic.
KE: Ah, yeah. He is amazing.