"Jazz Monthly.com Feature Interview"
La Tanya Hall
Jazz Monthly: Just when you thought you’ve heard the zenith of classic voice and renditions, along comes my next guest here at JazzMonthly.com. Listening to her music is an unobstructed view of greatness, like looking through Hubbell and vividly seeing the key ingredients of what makes this artist a one-of-a-kind. And let me tell ya, she has got some swagger. You’ve got to hear her great new solo debut album and it is appropriately called It’s About Time. Please give a standing ovation welcome to the incomparable Ms. LaTanya Hall. LaTanya, how are you, my friend?
LaTanya Hall: I’m fantastic. How are you?
JM: I’m just great, thank you, and I must say I have just been marinating in this great new record. I love every tune on this record.
LH: Thank you so much.
JM: So when I think about—and we’ll get into a little bit of some of the great things you’ve done over the years—when I think about what you’ve accomplished and what you’ve had the joy of experiencing in your musical career, those three words resonate very loudly and have such a deep meaning: It’s About Time. Talk a little bit about what It’s About Time means to you.
LH: You know, it’s funny. My father helped me actually come up with that title because I remember when I spoke to him and I said “I’m finally gonna record the solo album that I’ve always wanted to do.” The first words out of his mouth were “Darn, it’s about time!” (Both laugh.) I’ve been in the music business for a while and I’ve sung with a lot of really amazing people and sung on other people’s records. However, it was time for me to step out and do my own thing and doing the music that I love and the music that I grew up with and was influenced by, so I feel very lucky and very blessed.
JM: Speaking of growing up with music, you come from a musical family. Your parents were great artists as well.
LH: Yeah, my father was a great piano player and my mother was a singer. They never achieved any level of fame beyond locally where we lived, but they certainly instilled me with a great passion and a great respect for music.
JM: Absolutely. Do you reflect back on some of the things that you experienced watching your parents and some of the things that they said to you now?
LH: Oh yeah. I grew up listening to all the greats in the house like Nancy Wilson and Sarah Vaughan and Billie Holiday and all that stuff, and my father used to sit with me in the living room sometimes when those records were playing and say “Now listen. Listen to how they’re telling you a story,” and that was probably the greatest thing….the greatest gift that he gave to me was not just being concerned with the notes or always hitting the right thing, but really being able to communicate a story through song. There are a lot of great artists out there, but the people that really touch me the most when I hear them are those who make me experience something.
JM: Yes, I feel you on that and speaking of experiencing something, you have experienced a great deal. I know you had the honor and pleasure of performing for and with some of the greats in music. I mean, when I think about you being able to perform at the All-Star Tribute to Quincy Jones, that must have been a fantastic experience that you’ll never forget.
LH: That was amazing. That was actually last year and everybody sang. I mean, Patti Austin organized the whole event and we had Gloria Estefan and James Ingram, Siedah Garrett. There were so many amazing people up on that stage and it was truly an honor to be there and to work with all of them, so again, a great gift.
JM: Absolutely. Talk to me a little bit about it—and I’m being somewhat recent a little—but talk to me about working with Angelo (DiPippo). That’s just got to be something that is dear to your heart because what a great arranger, composer and musician.
LH: Yes, definitely all of the above, and I actually met Angelo about eight years ago. I was hired as a session singer for an artist that he was producing—he was self-producing a record—and I ended up working with Angelo in the studio for quite a few years on many, many different varied projects. I had just done a demo of some songs that I love that I put together with some musician friends, and out of my respect for him and out of my respect for his arrangements and for his great talent as a producer and arranger, I asked him if he would listen and give me his input. He came back to me several months later. I thought he had actually forgotten about it. He called me and he said “I want to do a record with you.” And honestly, it was the record I always had dreamed could be made, you know, using all organic instruments, the most spectacular arrangements, and Angelo has such a beautiful voice through arranging. They’re intricate arrangements yet they still allow me to shine through vocally. And the way he was able to take a song that has been a standard and been around for a long time and sort of make it something unique and make it individual, playing to his strengths and to my strengths, was a great accomplishment, I think.
JM: Yes. How often over the years did you think about doing a solo record?
LH: Oh my Gosh, since I could remember. (Both laugh.) Since I could remember, you know? And I have done records before that never made it out into the public forum, but it was always somebody else’s vision of what I was as an artist.
LH: I mean, in the nineties I was working with a producer and they wanted to turn me into the next Janet Jackson. I mean, to the point of, for example the album cover was me in Spandex with a Scrunchie in my hair. (Both laugh.)
JM: Oh my goodness.
LH: So it was a strange experience, but again, it was me trying to get my foot in the door of the business. Another reference to the title of the record, It’s About Time, means that now is the right time for me to be doing the record that I always wanted to do because it’s truly who I am as an artist versus being what somebody else thinks I should be.
JM: Very cool. Now, having said that, what is most prevailing about this record from your perspective?
LH: Oh boy. I hope that the most prevalent thing is that musically it’s coming from a really honest place. These are tunes that everybody has heard. It’s a standards record, but I’m hoping I’m bringing a fresh voice to it and a fresh perspective, and hopefully the people who listen to it will hear something a little different in these tunes that they haven’t heard before.
JM: Well said, I second that and I must say that you truly bring a fresh voice to this, a very strong, High Def, BluRay voice to these great tunes, and that’s saying something because, I mean, you’re doing Cole Porter songs, Duke Ellington, and Toots Thielemans songs. My goodness, I mean, Gershwin. I mean, these are fantastic classics of all time.
JM: Yes, and you’re bringing something so real and so true to it, and it’s deep and your voice has the strength of a bull but the elegance of strawberry dipped chocolates with champagne. (Both laugh.)
LH: That’s one of the best analogies I’ve ever heard. I thank you so much and now I’m hungry. (Both laugh.)
JM: But that’s what you bring. I mean, when I listen, I visualize more so than I hear, most of the time, and I think the two complement each other. When you’re listening to great music, you automatically are audio and visual with the music, and I just envision this elegant convivial evening with someone very special that you’ll never forget. And that’s what your music brings to these great tunes and your voice because it’s just fantastic. It’s just over the top good.
LH: Oh, wonderful. Thank you so much.
JM: You’re so welcome.
LH: Thank you so much. I grew up with these songs. My father had a tradition on Sunday mornings of waking us up with music. He would go to the living room and start playing the piano and the organ. That meant it was time to get up and I remember sitting in the living room as a young kid learning these songs and singing these songs with my father while my mother was making breakfast in the other room, and they all have a very special place in my heart.
JM: We can’t put a price on what our parents do for us when we’re young that shapes who we will be in the future, and that’s a lesson for all parents with small children now.
JM: What they do now has a lot to do with what happens in the future with their children. So I often wonder, though, there’s your dad playing the piano. And you are now a singer, not a pianist.
JM: Did you ever wonder “Why didn’t I gravitate to the piano itself? “
LH: Well, I do play piano. I certainly wouldn’t do it as a career. (Both laugh.) I play well enough to learn the music that I love. I think my father just wanted us to do music. And I don’t think he cared what form it took. My little brother played trumpet and my oldest brother dabbled on the piano, and he was just thrilled that all of us were taking an interest in music. But ironically enough, my father actually was not entirely supportive when I decided to make music a full-time career. He knew what a tough road it was.
JM: Yeah, and that’s understandable.
LH: Having experienced this himself, and that is the last thing he wanted for any of his children. So it took him a minute to sort of come around to the fact that I’m going to do this and I’m gonna try my best and if I can’t make it in the business, then I have my college degree. I can always go back and get a 9 to 5. But now I think he’s the proudest father in the world. (Both laugh.)
JM: And rightly so. So we must tip our cap to Dad.
JM: Because he really gave you a very cool foundation to do what you do now and you do it so well and he has every reason to be proud. And I must say that if anyone hears your voice, be it live or studio, they can’t help but to be captivated, and I can’t put enough emphasis on the beauty of your voice and the strength of your voice because you bring so much soul and heart to every lyric, every note. It’s just a beautiful thing to behold and to listen to, it really is.
LH: Thank you. That’s a very high compliment and I take it humbly. (Both laugh.)
JM: Well, you are very welcome. So now how can people get this great record?
LH: Well, it’s available at Amazon.com, it’s also available at Bridge Records.com, and it should be up on iTunes very shortly, and I want to say a big thanks to anybody who makes the purchase and I hope you enjoy it.
JM: Oh, very cool, and I’m sure they will. Speaking of it, let’s talk about some of these great songs. The first track, “The Nearness of You,” the great Hoagy Carmichael song. Talk about why that song was selected for you, I mean, how much that song means to you, because just opening the first few words of the song and the way you really come across so beautifully with this song, it’s like this opening door to a great venue and you feel so welcome. I mean, it’s like a velvet carpet.
LH: Oh, thank you. That is a song that I’ve probably been singing for about 20 years and the first time that I heard it, the lyrics touched me so much because I think every one of us are a human being. It’s just longing to have that kind of relationship where just being near the person who has your heart can inspire such great poetry and such great passion and feeling in you. And sometimes it’s hard for me to sing that song because I know the depth of emotion that can happen when you experience a love affair like that. So I really take great joy in singing that because I think it’s a basic human desire to have those feelings.
JM: Yes, and that becomes the experience when listening to you sing that song, it really does. It’s a beautiful experience. And then when I listen to “It’s All Right With Me,” the great Cole Porter song, you bring such an extroverted vibe to it, and it just makes you want to just feel like a million bucks when you hear that song. (Both laugh.)
LH: It’s a high spirited tune and when Angelo and I were talking about the arrangement for that, we also started discussing the lyrics because again it goes back to that whole storytelling vibe and there were certain things that I wanted to communicate musically that sort of jibed with what the lyrics were talking about. Because the whole thing is “It’s the wrong time, it’s the wrong place, but boy you sure look good.” (Both laugh.) “And if you want to hang for a minute, it’s all right with me.” However, I wanted sort of that immediacy of those feelings like yeah, it’s not that I’m so excited that we could do this, and then when you sit back and you get into it and we slow the groove down to kind of say “Yeah, let’s give this a try for right now. It may not be a lifetime, but it certainly can be a moment.”
JM: Yes, and what a great moment, wow. And then we go back to Hoagy Carmichael with “Skylark.” Wow, what a great song. I mean, it’s a song that we’ve heard so many times, but you give it such a new and vibrant life, just listening to you sing this song.
LH: Yeah, I think that’s one of the most beautiful songs ever written. I really do, and that was a must include on the album.
JM: Absolutely, and I have to confess that I hit repeat a few times with that one. (Both laugh.)
LH: Well, thank you, thank you. That’s what a lot of my friends who heard the record in progress and some family members who heard the record in progress, that was definitely one of their favorites too.
JM: Yes, and I like “Bluesette” too.
LH: That kind of came at the last minute. I’ve always been a big fan of Toots Thielemans and a big fan of that tune in particular, but if I was gonna do it—Angelo and I had a long discussion about it—I said I wanted to take it someplace different than the typical 3:3 that most people do it in, so we decided to do it in 5:4 format. And I tell you what, once it was put into 5:4, it makes it one of the most difficult songs in the world to sing, for me.
JM: Yes, and we haven’t spoken of him yet, but I want to really say something about the work that David Mann did with a number of these songs. Just going back to “The Nearness of You.” How can you put into words how great this man is with a saxophone? It’s just crazy.
LH: Yeah, David’s a tremendous talent and I felt very, very fortunate to have him on my record, and we’re actually going to get to play some of these tunes live together for the first time on March 16th, so I’m super excited about that because getting him to play on the record was an honor, but to actually be able to do a show with him is going to be fantastic.
JM: Well, that sounds good. Where are you performing on March 16th? What’s happening?
LH: March 16th I will be at Feinstein’s, in New York City.
JM: Oh, very cool. Well, mark your calendars, everyone! Wow, that is so cool. Well, LaTanya, I must tell you that if the world has not heard you yet, they need to ask somebody.
LH: Oh, thank you.
JM: And everyone that has heard you sing has truly experienced something special and the whole world awaits your performance wherever you appear because everyone should hear great music. It is that good.
LH: Thank you so much and thank you for the time and thank you for giving me the opportunity to be a part of JazzMonthly.com because I’m so grateful for the reaction that has been coming for this album and especially for the people that are willing to help me get my voice out there, so thank you very, very much.
JM: Oh, it has been a pleasure and an honor, and I must say that everyone that picks up this record, I liken it to long stemmed roses that are long lasting. It is just a fantastic record. I highly recommend this record and all the best to you in 2009 and beyond with this record and your career.
LH: Thank you so much.
Baldwin "Smitty" Smith