This Monday February 27th at City Winery singer-songwriter, composer and trumpeter Jeannie Tanner celebrates the release of her new album of original music entitled Words and Music. Tanner took on the daunting task of not only composing the music and writing the lyrics for this recording packed with original music but she specifically wrote the music with other Chicago vocalists in mind.
Tanner will be joined by vocalists Alyssa Allgood, Rose Colella, Elaine Dame, Kimberly Gordon, Paul Marinaro, Tammy McCann, Jeff Meegan, Typhanie Monique, Andy Pratt, Abigail Riccards, Michele Thomas and Amy Yassinger all of whom are featured on the new recording. They will be accompanied by a jazz trio, with horn section, under the direction of Dan Murphy. Also performing as part of the show is the HAWK String Quartet, led by Katherine Hughes.
We caught up with Tanner to talk about the new recording, the performance on February 27th and how she was able to take this concept and make it a reality.
Chicago Jazz Magazine: Let's give our readers some background on you and how you got your start in music. Did you grow up in a musical house?
Jeannie Tanner: Yes, my whole family is musical so I come by it naturally - musical roots, you might say At family reunions somebody will just break out into a song and then there's like 30-part harmony! My immediate family along with nieces, nephews, cousins, aunts and uncles just jump in and bam, it’s a “flash mob choir”…
My earliest memories are of singing and playing music in church - southern gospel style, as I'm originally from Houston, Texas. As I got older, I knew I wanted to pursue music as a career - teaching and/or performing. I played in several corporate/wedding bands, had my own pop/R&B band, and began recording albums in the mid 90’s. Then, I served as the Executive Director of a non-profit music school here in Chicago for almost 6 years — The Lathrop Community Music Center. We provided affordable lessons to at-risk youth and low-income families from the Lathrop Homes, Hamlin Park, Logan Square and Humboldt part communities. (Dr. Rita Simo, the founder of the People’s Music School, was one of my mentors.) Finally, about 10 years ago, I decided to be a full-time musician. Today, I am very blessed to have a career that I love - writing, recording and performing music. I compose music for various television and film projects, write and record music with my jazz quartet - and special projects like this new album, WORDS AND MUSIC and I perform 4-5 nights a week. Life is good :)
Chicago Jazz Magazine: You play several different instruments and also sing what was your first instrument and how did you become interested in becoming proficient on multiple instruments?
Tanner: I started playing drums when I was 3 y/o (one of my cousins had a set so I guess I just started jamming on the bass drum and snare) I began studying music formally when I was nine y/o. My folks made me take a year of piano. After learning the basics on piano, I was free to choose whatever instrument I wanted… so I went with trumpet. My Aunt Sandra played trumpet in church and I loved how beautiful it sounded. But, I kept playing drums, picked up the bass, acoustic guitar, French horn - whatever instrument happened to laying around at family gatherings, church or jam sessions. However, trumpet was my main instrument in school. I continued playing piano on my own, as I was starting to write songs by the time I was 11… That came in handy as I now make my living playing with my band, but also doing solo gigs (playing piano & singing).
Chicago Jazz Magazine: Tell us about how you started writing music and lyrics, did it come naturally for you or was it something that you had to spend time learning?
Tanner: Honestly, songwriting came pretty naturally. (My parents tell the story of how I used to sing little “moon songs” in the back seat of the car, while we were driving around. I was maybe 5-6 y/o - and years later, I released an album called PROMISE ME THE MOON - so it came full circle, I guess…) I was writing complete songs by the time I was about 11 y/o. It just sort of happened - just sat down at the piano and began composing. In fact, I performed a song that I wrote at age 12 called “Changes” at my high school graduation ceremony.
When I compose, the music and lyrics usually come simultaneously. I’ll hear a melody with a chord progression, and the words follow. Most of the time, I can write a song in about 30-45 minutes. I write in my car, at the piano… there’s usually music floating around in my head 24/7 - makes it hard to sleep sometimes - ha. That’s not to say that I never struggle. Sometimes I’ll start playing chord progressions and they go nowhere… so I’ll leave them (typical musician ADD - lol), move on to something else, and then maybe revisit that particular idea later on. I’ve tried to become a better composer by forcing myself to be more disciplined and stick with an idea, even if the melody, or lyrics, aren’t flowing. It’s a continual learning experience, every day.
Chicago Jazz Magazine: The concept for this new release Words and Music is really incredible. First how did you come up with the idea and second how long did it take you to sit down and start working on it?
Tanner: I started dreaming about this project about 3 years ago. As a composer, I really wanted to hear what my songs would sound like, interpreted by other singers. I’m a singer-songwriter, so I’ve always been the featured vocalist on my albums. And now, my ninth album, WORDS AND MUSIC, is completely different in that I’m not singing on any of the tracks - just playing trumpet.
In the fall of 2015 I began by talking to the singers one by one, asking if they would want to be a part of this album. I sent them songs from my music catalogue and we began thinking about how to re-arrange them. I also talked with some of the vocalists about writing new songs for them, specifically for this album (Rose Colella, Paul Marinaro, Tammy McCann, Typhanie Monique and Abigail Riccards). The pre-production didn’t start until Jan. 2016. Dan Murphy (who co-produced the record with me) and I met with the singers and we started going over arrangements (picking keys, tempos, etc.). And, I played the songs I had written for those 5 singers to make sure they were cool with their songs.
We scheduled the main recording sessions with the band and vocalists the last week of May, 2015 at my house - yes, recorded live, in my living room (3 days of recording). We added guitar and horns a few months later. The string quartet was recorded in the fall, but those sessions were done at Electrical Audio. My trumpet solos were recorded last at Matt Feddermann’s studio. He also co-produced the record with me, and was the recording engineer for all of the sessions. The way he was able to capture the performances and energy of all of those talented artists, in 3 different recording environments and blend them together - really amazing. Dan, Matt and I mixed the record in early January of this year and then Brian Schwab mastered it.
We had to stretch out the process because of everyone’s varied schedules, and I just didn’t want to rush it… It was important to me that we take whatever time we needed. And I’m so proud of what we’ve accomplished - a total collaborative effort from start to finish, by each and every person involved. Truly, a labor of love :)
Chicago Jazz Magazine: Composing music and lyrics for yourself is something you have done in the past but how different was it for you to do write with other vocalists in mind?
Tanner: It was incredibly exciting to write for other vocalists. The challenge for me was composing something that would speak to them, creatively. I wanted to make sure that I was writing in a style they could embrace and compose lyrics that they would be able to make their own. And, I think I was able to do that… It was thrilling to play them their songs for the first time and hear them say, “I love it!”
And, I was totally open to having all of them collaborate with me… I wrote the music for Tammy McCann’s soulful ballad, “It’s Never Too Late,” and then she and I co-wrote the lyrics. She and I had a blast - we’d be texting back and forth - “hey what about this line, or what do think of this phrase?” Paul Marinaro had an idea about that feeling we sometimes experience - “did it really happen, or was it a dream.” So I composed the ballad “Remembering” for him. Typhanie Monique had been listening to a lot of early Etta James and Little Jimmy Scott, so that’s where the idea for “Be Strong” came from (and Dan’s strings added a very retro feel, with an “At Last” vibe). Rose Colella has such a Blossom Dearie quality to her voice, so that was what inspired “That Word.” I wrote “Endless Joy” for Abigail Riccards in 2013 for her record, EVERY LITTLE STAR which was co-produced by Jane Monheit. Abby wanted a song about children, in the style of Hoagy Carmichael. For WORDS AND MUSIC, we decided to re-arrange it as a lullaby, adding strings (Dan Murphy brilliantly composed all of the string arrangements).
I loved writing for these amazing singers. It helped me develop another skill as a songwriter - and it was so fun. I’m looking forward to continuing to write for other vocalists as I focus more on the composing aspect of my career. But it was equally exciting to hear the new arrangements of the singers who recorded songs from my catalogue - some that I had previously recorded on my albums, and other songs that were written for tv and film projects, or specific performances, but never released… All of these fantastic artists - taking my songs, and reinventing them… it’s been a total rush all the way around!
Chicago Jazz Magazine: Tell us about the performance on Monday night, what can people expect to experience?
Tanner: This will be a ONE NIGHT ONLY performance: 12 wonderful vocalists, a full band with a horn section and string quartet. And, I believe this is the first time that these singers have performed in concert, together. The music is an eclectic mix of jazz, soulful ballads, N’awlins style tunes, Latin rhythms… all reminiscent of the Great American Songbook.
City Winery is the perfect venue for this show - great ambiance, food, wine, service - all while enjoying an exciting evening of new, original compositions. It’s a wonderful showcase for Chicago’s talented jazz community and I hope people will come out to celebrate and support live music in the Windy City.
Chicago Jazz Magazine: When the new release comes out do you plan on performing this show at other locations or do you have anything already on the books?
Tanner: I am marketing this concert to a few other venues here in and around Chicago. It’s a different kind of concept for a show, so it’s taking more time than when I book just my quartet - not to mention, coordinating this many schedules. But, I’m excited to find other clubs/theaters/venues that will host it and hope to have some dates on the calendar in the coming months.
February 27th New CD Release Event at City Winery
WORDS AND MUSIC
by Jeannie Tanner
Album Release Concert: Monday, Feb. 27th
at City Winery Chicago 7:30pm
Featuring: Alyssa Allgood, Rose Colella, Elaine Dame, Kimberly Gordon, Paul Marinaro, Tammy McCann, Jeff Meegan, Typhanie Monique, Andy Pratt, Abigail Riccards, Michele Thomas and Amy Yassinger
Musicians: Dan Murphy (Piano/Music Director), Cory Biggerstaff (Bass), Neal Alger (Guitar), Darren Scorza (Drums), Chris Madsen (Sax), Jeannie Tanner (Trumpet) and the HAWK String Quartet, led by Katherine Hughes.
With Additional Music by: Stacy McMichael Duo & Matt Feddermann