Whenever I hear the perennial claim that jazz is dead or dying or no longer relevant, I think of all the great women who have emerged in the last few decades as both outstanding soloists and as bandleaders. Esperanza Spalding comes to mind immediately, as do the fine drummer Terri Lyne Carrington and the outstanding pianist and singer Diana Krall. Now you can add to that list the name of a hard-charging young sax player and composer/arranger who hails from Southern California — Jessy J. She’s about to come out with a new album, and she’ll appear at the Granada Theatre in the Founders Room for a concert on Thursday, June 6. Her sound is smooth and reassuring, but jazz purists should note that this is a player who listens to a wide range of influences and who is far from finished with her development as an artist. In fact, it’s Jessy J’s openness to new influences and experiences that gave her the idea for the title to her new record, Second Chances. I spoke with her by phone last week as she prepared for a Memorial Day weekend gig in San Diego.
Have you been in the studio? Is the new project almost done? Yes, it’s called Second Chances, and I just finished recording it. There are a few more things to do before it’s released, but I will have it out there this summer. These are second chances I’m writing about, not last chances. This is not the end of the line. Personally, I know what it’s like to start over because I’ve had to do that with a lot of things. In love and romance so many times, it happens that things don’t work out, and you move on only to find that, with your second chance, something even better comes along.
I like the way that you work to rearrange other people’s music. Do you continue to do that on this album? There are some covers. I have done a new arrangement on a great song that was a hit for Roberta Flack, “Feel Like Making Love.” My version is re-harmonized, and the chords I’m using have more of a jazzy feeling. I’ve also got a reworking of a great song by Sergio Mendes, “Magalenha.” I have always loved the Brazilian sound, and I chose this one because it’s got a dance beat that seems like it will be the kind of thing that people might want to hear during the 2014 World Cup. It’s my pop soccer song.
You are very involved with the arrangements that you play. How did that come about? It’s because the piano came first. That was my original instrument, and I still use it a lot when I’m in the studio or at home composing. Writing and arranging are both really important to me. They are how I make it new. I love the adventurous ways that jazz players reinvent pop music. Like Robert Glasper’s cover of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana on his album Black Radio. That just knocked me out because at first I didn’t even recognize it, and then it kicks in, and I was like “Ahh, beautiful.”
Will you be playing the new material when you perform here? Yes I will. In fact, I’m at the San Diego Jazz Festival over Memorial Day weekend, but I’m not breaking out any of this new music until I get to Santa Barbara. It won’t be a record-release party, but it will be the first place that I play the new material out. I’m really looking forward to it.
Jessy J will perform in the Granada Theatre’s Founders Room (1214 State St.) on Thursday, June 6, at 8 p.m. For tickets and information, call (805) 899-2222 or visit granadasb.org.