JEANNE NEWHALL FINDS INSPIRATION IN THE ‘SKY’ IN A SEASIDE TOWN IN CALIFORNIA REDWOOD COUNTRY ON HER NEW JAZZ/BLUES/FOLK/SOUL INFLUENCED COLLECTION, FEATURING 10 ORIGINALS AND A COVER OF BOB DYLAN’S CLASSIC “IF NOT FOR YOU”
The Acclaimed Singer, Songwriter and Pianist Brings Her Ten Years in the Making Labor of Love Project To Life With The Dynamic Multi-Cultural Band Of Abraham Laboriel, Kazunori Koga and Walter Rodriguez
A mere twenty four hours after her triumphant return to the stage at Catalina Jazz Club in Hollywood after a five year absence, Jeanne Newhall and her powerhouse multi-cultural band gathered at Castle Oaks Studio up in Calabasas to record Sky, her highly anticipated new album that draws from a vast array of the acclaimed singer-songwriter’s influences, from jazz and blues to folk, pop and R&B.
Like many of the previous recordings in her diverse 23 year discography, including her recent recordings Glide (2010) and Blossom of Transformation (2011), Sky is released on Newhall’s independent label Marzipan Music.
Sky, which includes 10 original pieces and a sultry and soulful take on Bob Dylan’s classic “If Not For You,” was recorded live in the studio over the course of two days with legendary Mexican born bassist Abraham Laboriel (whom Guitar Player magazine has called “the most widely used session bassist of our time,” with over 4,000 credits), Puerto Rican born drummer Walter Rodriguez (a protégé of percussion great Alex Acuna who has toured with numerous artists, including Yanni) and Japanese guitarist Kazunori Koga, who first played with Newhall in February of 2013 when she performed several shows in Japan.
Kazunori adds both his acoustic and electric guitar mastery to the mix, while Rodriguez, a veteran drummer and a virtuoso percussionist who has studied with tabla masters from India, joins with Laboriel to create a polyrhythmic foundation for the tunes on Sky to take flight.
“The song is ultimately what listeners will choose to turn their hearts and lives onto,” says Newhall, “but I have always put a lot of value in working with musicians who have studied well and bring their own creative pieces to my projects. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to perform live with Abe, Walter and Kazunori, and it was wonderful working with them in the studio as these tunes came to life as well. Masters in the art of cooperation, they all play from the heart and bring a vast amount of experience to the recording, which helps them intuitively connect with my songs and overall vision.
“Once that downbeat begins,” she says, “they are completely invested at a soul level, making a deep, intuitive connection, creating an environment in which I can be free and open to let go, be versatile and let the spirit of the moment lead me. This approach leads us to sessions that match not only the conception of the album, but also the music where it was composed and why. With this band, I feel I have a vehicle to express every emotion that went into the songs when I originally wrote them.”
From the gently exotic opening track “Ocean” to the final, whimsical and easily rhythmic flight of “The Dove,” Newhall composed the songs of Sky over a long expanse of time (2004-2010) and on various visits sitting at the piano of a friend’s home, looking out the windows towards a bluff and the ocean in Trinidad, California—a seaside city in Humboldt County known for its vast Redwoods. She has performed numerous concerts in Trinidad at the town hall, whose piano’s history includes years in Hollywood in the 30s and 40s and a story that George Gershwin played it.
True to the overall organic nature of the project, Newhall did not have a concept for a recording in mind when she first sat at her friend’s piano in 2004 and began composing pieces that evolved into the songs on Sky. “The room was wrapped in windows looking out over the ocean, and I found it to be the perfect visual environment to compose in,” she says. “I visited again in 2005, 2007, and 2008„ each time checking in on the piano. Sometimes the inspiration was subtle, other times, as with ‘Hummingbird,” more direct. I saw one hovering outside the window and I had what I call a deeply religious experience where the quietude of the setting and the overpowering beauty of nature came together.”
Allowing the songs to develop naturally in a long and deliberately slow building process, Newhall—while releasing several other recordings during this time—composed pieces that reflected and paralleled what was happening in her life at any given time. The result is a magical mix of emotionally charged tunes that alternately tap into her serious, sentimental side (“Rainbows To Rain,” “When They Lay His Body Down”) and her playful, whimsical side (“Hummingbird” and “Quinn’s Ride,” a liberating story about a young girl riding her pony along the beach).
After taking some time off from her whirlwind recording and performing schedule upon the passing of her brother in 2008, Newhall has emerged with some of her most dynamic and successful projects ever.
A year after releasing Glide, her comeback album, in 2010, she put out the Deluxe Edition of the collection that included a cover of The Wallflowers’ “6th Avenue Heartache,” which was featured on the ABC mystery-drama series “Happy Town.”
A devoted practitioner of Ashtanga Royal Yoga for more than 10 years, Newhall recorded and released her first yoga-centric album Blossom of Transformation in 2011; she dedicated the healing-based recording to her late brother. Last year, she added a second career spanning compliation, Spacious, Peaceful and Quiet, to her extensive discography.
“Since I began performing again in 2012, I feel like I have shed an emotional and spiritual skin and am enjoying a sense of healing, rebirth and transformation,” says the Phoenix born and raised, Los Angeles based artist. “There comes a point with every musician where you feel a unique call to share your gift and emotions with both the people who have helped support your career and others who are new to the experience. All of this is like emerging from a cocoon and rising on what I can only describe as ‘butterfly wings.’ The recording of Sky represents a benchmark high point in my life with people I communicate with mainly through music. The way Abe, Kazunori and Walter helped bring these songs to life and manifest my dreams for this project truly blew my mind. There were times when I actually had to take a break because I became so overwhelmed emotionally by the power of musicianship I was experiencing.”