Aubrey Logan, US singer/trombonist with Postmodern Jukebox, has a new solo album coming out and a gig at the 606 on Wed. 14th Sept. She talked to Alison Bentley about studying at Berklee; winning the Montreux Festival Jazz Voice Competition; being on American Idol; singing with the likes of Burt Bacharach and Pharrell Williams; her jazz covers of pop songs, and her love of the London music scene.
London Jazz News: When is the new album coming out?
Aubrey Logan: We’re hoping for January 2017. It’s basically my dream album. I’m combining my influences together on one album. Most of it will be original music but there are some covers. I have an affinity for taking pop songs and turning them into something jazzy. All of us growing up through the internet age are not just influenced by one city, one era, one group of people, but everything’s at our fingertips. And of course we’re going to swing, and do some Latin-feel things. And then what’s really near to my heart: hip hop grooves, R&B jazz. So I’m really excited about it, and I can’t wait. We have a community of players on this album- it’s a collective really, and that makes it very fun for me. If people pre-order the album now, they’re the first to get the single and the album when it comes out, and they also get to see all the behind-the-scenes work that we put into it. (LINK TO PRE-ORDER /PLEDGEMUSIC CAMPAIGN)
LJN: What do you look for in a pop song that makes you think a jazz treatment would work?
AL: If I’m going to cover a pop song it has to lend itself to another style in my head. For example, when I did my Macklemore cover [Can’t Hold Us/Thrift Shop] on YouTube- he raps really fast, so the connection that my mind went to immediately was, ‘This is kind of like be-bop.’ If I just swung it a little bit, we could add a melody and use the chords he already has. In some cases I have to add chords. A simple, good hook is still important to me, even though I grew up in this cerebral, intellectual jazz environment as well. I still like really simple things, so my aim is to bring that together when I do a cover, and turn it into something jazzier.
LJN: You studied jazz at Berklee? Was that where you started doing some of your pop covers?
AL: I think I was already wanting to expand, but Berklee was the place where I felt I got permission to do that. There were groups of people heavily into gospel music, which I grew a huge passion for. And there were people into Brazilian music, and people who were just song writers. I learned from their example how to write a plain lyric, and tug on somebody’s heart strings. Before that, I started playing trombone when I was 12 years old, and that’s when I started singing jazz. Playing jazz sort of lent itself to singing jazz, coming through the horn.
LJN: You got thrown in at the deep end in the school band?
AL: I wanted to be with my friends, and I had done singing for the theatre before that. My mom was choir director, so she nudged her band director colleague. He let me in and mentored me.
LJN: What about the singers who’ve inspired you?
AL: I probably binged on Ella Fitzgerald for two years straight without listening to anybody else. I didn’t necessarily try to copy her but when you listen to somebody that much, you end up inadvertently doing that. I was also listening to Manhattan Transfer, Diane Schuur, Al Jarreau. I liked that they sung rhythmically, they weren’t just singing ‘pretty’. Whitney Houston’s probably my favourite R&B singer of all time. Michael Jackson of course. He also knew how to turn the ugly on a bit.
LJN: Your voice is very powerful sometimes.
AL: I only recently started taking vocal coaching with Gary Catona. He calls himself a ‘voice builder’. He treats a voice like an athlete would treat their body. I think my voice has always felt free and strong, but what Gary’s done for me is allow me to go on tour night after night and not get tired. Before, what I was trying to demand of myself was tiring, but it no longer is because of what his methodology’s done.
LJN: You love the ‘London sound’?
AL: I’m going to be splitting my time between Los Angeles and London. When people say, ‘Who are your favourite mainstream pop artists?’ they all seem to be from London, so I had to check it out and see why this is happening. People like Amy Winehouse, Sam Smith, Adele- there’s a homage to the 60s and Motown.
LJN: You’ve a gig coming up at the 606 Club on Wed 14th Sept….
AL: Yes- I’m going to be previewing a lot of songs from the album, so it’s going to be a combination again of some of the pop stylings I like, but in a jazz setting. What I like to do is to convey a story to the audience, so I like to be able to have a chat with them. The 606 is small and intimate so I can really do that- walk them through the story of the music. Also James Tormé is going to come and sing a song with us as a guest.
LJN: You won the Montreux Jazz Vocal competition in 2009, and were on American Idol- how did that affect your singing?
AL: At the times those things happened I was fortunate to be a part of them, but I don’t know if I was fully being myself yet. I came really close at Montreux, and I combined my love of jazz and also my love of performing. At American Idol I tried, but I think somewhere in my mind I was trying to figure out what they wanted. I think I just learned that anywhere I walk I’ve got to be who I am. It’s got to be authentic, and now the album is a result of that. I’ve learned- just try and be Aubrey and the right people will respond.
LJN: A lot of your songs and videos are very funny!
AL: That’s another influence again. Somebody finally pointed out to me: ‘You’re kind of like Bette Midler.’ She was somebody that I watched and listened to all the time growing up. She was able to convey the feelings from her live shows into her albums, and that’s what I’ve had trouble doing up till now. This new album is to translate the feelings you get in the live shows- you laugh and hopefully cry too, in a good way. We’re recording vocals right now and sometimes I’ll do something funny on the microphone, and the producer will say, ‘We’re leaving that in!’
LJN: Linda Ronstadt….Pharrell Williams….You’ve worked with a lot of well-known people- how did that come about?
AL: I attribute a lot of it to Berklee- Linda Ronstadt, for example, came and did clinics with us- I sang in a show with her. Burt Bacharach came and played piano on a show I sang in, and I even sang a Burt Bacharach song in front of him. He was the sweetest! When I moved to LA after Boston there were a lot of opportunities to work in television and film. Working as a session singer, you end up on people’s albums, like Josh Groban; or with Pharrell Williams, for example, at a Grammy performance. So that’s part of being a working musician- it gets you in the room with people who sometimes are legends! (pp)
Alison Bentley is a singer and teaches singing. Her music is on Soundcloud
DETAILS OF AUBREY LOGAN’S NEXT GIG: 606 Club, Wed 14th Sept. Aubrey Logan, vocals and trombone; Alessandro Lombardo, drums; Lorenzo Bassignani, bass; Nathan Britton, piano; Sabrina Adel and Kat Deal, backing vocals. BOOKINGS