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Stacey Kent – a Jazz singer

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Stacey Kent – a Jazz singer

Stacey Kent (born March 27, 1968) is a Grammy-nominated American jazz singer. Kent was awarded the Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (Order of Arts and Letters) by the French Minister of Culture in 2009. She is married to saxophonist Jim Tomlinson.

Stacey Kent is a jazz singer in the mould of the greats, with a legion of fans worldwide, a host of honors and awards including a Grammy nomination, album sales in excess of 2 million, Platinum, Double-Gold and Gold-selling albums that have reached a series of No. 1 chart positions during the span of her career.

Her album, I Know I Dream: The Orchestral Sessions (Sony) has had more than 40 million streams, won ‘Album of the Year’ in the vocal category at the 2018 Jazz Japan Awards, and received glowing reviews, including a coveted five stars in Downbeat, and was described by All About Jazz as “intoxicating understatement at its finest…one more jewel in a discography with many, it’s one that deserves singling out for its luster.”

This comparative literature graduate with a passion for music, travelled to Europe to further her studies, and after receiving her degree from Sarah Lawrence College in NY, through a series of twists of fate, she found herself in London where she enrolled in a graduate music program at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, where she met her future husband and musical partner, Jim Tomlinson.

Kent’s musical journey began in her childhood with piano lessons. A keen ear and true voice lead her to search out opportunities to express her love of music. However, nothing suggested the shift from the academic path to the path that propelled her to international recognition as one of the foremost jazz singers of her generation. With a catalogue of 11 studio albums, including the Platinum-selling, Grammy-nominated Breakfast On The Morning Tram (EMI/Blue Note 2007) and an impressive list of collaborations, Stacey has graced the stages of more than 55 countries over the course of her career.

Kent paid her dues in the jazz clubs of London, before releasing the first of a series of albums for the Candid label, beginning with Close Your Eyes in 1997. Her second album, The Tender Trap (1999) brought her to the attention of US audiences with appearances on CBS Sunday Morning and NPR’s All Things Considered. Albums and awards followed, with Stacey winning the ‘Jazz Vocalist of the Year’ at the BBC Jazz Awards. The Boy Next Door (2003) was Stacey’s last Candid release and her first album to achieve Gold status.

During this period, Stacey cemented her reputation as a singer capable of putting a distinctive stamp on an impressive repertoire of standards. Her ability to communicate emotion through a nuanced and minimalist approach was showcased on Jim Tomlinson’s album, The Lyric (Token) which was awarded Album of The Year at the 2006 BBC Jazz Awards. This album brought her to the attention of Blue Note records with whom she signed in 2007. With each successive album, Stacey’s style has become more honed as her artistic outlook has broadened, leading her beyond the Great American Songbook to French chanson and Brazilian music which form an ever-larger part of her repertoire.

Stacey’s repertoire also includes a growing number of songs written for her by Jim Tomlinson with various lyricists, most notably the Nobel Prize-winning author, Kazuo Ishiguro. The idea of singing original compositions came up during a lunch with Ishiguro. The conversation turned to music, and the idea was hatched to write a series of songs for Stacey that distilled themes of memory, travel and love, that so frequently surfaced in her repertoire. From this conversation, the songs for Breakfast On The Morning Tram were conceived.

Almost overnight, Stacey transformed from being a singer of the Great American Songbook, to a singer with a highly distinctive and personal repertoire. The first collaboration between Ishiguro, the lyricist, and Tomlinson, the composer, The Ice Hotel, won first prize in the jazz category of the International Songwriting Competition. Since then, all of Stacey’s albums have been punctuated by original songs composed by Tomlinson with a variety of lyricists in English, French and Portuguese.

Kent has continued to pursue a frenetic recording and touring schedule. Her first album for Blue Note was followed in 2009 by the Gold-selling, all-French, Raconte-Moi which was that year’s biggest selling French language album outside of France. She was invited to perform an all-French program at the Francofolies Festival and was awarded the Chevalier Dans L’Ordre Des Arts et Des Lettres. Her first ever live album, Dreamer In Concert (EMI 2011), was followed by The Changing Lights (Warner 2013), which more than any other album, reveals the ever-present influence of Brazil in Stacey’s music.

Among French, Italian and German, Stacey also speaks Portuguese. She has toured widely in Brazil and collaborated with many of her heroes including Edu Lobo, Dori and Danilo Caymmi, Roberto Menescal, and most notably Marcos Valle, who invited her to celebrate his 50 years in music on the album, Ao Vivo (Sony 2013). A DVD and documentary of their collaboration and friendship was also released on Sony in 2016.

With Roberto Menescal, Stacey recorded Tenderly (Sony), an intimate collection of standards that showcases her crystalline voice and Menescal’s warm guitar. Jazzwise Magazine referred to the album as “an extremely beautiful meeting of minds” It is Menescal’s only full album as a jazz guitarist and demonstrates the debt he owes to the great Barney Kessel. As Kent’s first standards album in a decade, it shows her increasingly impressive and maturing interpretative gifts.

Whilst the COVID 19 pandemic has put Stacey’s concert appearances on pause, she has been busy recording from home and staying in touch with her fans through social media. She has recently released several recordings including Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds and Bill Wither’s Lovely Day, with messages of hope for these troubled times, as well as the EP, Christmas In The Rockies (Token 2020). Stacey is also currently releasing a series of singles with her long-standing piano accompanist, Art Hirahara, entitled Songs From Other Places, which will include, among others, new original songs from Jim Tomlinson & Kazuo Ishiguro.

Songs From Other Places will be released as a full album in autumn, 2021. Her forthcoming studio album, Summer Me, Winter Me, originally scheduled for release in October 2020 is now planned for release sometime in 2022. 

Early life and education

Stacey Kent was born in South Orange, New Jersey and attended Newark Academy in Livingston, New Jersey. Her paternal grandfather was Russian and grew up in France. After graduating from Sarah Lawrence College, she traveled to England to study music at Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, where she met saxophonist Jim Tomlinson, whom she married on August 9, 1991.

Career

In the 1990s, she began her professional career singing at Café Bohème in London’s Soho. After two or three years, she began opening for established acts at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in London. In 1995, she appeared in Richard Loncraine‘s film “Richard III” (starring Ian McKellen), singing “Come Live with Me and Be My Love” (composed by Trevor Jones) at the Grand Ball celebrating the Yorkist triumph in the Wars of the Roses. Her first album, Close Your Eyes, was released in 1997. (An 11-track cassette release ‘Stacey Kent Sings’ was recorded in July 1995, which may be a set of demos).

Novelist Kazuo Ishiguro wrote the liner notes to Kent’s 2003 album, In Love Again. Ishiguro met Kent after he chose her recording of “They Can’t Take That Away from Me” as one of his Desert Island Discs in 2002. In 2006, Tomlinson and Ishiguro began to write songs for her. Ishiguro has said of his lyric writing that “with an intimate, confiding, first-person song, the meaning must not be self-sufficient on the page. It has to be oblique, sometimes you have to read between the lines” and that this realization has had an “enormous influence” on his fiction writing.

Tomlinson and Ishiguro co-wrote four songs on the album Breakfast on the Morning Tram. The first of their songs, “The Ice Hotel”, won first prize in the International Songwriting Competition in April 2008. Kent recorded several more Tomlinson/Ishiguro songs on Dreamer In Concert, The Changing Lights, and I Know I Dream: The Orchestral Sessions.

Tomlinson and Ishiguro have subsequently written songs for three more of her albums (Dreamer, The Changing Lights and I Know I Dream) and continue to write for her today.

Popular success

stacey kent sheet music

Stacey Kent onstage in 2016

Kent’s album The Boy Next Door achieved Gold album status in France in September 2006. Breakfast on the Morning Tram (2007) achieved Platinum album status in France in November 2007 and Double Gold status in Germany in February 2008. Raconte-moi… was recorded in French and achieved Gold status in both France and Germany and became the second best selling French language album worldwide in 2010.

Dreamer In Concert (2011) was recorded in May, 2011, at La Cigale in Paris. The album includes three songs previously unrecorded by Kent: “Waters of March” by Antonio Carlos Jobim, “Postcard Lovers” by Jim Tomlinson with lyrics by Kazuo Ishiguro, and “O Comboio” by Portuguese poet António Ladeira.

In 2013, Kent released The Changing Lights, a Brazilian-tinged album, covering bossa nova classics such as Jobim’s “How Insensitive” and again collaborating with Tomlinson and Ishiguro. In 2014, she left Warner Bros. and signed with Sony. Sony released Tenderly, an album of standards with Roberto Menescal, one of the founders of bossa nova. She met Menescal in Brazil in 2011 at the 80th birthday celebration of the Christ the Redeemer statue. They discovered they were fans of each other’s work and collaborated on an album of standards inspired by Menescal’s admiration for the duo of Julie London and Barney Kessel.

In 2014, Marcos Valle invited her to tour in celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of his career. They recorded the album Ao Vivo and a DVD that was recorded live at the Birdland club in New York City and the Blue Note in Tokyo.

In 2017, Kent recorded her next album for Sony, I Know I Dream: The Orchestral Sessions, her first album with an orchestra, comprising 58 musicians with arrangements by Tommy Laurence, with music from the Great American Songbook, French chansons, songs by Edu Lobo, Jobim, Tomlinson, Ishiguro, Ladeira and his songwriting partner, Cliff Goldmacher from Nashville. Tomlinson and Goldmacher wrote the title song. By 2020, the album had reached 40 million streams.

In 2020, Kent released a series of singles and EPs, including “Christmas in the Rockies”, “Three Little Birds”, “Lovely Day”, “Landslide”, “I Wish I Could Go Travelling Again” as a duet with her longtime pianist, Art Hirahara.

Awards and honors

Discography

トップステイシーケントの歌 – Stacey Kent Greatest Hits Playlist 2019

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