Miss Tess wants you to have fun. She’ll even provide the soundtrack.
For all that her talents have earned her — a Boston Music Award for “Outstanding Folk Artist of the Year,” placement among the finalists in the John Lennon Songwriting Competition, and critical raves — Miss Tess remains modest and candid about her music.
She considers herself “very lucky to be making a living as a musician.” She adds, “Performing is what I work so hard to be able to do. And I am having a good time.” She’s looking out for you, too.
The artist says she strives “to make it a good show. So I will immerse myself in the performance in hopes to take the audience members along for the ride.” Her approach to this task is quixotically fresh — she reaches back into the great American Songbook for inspiration and delivers what she calls “Modern Vintage.”
This is music cut from a different cloth than the cardboard-stiff newness of more trend driven singer-songwriters, and it’s appeal more closely resembles your favorite pair of jeans: the lovingly broken-in elegance that inspires confident ease.
Miss Tess can take a strutting, bluesy melody that might have been penned in the golden age of club jazz and turn it into a wink at the post-modern world. “Stoned” from her recent album Live on the Road is just such a swinging little number. Imagine Peggy Lee riffing about friends with benefits. “You know I only really miss you when I’m stoned/And I only want a kiss when I’m alone…” Miss Tess croons.
The musical style she draws from is rooted in her upbringing. Mom and Dad are both part-time musicians. Mom on stand-up bass, Dad filling in on sax. In fact, both accompanied their daughter on Home, her debut solo release of original songs.
At home there was jazz, and especially swing music. Her folks still play a role in expanding Miss Tess’ musical horizons. She frequently gets phone calls along the lines of, “You’ve got to hear this!” As a family, she admits, “We’re obsessed with obscure music.”
And living in Boston is a stimulus of different sorts. “Boston is a singer-songwriter center,” she says. “You get to hear all sorts of music.” She listens to a lot of rock, but she has great respect for some legendary American female vocalists: Billie Holiday, Peggy Lee, Bessie Smith.
“Baby Doll,” a Bessie Smith tune that made its way onto Live on the Road, fits the album’s groove seamlessly. That groove is Miss Tess’ signature. Bringing this tradition forward, re-imagining it for a new audience, might even be her mission statement.
Of a recent gig at the renowned Washington, D.C. club Blues Alley, she says, “We filled up the room. And it wasn’t necessarily jazz fans.” She feels the great thing about this music is how well it travels. The reason? “It’s such an honest, soulful way to communicate with an audience.”
With a singing voice that embraces the smoky lower registers as readily as it swings into jazz-scatting high gear, Miss Tess renders torch song, be-bop, ragtime, and just about all the colors of roots music in-between with equal zest.
This week she kicks off a three-week tour with longtime bandmates Alex Spiegelman on sax and clarinet, Paul Dilley on upright bass, and a new drummer, Matt Meyer. This will be her third visit to Charleston. Our take: don’t miss it. And be prepared to have fun.