How would you describe your music to any person who may have never heard it before?
M: Samara Joy meets James Taylor - a coalescence of contemporary and straight-ahead jazz stitched with threads of soul through the lens of the singer-songwriter experience.
What’s the significance of your musical moniker?
M: I actually use my birth name as my artist name, so what you see is what you get!
What are your musical influences?
I grew up in a strong black gospel music tradition so some of my first influences were singers like Vanessa Bell Armstrong and groups like The Winans. I started studying jazz in high school, so then I began listening to Ella Fitzgerald & Sarah Vaughan as my entry point to the music, but I was also getting into singer-songwriters like James Taylor and Sting a lot. So my influences were pretty eclectic from early on.
What are your musical inspirations?
M: By the time I was in college, it was jazz artists like Dianne Reeves, and composer-artists like Cassandra Wilson and Kurt Elling whose artistry began to really inform my creativity more and help me envision what a modern jazz vocal artist looks like today.
If given the chance, what musician(s) would you like to collaborate with? Rather this is to either write a song or be featured on a track.
M: Oh, that’s so hard to answer! There’s a few. But one of my all-time favorite artists is Panamanian jazz pianist Danilo Perez. I would love to work with him someday! I’d also love to collaborate with pianist Peter Martin, who has recorded and performed with Wynton Marsalis, Dianne Reeves, and Christian McBride, to name a few…
What’s something you hope people take away from the new song(s)?
M: I hope that people will think deeper about what their assumptions of trust are in their own individual relationships and in relationship to the world around them. Things like inequity and inequality in our society are driven by the imbalanced dynamics of our relationships to one another. When real trust is cultivated, you will see more equality and justice around the world. Which songs on the album were the most fun to write and which were the most challenging to write?
M: I think all of my songs were challenging to write because I was digging pretty deep to find what my soul wanted to say in the music. I don’t know about other people, but that is challenging for me. There are songs on this album that were emotionally cathartic for me to write, so I more so think of writing as being fulfilling for me. Do you have any favourite song(s) off the new album?
M: Also hard to answer! But one of them is “These Days” which I wrote about my late mother and sister who passed away over 15 years ago. It’s a bittersweet song about grief, gratitude and how our concept of time gets altered when we lose the ones we love. The other one is, “I Know Because You Told Me So” just because it’s quirky and jaunty and a song about true self-confidence. What’s the new album about?
M: The concept behind my album, "The Assumption" started with a simple question: "What is trust?" With all that has been happening in the world, I wanted to explore how we cultivate relationships...the kind of relationships that foster true community and institute social justice. So my imagination saw the parallel between nature and how trust actually grows. As my new music was evolving, I realized there was a particular ethos in the themes that I was exploring lyrically. And that’s when the idea of “The Assumption” came about as I was realizing that I needed to have a dialogue with myself and with the world outside of me. I needed to address many of my own assumptions before any honest discourse could begin. Do you have any favourite songs to perform live? Could be your own music or even a cover. Any reason why?
M: One of the covers I love to do is, “No More” by Hubert Laws with lyrics by Jon Hendricks. I love how empowering and fierce that song is because it is about asserting your agency and standing up to bullying - be it in your personal life or in the world where systemic racism and sexism prevail as societal bullies. When I recorded it I was going through an experience with discrimination in my workplace, and that experience really fueled the fire of this performance - so that fervor shows up every time I perform “No More” live as well. If you could perform a show this very second anywhere in the world, where would it be? Is there any particular venue(s) or city/cities that comes to mind?
M: Festival Jazz à Sète and/or Jazz à Vienne in France. Full stop.
What do you currently have planned for the remainder of the year?
M: My team and I are working on booking some regional tours and one-off shows as we dig deeper into my audience development in the U.S. And I have a full show schedule here in Chicago this summer and fall, so I’m looking forward to rehearsing and performing with my band and getting into some live musical alchemy!
Thanks for the time today. Is there anything else you may want to add before you go?
M: Thank you so much for having me! It was a pleasure! And I hope people will go and listen to my latest album, “The Assumption” at https://vibe.to/michelethomasmusic and let me know what you think!