Squeezed in before a television interview and a dash through traffic earlier running a little late Kandace Springs was sitting in the sunny afternoon chatting enveloped by the comforting hubbub of a friendly Haggerston cafe in the east end of London.
Kandace was a protégée of Prince whose ‘Mary Don’t You Weep’ crops up in conversation later. Surely a textbook case of the need to sit to the end of the credits as they roll at the movies rather than making for the exits. While she had gone to Paisley Park at the request of the Purple One she did not know this quietly proud ‘Mary’ until Spike Lee’s extraordinary BlacKkKlansman came out. “OMG,” she says recalling her reaction.
The film score was composed and orchestrated by Terence Blanchard, the New Orleanian jazz bandleader composer trumpeter who guested on the Nashville twentysomething Springs’ Soul Eyes.
Nina Simone is more the underscore for this conversation, “the role model,” Kandace comments. Ellington by contrast like Nina is not about the past because the Washingtonian is as most jazz people know the present wrapped up in the future and she is working on an Ellington project which is news.
First the touring, a lot of touring and maybe a little collaboration... as Kandace was off to see Jamie Cullum later in the day.
Plucked thanks to Gregory Porter from obscurity she supported the blesséd one at the Albert Hall her first record Soul Eyes was a head turner to say the least. The Billie Holiday pianist Mal Waldron’s jazz standard and title track was reborn. Kandace was ahead of the zeitgeist. Next year because the signs are that we will all be mad about Mal, it may finally arrive Kandace having paved the way. Marlbank understands from someone familiar with the project that Free At Last, an extremely rare record complete with unheard tracks, will be released for the first time in decades, approaching 50 years old since it was released.
Liszt, a love dream, hitting the wall — and the Jamie Hartman factor All sorts of people these days come knocking on her door to collaborate including Jamie (‘Human’) Hartman and she says she is also a “hybrid” singer meaning she can sing other things that are not jazz and often does. She flew to Los Angeles after her managers set the idea in motion that they work together by scratching a creative itch on the part of her team to add just one more song to Indigo.
Starting work they however hit the wall. Then Hartman heard her playing from Liszt’s ‘Liebestraüme’ and he said just keep doing that. Indicating what he then added she sings the line into my phone ‘don’t you breakdown on me’ pitched high in her range the melody line containing a tricky chromatic leap and right at the start of the song into the bargain, at the heart of the caring pleading of ‘Breakdown’. The line arrests you.
Or take her version of ‘People Make the World Go Round’ on the new record where she provides such motion and poise. She tells me she was doing a gig with hip-hop supergroup August Greene not so long ago and did the Stylistics song there and then. Genre just melts in her hands and you could say the same about Gregory Porter and Diana Krall, another of her early favourites.
The way Indigo is produced arrows knowingly raining in on several targets and not as glossy and mainstream as Larry Klein’s who nonetheless achieved a lot on Soul Eyesthis is a mass market aimed style still, and the stakes are getting higher, the possibility of failure greater.
There is a lot of musicianship sprinkled throughout reassuringly meaning that Indigo is not at all gimmicky because musicianship is the polar opposite of faddy novelty. The human interest story is the presence of Kandace’s dad, Scat, on ‘Simple Things,’ and which delivers an effortless sounding level of persuasion and finds all the space in the world and lets the song hang in the air doted upon by father and daughter yet avoiding sentimentality by providing a complex understanding based on rapport.
Kandace is not the new Norah Jones because she is not the new anyone. Her tack is different. She does not emphasise the tragic song, the mournful; her positivity comes free inside the groove steered impressively by August Greene drummer Karriem Riggins, an approach that underpins her blues and versatility and the other inputs that she picks up from soul. Intimacy calls most, however, as ‘Unsophisticated’ proves, Roy Hargrove going ever deeper than he did on his version of Pat Metheny’s ‘Always and Forever’ on Moment to Moment — to my mind his biggest ballad achievement on record to date.
Her “role model” as she describes it on Indigo is Nina Simone and you can get the connection straight away. Because, like the time before Nina was Nina and was Eunice Waymon she plays piano just as well, no exaggerating, and she sings as naturally as breathing but in a very different style. I cannot help thinking given that the future dreaming of her say mining southern soul-gospel tinted affirmation might suggest a treatment of Candi Staton’s ‘I’ll Sing a Love Song To You’.
Kandace met Don Was through her producers and managers, Evan Rogers, who sings backing vocals a bit on the record, and Carl Sturken, who contributes some bass. El presidente Under the Red Sky / Voodoo Lounge producer Was returned her label Blue Note to the heights that Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff built up to be almost destroyed by the cultural vandalism Liberty ushered in eventually saved by Bruce Lundvall. Since the Was (Not Was) bassist took over the reins from the Brucester who before his retirement got lucky to secure the label’s future as Norah Jones struck multi-, multi-, platinum with Come Away With Me. Was has brought a lot of veterans back to the label who are nearly all instrumentalists (Wayne Shorter top of the tree) but vocals now have a significant place thanks to Gregory Porter, fromLiquid Spirit on and Kandace augmenting the roster.
“Carl is a big jazz head, and he has a vast collection of songs. My dad gave me a Nina Simone album and a Diana Krall record when I was young — and I always wanted to play jazz.”
She loves ‘Wild is the Wind’ and ‘I Put a Spell on You’ and hopes to keep on touring and promoting the record and will be playing London with a band that she tells me will have Connor Parks on drums, Chris Gaskell, bass — both from the NYC band For Trees and Birds. She also says that we are “working on trying to get guitarist Jesse [‘Don’t Know Why’] Harris — maybe, maybe, maybe.”
As for Karriem he is “very hands on” as a producer. “‘Simple things’,” Kandace says had “dad add his vocal part” to the tune laid down. Songs were “sitting on the shelf” and she gave them to Karriem. He added drums and brought in the erstwhile Branford Marsalis bassist Robert Hurst and Anthony Wilson both now like Karriem with Diana Krall.
As for Duke Ellington she reveals details of a project involving Karriem again and Bob Hurst, a little trio.
“I learnt a lot of Ellington songs in my teens, so many favourites... ‘Solitude’, ‘Sophisticated Lady’... and we do have a ‘Lush Life’ — Karriem accompanied myself singing. We are waiting to put that out.”
Her big hope, and it doesn’t matter she says if it is old school, new school, is for a perfect performance as long as the song is “from your soul.”
Indigo is out now. Kandace Springs plays the EFG London Jazz Festival, in the recently refurbished and reopened QEH, on 17 November. Support is from northern jazz singer the Mel Tormé-loving AJ Brown. Info + tickets. SG