Jazz Monthly: I truly love great singers with unmatched eloquence, inspiration, and ”real deal” appeal. I’m so honored to have such a singer joining me here at JazzMonthly.com for the very first time. She sings with a lot of heart, a lot of soul, and I must tell you her new record will put you in a fantastic mood. It is called Echo and you must hear this great project. Please welcome the incredible and amazing Ms. Alyssa Graham. Alyssa, how are you?
Alyssa Graham (AG): I’m wonderful. What a nice introduction. Thank you so much for all the compliments.
Jazz Monthly: Oh, you’re so welcome. It’s great to talk to you and I am just really enjoying this very nice project, Echo, and I must say that when I first started to listen to it, I said, wow, without listening to exactly what you were singing about, I kind of got captivated in your voice itself and then I started to really listen with a little more depth, you know?
AG: Right, right, exactly. Well, I’m glad that my voice is the first thing that captivates you. That’s good news.
Jazz Monthly: Absolutely. Now, you are such a natural singer. Were you just singing with a bubble bath in the beginning or how did you discover your voice?
AG: I’m not sure I had the bubbles in there, but definitely just singing. Growing up I listened to a lot of music. My parents are very musically inclined as far as being appreciators. They’re not musicians but they exposed me at a young age to all the jazz greats, the rock greats, the folk greats, and I think that I was just thankfully given the gift of a nice tone in my voice and I just went with it as far as I could and I’m still being challenged every day to get better and better, but I think that some people just have certain things and I was given this and I want to use it as best as I can.
Jazz Monthly: Oh, that’s very cool and that’s always a beautiful thing. And your dad took you to see some really nice concerts as a child. That really must have been incredibly inspiring.
AG: My dad was a great influence. He always has loved music. He’s the guy that would get up in the piano bars and sing even though he couldn’t. He just had such a joy for music. And he took me to some amazing concerts when I was a kid, including Ella Fitzgerald a couple of years before she died, which was really one of the pinnacle moments in my love for music, and it really inspired me to want to be the best singer that I could be. He also used to play music all the time in the house. He would play everything from Jobim to A Chorus Line, from Frank Sinatra to the Beatles to Joan Baez, and I think that having a family that had such an appreciation for great and diverse music was a huge influence and a huge gift.
Jazz Monthly: Yes indeed. Was there music in the schools when you were in elementary and middle school?
AG: Yeah, there was. We had a fantastic jazz band in my high school. Unfortunately, I believe right after I left school, as many schools do, it was the first thing to be cut and it’s really unfortunate because it was one of the finest programs, I think, on the East Coast when I was growing up and it was a shame, but I didn’t really have any formal vocal training until I went to Ithaca College, which as lot of people know started as a conservatory, and they had a phenomenal music program there and that’s when I really started to study music, but before that I just sang around the house and my parents got me a guitar when I was very young and I started playing the guitar and writing my own songs and sort of nesting into my own world.
Jazz Monthly: Yeah. When you first entered Ithaca College, did you reflect back on some of those wonderful concerts that your dad took you to and did you gravitate to that music?
AG: My father was very into the folk movement. My parents, both of them, they were sort of ex-hippies. His musical taste was really diverse but sort of centered around Joan Baez and Bob Dylan and the whole Woodstock brigade, so when I got to music school it was sort of right after I had been exposed to Ella Fitzgerald and my dad had played me my first Billie Holiday record, and I really wanted to explore that and since there was such a fantastic jazz program at Ithaca, that’s when I started listening to Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk and Charles Mingus, and I love every kind of music. I don’t see myself as just part of the jazz world. I see myself as being influenced by so many amazing musicians, both guitarists and horn players, and Ithaca College definitely exposed me to much more than I had been growing up with even.
Smitty: Yeah. Were you alone in your thirst for this great music or did you have friends that were with you? How did that work? Because sometimes when you have a partner in crime, it’s always a cool thing.
AG: Yes, well, that’s a great question and I certainly had a partner in crime. The love of my life, Doug Graham, and I, we actually grew up together in New Jersey together and started sort of exploring the world of jazz together. When we moved up to Ithaca, we started a band up there that was a six-piece ensemble and we did a lot of original music and sort of spread our wings as much as we could. We played all over the country with this band that we had and it was very eclectic and we explored everything that we could. I mean, probably to a fault we would try to do all different kinds of time signatures and everything. We went wherever we could and that was great because it really let us grow as musicians, and there were four other members in the band. It was just one of those shared experiences that I’ll never forget and that really helped to shape who I am as a musician, so I was really fortunate to be able to work with friends and lovers and just explore music.
Jazz Monthly: Yeah. Were you living a dream at that time?
AG: I’m living the dream now, Smitty. (Both laugh.) I’m always living the dream. But I think that any time you’re doing what you love, you should feel very, very fortunate, and I think that growing up with my family was, I mean, it wasn’t perfect, but I had a wonderful family and that was a dream and going to university and studying music and being fortunate enough to play with phenomenal musicians either when I was in college or now as an adult, I think that I am extremely lucky and I feel like I’m always living the dream. I always want to live the dream, and as long as I’m playing music and growing as a musician, I believe I will be doing that.