With her sizzling mix of hot beats, Latin and samba rhythms and sensuous, captivating melodies, Mexican American saxophonist and singer Jessy J (born Jessica Arellano) has had everyone swaying under the “Tequila Moon” and contemplating the joys of “True Love” and “Hot Sauce” since she broke onto the contemporary jazz scene with a bang in 2008.
The title track from her popular debut album Tequila Moon stayed perched at #1 for an incredible eight weeks on the Radio & Records airplay chart and was the overwhelming choice by R&R and Billboard for contemporary jazz song of the year; Jessy w
as also named R&R’s “Debut Artist of The Year.” Tequila Moon, which like her follow-up albums True Love (2009) and Hot Sauce (2011) was produced by veteran instrumental hitmaker and guitarist Paul Brown, debuted at #11 on Billboard’s Contemporary Jazz Chart and spent weeks in the Top 20. True Love reached #7 on the Billboard Jazz Albums Chart, and Hot Sauce became her first #1. Her success on the Smooth Jazz Songs chart includes the #1 hit “Tropical Rain” and the #4 hit “Hot Sauce.”
In addition to her airplay and chart success and tours with smooth jazz greats like Gerald Albright, Jeff Lorber, Euge Groove and Peter White on several all-star Guitars & Saxes tours, Jessy has toured with Jessica Simpson and Michael Bolton; done studio work with Michael Buble; and performed on the hit television competition shows “American Idol” and “The Voice.” The year Steven Tyler was a judge on “Idol,” he was so impressed with her performances that he invited her to play on Aerosmith’s 2012 album Music From Another Dimension. Jessy’s fourth album, her Shanachie Records debut Second Chances, features guest appearances by Jeff Lorber, Jimmy Haslip, Norman Brown and Johnny Britt.
JazzMonthly: I love the theme of ‘two’ running through the song titles on Second Chances. Why did you choose that title for the album and did the titles of the songs come from that or the other way around. Why is two an important number for you, personally and musically?
JJ: I chose the title because I believe strongly in the opportunity to do something again if you can do it better. Every new day is a chance to start fresh. The title track was the first song we did for the entire CD and became the concept for the album, and my manager Stewart Coxhead suggested the play on words throughout, which inspired us to create titles like “Listen 2 The Groove,” “Dos” and “Double Trouble.” It was fun to play around with that.
JM: Your albums are always so diverse stylistically, and this one draws from pop, R&B, Latin, Brazilian and even New Orleans music. Do you set out with a stylistic roadmap or do tunes just come to you one by one and then come together to create this kind of eclectic vibe?
JJ: For this album, stylistically I knew right off I wanted to do a theme song about New Orleans and overall wanted a harder R&B leaning sound. As always, I wanted there to be some Latin jazz, but there’s a twist on the Latin tune “La Luna Feliz,” which doesn’t have the traditional conga or bongo or other Latin instruments. The Latin feeling comes from the words I sing in Spanish, and the drums play a little more in a hard funk Latin way. I think I hadn’t touched on the harder R&B style I liked, so it was time. A lot of that influence comes from playing jazz festivals with urban performers like India Arie, Charlie Wilson and Robin Thicke. I also toured a few years ago with Marion Meadows and Paul Taylor and the vibe we had was more urban than most of my other albums. One of the fun things about being a musician is experiencing a lot of different styles of music, and always want to explore new things.
JM: A lot of albums in smooth jazz have tracks that sound similar, or just range from ballads to upbeat and funky. Yours roll like happy culture hopping. What’s the most exciting part about the diversity and why is it important to try so many different things?
JJ: It’s about my love of two things: songwriting and traveling. A lot of different kinds of inspiration comes up if you’re open-minded. With “Mambo Gumbo,” which I co-wrote with Johnny Britt and Joe Sample, the idea grew out of my interest in New Orleans since the time of Katrina and from watching the HBO series “Treme” about people rebuilding their lives there. I got into the vibe, the culture and the people. Everything is so authentic and so much music came out of there with Louis Armstrong and other artists. I wanted to write a song about how the Spanish and French mixed together and made music blending both cultures. I also had a dream come true working with Jeff Lorber, who invited Jimmy Haslip to join in on a few very sophisticated jazz tracks. And I’ve wanted to do the ballad “Feel Like Makin’ Love” for a long time with a sweet, innocent treatment. I think of an album like a book with a beginning, middle and end. It’s a journey that allows the listener to experience what the musicians are feeling along the way. By traveling around the world, I realize that jazz is truly a global art form appreciated by so many cultures. So when I’m writing music now I take a world view. Because I chose to produce or co-produce all the tracks this time, I had the freedom to choose the songs I wanted and the musicians who could help me achieve my vision.
JM: Because of your Mexican American background I can see why you love Latin and salsa music – but where does your interest in Brazilian music, tango and, on this album New Orleans music, come from?
JJ: Brazilian music is closely linked to Lain music, and this song “Malagenha” is actually a very popular soccer anthem that people sing in Brazil. With the World Cup coming up there next year, I thought it was time to do what I consider one of my favorite songs. “Tango For Two” is a romantic type of tango, not an exact tango. It was great to work with Jimmy, who brought a very interesting knowledge of Latin rhythms and a world music view. He recommended different beats, rhythm and percussion for the whole project. And while my interest in New Orleans inspired “Mambo Gumbo,” the title came from something Quincy Jones asked me when I met him at the Hollywood Bowl in 2006. He joked, “What kind of gumbo are you?” That was clever, because in some ways, we are all a mix of cultures. At one point, Johnny sings the Quincy line.