It wasn’t too long ago that Seattle songbird Stephanie Porter captivated audiences old and new with her 2010 jazz standards album, How Deep Is the Ocean — her deep, luscious voice the perfect valve for the soft, sensual digressions. Long a staple in the Northwest music scene, Porter this past Saturday announced on her Facebook page the makings of a new album, one that pushed her as more than a covers singer but a songwriter.
“I'm pretty excited today. Not only is the sun shining, but my new CD is available for preview and purchase online at CD Baby! For the past year, I have been focused on this with Marius Nordal, Bill Anschell, Craig Hoyer, Steve Yusen, Dan O'Brien, Dan Adams, Mike West, David Lange, and also two of the songs’ featured trumpet legend Steven Madaio, who was kind enough to add some color too,” Porter posted. “I wrote seven of the tracks, which has been a new adventure. The three jazz standards feature a few of my favorites. I hope you'll take a listen, I hope you hear something you like, and I hope my musical friends know how much they inspire me, and I hope to see you soon, ‘cause I'm planning a July CD party.”
With that, AXS sought Stephanie Porter out to get more details, which she graciously provided — sort of — earlier today.
AXS: Tell me about this new album of yours, Radio Theatre. What an interesting title. How did you come up with it?
Stephanie Porter: I'm always listening to music. I always have, except for a moment in 2013 for about four months [when] the radio/computer on my car dash stopped working. This quiet time made me think about songs that had been rolling around in my brain. So began the project… I didn't have a title in mind. I ended up writing several songs and wasn't sure which ones I wanted to record. Once I made my final choices, the songs struck me like little vignettes, not unlike scenes in a play. I happen to collect vintage radios and used two that have been in the family for years as a part of the cover photo shoot. Radio Theatre seemed like an appropriate title.
AXS: You also showcase your songwriting, turning in seven songs of your own. How’d that go? Was it difficult to switch gears from singer to songwriter?
SP: I've always had melodies working around in my mind and with the encouragement of my drummer and dear friend, Steve Yusen, who liked my ideas, urged me to see them through to completion. I think being a singer helped in my writing, because I'm melody- and lyrically-inspired.
AXS: How did you choose the three standards to include with your original compositions?
SP: I love standards and admire the greats who wrote them. There is an endless supply of great songs available. The one's chosen are three favorites: “Come Back To Me,” Jobim’s “No More Blues,” “I’m Afraid The Masquerade Is Over.”
AXS: Speak to the strengths of the musicians on this record. You chose them for a reason. How did they enhance your vocals and your songs?
SP: I have been working with bassist Dan O'Brien and drummer Steve Yusen for a couple of decades now. They were the natural choices for the foundation of my rhythm section. The pianists/arrangers, Butch Nordal, Bill Anschell, and Craig Hoyer were instrumental in getting my ideas on paper. They added colors that only great arrangers can provide and they are all great musicians. Saxophonist/Flutist Mike West has performed with me for many years as well. He was on my first release, Mood Swings, and I knew his playing would be a great addition. Trumpeter Steve Madaio has a resume legendary in the music business. I have been a big fan of his for many years and I am so delighted he wanted to be a part of this project. Dan Adams is a professor of percussion at Seattle University and I was in good hands having him provide the perfect complement to the rhythm section. It was a special treat to have David Lange step away from the mixing console and pick up his accordion for a track. I had to have accordion. After all, I am Italian.
AXS: You could’ve gone spare, with a trio or quartet in a traditional, acoustic jazz setting, or big band. What made you go this route with this specific instrumentation?
SP: The compositions kind of dictated the instrumentation needs. I followed my instincts to create the sound I wanted.
AXS: When is the official release date? What are you planning in terms of promoting the album once it’s out?
SP: July 2015. As for promotion, as much as possible. I will be selling it online, at shows, and trying to spread the word.
AXS: Any details you’d like to spill on the upcoming July CD release party?
SP: I was so focused on completing the project that I wasn't really planning for the event. I can't believe the CDs are in my hands. I realized the day the boxes showed up, it was time to have a party. July will be the time frame. More details to come. Please sign up at www.StephaniePorter.com to get on the invite. [The CD release party is scheduled for July 31, 2015, 7:30 p.m.-11:30 p.m., at Tula's in downtown Seattle. Call 206-443-4221 for reservations.]
AXS: What prompted this new album in the first place?
SP: It's been a few years since we released the How Deep CD, and I was excited about recording my originals. It seemed like the right time.
AXS: What is your greatest hope with the release of this new album?
SP: I hope listeners enjoy it and that it prompts them to come out to a live show.
AXS: What drives you as a jazz artist to keep going when it’s often so hard in this industry?
SP: I love music and performing.
AXS: What do you do to sustain your jazz vocal career?
SP: Twenty-five years ago, when I began singing professionally, I didn't have a plan specifically. I have been surrounded by an amazing community of musicians from the start and have continued to build relationships and work hard at developing my craft. It's hard work, but I love every minute of it.
AXS: What’s your next exciting gig?
SP: Locally, we perform at Tula's [in downtown Seattle] on June 26 and again on July 31. On August 4, we will be performing live in-studio on KPLU 88.5, and August 6, Jazz Under The Stars on the PLU campus.
AXS: If you could describe your voice to someone new, and your intention as a vocalist, what would you say?
SP: If someone asked me to describe my voice, I would invite them to a show. It's hard to describe myself. Things I care about musically are pitch, also I love phrasing and playing with time. I've been told I have a hornlike quality, though I practice singing percussively like a drummer or pianist. A vocalist can slide into pitch, which can become a bad habit. When a drummer commits to the beat or a pianist plays a chord, it's there — they don't have the luxury of sliding out of a bad note. That's some behind-the-scenes information. Once I'm on the gig, I love being creative, accurate, and most importantly, in touch with what the song is about. And then the best part: I live to see my audience smile.