The Jessica Stuart Few is becoming a jazzy/folky indie band for all seasons.
Need a contemporary jazz act? The Jessica Stuart Few can fit the bill — as it did at last summer’s Sylvan Lake jazz festival.
Want some diversity at a rock concert? The Jessica Stuart Few can step into the mix, as happened at the last North by Northeast festival in Ontario.
The Toronto-based group that plays on Friday, July 11, at the International Beer Haus in Red Deer has also performed in an eclectic folk-roots lineup at the Northern Lights Boréal Festival in Sudbury, Ont., and shared the stage with other indie bands in Victoria.
“With 35 songs in our repertoire, we can fit anywhere,” said Stuart, the group’s singer/songwriter, guitar and koto (Japanese harp) player. But being able to hop musical genres can be both a blessing and a curse, admitted the Vancouver native.
While Stuart loves not being pigeonholed, she recognizes this versatility means her music gets little commercial radio play in Canada and, she believes, a small chance of scoring a Juno Award nomination, since those are judged according to genre.
On the other hand, her high-energy, yet poetic tunes are regularly played by CBC Radio and campus stations, as well as pop/rock stations in Japan, where the single Don’t Ya rose into the Top 40.
And the group’s 2013 album, Two Sides to Every Story, is in the running in the jazz vocals category for the 2014 International Independent Music Awards — which Stuart thinks is an amazing coup.
“It’s a very, very nice nod,” she said, considering 7,000 bands from across the globe submitted CDs and applications to the awards program.
Stuart is the daughter of an ethnomusicologist, who played all manner of world melodies around the house. She recalled dancing to Balkan gypsy tunes as a child, and still likes any melody that “feels organic and natural.”
Her motto is: “if it’s music that comes from the heart and has a groove, and if kids can dance to it, then everybody else should be able to appreciate it.”
While her group’s tunes are often described as jazzy, and jazz is thought of as cerebral music, Stuart said, “That’s not how I approach it at all … I’m attracted to unusual harmonies and chord progressions.” She usually starts her compositions by coming up with an offbeat melody line. Stuart said “the lyrics tend to follow the story the music is telling.”
For instance, the title track to her last album sprang out of a sort of back-and-forth conversation that seemed to be happening between instruments and the vocals. “It was like two sides of a conversation and I tapped into some feelings I had about life experiences” — and presto, a new song was born.
While Stuart never studied music at a post-secondary level, she took up the guitar and learned how to play the koto during a year her family spent living in rural Japan when she was nine.
The university linguistics dropout proved she has a natural affinity for languages, as well as music, when she wowed Japanese reporters by conversing with them in their own language during a recent tour of Japan. “They were really excited about that and incredibly receptive,” she recalled.
The Jessica Stuart Few will perform in Red Deer with drummer Jon Foster and double bassist Charles James. For more information about the show at the International Beer Haus, call 403-986-5008.