Jazz singer Kat Edmonson returns to the Jefferson Center | The music
Randy Walker special for the Roanoke Times
It is said that skilled workers know their tools. Kat Edmonson knows hers.
“It’s a clear voice. It’s intimate,” the singer said on a Zoom call from Brooklyn. “It’s almost conversational, I think. I approached the music, because I learned a lot from the old films, like the actors in the films that I watched. For example, Frank Sinatra was an amazing songwriter, but he was also an amazing actor. And you knew what he was talking about when he was singing.
“He wasn’t a stylist…it wasn’t like, ‘Oh, listen to this!’ The first thing you thought was “oh, that’s heartbreaking” or “man, I know how that feels.” I know how it feels to… ‘Come fly with me.’ It’s like you can feel the electricity of what he’s saying, so I was mainly interested in how to move through vocalization.
The jazz and vintage pop singer-songwriter, who has appeared on ‘A Prairie Home Companion,’ ‘Austin City Limits,’ and ‘Late Show with David Letterman,’ returns to the Jefferson Center on Friday, bringing a medley of standards and originals.
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This will be one of his first gigs since finishing a run in the off-off-Broadway jazz opera “The Hang.” Edmonson’s performance was praised in The New York Times for “his extraordinary artistry”.
“I know there’s going to be a bit of…the feeling of being a rookie again,” Edmonson said of his return to the concert stage. “It’s been a while since I’ve been in a play on stage by myself, playing with people. I was in that theatrical production, but of course it was an ensemble cast and I was saying lines, so it’s just me still up there improvising and being in the moment, and I’m really excited to the idea of doing that and just keeping space with people again. It’s magic when we can all be together in the same room.
Edmonson performed at the Jeff Center in 2019 and was booked for a return engagement in 2020 just as the pandemic hit, interfering with, among other things, promotion for her new album “Dreamers Do.”
“It’s an album of mostly Disney songs from the mid-20th century. But the whole album is about the human experience of dreaming and what we go through when we dream at night. You know, during a night, and also in life, the whole experience of dreaming. So all the songs are about dreaming or mentioning dreaming. It’s quite lush and beautiful.
The album, which debuted atop Billboard’s traditional jazz chart, includes two originals that offer a microcosm of his songwriting range, from traditional jazz “Someone’s In The House” to vintage pop “Too Late To Dream. “.
“My influences are, for the most part, the composers of the Great American Songbook – Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, the Gershwin brothers, Johnny Mercer, Hoagy Carmichael. And then I have a lot of contemporary influences as well. And so my influences span the whole range.
“In this show, there will only be me and the piano. And so Roy [Dunlap]my long time accompanist, will refer to all the arrangements of this album [“Dreamers Do”] and then we will also play songs from previous records. And I tell stories about me, how the songs were written, or why I chose a particular song to perform, and stories about our travels and my love of cinema. A lot of my influences come from old cinema and so I always end up talking about it a bit in the series.
Fostek Hall, at the Jefferson, will be a change from his usual location for the past two years – his living room. Like many musicians, she switched to livestreaming during the pandemic. She introduced Sunday night’s “The Kat Edmonson Show” as a nod to variety shows of yesteryear, like “The Ed Sullivan Show,” which also ran on Sunday nights. His shows remain available on YouTube.
The Texas native began creating her sound in the clubs of Austin, and her delicate and restrained, yet emotional delivery began to attract attention. A 2011 review of his original song “Lucky” on Austin music site ovrld.com said, “With the lyrics, the music carries a sense of vulnerability. It’s like you can’t talk about it, lest you hurt the singer’s feelings. Edmonson’s voice conveys a lot of those emotions. It’s thin – as in thin, not emaciated – and the space she gives her words lets you fill in the blanks with your own personal feelings.
Her short blonde hair gives her a pixie appearance reminiscent of Mary Martin in “Peter Pan,” but she doesn’t shy away from the toughest adult subjects. The video for “I Don’t Know” shows her hurt and shaking, reminiscent of an intense relationship.
That won’t be the tone at Fostek Hall, however. “It will be an easy period. It will be fun,” she said. “It’s going to be lighthearted and also intimate, I want people to feel like they can come in and laugh and be comfortable and interact and hopefully be inspired.”