Sunday, November 20, 2016

Artist Interview: Thisbe Vos

Jazz singer/songwriter Thisbe Vos is one of the darlings of the Christmas Music blogosphere.  I've written about her 2015 album "A Jazzy Christmas" (here).  Good friend Stubby also reviewed her album over at Stubby's House of Christmas.  This year, Thisbe's song "When Moonlight Hits the Town" made the list at Day 68 over at "200 Days of Christmas" on Facebook.  Her status as "Christmas Music Darling, First Class" is not only well deserved, it appears to have been confirmed by unanimous acclamation!  (at least by Stubby, Matt, and me)

We all love everything about "A Jazzy Christmas".  The amazing thing is, all three of us agree that not only can Thisbe really sing a Christmas tune, her songwriting and arranging are the stuff of jazz standards. "A Jazzy Christmas" is quite simply one of the best Christmas albums, and one of the best jazz albums, in my collection.

Thisbe is also an artist that is connected to her fans.  "A Jazzy Christmas" was crowdfunded in 2014, and through that effort I have been able to stay in touch with Thisbe since her album was released to her backers. Since I think so much of this record, and believe that every Christmas music lover should have their own copy in their collection, I decided to get back in touch with Thisbe this year, and have her share some of her thoughts about "A Jazzy Christmas".  So, without further ado, here is my interview with Thisbe Vos about "A Jazzy Christmas" and also her other extraordinary albums, "Sophistication" and "Under Your Spell".


Merry and Bright: Hello Thisbe! Thank you for the opportunity for this interview. “A Jazzy Christmas” is one of my absolute favorite Christmas albums. I’m excited to share some information about you and the album with my readers.  "A Jazzy Christmas” was broadly released in 2015, but was available to crowdfunding supporters in late 2014. Tell us about the crowdfunding experience and what the campaign meant for you as an artist.

Thisbe Vos: The crowdfunding campaign was a great experience and the support from the fans was really moving. I had crowdfunded another album two years earlier, and I was hesitant to do it again, thinking that people might not want to participate another time. But the support was even better than on the previous album, and we pulled it off in a flash—the whole thing happened in about two weeks. It was very inspiring to see that so many people were so behind the project.

MB: After its official release, “A Jazzy Christmas” soon became an award winning album, bringing home the IMEA 2015 “Holiday Album of the Year” award against some stiff competition. Please share your thoughts about this fine recognition for your album.

TV: The IMEA is a wonderful organization that I can’t say enough about. Those guys are really rooting for independent artists and I feel that they back us up however they can. Being recognized with that award meant a lot to me, and I feel that it also validated the fans and everyone who contributed to making the album possible.

MB: You and your band have achieved a wonderful, flawless, classic jazz sound. Who are your major influences as a jazz musician?

TV: I am personally a great fan of the classic jazz singers—Peggy Lee, Doris Day, Dinah Washington, Nina Simone also, and especially Ella Fitzgerald. Ella is my all-time favorite, and I have secretly stolen many phrasings from her. I also really like that warm, personal, intimate sound that she brings across, as if you up close and personal with her, and it’s almost like she is singing to you as the only person in the room.

MB: And how about for Christmas music? Favorite performers? Favorite songs? Was Christmas music a big part of your life growing up?

TV: I grew up in The Netherlands and I did hear them in commercials and in stores, but not so much on the radio. I always liked them from the moment I first heard them though, and a lot of those songs really convey the warm, happy atmosphere that I really love about Christmas. It is that same warm atmosphere that we tried to encapsulate in this album (although with a bit of a swinging twist to it in quite a few of the songs). Bing Crosby of course comes to mind. I also love the song “Santa Baby.” A couple of years ago I actually got to meet one of the writers who wrote that song, which was a very interesting experience.

MB: Many reviews of “A Jazzy Christmas” have a common theme: your songwriting. Four of the songs on “A Jazzy Christmas” were written by you, including one co-written with pianist Gary Matsumoto, and the reviewers enthusiastically wrote that they all sound like Christmas standards. They all fit alongside the greats of the genre and conjure up Christmas imagery of Winter, snow, and the joys of the season. You’ve achieved a timeless quality with these songs (“It Must Be Christmas Time”, “It’s Beginning To Snow”, “When Moonlight Has Hit the Town”, and “Christmas is Everywhere”). What’s your secret Thisbe? Share a little with us about your approach to songwriting, especially these Christmas songs, that make them fit in so well with the classics.

TV: I guess I’ve just listened to a lot of those classic Christmas songs over the years, and I feel a very deep connection with that warm, intimate feeling that Christmas songs are supposed to convey. It was a bit different than writing the jazz songs that I have written before, and I did have to use some imagination as I wrote most of those songs in Southern California in the spring and summer. But I have listened to so many oldies, and so many Christmas songs in my life, that I felt I was able to get into the spirit of things and do something that was original but is still very much about the essence of what those songs are about.

MB: Do any of your four compositions have specific inspirations? Memories or experiences that turned into the music we hear on the album?

TV: Some of them do. For “It Must Be Christmas Time,” I did go back to my childhood days of Christmas in The Netherlands where all the streets are decorated and there are Christmas markets etc. Christmas in Europe can be quite fun. For “It’s Beginning To Snow,” I totally went back to that moment as a kid when it’s evening and it starts softly snowing for the first time that winter, and you’re so excited because you know it’s going to be so much fun in the morning. (There wasn’t a ton of snow when I grew up, so when it did snow, that was quite special.) “When Moonlight Has Hit The Town” was inspired by the feeling I used to get at night when I was walking through the streets of Amsterdam, or my home town of Huizen, and it was cold and quite but there was this huge moon and you could see all the lights on inside the houses and people having dinner, etc. Or it’s freezing outside and nobody is in the streets, but you walk into a restaurant and it’s warm and full of life; people talking and enjoying themselves. There were some very cool, “wintery” types of moments like that that I thought of when writing that song.

MB: Your previously released albums, “Sophistication” and “Under Your Spell” have six and seven Thisbe Vos compositions respectively. And just as on “A Jazzy Christmas”, your own songs blend beautifully with the standards. Having a band with some major chops certainly helps produce this classic sound. Tell us a little about your band.

TV: Thanks for bringing that up—I am ridiculously fortunate that I get to record with some of the best jazz musicians in the world. After moving to Los Angeles I was lucky enough to run into Henry Franklin, a world-class bass player who has literally played with almost everyone you can imagine during his 50-year career. He sort of took me under his wing, and I got to know a lot of great musicians here in the local jazz scene either because he directly introduced me to them, or because I met them through someone that he knew. We record at the studio of Nolan Shaheed, who is himself an incredible trumpet player who has played on all my albums and whom I also perform with live sometimes. I’ve been trying to use the same guys on all of my albums as much as possible and they are all great—it would take up a lot of them to do them all justice individually but I love them all.
MB: As impressive as your original tunes are the arrangements of the traditional songs. Putting a new spin on an old classic Christmas song can be risky, a hit or miss. “Deck the Halls” is an especially wonderfully arranged song with an almost playful variance on the cadence and rhythm. Are the arrangements the result of collaboration with you and your band?

TV: Sometimes they are—for example, Gary Matsumoto (the pianist) came up with the bluesy rendition of Silver Bells. I asked him “What can we do with this?,” and he just started playing that bluesy version almost without even thinking about it. But that version of Deck the Halls in three was my own idea; it was a bit risky like you said. Some people love it, some people hate it. I thought it would be interesting to do something a little different. I like it a lot myself, and I’ve performed it live also that way. It’s cool to surprise people and do something with a familiar song that they don’t quite expect.

MB: What’s next for Thisbe Vos? Do you have any more albums in the works? Any touring plans? I don’t make it to SoCal often, so sure would like to see a Thisbe tour coming my way.

TV: I’m performing locally [Los Angeles area] quite a bit right now—a tour could always happen but I have no definite plans yet as of this moment. That could of course change though. I do plan to make another album—I’ve considering an orchestral album or an intimate vocal, bass and guitar album. It might end up being a combination of the two.

MB: Thisbe, thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions and enlighten us about “A Jazzy Christmas”. Seriously, when I got my copy of the CD in 2014, I couldn’t stop playing it (the other 350 or so Christmas CDs in the house lost some playing time), and it provided the background music for Christmas morning in our home. I hope that there’s “Another Jazzy Christmas” coming someday. So – thank you again for sharing some of your time with us at Merry and Bright.

TV: Thanks very much! I really appreciate that. Thanks for all you do in promoting the wonderful genre of Christmas music, and you know, maybe I will make another Christmas album some day....

Thisbe Vos website

Thisbe Vos on Facebook

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