Singer and Songwriter Emmaline has released her new song “Effortless” today via WBGO. The song appears on her debut EP, All My Sweetest Dreams, out September 27. Listen “Effortless” here.
Emmaline (rhymes with clementine) is a 21-year-old singer and songwriter possessing a smoky, jazz-infused, genre-fluid voice admirable as much for the range of traditional sounds she draws upon, as for her startling freshness—fresh, as in new and innovative as well as in attitude and sly humor. Her songs are bold in statement and soft in feel, her flow supple and precise. She prides herself in being one who has listened with deep intention to her heroes—Anita O’Day and Billie Holiday, Erykah Badu and D’Angelo—and has already learned to rise above questions of category with a healthy sense of musical identity and forethought.
“I consider myself a jazz singer,” Emmaline says. “I have been singing jazz my entire life—I studied it and I think that there is a place for me in the jazz world. Whether my music is strictly jazz I cannot say and in fact, would rather not. To me jazz is art, not a set of rules.”
Emmaline’s music speaks for itself: She has headlined venues in Cincinnati (where she received conservatory training), Chicago (where she now lives) and New York City. She has performed in a wide range of situations on stage and online—with big bands and orchestras, singing Jessie J’s “Domino” (à la Billie Holiday) for Postmodern Jukebox—and has amassed a substantial social media following. Her first official release—the six-song EP “All My Sweetest Dreams”—drops in late September, and given the confidence and clarity in the music, will certainly turbo-charge the tempo of her career ascendancy.
All My Sweetest Dreams is the title of the six-song EP, co-produced by Emmaline and featuring songs she wrote or co-wrote, making for a bold and melodically lush debut. It was produced by veteran producer Jason Olaine (Roy Hargrove, Dave Brubeck, Bad Plus, etc.) and co-produced by Emmaline herself, her guitarist Ryan Mondak, and her manager, noted jazz producer Seth Abramson. A seasoned group of jazz players—many of whom were part of trumpeter Roy Hargrove’s funk ensemble RH Factor—contributed, including trumpeter Maurice Brown, saxophonist Jacques Schwartz-Bart, keyboardist Bobby Sparks II, bassist Ben Williams, drummer Jason “JT” Thomas, plus a string quartet (featuring Emmaline as the first violinist), and Mondak on guitar.
The recording sessions took place in Brooklyn, NY at Strange Weather the same week that Jazz at Lincoln Center presented its memorial concert in tribute to Roy Hargrove. At the forefront of “All My Sweetest Dreams,” of course, is Emmaline’s voice: a singular lyrical instrument in its own right, immediately recognizable, at times playful, and always poised and confident. Such is the precision in her singing ability—her perfect pitch notwithstanding—that she delivered all her vocal tracks, lead and background, in one afternoon, each demanding no more than one take. The very few exceptions came from her reimagining a certain word or phrase. In improvisatory spirit and feel, it’s no surprise that she identifies herself first as a jazz singer, and her music supports that claim.
As a member of a generation somewhat free of past musical assumptions and associations, Emmaline regards jazz as an exciting invitation to both honor the pioneers and help move it forward with new sounds and influences—all while being conscious of how the question of jazz identity can be such a dividing point among players, critics and listeners alike.
“I don’t want to step on any toes with saying this, because my dad is a jazz musician and he is very aware of the “this is jazz, this is not jazz” argument. I just think at this point, what is jazz anymore? We have Robert Glasper, and he’s using advanced harmony and improvisations and this great jazz vocabulary while incorporating all of these R& B and hip-hop ideas into his music and that doesn’t make him any less jazz than Miles Davis in my opinion.
“Jazz is not only bebop. It’s not only swing. It’s all of that, and also what is happening today. Among people in my age group, the opinion on this really varies. But personally, I think this whole playlist and streaming culture today is awesome because people can listen—and they are listening—to all of it, to things they never would get to if they didn’t have access. Because of this, the music is evolving and something new and creative and extremely musical is coming out of that.”