Two facts immediately leap to mind when it comes to veteran Bay Area vocalist Laurie Antonioli.
The first is that she’s nothing if not well traveled. The Northern California native cut her teeth touring Europe with the under-appreciated be bop saxophonist Pony Poindexter and has since taught in Austria.
The next is that her new album is titled “American Dreams.” Now, there’s a dichotomy worth digging into.
Which is just what unfolds in the following two-part interview. More to the point, you can catch Antonioli and her band making their “American Dreams” come true live Monday at Yoshi’s in San Francisco.
Question: I am particularly intrigued by the notion that, having spent a significant time overseas, your perspective on this country, its great creation called jazz and the Great American Songbook might be different. How, specifically, do you believe that experience has informed the music on this album?
Antonioli: The concept of the American Dream has always been elusive to me. As an ex-pat, you often dream of the homeland. So my “American Dream” was more literal than metaphorical in that I dreamt of and missed the flora and fauna of California, the open sky, the way the shadows fall, the smell, the taste and the diversity.
For this recording, I came home, again. The songs are mostly original compositions with my lyrics. Sprinkled in the mix are a couple of traditional American songs and then two more from the Great American Songbook.
When I make a record, there’s a sound and feel I hope to achieve. A vibe. A musical setting where the songs unfold. For “American Dreams” we lean in and out of the country music zone. The topic of “America” and the longing for home informed the song selection (“Moonlight in Vermont,” “Stimulus Plan,” “Vienna Blues,” “Long Way From Home,” “America the Beautiful,” “The Dreary Black Hills,” etc.). Probably because of where I’ve been, the aesthetic overall is Continental. Having lived abroad informs my life and this spills into the music.
Question: You are going to have the entire “American Dreams” band at Yoshi’s. What role did these musicians play in shaping the sound of the album?
Antonioli: Oh, one of my favorite subjects: the band. First, let me say that these are the perfect musicians to play this music and they inspired me to go forward with the ideas for this record. Together we have evolved the sound you’ll hear on the recording and at the concert. Luckily, we’ve been able to perform a lot of this music prior to going into the studio so we had time to settle in.
Matt Clark, the pianist, is someone I’ve worked with for over 10 years. Jason Lewis and John Shifflett, on drums and bass respectively, have played in tandem with many great musicians and the combination of Matt, John and Jason is a sublime trio. Sheldon Brown and I have worked together on and off since the ‘80s. Whenever possible, these are the musicians I want to play with.
The sound and arrangements are put together with this band in mind. The newest addition is Dave MacNab on guitar. MacNab, who has been playing for “Wicked” the last couple of years, is rarely heard outside of the theater, so this is a big treat at Yoshi’s on the 23rd. He plays the slide guitar, which makes the Americana material really come to life.
I chose these musicians knowing they could do this material effortlessly. They shaped the sound of the recording in that they are completely sensitive to each other and of course, to me. They also play together in different configurations without me. The dynamic you’ll see is playful, flexible and masterful. They are all virtuosos in their own right. I’ve counted on Matt Clark to reharmonize some of the songs as well as do some arranging. Matt also plays for my Jazzschool Institute classes so he is an essential guy in my musical life.
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