A Little Love, the striking debut album from vocalist extraordinaire Quiana Lynell, features a feast of soul, gospel, r&b, groove and jazz. Blossoming with songs about searching, trying times, buoyant love, deep reflection and social action, Lynell sings with the voice of authority and honesty. She is accompanied by a powerhouse band featuring Cyrus Chestnut on piano, Jamison Ross on drums, Ed Cherry on guitars, George DeLancey on bass and Monte Croft on vibes. Terence Blanchard calls Quiana “a serious vocal discovery,” and adds "When I first heard her sing, my initial thought was ‘Who are you, where have you been, and why am I just hearing you now?’”
Listen to a clip of the interview below in the latest episode of The ArkivJazz Podcast!
ArkivJazz: Quiana, congratulations on an amazing album.
Quiana Lynell: Thank you.
AJ: I’ve known Brian Bacchus (producer) for many years, and I must say that you were to put into very good hands.
QL: I feel the same exact way.
AJ: As far as I can see, it's one of the best of the year for jazz vocals. It's really extraordinary.
QL: Thank you.
AJ: So, how did you get hooked up with Terence Blanchard?
QL: It was through our managers. They mutually put us together when I started working with the same management group as his. It’s been phenomenal working with him and getting feedback from him on my shows. You know, he just keeps the iron to the fires, and it's great.
AJ: Well, it sounds like it's something that you need this day and age to keep on top of everything.
QL: Yes, yes. Jazz has always been like an apprenticeship to me with people who are joining the older musicians and learning there on the bandstand. That's the way that it's traditionally been done, and that's the best way of continuing that legacy of having a mentor to help you along.
AJ: Right, and speaking of such, the band you put together is really one of the best. You have Cyrus Chestnut on piano, Ed Cherry on guitar, George DeLancey on bass, Jamison Ross on drums, and Monte Croft on vibes.
QL: Right, right, I will definitely say that Brian was integral in pulling this cast together, especially since I don’t have a big footprint in NY. I brought James with me. He’s like my big brother in the industry and just brings a sense of peace. He’s almost like a Buddha. He just makes the room feel good by being in it.
AJ: Did you go in with a strong idea of your song list or did that work out with Brian and as you were putting together the recording?
QL: Brian and I bounced ideas back and forth. I had some ideas like “Come Sunday” and “I Wish I Knew (How It Would Feel To Be Free)”. Those are songs I’ve been doing in my shows for almost two years now. We bounced ideas back and forth and sent playlists and YouTube links back and forth until we reached a point where we actually thought we had it. I think we actually went in with maybe 14 or 15 songs. These were the ten that made it.
AJ: Well, Duke Ellington going into Nina Simone was quite inspirational and it really comes off. Then to follow that with “They All Laughed” is something. That’s really an unusual tune for somebody of this generation.
QL: Right! For me and Jameson to do this, and for both of us to be competition winners and just aspire to do this business in this day and age, it's like you have to be kind of crazy. But, you have to go against all the naysayers and keep doing it. I'm a little older than most of the new artists coming along, I didn't study jazz in school, and I taught full time. When I left my teaching full-time job, there were people who told me, "you don’t know what you’re doing." "You’re a single mom with two kids, and you may want to wait." I just had to go and keep working toward my goals.
AJ: I think waiting is often best, and also waiting to sing songs with lyrics like the ones in a lot of the tunes that you sing here are not for kids, so to speak. These are these are lyrics that mean something, and you really dig into the tunes on all of them.
QL: That was very important to me to be able to relate to these songs because I’m going to be singing these live for the next 18 months or so. I need to be able to connect with the lyrics, and they need to be able to resonate with the current audience. I didn’t want to do tunes that were American Standard songbook tunes that wouldn’t resonate with the current times. It was very important for me to be able to address current social issues, current themes, relationships, and self-goals. I really feel that the record relates on the “love” level and every part of love that we face in life.
AJ: I think that’s important, because like you said, you’re going to have to live with these songs for a while. You’re building a foundation for the future, as you record more material. This is kind of a foundational record for you. Were you a fan of Carmen McRae and Nina Simone and some of the classic singers?
QL: Yes, yes, “Just a Litle Lovin’” has been one of my favorite songs for a long, long time. I almost didn’t bring it up since it was a late addition in our back and forth. Nina is so inspirational, I just get lost in her recordings all the time.
AJ: You also note Carmen McRae as another influence, and she has a style that almost no one sounds like.
QL: Yeah, it’s phenomenal to really dig in and listen to her phrasing. She just leans on those changes. It’s like, is she going to make it? Is she really going to hit that phrase before the change happens? And you know she does…
AJ: One thing about her is that is always sounds like she was discovering a song whenever she sang it.
QL: Right! Every time, like it was like a new experience.
AJ: I think that's the only way professionals can really keep going, to find something new every time you look at it.
AJ: It also shows her depth of knowledge and musicianship. You just can’t make that up. You have to know what’s happening underneath and around you to be able to finesse a song the way she did. Ultimately soloing while she’s milking that melody.
QL: Yes, yes…
AJ: As you build your career and this record goes forward, I have a feeling you're going to be singing a lot of the repertoire on this disc for quite a while. How much rehearsal time did it take to put something like this together?
QL: Well, we sent the charts maybe two weeks ahead of time to all the cats. Then we went to New York and had one full day of rehearsal and were in the studio for three days. That was basically it. We would run through songs a few times, but with the caliber of musicians that these guys are, it was pretty magical the way things came together.
AJ: It feels like you’ve been working with this band for years.
QL: Well, I was very comfortable. There was no doubt of the capability of the guys that were holding me up, and I feel that everyone there has had this giving, infectious spirit. To just sit and watch Cyrus conjure up an idea was magical, you know? To be able to sit and watch Jamison ponder “was that it, or maybe we should try something else?” It was a great team to help create what we have, and it was really magical. That’s the best way I can think to describe it.
AJ: Well, congratulations. It's a tremendous piece of work and you’re going to get a lot of attention for this. I think you're probably be very busy as this gets released and you start to get in demand across the country. Are there any plans to take this to Europe?
QL: We are actually playing at the Bremen Jazz Festival at the end of the month and hope to get some more European dates lined up.
AJ: Well, I have really enjoyed talking with you. I’ve been like an evangelist telling everybody in the office to listen to this work. We're in Nashville, and we will be waiting for a Nashville date [laughs]. I appreciated talking to you and thank you for the pleasure of having getting to know this disc.
QL: Thank you so much.