Jeannie Tanner—an accomplished singer, composer and trumpeter—has cut her own original and impressive swath through the jazz world for well over a decade. Her newest CD, Tanner Time, not only showcases Tanner's works but also features covers of songs initially performed by everyone from Sting to B.B. King.
Tanner , who regularly performs in Chicago, took time out from her busy schedule to talk about jazz, covering songs and Tony Orlando.
Windy City Times: Your CD [ Tanner Time ] is pretty smooth. How would you describe the album's style?
Jeannie Tanner: I think it's a fusion of jazz, pop and R&B, which I love. It really has that live feel because we recorded it in two days. I absolutely wanted to give people the flavor of what I do live, and do it old-school.
WCT: Two days? Things had to be really intense.
JT: It was, but it was really great because [ the other musicians and myself ] all get along so well. Everyone's really talented and really excited about the music. This is probably my best work so far.
WCT: How would you say your music has evolved from Anytime, Anywhere [ Tanner's first CD, released in 1993 ] ?
JT: It think [ Tanner Time ] is much more spontaneous and organic. Anytime, Anywhere was much more synthetic, coming out of the '90s. What I love most about the jazz genre is the improvisational flavor it has; you have to be totally in the moment.
WCT: And you can't really lip-sync—especially when you're performing with a trumpet.
JT: [ Laughs ] No, you can't.
Tanner Time was recorded at Steve Yates' recording studio in Morton Grove. They actually had my mic for my vocals alongside a ribbon mic for my trumpet, so I'd sing and [ play ] my horn, so it was live. There were no overdubs; it is what it is.
WCT: By the way, how did you decide which songs to select for this CD?
JT: For me, it's all based on emotion. It's about the particular project. I knew I wanted to use some standards; this is my first CD in which I covered other people's songs. I was a little nervous about Etta James [ the song At Last ] , but I did it my way. [ B.B. King's ] Rock Me Baby is actually Etta James' version, but it's actually my version because I arranged it. I love Etta.
I also love Ella Fitzgerald, and this is the first album on which I've scatted. I love that Ella used her voice like an instrument—and that's what I do, because I'm an instrumentalist as well as a vocalist.
WCT: Let's talk about the trumpet. How did that come to be your instrument?
JT: One of my aunts [ where I grew up in Houston ] used to play with the choir, and I love how it sounded. After I took piano, I started playing trumpet and I picked it up real fast.
My family is musical. I have two cousins named Harmony and Melody; one plays the French horn and the other plays the trombone.
WCT: How have other musicians reacted to you [ being a trumpeter ] ? I don't know how chauvinistic the music world is...
JT: The reaction has very positive. In general, there's still that underlying [ attitude ] with women who play trumpet or bass. But, everyone's been really [ accepting ] . It's a brand new day!
WCT: If you could change anything about the music industry, what would you do?
JT: I don't know if I would change anything; I'm very eclectic so I appreciate all kinds of music. I just hope [ the industry ] would concentrate on the development of the artist as human beings, as opposed to just focusing on their image. I think that's why so many musicians have gotten into trouble. I think the industry has a responsibility to nurture the artist.
WCT: We've talked about how your music has evolved. How do you feel jazz has changed over the years?
JT: Well, we definitely have the smooth jazz component that came in the mid to late '80s. You had Pat Matheny and that groovy kind of instrumental stuff that took off.
In other ways, I think that the genre is becoming more open to pulling in a wider audience. In years past, straight-ahead jazz had that air...Jazz can be complicated, and sometimes it can intimidate people, which is a shame because it's a beautiful art form that's just meant to be enjoyed. It's music, for God's sake.
There's nothing worse than going to see jazz performed and the performers don't connect with the audience. That's why you're there. People said all sorts of things about Louie Armstrong, but he was a consummate entertainer and a phenomenal musician. Ella [ Fitzgerald ] did some complicated stuff, but she was really had fun. [ However, ] some musicians get overwhelmed—and they should just relax.
WCT: You recently opened for Tony Orlando [ at Pheasant Run in St. Charles ] . What is he like?
JT: He is so nice and sweet—and his band, actually. He's had some pretty tough times, but he gives a pretty great show. He has one singer who's his age ( mid-'60s ) who loved my songs, and he came backstage after one of my shows and hugged me. There are pictures on my Web site of me signing my CDs for him. I don't know why he's not playing bigger venues, because he still has it going on.
WCT: If you could collaborate with anyone—past or present—who would you pick?
JT: It'd be Cole Porter. He did so many wonderful things with his lyrics.
WCT: OK: You said that your musical tastes are eclectic. So are you into Norwegian death metal?
JT: [ Sustained laughing ] Well, I am supposed to go to Belgium to meet with a promoter. Hey—I'm open to anything. However, I don't like when lyrics denigrate women or race [ or other groups ] .
I'm not about squeaky-clean at all. When I ran a music center, I ran a kids' group and they were writing their own music. My little quartet of boys came in, and they wanted to write an explicit love song. I said, 'Anybody can write this. You have to be creative. You have to say it without saying it.'
I love lyricists like Bernie Taupin and the Beatles. There are so many great songs.
WCT: So, basically, you're telling me that you won't be covering My Humps. I haven't heard a good jazz version of that.
JT: [ Sustained laughing ] Probably not.
Jeannie Tanner and her quartet will be performing at the 'Sounds of Lake View: Winds of Change' concert to benefit the Lakeview Shelter for Men. The concert will take place at Lake View Lutheran Church, 835 W. Addison, on Fri., Oct. 12, at 7 p.m. ( The actual event begins at 6:15 p.m. ) 'Winds of Change' tickets are $20; contact Pastor Liala Buekema at 773-327-1427 or firstname.lastname@example.org .
See www.jeannietanner.com for more about Tanner.